All of Sjlver's Comments + Replies

COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

Hmm... Here's how I understand your estimate. Is that a fair summary?

  • If all had gone according to a perfectly happy timeline where everyone makes the right decisions, we could have had enough vaccines in August.
  • This would be worth approximately 205 million QALYs.
  • It would also cost approximately 0.7 trillion dollars.
  • That's 3400 dollars per QALY.

My concern (expressed in the comments above) is mainly that the happy timeline is unrealistic, so the estimate could be off by a large factor, similarly to how the time and cost estimates of our plans are ofte... (read more)

8Ghost_of_Li_Wenliang5moThe estimate undersells long COVID because we don't know how many years of 3.2m QALYs to add, but yes that's roughly it. And yes, I only claim that it was a decent deal, particularly since the funding for it couldn't really have gone on something else. I freely admit that it could be off by a large factor (see my final paragraph). I would love for someone to come and do a proper Bayesian interval version, which would foreground the uncertainty. I continue to challenge calling it "unrealistic", on priors, just because it's very uncertain. Last January, a historical baseline would have called it unrealistic to expect completion of vaccine R&D, trials, approvals, and distribution in 11 months. But here we are. I would have you be less sure about what's not possible, or not realistic.
COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

Here's why the post reminds me of the planning fallacy: When people make flawed plans, these plans don't seem unrealistic. They often consist of detailed steps, each of which is quite likely to succeed. And yet, in most cases, the world takes a different turn and the planned project ends up late and more expensive.

You describe a "happy timeline" that's analogous to such a plan. For it to work, we would have to make many good decisions; many unknown obstacles would have to be overcome; and many novel ideas (like human challenge trials) accepted. None of the... (read more)

5Ghost_of_Li_Wenliang5moHuman challenge trials are a very old idea [https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/brief-history-human-challenge-trials-180976556/] . Not doing them is the aberration. Lockdown uncertainty seems moot. I'm not arguing that any lockdown policy should have been different (except that we might have lifted it a few months early if vaccinations were successfully time-shifted). Did anyone think that (realistic, non-Chinese, non-remote-island) lockdowns were an alternative to vaccines - back when we thought vaccines were coming in 2022 or 2027? The UK government seriously thought [https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3166] they could only do lockdown for a month or two. It doesn't add up. But my real response is: of course the above dates aren't exactly how it would go, of course the cost estimate isn't exactly how much it would take; I'm not god. I'm not even Derek Lowe. But do you really think it would have been slower than what we did? Unless you do, it doesn't seem wiser to me to refuse to estimate - even given that estimation is fallible.
COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

This post seems to fall victim to the planning fallacy.

One explanation for why people commonly underestimate project completion time is this: people consider a best-case scenario where everything goes smoothly. Like the "happy timeline" in this post. Alas, reality is not like this at all.

When people are asked for a “realistic” scenario, they envision everything going exactly as planned, with no unexpected delays or unforeseen catastrophes—the same vision as their “best case.”

Reality, it turns out, usually delivers results somewhat worse than the “worst

... (read more)
4Joe Munson5moHe seems to make really conservative assumptions though, what do you think was unrealistic? I don't think its unrealistic for the u.s.a to not ban people from testing themselves early in the pandemic, for example. Challenge trails seems obviously good and not unrealistic.

I don't recognise my post in this description. I openly acknowledge that there are bottlenecks., including unknown bottlenecks. I put a 150% interval on the key uncertainty. (I am protected somewhat from Hofstadter's law there by the reference point of the Braintree facility, with its almost known lead time.)

It's not unrealistic to pay weekend overtime  or make new weekend hires for regulators, in the biggest health crisis of the century. It's not unrealistic for a single Chinese scientist to just decide on his own to release the genome he already seq... (read more)

What are the 'PlayPumps' of cause prioritisation?

I've seen this comment after writing my answer on GMOs... sorry for duplicating that idea.

That said, I totally think that opposing GMOs is not just a waste of time, it's actually harmful. One of the striking examples is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice , where delays in approval probably caused thousands of deaths from vitamin A deficiency.

What are the 'PlayPumps' of cause prioritisation?

There are a lot of good ideas in the other comments already!

