All of will_c's Comments + Replies

A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

I think it is an impressive effect, though I agree people not wanting to be in prison is more important. 

Using a panel of all defendants over the seven years after sentencing, we fnd that incarcerated defendants have a more than 60% lower mortality rate during the time of incarceration than similar defendants who were not incarcerated (an average of 230 deaths per hundred thousand annually as compared to 587 deaths per hundred thousand annually). The main sources of these differences are dramatically lower risks of mortality from homicide, overdose, o

... (read more)
A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

I wonder if this paper, which appears to show that incarceration reduces prisoner mortality relative to non-incarcerted but criminal-justice-involved people, should change your estimates of CJ reform benefits. Given that, it seems plausible that reducing prison stays actually increases mortality for prisoners.


Another interesting thing about this paper is the implication that the previous work on this topic (which used the general population as the control group) was flawed in an obvious way. That should generally lower our opinion of the academic literature on this topic. 

I imagine that the benefits of marginally increased mortality wouldn't be the most important facto here: the vast majority of prisoners would prefer to be outside prison, even if this leads to an (I presume small) increase in mortality. So I imagine this would have an effect, but for it to not be too large.
A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

That's an interesting idea. It seems like an effort that would require a lot of subject-matter expertise, so your idea to commision the CJ folks makes sense. 


I do wonder if cause areas that rely on academic fields which we have reason to believe may be ideologically biased would generally benefit from some red-teaming process. 

A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

Excellent post. I have a strong prior that academic literature on criminology is biased, so I am more inclined than you to guess that consensus estimates for criminal justice reform not having net negative effects on crime are too optimistic. So my guess for second-order effects is that they make criminal justice reform even less valuable relative to other global health/wellness causes.

Putting that aside, I think one reason Open Phil might have been so favorably inclined to criminal justice reform was the bipartisan consensus that pursuing it was a good id... (read more)

A lot of people, myself included, had relatively weak priors on the effects of marginal imprisonments on crime, and were subsequently convinced by the Roodman report. It might be valuable for people interested in this or adjacent cause areas to commission a redteaming of the Roodman report, perhaps by the CityJournal folks?

Thanks. Yeah, having a negative tail really reduces expected values. E.g., playing with a toy models, having a 25% that the impact is of the same magnitude but negative ~halves the expected impact: qualysPerDollarAllPositive = 1/lognormal(9.877,1.649) // taking from systemic change model qualysPerDollarWithNegativeTail = mx(qualysPerDollarAllPositive, -qualysPerDollarAllPositive, [0.8, 0.25]) [mean(qualysPerDollarAllPositive), mean(qualysPerDollarWithNegativeTail)] // 2e-4 vs 1.13e-4
Forecasting Newsletter: May 2022

missing something here

: "Peter Wildeford looks at the chances of accidental nuclear war (a), by giving the chance of a nuclear incident based on historical frequency using Laplace's law, and then his"

Thanks, changed to:
Fertility and Infertility: less related than you might think

Another reason to doubt the infertility-->declining birth rate story is that some populations that live in similar environments have maintained very high fertility rates.

Ultra Orthodox Jews live close to other city dweller in the US, have high-ish levels of obesity (implying similar food environment to average westerner, which is a reason to think Amish living as farmers might be exempt), and have high fertility rates.

Also, there are some factors, like much better treatment of STDs, that should, all other things being equal, reduce infertility rates. Hi... (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Incremental Institutional Review Board Reform

Epistemic Institutions, Values and Reflective Process

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) regulate biomedical and social science research. In addition to slowing and deterring life-saving biomedical research, IRBs interfere with controversial but useful social science research, eg, Scott Atran was deterred from studying Jihadi terrorists; Mark Kleiman was deterred from studying the California prison system, and a Florida State University IRB cited public controversy as a reason to deter research. We would like to ... (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Replacing Institutional Review Boards with Strict Liability

Biorisk, Epistemic Institutions, Values and Reflective Process

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) regulate biomedical and social science research. As a result of their risk-averse nature, important biomedical research is slowed or deterred entirely; eg, the UK human challenge trial was delayed by several months because of a protracted ethics review process and an enrollment delay in a thrombolytics trial cost thousands of lives. In the US, a plausible challenge to IRB legality can be mounted on Firs... (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Slowing AI Contingency Planning

AI Governance

AI progress has been especially rapid over the last 4 years. Because of visible success in diverse tasks by OpenAI, DeepMind, and others, it is likely that even more money and talent will flow into accelerating AI progress in the future. However, there is substantial controversy over whether AI safety/alignment technology is advancing as quickly as capability. Given that, we are interested in funding work on 1) identifying nonviolent ways to reversibly slow AI progress and 2) more research into whether and when such an intervention would be net-good. 


