gavintaylor

I am an experienced interdisciplinary researcher and have focused on using computational methods to derive insights into biological systems. My academic research took me from collecting insects in tropical rainforests to imaging them in synchrotrons. I have become progressively more involved with the Effective Altruism community over several years and I am now aiming to apply my expertise in areas that more directly benefit society. To that end, I have recently redirected my research towards exploring novel technical countermeasures against viral pandemics.

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Ideal governance (for companies, countries and more)

Empirical research (probably qualitative): Are there systematic reviews of unusual governance structures tried out by companies, and what the results have been? Of smaller-scale experiments at co-ops, group houses and lunch tables?

Check out the Community Rules governance toolkit. It's intended for communities (which probably leans towards the small side of the governance spectrum) and describes eight governance frameworks with three brief case studies of practioners, ranging from  Ancient Athens to the Facebook Oversight Board,  that have used each.  Four of the governance frameworks have already been described in the post:

  • Elected board
  • Self-appointed board
  • Benevolent dictator (matches founder keeping control)
  • Jury (matches sortition?)

And there are four others:

  • Circles
  • Do-ocracy
  • Petition (basically governance  only using ballot initiatives)
  • Consensus

I don't know much about the  groups that put together the toolkit, but they would probably be worth contacting to find further expertise:
 

CommunityRule is a project of the Media Enterprise Design Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, in collaboration with the Metagovernance Project.

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Yeah, I haven't looked into this much but I think goal would be getting as much soot as possible before it spread out across the whole stratosphere. For instance, dumping coagulant into the rising smoke plume so that it got carried up with the smoke could be a good option if one can respond while a city fire is still burning, as the coagulant is then going to get mixed in with most of the soot. IIRC from Robock's paper it also takes a while (weeks/months) for the soot to completely spread out and self-loft into the upper stratosphere, so that gives more time to respond while it's still fairly concentrated around the sources. Determining what an effective response would be at that stage is kind of the aim of the project - one suggestion would be to send up stratospheric weather balloons with high-voltage electrostatic fields (not 100% sure but I expect soot aerosol would be charged and could be electrostatically attracted) under areas of dense soot.

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Infrastructure to support independent researchers

Epistemic Institutions, Empowering Exceptional People  

The EA and Longtermist communities appear to contain a relatively large proportion of independent researchers compared to traditional academia. While working independently can provide the freedom to address impactful topics by liberating researchers from the perversive incentives, bureaucracy, and other constraints imposed on academics, the lack of institutional support can impose other difficulties that range from routine (e.g. difficulties accessing pay-walled publications) to restrictive (e.g. lack of mentorship, limited opportunities for professional development). Virtual independent scholarship institutes have recently emerged to provide institutional support (e.g. affiliation for submitting journal articles, grant management) for academic researchers working independently. We expect that facilitating additional and more productive independent EA and Longtermist research will increase the demographic diversity and expand the geographical inclusivity of these communities of researchers. Initially, we would like to determine the main needs and limitations independent researchers in these areas face and then support the creation of a virtual institute focussed on addressing those points.


This project was inspired by proposals written by Arika Virapongse and recent posts by Linch Zhang.

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Refinement of project idea #8, Pathogen sterilization technology

Add: ‘We’d also be interested in the development of therapeutic techniques that could treat infections using these (e.g. relying on physical principles) or similar approaches.’

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Stratospheric cleaning to mitigate nuclear winters

Recovery from Catastrophes

Proposals to recover from a nuclear winter have primarily focused on providing alternative means of food production until agriculture recovers. A complementary strategy would be to develop technologies to remove stratospheric soot, which could reduce the duration and severity of the nuclear winter if used soon after nuclear strikes while smoke remains concentrated above a relatively small geographic area. Stratospheric cleaning could also prove useful in the event of supervolcano eruptions, meteor impacts, or geoengineering accidents and would offer an option for non-nuclear and neutral states to mitigate the worst-case consequences of nuclear war between other states on both their own and the global population. This approach does not appear to have been explored, and we would like to fund initial feasibility studies and proof-of-concept projects on the possibility of stratospheric cleaning. Promising technology could be tested on ash plumes from volcanic eruptions or pyrocumulus clouds from wildfires. Current atmospheric models of nuclear winter scenarios may also need to be refined to guide a stratospheric cleaning response. We expect that mature technological solutions for stratospheric cleaning would be maintained as emergency response infrastructure at the national or intergovernmental level, and if the approach showed promising initial results, we would support lobbying governments to develop this capacity.

As an independent researcher, what are the biggest bottlenecks (if any) to your motivation, productivity, or impact?

I actually reflected on what points were holding me back as independent research quite recently.

A major point seems to be a lack of research oversight. This isn't so much about accountability for getting things done, more to have somebody thinking objectively and providing a detached perspective on which ways to address open-ended problems and when to change directions, etc. This kind of management isn't necessarily well done in academic research (at least in my experience) but I have recently found that Jason Schukraft's management style has been helpful for a project that I'm working on with him at RP.

Another I've noticed is that it can be hard to prioritize my independent research over competing projects that I already have in progress with academic researchers (or getting drawn into new projects with people who I've already published with - although I'm getting better at saying no to new things). In most cases, I think my independent research in physical virology is likely to have much more impact than continuing research in my former field of visual biophysicis, but dropping an in-progress academic project (particularly if I've been paid to do some work on it previously) feels like a strong violation of an academic norm so I tend to stick them out until they are done. These projects usually also involve working with a larger team of people, which is also appealing when you are used to working alone.

As an independent researcher, what are the biggest bottlenecks (if any) to your motivation, productivity, or impact?

Seconded,  independence offers freedom but creates many difficulties to work around as well. 
That said, I never received any structured institutional support for proofing, editing, graphic design etc when working in academia although some of these tasks were supported by co-authors or supervisors. 

As an independent researcher, what are the biggest bottlenecks (if any) to your motivation, productivity, or impact?

Coincidentally the day after seeing this response I realized the replacement battery in my 2012 macbook pro was swollen and I had to replace it with the original (long dead) one. I probably should stop putting off getting a new laptop... 

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

If it is possible to just get a check as an individual, I imagine that that's the best option.

 

One other benefit of a virtual research institute is that they can act as formal employers for independent researchers, which may be desirable for things like receiving healthcare coverage or welfare benefits.

 

Thanks for mentioning Theiss, I didn't know of them before. Their website doesn't look so active now, but it's good to know about the  history of the independent research scene.

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

Thanks for the perspective, this is interesting and a useful update for me.

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