To add one more: Fighting Genetically Modified Organisms (plants specifically). There are of course valid concerns about the technology. However, most of the concerns that I hear (and believed for a long time) are motivated by hearsay and by religion. Many Christian friends share a feeling that we shouldn't "pretend to be God" and interfere with his creation. On the other hand, many people lack knowledge about the benefits of GMOs.

The podcast episode that radically changed my thinking about GMOs i... (read more)

What should CEEALAR be called?

Effective Hospitality

I've been thinking about this name on and off, and Effective Hospitality was the name that my thoughts kept returning to. I'd use it first as a name for what CEEALAR does: doing the most good possible by hosting people.

The name generalizes very well, in my opinion. Specifically, CEEALAR and/or the hotel could become "EH Blackpool". The idea might spread, and there could soon be "EH Tokyo", "EH Munich" and others (just as today there are effective altruism groups that call themselves "EA <location>").

The other primary advantage is that the name is quite self-explanatory.

7Neel Nanda5moWhen I hear the name, I picture a hotel chain trying to provide excellent and efficient service. It doesn't feel like it gets to the heart of the EA Hotel for me.
What should CEEALAR be called?

I like Xenea, a combination of Xenia (ancient Greek concept of hospitality) and EA.

Other ideas that I've thought about but like a bit less:

How about something like LEARN? -- not intended as an acronym; just "learn" with the letters "EA" in it highlighted in some way.

One could even play with the fact that "EA" also appears in "research" and consider a logo where these letters are highlighted the same, shared, ...

How do other EAs keep themselves motivated?

I like this question and have experienced the need for motivation in a similar way. For me, becoming motivated is a combination of (1) knowing more about the problem I'm working on and (2) establishing motivating reminders. The rest of this post is focused on malaria (disclaimer: I work at AMF) but I believe the ideas could be applied to many domains.

Example for (1): Over time, I've learned a lot about how malaria affects people, and also about the huge amount of work and logistics involved in a bednet distribution. I've seen videos of people driving motor... (read more)

Being Vocal About What Works

I like this post, thanks for writing!

I often consider two things when giving advice: (1) the quality of the advice and (2) my relationship with the person to whom I'm giving advice. Point (1) seems natural: by default, ideas are cheap and we shouldn't necessarily share them. The more an idea has helped me, the more readily I'll share it. Also, +1 to the risk aspect that jimrandomh mentioned.

Regarding point (2): I think that we need to somehow earn the right to speak into the lives of others. Advice is often demanding, as in "I think you should do X". Advic... (read more)

Thoughts on being overqualified for EA positions

The disincentives listed here make sense to me. I would just add that people's motivations are highly individual, and so people will differ in how much weight they put on any of these points or on how well their CV looks.

Personally, I've moved from Google to AMF and have never looked back. The summary: I'm much more motivated now; the work is actually more varied and technically challenging than before, even though the tech stack is not as close to the state of the art. People are (as far as I can tell) super qualified in both organizations. I'm happy to chat personally about my individual motivations if anyone who reads this feels that it would benefit them.

Which helped more? (Donating to AMF in 2010 or 2020)

I find this a fascinating and relevant question. Thanks for asking! Disclaimer first: I work for AMF, but the opinion here is entirely my own. None of the content here is based on inside information or implies anything about the opinions of AMF; In fact, you could probably substitute AMF in my writing with any other effective charity.

Background: This 80000hours podcast episode with Phil @trammell makes a good case for being patient, i.e., investing your money and donating it later. I recommend listening to the episode. Yet I disagree with its conclusion an... (read more)

What are your favorite examples of moral heroism/altruism in movies and books?

Two examples come to mind:

  • La vita è bella, a movie wherein the occupants of a concentration camp collaborate to help a child. It's not a movie about saving many people... but I'd say it involves altruism and self-sacrifice.
  • Speaker for the dead (Ender's game series part 2), wherein the protagonists encounter two alien species and figure out a way to live together. This one does qualify as saving many  "people", but it's less purely altruistic. Bonus: There is a cool AI in a key role ;-)
Get funding for your student group to buy productivity software

ClickUp might be a good alternative to Asana, particularly if you want to keep costs low. It's a project management tool for teams, but also works decently well for me as a personal task list.

It is a relatively young project and not as polished as some others like Asana or TodoIst, but has the advantage that the free plan covers a good range of its features.