Shortform Content [Beta]

evelynciara's Shortform

Do emergency universal pass/fail policies improve or worsen student well-being and future career prospects?

I think a natural experiment is in order. Many colleges are adopting universal pass/fail grading for this semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others aren't. Someone should study the impact this will have on students to inform future university pandemic response policy.

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
1evelynciara5hThanks for the suggestion! I imagine that most scholars are reeling from the upheavals caused by the pandemic response, so right now doesn't feel like the right time to ask professors to do anything. What do you think?

Maybe a better question for late May or early June, when classes are over.

1alexrjl2hI think that's probably true for those working directly on the pandemic, but I'm not sure education researchers would mind being bothered. If anything they might welcome the distraction.
MichaelA's Shortform

If a typical mammalian species survives for ~1 million years, should a 200,000 year old species expect another 800,000 years, or another million years?

tl;dr I think it's "another million years", or slightly longer, but I'm not sure.

In The Precipice, Toby Ord writes:

How much of this future might we live to see? The fossil record provides some useful guidance. Mammalian species typically survive for around one million years before they go extinct; our close relative, Homo erectus, survived for almost two million.[38] If we think of one mi
... (read more)
saulius's Shortform

If I were to read one of EA-related books (e.g. Doing Good Better, The Most Good You Can Do, The Life You Can Save, The Precipice, Superintelligence, etc.), I would consider writing/improving a summary of the book in wikipedia while reading it, in a way that conveys main points well. It could help you to digest the book better and help others to understand the ideas a bit. You could do it in english as well as maybe in some other language. To see whether it’s worth putting in the effort, you can check out Wikipedia pageview statistics of the books I mentio

... (read more)
Mati_Roy's Shortform

Nuke insurance

Category: Intervention idea

Epistemic status: speculative; arm-chair thinking; non-expert idea; unfleshed idea

Proposal: Have nuclear powers insure each other that they won't nuke each other for mutually assure destruction (ie. destroying my infrastructure means you will destroy your economy). Not accepting an offered of mutual insurances should be seen as extremely hostile and uncooperative, and possible even be severely sanctioned internationally.

2Ramiro6dAlso: what about just explicitly criminalizing a) a first strike, b) a nuclear attack? The idea is to make it more likely that the individuals who participated in a nuclear strike would be punished - even if they considered it to be morally justified. (Someone will certainly think this is "serious April Fool's stuff")

Good point. My implicit idea was to have the money in an independent trust, so that the "punishment" is easier to enforce.

Ramiro's Shortform

Does anyone have any idea / info on what proportion of the infected cases are getting Covid19 inside hospitals?

(Epistemic status: low, but I didin't find any research on that, so the hypothesis deserves a bit more of attention)

1. Nosocomial infections are serious business. Hospitals are basically big buildings full of dying people and the stressed personel who goes from one bed to another try to avoid it. Throw a deadly and very contagious virus in it, and it becomes a slaughterhouse.

2. Previous coronavirus were rapidly spread in hospitals and other c... (read more)

NunoSempere's Shortform

CoronaVirus and Famine

The Good Judgement Open forecasting tournament gives a 66% chance for the answer to "Will the UN declare that a famine exists in any part of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, or Uganda in 2020?"

I think that the 66% is a slight overestimate. But nonetheless, if a famine does hit, it would be terrible, as other countries might not be able to spare enough attention due to the current pandem

... (read more)

Did you mean to post this using the Markdown editor? Currently, the formatting looks a bit odd from a reader's perspective.

MichaelA's Shortform

Collection of sources related to dystopias and "robust totalitarianism"

The Precipice - Toby Ord (Chapter 5 has a full section on Dystopian Scenarios)

The Totalitarian Threat - Bryan Caplan (a link to a Word doc version can be found on this page) (some related discussion on the 80k podcast here; use the "find" function)

The Centre for the Governance of AI’s research agenda - Allan Dafoe (this contains discussion of "robust totalitarianism", and related matters)

A shift in arguments for AI risk - Tom Sittler (this has a brie... (read more)

willbradshaw's Shortform

Initial thoughts on anti-ageing and societal resilience to pandemics

[Epistemic status: fairly speculative. Practicing throwing out less-polished ideas as shortform. Might tidy up and promote this to a frontpage post in the future.]

