All of Sebastian_Oehm's Comments + Replies

Maybe Antivirals aren’t a Useful Priority for Pandemics?

Hey David, thanks for the post, always healthy to hear ideas about what not to do. I have a much more positive view of the promise and importance of antivirals for future pandemics, broadly for the following reasons.

Biological diversity & over-updating from one disease

COVID-19 vaccines have been exceptionally successful, in fact surprisingly effective to the expert community. It appears that COVID-19 is a disease that is (1) sufficiently immunogenic to elicit strong and lasting immunity, (2) was readily adaptable to the new vaccine platforms, thanks to... (read more)

7Davidmanheim4moThanks so much for the excellent feedback. I've updated a bit, but I don't think we disagree as much as it seems at first glance, or I'm not understanding your position. In general, I think you're responding about antivirals in general, and I was talking about antivirals specifically as a response option for during a nascent pandemic. But I do see a few points of clear disagreement. 1) Biological diversity & over-updating from one disease Antivirals work poorly everywhere. The "best" antivirals we have for flu, like tamiflu, don't have any significant clinical impact, according to all of the studies not run by the company making it. And yes, antivirals are relatively more important for diseases that don't have vaccines, but as I noted, HIV antiretrovirals are weak and only work slowly and in combinations, and "highly successful" seems like a weird claim given how long it took and how complex it is. And I agree that vaccines aren't always practical for all diseases, at least yet. But that doesn't lead me to think that we might be successful with antivirals. [Edit to add: "The success of COVID vaccines... does not, in my view, imply that they will be a sufficient defense against most or all possible threats." No, but finding vaccines not working says nothing about the success of other approaches - nothing guarantees that anything works, so pessimism on one front doesn't justify optimism on another, even if it causes us to invest differently.] 2) Future promise of antivirals vs current performance I think I agree with all of this, which is why I think antiviral work should continue to be funded. But none of this makes me think it's a valuable target for emergency response. 3) Portfolio theory and scientific innovation Agreed on our inability to pick winners, and the difficulty of exactly choosing relative investment amounts - but again, I'm not talking about foundational research, where a diversity of approaches are really important, I'm talking about last-dit
How to PhD

I'm not convinced that academia is generally a bad place to do useful technical work. In the simplest case, you have the choice between working in academia, industry or a non-profit research org. All three have specific incentives and constraints (academia - fit to mainstream academic research taste; industry - commercial viability; non-profit research - funder fit, funding stability and hiring). Among these, academia seems uniquely well-suited to work on big problems with a long (10-20 year) time horizon, while having access to extensive expertise and col... (read more)

1eca7moThanks Seb. I don't think I have energy to fully respond here, possibly I'll make a separate post to give this argument its full due. One quick point relevant to Crux 2: "I can also think of many examples of groundbreaking basic science that looks defensive and gets published very well (e.g. again sequencing innovations, vaccine tech; or, for a recent example, several papers on biocontainment published in Nature and Science)." I think there are many-fold differences in impact/dollar between the tech you build if you are trying to actually solve the problem and the type of probably-good-on-net examples you give here. Other ways of saying parallels of this point: * Things which are publishable in nature or science are just definitively less neglected, because you are competing against everyone who wants a C/N/S publication * The design space of possible interventions is a superset of, and many times larger than the design space of interventions which also can be published in high impact journals * We find power-laws in cost effectiveness lots of other places, and AFAIK have no counter-evidence here. Given this, even a small orthogonal component between what is incentivized by academia and what is actually good will lead to a large difference in expected impact.
Getting People Excited About More EA Careers: A New Community Building Challenge

Hey Jan and Howie,

thanks very much for the clarifying discussion. The fact that there is this discussion (also looking at the high number of votes for the comments) illustrates that there is at least some confusion around rating EA org vs. non-EA org careers, which is a bit concerning in itself.

FWIW my original claim was not that people (neither 80k nor community members) get the rational analysis part wrong. And a career path where actual impact is a few years off should totally get a reduced expected value & rating. (My claim in the initial post is t... (read more)

Hey Sebastian,

I'm sympathetic to your comment. The fact that (I think) 80k is not making this particular mistake in its IASPC system does not imply that there's nothing to be concerned about. I think your post as well as some of the comments in other threads do a good job of laying out many of the factors pushing people toward jobs at explicitly EA orgs.

Getting People Excited About More EA Careers: A New Community Building Challenge

Hey, I'm thinking of professional 'groups' or strong networks without respect to geography, though I would guess that some professions will cluster around certain geographies. E.g. in finance you'd expect EAs to be mainly in London, Frankfurt, New York etc. And it would be preferable for members to be in as few locations as possible.

I agree that local groups are very important, and plausibly more important, than professional groups. However, local groups work largely by getting members more involved in the community and providing '... (read more)

Comparative advantage in the talent market

You could try to model by estimating how (i) the talent needs and (ii) the talent availability will be distributed if we further scale the community.

(i) If you assume that the EA community grows, you may think that the percentage of different skillsets that we need in the community will be different. E.g. you might believe that if the community grows by a factor of 10, we don't need 10x as many people thinking about movement building strategy (the problems size increases not linearly with the number of people) or entrepreneurial skills (as the average org... (read more)

0JanBrauner4yI really like that idea. It might also be useful to check whether this model would have predicted past changes of career recommendations.
New Effective Altruism course syllabus

Thanks a lot for sharing this. The topics and readings lists strike me as pretty well chosen and interesting. This could be a very useful resource for local groups running discussion groups.