Max Görlitz

Research Affiliate @ SecureBio
1093 karmaJoined Dec 2020Pursuing other degree/diplomaOxford, UK


Working on biosecurity research around far-UVC safety. Organized EA Munich for >2 years and did some EA community building in Germany. Studied 3 years of medicine. Incoming master's student in Genomic Medicine at Oxford.

Sometimes I write about meditation and other stuff. You can find my writing on my website or on Substack:

Feel free to reach out to me at my email address, and let me know if you’d like to chat: hello [at] maxgoerlitz [dot] com

(last updated in August 2023)

How others can help me

How I can help others

  • Give insights about my path from med student → independent biosecurity research → full-time biosecurity research
  • Give learnings from organizing EA Munich.
  • Besides that, I have some expertise in medicine, meditation & well-being, and effective learning techniques.


Topic Contributions

FYI, the review paper that I teased in the introduction has finally been published and is now freely available online. It goes over existing far-UVC skin and eye safety evidence and sketches out important studies that should be done in the future.

Also, check out these X threads on the paper by Lenni Justen and Kevin Esvelt

I didn't know that! Thanks for the info.

In the meantime, I have created an MVP google doc of the biosecurity landscape. 

Thanks, Luca!

You are correct that there are no results yet since the trial is still ongoing and double-blinded. I have talked to them about their trial and attended that talk. AFAIK they decided to extend the duration of the trial and are adding another study site (long-term care facility) since they received additional funding for a phase 2. 

In this next phase of the trial, they will also be monitoring ozone and volatile organic compounds, which could provide some useful real-world data about those questions. 

Another data point from a post on Reflective Altruism about biorisk:

This post begins a sub-series, “Bioriskarguing that levels of existential biorisk may be lower than many effective altruists suppose.

I have to admit that I had a hard time writing this series. The reason for that is that I’ve had a hard time getting people to tell me exactly what the risk is supposed to be. I’ve approached high-ranking effective altruists, including those working in biosecurity, and been told that they cannot give me details, because those details pose an information hazard. (Apparently the hazard is so great that they refused my suggestion of bringing their concerns to a leading government health agency, or even to the CIA, for independent evaluation). One of them told me point-blank that they understood why I could not believe them if they were not willing to argue in detail for their views, and that they could make do with that result.

A related point that I have observed in myself: 

I think dual-use technologies have a higher potential for infohazards. I have a preference for not needing to be "secretive," i.e., not needing to be mindful about what information I can share publicly. Probably there is also some deference going on where I shied away from working on more infohazard-y seeming technologies since I wasn't sure how to deal with selectively sharing information. Accordingly, I have preferred to work on biorisk mitigation strategies that have little dual-use potential and, thus, low infohazard risk. (In my case far-UVC, another example would be PPE).

The problem with this is that it might be much more impactful for me to work on a biorisk mitigation technology that has more dual-use potential, but I haven't pursued this work because of infohazard vibes and uncertainty about how to deal with that. 

Another difficulty, especially for junior people, is that working on projects with significant infohazard risk could prevent you from showing your work and proving your competence. Since you might not be able to share your work publicly, this could reduce your chances of career advancement since you (seemingly) have a smaller track record. 

(Side note: it's always both flattering and confusing to be considered a "senior member" of this community. I suppose it's true, because EA is very young, but I have many collaborators and colleagues who have decade(s) of experience working full-time on biorisk reduction, which I most certainly do not.)

I think part of this is that you are quite active on the forum, give talks at conferences, etc., making you much more visible to newcomers in the field. Others in biosecurity have decades of experience but are less visible to newcomers. Thus, it is understandable to infer that you are a "senior member."

I agree with Jasper and don't expect impacts on the skin microbiome to be a big deal, but it would, of course, be good to get some more data. 

One useful comparison is that healthcare workers use alcohol-based hand sanitizers many times a day, which are quite potent and can kill microbes in areas inaccessible to Far-UVC. 

In this review paper, they only saw changes to the composition of the skin microbiome after extremely frequent daily hand disinfection: 

“Overall microbe diversity on hands was unchanged with alcohol-based hand rub use or hand washing, with the exception that overall diversity was lower in those that reported >40 hand washing with soap and water events per shift”

From Edmonds-Wilson et al. 2015. I don't know how bad reduced diversity is and what harmful effects that might have. 