I'm hardly the first to note that COVID-19 is a disease of ageing: from the beginning of the outbreak it's been clear that older people were dramatically more likely to experience severe illness or die as a result of infection, while death rates among under-30s have been extremely low. In an important sense[1], COVID-19 falls in

... (read more)
Mati_Roy's Shortform

Mind-readers as a neglected life extension strategy

Last updated: 2020-03-30

Status: idea to integrate in a longer article

Assuming that:

  • Death is bad
  • Lifelogging is a bet worth taking as a life extension strategy

It seems like a potentially really important and neglected intervention is improving mind readers as this is by far the most important part of our experience that isn't / can't be captured at the moment.

We don't actually need to be able to read the mind right now, just to be able to record the mind with sufficiently high resolution (plau... (read more)

MichaelA's Shortform

My review of Tom Chivers' review of Toby Ord's The Precipice

I thought The Precipice was a fantastic book; I'd highly recommend it. And I agree with a lot about Chivers' review of it for The Spectator. I think Chivers captures a lot of the important points and nuances of the book, often with impressive brevity and accessibility for a general audience. (I've also heard good things about Chivers' own book.)

But there are three parts of Chivers' review that seem to me to like they're somewhat un-nuanced, or overstate/ove... (read more)

3Aaron Gertler11dThis was an excellent meta-review! Thanks for sharing it. I agree that these little slips of language are important; they can easily compound into very stubborn memes. (I don't know whether the first person to propose a paperclip AI regrets it, but picking a different example seems like it could have had a meaningful impact on the field's progress.)


These seem to often be examples of hedge drift, and their potential consequences seem like examples of memetic downside risks.

MichaelA's Shortform

What are the implications of the offence-defence balance for trajectories of violence?

Questions: Is a change in the offence-defence balance part of why interstate (and intrastate?) conflict appears to have become less common? Does this have implications for the likelihood and trajectories of conflict in future (and perhaps by extension x-risks)?

Epistemic status: This post is unpolished, un-researched, and quickly written. I haven't looked into whether existing work has already explored questions like these; if you know of any such work, please commen... (read more)

sky's Shortform

Should reducing partisanship be a higher priority cause area (for me)?

I think political polarization in the US produces a whole heap of really bad societal/policy outcomes and makes otherwise good policy outcomes ~impossible. It has always seemed relatively important to me, because when things go wrong in the US, they often have global consequences. I haven't put that many of my actual resources here though because it's a draining cause to work on and didn't feel that tractable. I also suspected myself of motivated reasoning: I get deep joy ... (read more)

Halffull's Shortform

Something else in the vein of "things EAs and rationalists should be paying attention to in regards to Corona."

There's a common failure mode in large human systems where one outlier causes us to create a rule that is a worse equilibrium. In the PersonalMBA, Josh Kaufman talks about someone taking advantage of a "buy any book you want" rule that a company has - so you make it so that you can no longer get any free books.

This same pattern has happened before in the US, after 9-11 - We created a whole bunch of security theater, that c... (read more)

MichaelStJules's Shortform

I've been thinking more lately about how I should be thinking about causal effects for cost-effectiveness estimates, in order to clarify my own skepticism of more speculative causes, especially longtermist ones, and better understand how skeptical I ought to be. Maybe I'm far too skeptical. Maybe I just haven't come across a full model for causal effects that's convincing since I haven't been specifically looking. I've been referred to this in the past, and plan to get through it, since it might provide some missing pieces for... (read more)

