As I was reading, I was nodding along, agreeing with this post. I also was first introduced to EA by that very same Sam Harris podcast. I in fact did join the military in part because of their very good ads (Marines run towards the sound of chaos was the campaign that got me). 99.etc% of the time, I don't feel like much of anything related to my GWWC pledge- it's just the obviously right thing to do, in many ways the bare minimum for me personally. I started right as I got a large pay increase, so I've never even had to adjust to less income. I feel more warm and fuzzies from helping someone reach a high box at the grocery store than I do from my automatic monthly payments.
So, imagine my surprise when I saw this:
> Given this, when I read about other GWWC members’ attitudes towards their giving I sometimes feel a bit sheepish, maybe even like a bit of an imposter.
Wait- that's my article! I wrote that piece on the one year anniversary of my pledge. It was a conscious effort to reflect on the reasons for that decision, and to reflect on the good it did in the world, exactly because I don't feel warm and fuzzies on a day to day basis. I've lately been trying to build my gratitude muscles, with a gratitude journal and a push to express gratitude to a specific real person when I feel it. That piece was in part a gratitude training for me, because I am immensely grateful to be able to donate 10% of my salary to amazingly effective charities- but I am only grateful when I am really thinking about it. So I wrote a post to make me think about it more.
I agree with everything you wrote, and I also want to really thank you for taking the pledge. You are making the world a better place, and doing so far and above what most people in our culture consider normal. You help me and others to do the same in your work at GWWC.
One thing I really admire about our community is that we have taken to heart that the correlation between warm and fuzzy feelings and actual good impact in the world is totally broken, and we donate and work where we can do the most good, not feel the most warm and fuzzies. But I also want to spread some warm and fuzzies! Personally, I've found that I can hack my own system a bit by being intentionally grateful for my opportunity to do something like take the GWWC pledge. It makes me want to keep doing it, and it makes me happier. On my one year GWWC anniversary, I told an EA friend and we went out to celebrate; since that celebration, he has taken the pledge, too.
Thanks for writing this! Thanks for speaking to the reality that doing really good things doesn’t always come with great rewards in emotions. Our experiences are very, very similar. I wholeheartedly endorse your last section.
Thanks for asking this, I'm in basically the same boat and I am learning a lot from the answer you've gotten so far
Procrastination was definitely a motivator for me too. Better than my procrastination strategy yesterday of watching 30 minutes of boating failures!
Here's an update video on the Maternal Center of Excellence
Great post! This matches closely with the lessons I've learned and advice I've given after working with virologists and biosafety professionals. I'd also give a plug for the book Biosecurity Dilemmas for anyone who wants to do a deeper dive in the trade offs in this space.
Yeah, you bring up a really good point: most of the "bugs" circulating aren't harmful, so if we have a surveillance system that's completely pathogen agnostic we'll be chasing beneficial gut bacteria or harmless phage. In my previous job in a wastewater testing lab, one of the positive controls we used was a virus that infects peppers- we'd find tons of it.With regards to viruses, the virus needs to be able to enter human cells, take over the cellular machinery to replicate, and evade the human immune response. We know broadly what kinds of virus families can do this and what kinds can't, so if we see a virus in a family that can infect humans that is increasing exponentially in our surveillance system, we know there is an outbreak/epidemic. We can then do some bench science to figure out what human cells it's infecting, how it's evading the immune system, etc. The viruses that we coexist with relatively well, such as human cytomegalovirus, have coevolved with humans over millennia. A novel virus that was increasing rapidly in a human population would be cause for concern even if there is no symptoms yet. Also, many times there are symptoms, but they are not connected to the novel pathogen because they look so much like other diseases- flu and COVID-19, for example.
With regards to bacteria, I'll admit I'm not as knowledgeable there, but I'm also not as worried in the near term about GCBRs from bacteria.
...spreading but causes no ill effects (like the majority of microbes in our body).
The second part of your statement makes sense to me- the vast majority of microbes in our body cause no ill effects in people with a healthy immune system. However, I'm not so sure about the first statement: if it's spreading, that means it's either taking over human cells and turning them into virus factories, or it's colonizing more and more human tissue. That means the balance between the immune system and this microbe is out of whack. "Harmless" bacteria or viruses that start spreading out of control kill immunocompromised people all the time- a big part of the "no ill effects" is actually that it's not spreading, but that it's in a stable equilibria with your body and immune system.
Glad to find another Plague Inc fan. I think in the vast majority of cases, that winning strategy only works in the game, because symptoms are directly related to viral replication and the immune system's response to viral replication.You're right that when we're talking about engineered pandemics this is something to keep an eye out for, but luckily our immune systems are very good at keeping their eyes out
This is a really great summary and reference document, thanks for writing this! I have two comments:
1. There is a difference between detectable levels of RNA/DNA/Antigen and an active, transmissible infection. While most of the time this is not important when thinking about a global surveillance system, it is good to keep in mind especially in PoP testing.
Edit: You address my point 1 in your Part 2
2. You write:
However, while we can use animal surveillance systems to regularly monitor animals’ health and collect samples, we lack the capability of characterizing the pathogens effectively so as to predict their virulence and transmissibility to humans. This is a serious problem as it is infeasible to analyze and monitor every single pathogen strain found in animals. Microbiologists are working on this problem, but until then, zoonotic surveillance may not be suitable as an early-warning system
Kevin Esvelt has convincingly argued that we should not do this, because this would publish what and where viruses or pathogens are that could cause a pandemic to bad actors. It seems related to your point on "Potential for Dual-Use by Bad Actors". While the technology itself may not be used by bad actors, the information gathered would immediately be an information hazard which could be used by bad actors.Again, thanks a lot for this overview of the topic!