EA and the Possible Decline of the US: Very Rough Thoughts

[Epistemic status: Uncertain, and also not American, so this is a 3rd party perspective]

As for the likelihood of some form of collapse, to me the current trajectory of polarization in the US seems unsustainable. Nowadays, members of both parties are split about whether they consider members of the other party "a threat to their way of life"(!)  and feelings towards the other party are rapidly declining.  

I do not think that this is just a fluke, as many political scientists argue that this is driven by an ideological sorting and a creation of a "mega-identity", where race, education and political leanings now all align with each other. Political debate seems overwhelmingly likely to get more acrimonious when disagreement is not just about facts, but about your whole identity, and when you consider the other side to be your enemy.  

It is only a slight overstatement to say that members of both parties live in two very different realities. There is almost no overlap  in the trusted news organizations  and the unprecedentedly constant approval rating of Donald Trump indicates that neither side changed their mind much in response to new information coming in.   

On the up side, "67% comprise 'the Exhausted Majority', whose members share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.” My worry is that this majority is increasingly drowned out by the radical voices in traditional and social media. 

It is also pertinent that political collapse can happen very fast and without much warning, like the Arab Spring and the collapse of the Soviet Union showed, which came unexpected to observers. Decline can also take the form of persistent riots/unrest where no one party has the political capital/strength to reach an agreement with the rioters or to stop it. Consequently, if decline of the US seems likely and bad, I would worry about it possibly happening quickly (<10 years).

80k hrs #88 - Response to criticism

Hi Mark, thanks for writing this post. I only had a cursory reading of your linked paper and the 80k episode transcript, but my impression is that Tristan's main worry (as I understand it)  and your analysis are not incompatible:  

Tristan and parts of broader society fear that through the recommendation algorithm, users discover radicalizing content. According to your paper, the algorithm does not favour and might even  actively be biased against e.g conspiracy content.

 Again, I am not terribly familiar with  the whole discussion, but so far I have not yet seen the point made clearly (enough), that both these claims can be true: The algorithm could show less "radicalizing" content than an unbiased algorithm would, but  even these fewer recommendations could be enough to radicalize the viewers compared to a baseline where the algorithm would recommend no such content.  Thus, YouTube could be accused of not "doing enough". 

Your own paper cites this paper arguing that there is a clear pattern of viewership migration from moderate "Intellectual Dark Web" channels to alt-right content based on an analysis of user comments. Despite the limitation of using only user comments that your paper mentions, I think that commenting users are still a valid subset of all users and  their movement towards more radical content  needs to be explained, and that the recommendation algorithm is certainly a plausible explanation.  Since you have doubts about this hypothesis, may I ask if you think there are likelier ways these users have radicalized?

A way to test the role of the recommendation algorithm could be to redo the analysis of the user movement data for comments left after the change of the recommendation algorithm. If the movement is basically the same despite less recommendations for radical content, that is evidence that the recommendations never played a role like you argue in this post. If however the movement towards alt-right or radical content is lessened, it is reasonable to conclude that recommendations have played a role in the past, and by extension could still play a (smaller) role now.

80k hrs #88 - Response to criticism

In general I agree, but the forum guidelines do state "Polish: We'd rather see an idea presented imperfectly than not see it at all.", and this is a post explicitly billed as "response" that were invited by Rob. So if this is all the time Mark wants to spend on it, I feel it is perfectly fine to have a post that is only for people who have listened to the podcast/are aware of the debate.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

* Good can mean quality and morality: Again, I liked that. We do mean it in both ways (the advice is both attempting to be as high quality as possibly and as high as possible in moral impact, but we are working under uncertainty in both parameters).  

For what it's worth, I liked the name specifically because to me it seemed to advertise an intention of increasing a lot of readers' impact individually by a moderate amount, unlike 80000's approach where the goal is to increase  fewer readers' impact by a large amount. 

I.e. unlike Michael I like the understatement in the name, but I agree with him that it does convey understatement. 

