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If it's true that Coronavirus is "close to pathologically misaligned with some of our information distribution and decisionmaking rituals", then what things would help the response?

by nonzerosum2 min read24th Apr 20202 comments

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Patrick McKenzie on Twitter says:

Coronavirus is going to be a close to pathologically misaligned with some of our information distribution and decisionmaking rituals. It's an effective exploit on them almost to the degree it is an effective exploit on infrastructure.
The situation is going to present a very similar set of challenges which are extremely sensitive to extremely volatile, recent, local data about facts. Those facts cross a variety of problem domains and are not conveniently under any one party's administration.
The facts ladder up to decisions on courses of action. Many of those courses of actions implicate coordination problems. The effectiveness of those courses of action is *highly non-linear* with success of the coordination effort.
We are going to struggle with this, and struggle with this mightily, because many of the upcoming challenges are going to be both locally critical *and simultaneously* Old News.
There's a coinage in Japan, "corona fatigue," and people and institutions are already feeling it.
Can you imagine being a newspaper reporter in St. Louis in March of 2021 telling your editor "OK, so here me out because this is the truth of it. Absolutely no question is more important right now than understanding if the city needs to reimpose extraordinary measures."
That reporter might continue "The best currently available guidance is that the city government believes this problem is 90% in hand. If we believe them, there should be *no call made by any reporter at this newspaper* which does not concern the coronavirus."
Can you imagine conducting planning for an urban school district? A company with offices in multiple time zones? A company with a supply chain? A person responsible for industrial safety of a facility whose physical footprint includes one or more enclosed pockets of air?
There's been a lot of grumbling that there isn't one single effective Corona Czar to cover a national response effort.
I feel reasonably certain that there are going to need to be something on the order of several million effective Corona Czars worldwide.
If you compare this to the number of currently credentialed experts or people working in public health... one very quickly comes to the conclusion that a lot of us civilians are going to have to step the heck up, very very quickly, for a very long time.
Optimistically: "Sad you missed the boat on being able to contribute to this effort early, when no one understood what was happening and work was infinite leverage? Good news: you're going to get a do over."
Pessimistically: "The virus is going to get a lot of do overs, too."

A rough summary of Patrick's comments

  • COVID response benefits from good information - and lots of the needed information is spread over many institutions, people, etc. It is beneficial to have up to date, accurate, and local data - this is hard.
  • COVID responses often involve/benefit from coordination across many different institutions/people/domains. This is hard.
  • COVID responses may benefit from extreme measures long after "corona fatigue" has set in and people and decision makers are sick of hearing about it, and just want things to "go back to normal"
  • Many people will need to make decisions about what to do as a result of / to respond to COVID. "Can you imagine conducting planning for an urban school district? A company with offices in multiple time zones? A company with a supply chain? A person responsible for industrial safety of a facility whose physical footprint includes one or more enclosed pockets of air?"
    • Many/most of these people don't have training or experience in making decisions like this.
  • There will be lots of contexts where decisions are made related to COVID where the expected value delta between a great decision and a bad one will be big, which gives big opportunity for positive impact in helping all the people who will be making COVID related/influenced decisions and response plans make *better* decisions/response plans

Therefore:

My read of this is that a more decentralized response will be important, which means opportunities for high impact projects. Assuming this is true, what would be some effective courses of action and projects for people or institutions in the EA community?

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