While these alcohol-based hand sanitizers are quite effective, they evaporate quickly and accordingly kill microbes in a very short time span. In certain scenarios, you could imagine far-UVC being different because it could kill off skin microbes at the back of your hands more or less continuously during the ~8 hours you are at work. This raises the question if this mode of continuous disinfection has different effects than the short bursts of frequent hand disinfection experienced by healthcare workers. I'd be surprised if the outcome is very different. 

Hi Sanjay, thanks for the comment!

sounds like a pretty great cherry on the cake

Indeed, I think part of the path to impact for far-UVC will be that adoption will hopefully be driven by, e.g., employers like Google equipping their offices with far-UVC lamps because they expect this to reduce the total number of sick days of their workers and therefore increase productivity + profits. Getting this type of evidence for efficacy would be great since it would be an excellent sales pitch to companies whose employees earn a lot, meaning sick days are costly. Ideally, you would be able to tell them something like, "Installing these far-UVC fixtures in the whole office will cost you $30,000, but based on existing evidence and our best models, you'll likely recoup those costs after approx. 18 months due to a reduction in sick days of your employees." 

Presumably, that would be a big boost for demand and competition, thereby reducing costs and increasing R&D. It could help to make far-UVC widespread enough to make a difference in stopping future outbreaks or slow down the spread of disease during the next pandemic. 

but could it exacerbate pandemic risk by reducing immunity, thereby making it easier for a bioweapon engineer to create a scary pathogen?

There has been very little research on the interaction of far-UVC and the immune system. It is a topic that often comes up in discussions around far-UVC safety and is related to the well-known "hygiene hypothesis," which says something like, "If you're not exposed to enough germs as a child, you might get more allergies." 

I want to see more research on this, but so far, it hasn't been as much of a priority. First, people wanted to figure out things like whether far-UVC could give you skin cancer or make you blind. By now, we know those things won't happen, so we can turn to more "second-order" type risks like immune system effects. 

However, I have a few intuitions about why this seems unlikely. First of all, it is an "end-game" worry in the sense that it seems like it would only become relevant once far-UVC is almost ubiquitous. Even if it becomes widespread, it would be installed in places like hospitals, shared offices, public transport, etc., but you probably wouldn't have it in your home or anywhere outside. Let's say you would spend ~10 h per day in environments that have much more sterile air than nowadays, but the other ~14 h, you're at home or wherever and still exposed to the germs of, e.g., your partner or children.  

Also, I expect that even widespread far-UVC wouldn't reduce fomite transmission much because its disinfection works by line of sight and is easily shielded. So your immune system would still be challenged by that type of transmission.

As I wrote in the post, we only really care about far-UVC if we can find a path to really widespread adoption and high enough doses to slow down or even stop the transmission of extremely infectious agents like measles. If we actually achieve pathogen suppression that strong, I find it hard to imagine a malevolent actor engineering a pathogen so scary that it overwhelms this system. Remember that far-UVC would only be one of our defenses against pandemics and would be combined with PPE, ventilation, medical countermeasures, etc.  

I also haven't seen any convincing evidence that a reduction in your exposure to germs dramatically worsens your immune system. While I haven't looked into it deeply, the hygiene hypothesis seems to be somewhat controversial and concerns things like allergies, not, e.g., doubling your susceptibility to common infections because of a worse immune system. 

Similarly, I have heard claims that due to all the social isolation, masking, etc., during the Covid pandemic, peoples' immune systems got worse. Yes, the flu + RSV season peaked earlier last winter and was decently bad, but I don't see how this can be attributed to a broad decrease in immune competency. Rather, it just seems like many people weren't exposed to these specific pathogens that they would have typically been challenged with more frequently. I'm not terribly knowledgeable here, so might be mistaken, would be curious if other folks have more insights.

I agree. Getting more data on risks (safety) and real-world efficacy to formulate a more comprehensive and convincing cost-benefit calculus is probably the biggest priority for far-UVC right now.

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