I am the co founder of and researcher at the quantitative long term strategy organization Convergence (see here for our growing list of publications). Over the last eleven years I have worked with MIRI, CFAR, EA Global, Founders Fund, and Leverage, and done work in EA strategy, fundraising, networking, teaching, cognitive enhancement, and AI safety research. I have a MS degree in computer science and BS degrees in computer science, mathematics, and physics.

JustinShovelain's Comments

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Following Sean here I'll also describe my motivation for taking the bet.

After Sean suggested the bet, I felt as if I had to take him up on it for group epistemic benefit; my hand was forced. Firstly, I wanted to get people to take the nCOV seriously and to think thoroughly about it (for the present case and for modelling possible future pandemics) - from an inside view model perspective the numbers I was getting are quite worrisome. I felt that if I didn't take him up on the bet people wouldn't take the issue as seriously, nor take explicitly modeling things themselves as seriously either. I was trying to socially counter what sometimes feels like a learned helplessness people have with respect to analyzing things or solving problems. Also, the EA community is especially clear thinking and I think a place like the EA forum is a good medium for problem solving around things like nCOV.

Secondly, I generally think that holding people in some sense accountable for their belief statements is a good thing (up to some caveats); it improves the collective epistemic process. In general I prefer exchanging detailed models in discussion rather than vague intuitions mediated by a bet but exchanging intuitions is useful. I also generally would rather make bets about things that are less grim and wouldn't have suggested this bet myself, but I do think that it is important that we do make predictions about things that matter and some of those things are rather grim. In grim bets though we should definitely pay attention to how something might appear to parts of the community and make more clear what the intent and motivation behind the bet is.

Third, I wished to bring more attention and support to the issue in the hope that it causes people to take sensible personal precautions and that perhaps some of them can influence how things progress. I do not entirely know who reads this and some of them may have influence, expertise, or cleverness they can contribute.

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Nice find! Hopefully it updates soon as we learn more. What is your interpretation of it in terms of mortality rate in each age bracket?

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Sure, I'll take the modification to option (i). Thanks Sean.

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Hmm... I will take you up on a bet at those odds and with those resolution criteria. Let's make it 50 GBP of mine vs 250 GBP of yours. Agreed?

I hope you win the bet!

(note: I generally think it is good for the group epistemic process for people to take bets on their beliefs but am not entirely certain about that.)

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Good points! I agree but I'm not sure how significant those effects will be though... Have an idea of how we'd in a principled precise way update based on those effects?

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Updating the Fermi calculation somewhat:

  • P(it goes world scale pandemic) = 1/3, no updates (the metaculus estimate reference in another comment counteracted my better first principles estimation)
  • P(a particular person gets it | it goes world scale pandemic) = 1/2, updating based on the reproduction number of the virus
  • P(a particular person dies from it | a particular person gets it) = 0.09, updating based on a guess of 1/2 probability rare equipment is needed and a random guess of 1/2 probability fatality without it. 1/2*1/30 + 1/2*((Probability of pneumonia: (1/3+1/4 )*1/2)*(Probability of fatality given pnemonia and rare equipment is needed: 1/2)

=> P(death of a randomly selected person from it) = ~1/67

I'm not entirely sure what to think of the numbers; I cannot deny the logic but it's pretty grim and I hope I'm missing some critical details, my intuitions are wrong, or unknown unknowns make things more favorable.

Hopefully future updates and information resolves some of the uncertainties here and makes the numbers less grim. One large uncertainty is how the virus will evolve in time.

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Nice list!

Adding to it a little:

  • Avoid being sick with two things at once or being sick with something else immediately before.
  • When it comes to supplements the evidence and effect sizes are not that strong. Referencing examine.com and what I generally remember, I roughly think that the best immune system strengthening supplements would be zinc and echinacea with maybe mild effects from other things like vitamin C, vitamin D, and whey protein. There may be a couple additional herbs that could do something but it's unclear they are safe to take for a long duration. What you'd aim for is decreasing the severity of viral pnemonia induced by something like influenza.
  • It's possible that some existing antivirals will be helpful but currently this is unknown.
Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

The exponential growth curve and incubation period also have implications about "bugging out" strategies where you get food and water, isolate, and wait for it to be over. Let's estimate again:

Assuming as in the above comment we are 1/3 of the exponential climb (in reported numbers) towards the total world population and it took a month, in two more months (the end of March) we would expect it to reach saturation. If the infectious incubation period is 2 weeks (and people are essentially uniformly infectious during that time) then you'd move the two month date forward by two weeks (the middle of March). Assuming you don't want to take many risks here you might have a week buffer in front (the end of the first week of March). Finally, after symptoms arise people may be infectious for a couple weeks (I believe this is correct, anyone have better data?). So the sum total amount of time for the isolation strategy is about 5 weeks (and may start as early as the end of the first week of March or earlier depending on transportation and supply disruptions).

Governments by detecting cases early or restricting travel, and citizens by isolating and using better hygiene, could change these numbers and dates.

(note: for future biorisks that may be more severe this reasoning is also useful)

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