MichaelStJules's Shortform

I think EA hasn't sufficiently explored the use of different types of empirical studies from which we can rigorously estimate causal effects, other than randomized controlled trials (or other experiments). This leaves us either relying heavily on subjective estimates of the magnitudes of causal effects based on weak evidence, anecdotes, expert opinion or basically guesses, or being skeptical of interventions whose cost-effectiveness estimates don't come from RCTs. I'd say I'm pretty skeptical, but not so skeptical that I think we need R... (read more)

MichaelStJules's Shortform

Fehige defends the asymmetry between preference satisfaction and frustration on rationality grounds. This is my take:

Let's consider a given preference from the point of view of a given outcome after choosing it, in which the preference either exists or does not, by cases:

1. The preference exists:

a. If there's an outcome in which the preference exists and is more satisfied, and all else is equal, it would have been irrational to have chosen this one (over it, and at all).

b. If there's an outcome in which the preference exists and is less sat... (read more)

I also think that antifrustrationism in some sense overrides interests less than symmetric views. Consider the following two options for interests within one individual:

A. Interest 1 exists and is fully satisfied

B. Interest 1 exists and is not fully satisfied, and interest 2 exists and is (fully) satisfied.

A symmetric view would sometimes choose B, so that the creation of interests can take priority over interests that would exist regardless. In particular, the proposed benefit comes from satisfying an interest that would not have existed in the alternativ... (read more)

2MichaelStJules1moThen, if you extend these comparisons to satisfy the independence of irrelevant alternatives by stating that in comparisons of multiple choices in an option set, all permissible options are strictly better than all impermissible options regardless of option set, extending these rankings beyond the option set, the result is antifrustrationism. To show this, you can use the set of the following three options, which are identical except in the ways specified: * A: a preference exists and is fully satisfied, * B: the same preference exists and is not fully satisfied, and * C: the preference doesn't exist, and since B is impermissible because of the presence of A, this means C>B, and so it's always better for a preference to not exist than for it to exist and not be fully satisfied, all else equal.
3MichaelStJules5moI also think this argument isn't specific to preferences, but could be extended to any interests, values or normative standards that are necessarily held by individuals (or other objects), including basically everything people value (see here [] for a non-exhaustive list). See Johann Frick’s paper [] and thesis [] which defend the procreation asymmetry, and my other post here [] .
MichaelA's Shortform

Collection of EA analyses of how social social movements rise, fall, can be influential, etc.

Movement collapse scenarios - Rebecca Baron

Why do social movements fail: Two concrete examples. - NunoSempere

What the EA community can learn from the rise of the neoliberals - Kerry Vaughan

Some of the Sentience Institute's research, such as its "social movement case studies" and the post How tractable is changing the course of history?

These aren't quite "EA analyses", but Slate Star Codex has several relevant book reviews and other pos... (read more)

Max_Daniel's Shortform

[Epistemic status: speculation based on priors about international organizations. I know next to nothing about the WHO specifically.]

[On the WHO declaring COVID-19 a pandemic only (?) on March 12th. Prompted by this Facebook discussion on epistemic modesty on COVID-19.]

- [ETA: this point is likely wrong, cf. Khorton's comment below. However, I believe the conclusion that the timing of WHO declarations by itself doesn't provide a significant argument against epistemic modesty still stands, as I explain in a follow-up comment below.] The WHO declar... (read more)