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

Will, you are right that boycotting is not the right term for the phenomenon at hand. In addition to the reason you gave, a cancellation campaign mostly involves pressuring other organizations or people to boycott somebody. Plain old boycotting is one personal's decision  to not attend a talk, cancelling is demanding to stop the talk from even happening. 

However, I think there is some truth to the point that cancel culture is not the most productive term when used in discussions over whether it is actually a bad thing, precisely because as you say it suggests that people engaging in it are doing  something wrong and thus begs the question.  For a somewhat symmetrical situation, consider proponents of cancel culture starting a discussion over "Should Organization A be a platform for Person B's harmful views?".    

Prioritization in Science - current view

Thanks for the write-up. Regarding the issue of loss of motivation when scientists work on research they are less intrinsically interested in: 

I know of at least one large scale historical experiment which did this. In the Soviet Union, science was reorganized to investigate areas specifically expected to increase social welfare (sadly sometimes the conclusions were predetermined by party cadres). This quote from an overview article seems relevant: 

Under the Bolshevik rule, scientists lost much of their autonomy and independence but acquired more social prestige and de facot influence on politically important decision making. The Soviet regime valued science more highly and allocated it a proportionally larger share of the national income than did contemporary governments in economically better developed and more prosperous countries. It strongly opposed the ideology of pure science, promoting instead the ideal of science as potentially usable- even if not always immediately applicable- knowledge about the world.  

https://www.jstor.org/stable/40207005?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents (page 122) 

It might be worth looking into how and whether this actually worked to produce good research. 

N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal

Thanks a lot for the in depth analysis, and great analysis on the efficacy of N-95 masks. 

However, I think that because of the whole politicization of mask wearing most discussion has missed a crucial point (and I have been guilty of this as well): In situations where people are ready to wear masks (shops, public transport) infection risk is not high and surgical masks are enough. In situations where  people generally do not wear masks (bars, restaurants, private meetings at home, all day at your workplace) risk is higher but willingness to wear masks lower. It is my understanding that this is where most of the infections happen, at least in Europe. KN95 masks have been more uncomfortable to wear than surgical ones in my experience, so my presumption is that N95 masks are not so comfortable that people will wear them all day ( please correct me if I am wrong). 

This does not mean that there are some situations wear N95 masks for the general population might be beneficial like barbershops or doctor visits. It just does not seem to me that there is a lot of potential to get R to below 1 with  mask wearing.

There might also be some value in designing face coverings that people would wear in more situations. For example these Japanese researchers claim to have a face shield design that prevents airborne spread much more efficiently.       

A beginner data scientist tries her hand at biosecurity

Are you sure that this is the standard way in competitions? It is absolutely correct that before the final submission, one would find the best model by fitting it on a train set and evaluating it on the test set. However, once you found a best performing model that way, there is no reason not to train the model with the best parameters on the train+test set, and submit that one. (Submission are the predictions of the model on the validation set, not the parameters of the model).  After all, more data equals better performance.  

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

Jordan Peterson is probably indeed a good example. A more objective way to describe his demeanor than shamelessness is "not giving in". One major reason why he seems to be popular is his perceived willingness to stick to controversial claims. In turn that popularity is some form of protection against attempts to get him to resign from his position at the University of Toronto.

However, I think that there are significant differences between Peterson and EA's situation, so Peterson's example is not my endorsement of a "shamelessness" strategy.

Some thoughts on the effectiveness of the Fraunhofer Society
Almost all of the contract research is done for public projects, often in joint-ventures with companies. That way, most of the funding comes from public sources.

Could you please explain that further? Looking at this document, page 13, it says that almost 50% of the proceeds from contract research is from economic sources ("Wirtschaftserträge"), and only 41 percent of the contract research money comes from public sources ("EU" and "Bund/Länder"). If my reading is correct, then it would be misleading to say that "almost all" of the research is done for public projects. Or does the category "Wirtschaftserträge" also contain public projects somehow?


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