Let's make nice things with biology. Working on biosecurity at iGEM. Organizing East Bay Biosecurity from Toronto. Website: tessa.fyi


What are some high-impact paths for a young person in the developing world?
Answer by tessaJun 14, 202121

A few biosecurity-oriented answers and opportunities:

Which non-EA-funded organisations did well on Covid?
Answer by tessaJun 10, 202126

It seems like CEPI has taken pretty good actions (funding RNA vaccine R&D in 2018, funding Moderna in January 2020, leading COVAX). I'm excited about the plan they outline at https://endpandemics.cepi.net/:

  1. Compress vaccine development timelines to 100 days
  2. Develop a universal vaccine against coronaviruses
  3. Develop a library of vaccine candidates against other threats

and hope the EA community will be interested in supporting it. CEPI was initially funded by the Wellcome Trust, Gates Foundation, and several national governments (Norway, Japan, Germany, India), and (according to Wikipedia) have since been supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program and the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada and the UK.

How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid?

I second the impression that it's not that much of a surprise. For example, CEPI was founded with a goal of accelerating vaccine development against the WHO R&D Blueprint priority diseases and according to their R&D webpage:

In September 2017, CEPI requested proposals for vaccine platform technologies that enable rapid vaccine development, elicit rapid onset of immunity, and whose production can be scaled-up quickly to respond to outbreaks of Disease X. CEPI funded three platform technologies: a vaccine printer, molecular clamp platform, and a self-amplifying RNA vaccine platform.

I think it was a surprise that non-self-amplifying mRNA vaccines work as well as they do (mRNA is more immunogenic than predicted, I guess, at least for COVID?). 18 months ago, I don't think I would have bet on mRNA platform vaccines as the future over DNA or adenovirus vaccines.

How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid?

It seems fair to call avoiding travel restrictions a dubious measure in hindsight, but circa 2019 it strikes me as a reasonable metric to put under "compliance with international norms". There was an expert consensus that travel norms weren't a good pandemic response tool (see my other comment) and not implementing them is indeed part of complying with the WHO IHRs.

I am not totally sure that compliance with international norms a good measure of national health security! However, the according to the Think Global Health article you linked on Twitter, even the WHO Joint External Evaluations weren't well-correlated with COVID-19 deaths. (Those evaluations are how the prevention / detection / response capacity are measured in the Global Health Security Index, which then adds measures on health system / compliance with norms / risk landscape.)

How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid?

My understanding is that travel bans were widely believed to have greater costs than benefits before COVID. There are various quotes along those lines described in the (rather cynical) Lessons From the Crisis post on the topic of border closures.

In February 2020, I believed border closures weren't worth it. I thought they disincentivised countries from being transparent about emerging outbreaks (because said countries would face economic punishment via closed borders) and could only slow down the spread of a disease, not stop it. While I'm still not entirely sure about the relative benefits of open reporting vs. slowed spread, I was definitely underestimating the benefits of the latter. Evidence from Vietnam and New Zealand shows that early and strong international border controls can indeed slow the spread to the point where local outbreaks don't spiral beyond easy containment.

To link you to some resources, a September 2020 Cochrane meta-analysis, Travel‐related control measures to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic: a rapid review, concluded that:

There was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of travel‐related quarantine on its own. Some of the included studies suggest that effects are likely to depend on factors such as the stage of the epidemic, the interconnectedness of countries, local measures undertaken to contain community transmission, and the extent of implementation and adherence.

The February 2021 paper Evidence of the effectiveness of travel-related measures during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic: a rapid systematic review (PDF link) (which I found in the recent Vox article Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.) concluded that:

The study finds that the domestic travel measures implemented in Wuhan were effective at reducing the importation of cases internationally and within China and that additional travel restrictions were also likely important. The study also finds that travel measures are more effective when implemented earlier in the outbreak.

How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid?

This is meta, but I'm sort of hoping the recent Long Term Future Fund grant to CSER on "Ensuring the lessons learnt from COVID-19 improve GCR prevention and mitigation in the future" will generate some answers related to this question. I'd be very interested to see some postmortem work within that project on the actions taken by these major biosecurity organizations.

Long-Term Future Fund: April 2019 grant recommendations

Myself and the other organizers of Catalyst (the eventual name of "A biorisk summit for the Bay Area biotech industry, DIY biologists, and biosecurity researchers") recently wrote up a retrospective on the project, which may be of interest for people trying to understand how our LTFF funding was put to use.

Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit

After more thought, we decided to rename the post from "Event Postmortem: Catalyst Biosecurity Summit" to "Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit". Thanks again for the feedback!

tessa's Shortform

Credible Alternatives for (EA-flavoured) Depressive Beliefs

One idea in cognitive behavioural therapy is that it's easier to let go of beliefs that are doing damage to you if you have credible alternative beliefs. I found a list of some such alternatives in my notes from when I was doing CBT a few years ago, and was inspired by the recent 80,000 hours podcast on mental health to share them. Coming up with alternative beliefs was a really useful exercise for me and I would recommend it to others!

Damaging Belief: It’s a shame that I’ve had such a fortunate life. Someone else would do better with what I’ve got.

Credible Alternative: I can’t give my good luck to anyone else. The best I can do is be grateful for it.

Damaging Belief: I’m a drain on the world by default. Only by doing as much good as possible can I justify existing.

Credible Alternative: All lives are valuable. My life is valuable. I work to do good because I care, not because I’m obligated.

Damaging Belief: I’m a frivolous (and therefore bad) person because I make time for enjoying things.

Credible Alternative: I can trust myself to try my best. I’m better able to do that if I leave time for joy.

Damaging Belief: Noticing what can be done and failing to do it is worse than remaining unaware.

Credible Alternative: There isn’t enough of me to work on everything that I’d like to, and that’s okay.

Damaging Belief: Saying I can’t do something because of limited willpower or effort is just an excuse.

Credible Alternative: Acknowledging my limitations is not giving up. It lets me wisely direct the time and resources I have.

Note: I am not necessarily saying that the beliefs I labelled as "damaging" above would be damaging for everyone. They were certainly bad for my mental health, though!

Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit

Thanks for the feedback; nitpicking appreciated, since we also weren't sure about the title. We considered alternatives like "Learnings from a mid-sized event: Catalyst Biosecurity Summit Writeup" or "How to run a 100-person biosecurity event" but picked the current title for being short and containing the name of the summit.

I think we chose the word "postmortem" kind of following the naming trend of a few of the EAGx "postmortems" linked at the end of the post. I notice one of the current tags on the post is"Postmortems & Retrospectives". Would it have seemed more appropriate to you if the name was "Event Retrospective: Catalyst Biosecurity Summit"? Would "Retrospective: running a 100-person biosecurity summit" be better still? Further feedback welcome!

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