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22Max_Daniel12d[Epistemic status: info from the WHO website and Wikipedia, but I overall invested only ~10 min, so might be missing something.] * It seems my remarks do apply for "public health emergency of international concern [] (PHEIC)" instead of "pandemic". For example, from Wikipedia [] : * The WHO declared a PHEIC due to COVID-19 on January 30th [] . * The OP was prompted by a claim that the timing of the WHO using the term "pandemic" provides an argument against epistemic modesty. (Though I appreciate this was less clear in the OP than it could have been, and maybe it was a bad idea to copy my Facebook comment here anyway.) From the Facebook comment [] I was responding to: * Since the WHO declaring a PHEIC seems much more consequential than them using the term "pandemic", the timing of the PHEIC declaration seems more relevant for assessing the merits of the WHO response, and thus for any argument regarding epistemic modesty. * Since the PHEIC declaration happened significantly earlier, any argument based on the premise that it happened too late is significantly weaker. And whatever the apparent initial force of this weaker argument, my undermining response from the OP still applies. * So overall, while the OP's premise appealing to major legal/institutional consequences of the WHO using the term "pandemic" seems false, I'm now even more convinced of the key claim I wanted to argue for: that the WHO response does not provide an argument against epistemic modesty in general, nor for the epistemic superiority of "informed amateurs" over
For example, to me, the WHO taking until ~March 12 to call this a pandemic*, when the informed amateurs I listen to were all pretty convinced that this will be pretty bad since at least early March, is at least some evidence that trusting informed amateurs has some value over entirely trusting people usually perceived as experts.

Also, predicting that something will be pretty bad or will be a pandemic is not the same as saying it is now a pandemic. When did it become a pandemic according to the WHO's definition?

Expanding a quote I found on the wiki pag... (read more)

5Lukas_Gloor12dAbout declaring it a "pandemic," I've seen the WHO reason as follows (me paraphrasing): «Once we call it a pandemic, some countries might throw up their hands and say "we're screwed," so we should better wait before calling it that, and instead emphasize that countries need to try harder at containment for as long as there's still a small chance that it might work.» Yeah, I think that's a good point. I'm not sure I can have updates in favor or against modest epistemology because it seems to me that my true rejection is mostly "my brain can't do that." But if I could have further updates against modest epistemology, the main Covid-19-related example for me would be how long it took some countries to realize that flattening the curve instead of squishing it is going to lead to a lot more deaths and tragedy than people seem to have initially thought. I realize that it's hard to distinguish between what's actual government opinion versus what's bad journalism, but I'm pretty confident there was a time when informed amateurs could see that experts were operating under some probably false or at least dubious assumptions. (I'm happy to elaborate if anyone's interested.)
willbradshaw's Shortform

[CN: Death and suffering. Crossposted from Facebook.]

As the flow of coronavirus death stories in the UK has gradually increased over the past month, I've been trying to make some positive use of the identifiable victim effect: looking at the faces, feeling how sorry I am for those people and their families, and trying to generalise that empathy to the rest of the world.

So many people are already suffering and dying because of this virus. So many more will suffer and die around the world before this is over. The burden of this disease will be vast. The burd

... (read more)
Halffull's Shortform

Was thinking a bit about the how to make it real for people that the quarantine depressing the economy kills people just like Coronavirus does.

Was thinking about finding a simple good enough correlation between economic depression and death, then creating a "flattening the curve" graphic that shows how many deaths we would save from stopping the economic freefall at different points. Combining this was clear narratives about recession could be quite effective.

On the other hand, I think it's quite plausible that this particular problem will ... (read more)

It's been pointed out to me on Lesswrong that depressions actually save lives. Which makes the "two curves" narrative much harder to make.

3Greg_Colbourn12dMaybe also that the talk of preventing a depression is an information hazard when we are at the stage of the pandemic where all-out lockdown is the biggest priority for most of the richest countries. In a few weeks when the epidemics in the US and Western Europe are under control, and lockdown can be eased with massive testing, tracing and isolating of cases, then it would make more sense to freely talk about boosting the economy again (in the mean time, we should be calling for governments to take up the slack with stimulus packages. Which they seem to be doing already).
5Halffull12dThis argument has the same problem as recommending people don't wear masks though, if you go from "save lives save lives don't worry about economic impacts" to "worry about economics impacts it's as important as quarantine" you lose credibility. You have to find a way to make nuance emotional and sticky enough to hit, rather than forgoing nuance as an information hazard, otherwise you lose the ability to influence at all. This was the source of my "two curves" narrative, and I assume would be the approach that others would take if that was the reason for their reticence to discuss.
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