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Howie and I have just recorded a snap episode of the 80,000 Hours Podcast about the possible pandemic emerging from China:

What we do and don’t know about the 2019-nCoV coronavirus

I think it's a reasonable summary of the situation as it stood on Sunday, and the many uncertainties that remain.

This virus has recently been attracting discussion on the forum here.

We've almost never done coverage of 'topical' issues like this. It poses obvious risks, like reducing our organisation focus, causing us to write about secondary issues, or giving us a reputation for amateurish commentary.

At the same time, producing good content on current issues is one way to help people learn about 80,000 Hours. Howie and I felt we knew enough to comment sensibly. And an actual pandemic is clearly very much adjacent to our interest in pandemic preparedness — we encourage people to listen to our episodes on pandemic-related careers if they would like to learn more.

Let us know what you think of the episode, and please notify us about any errors so that we can correct them.




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Here's a list of public forecasting platforms where participants are tracking the situation:

Foretold is tracking ~20 questions and is open to anyone adding their own, but doesn't have very many predictions.

Metaculus is tracking a handful questions and has a substantial number of predictions.

The John Hopkins disease prediction project lists 3 questions. You have to sign up to view them. (I also think you can't see the crowd average before you've made your prediction.)

Could you please provide the JHU questions and predictions for those of us who don't want to sign up?

Robert (or anyone else), do you know anyone who actually works in pandemic preparedness? I'm wondering how to get ideas to such people. For example:

  1. artificial summer (optimize indoor temperature and humidity to reduce viral survival time on surfaces)
  2. study mask reuse, given likely shortages (for example bake used masks in home ovens at low enough temperature to not damage the fibers but still kill the viruses)
  3. scale up manufacturing of all drugs showing effectiveness against 2019-nCoV in vitro, ahead of clinical trial results

longer term:

  1. subsidize or mandate anti-microbial touch surfaces in public spaces (door handles, etc.)
  2. stockpile masks and other supplies, make the stockpiles big enough, and publicize them to avoid panic/hoarding/shortages

I know 2 working in normal pandemic preparedness and 2-3 in EA GCBR stuff.

I can offer introductions though they are probably worked off their feet just now. DM me somewhere?

Thanks Rob, I emailed you.

Thanks a lot for this podcast! I liked the summary you provided, and I think it is great to see people struggling to make sense of a lot of complex information on a topic, almost in direct. Given that you repeat multiple times that neither of you is an expert on the subject, I think this podcast is a net positive: it gives information while encouraging the listeners to go look for themselves.

Another great point: the criticism of the meme about overreacting. While listening to the beginning, when you said that there was no reason to panic, I wanted to object that preparing for possible catastrophes is as important, if not more important, to do before they are obviously here. But the discussion of the meme clarified this point, and I thought it was great.

Thanks for the detailed feedback Adam. :)

Thanks - this is helpful.

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