The Bioethicists are (Mostly) Alright

Glad you didn't see any factual error in the posts!

#1, Yeah, you're totally right that "bioethicists" is the wrong target. Will try to use "institutionalized research ethics" going forward. It is much more explicit about what the problem is and more fair to bioethicists. 

re #2, sort of agreed. I tend to think the public doesn't like weird ideas in general, but there was a recent paper showing higher public support for challenge trials than traditional trials. So I'm not sure what counts as weird to the public as a whole. It might be the case that the public has surprisingly EA-ish ideas on medical ethics, at least on this specific issue. Not sure. 

2Devin Kalish6mo
1. I appreciate it! 2. I hope the public is generally receptive to EA-style thinking, and there is some indication of it at least. I do still worry that when it comes to appeal-to-authority type reasoning, the public will find "bioethicists" more trustworthy, even if they are relatively disposed to agreeing with our ideas. I could be wrong on that, it is a fairly speculative harm.
The Bioethicists are (Mostly) Alright

I'm the author of the blogposts and tweets (@willyintheworld). You raise a bunch of good points and you're 100% right that when I write "bioethicists" on twitter I should really write "institutionalized research ethics". Not doing do so is sloppy of me. I think I do a better job showing the institutional dynamics bioethicists work under in my blogposts, so I think those hold up okay. But I'll look at those posts again and see if I think they need some edits. 


Mostly agree with: "worth some eyebrow-raising if it turns out that the ingroup defense ... (read more)

4Devin Kalish6mo
I really appreciate you replying to this, and I read (I think) all of your blog posts on IRBs, and they are all to the best of my knowledge informative and accurate. My point is much more just that "bioethicists" seem to be a bad way of framing a bunch of these issues. As for: 1. I think this is correct, but I still think it can be useful to try to get along, all else equal. As I briefly mentioned, it is possible that if bioethicists had better priorities they could make some indirect difference at least, and this is probably the best criticism of the field as it is now. Aside from this, I guess I just also don't like it when a group gets what I see as unfair criticism, even if it doesn't backfire. I focused more on that issue in the first draft, but wound up cutting it for brevity. 2. War is maybe a bit of a dramatic word for it, but I guess what I more mean is if it comes down to a very public "it's us or them" between EAs and bioethicists on important issues, I see the EAs losing. If the public largely agreed about the foibles of bioethicists it would be another story, but our group is weird in both our priorities, and our apparent vitriol against "bioethicists".
Maybe Antivirals aren’t a Useful Priority for Pandemics?

Interesting though not super important piece of information: Rabies is ~100% fatal once symptoms present, but there is evidence that even without vaccination, some humans have been exposed and survived, they just didn't realize it. 

Maybe Antivirals aren’t a Useful Priority for Pandemics?

I was about to post this. There are now two effective antivirals for COVID-19, developed relatively quickly, which makes me update towards antiviral development being a little easier and more promising than I thought. 


In addition, the historic antivirals with great success are against HIV and Hepatitis C and are targeted against a chronic disease. Herpes and CMV have antiviral treatments and are somewhat more acute (though Herpes is a chronic disease with acute flare-ups), but COVID-19 is more acute than those two. 

So my skepticism towards effective antivirals for acute illnesses is lower than before.

Thanks - yes, I have updated towards antivirals being more tractable, but it still seems clear that any such approach is not quick enough to matter for the most worrying existential / global catastrophic biorisks. So I'd still argue that it's not the right focus for the (still frustratingly and unfortunately) limited pandemic preparedness dollars, even if it's a useful investment overall.
EA Should Spend Its “Funding Overhang” on Curing Infectious Diseases

Hey, I'm working with Josh on an AMC project so I can answer this. 

 I don’t think it is actually a pessimistic paper for the pro-AMC case. The top-line result of “only 6 cents of additional R&D spending per dollar” is just part of the story. My summary of that paper:

  1. Finkelstein finds large benefits (billions of dollars worth) from the increases in coverage paid for at only moderate (in the tens of millions $ range) cost. This is the “static benefit” of increasing vaccine coverage given the generally large benefits of higher vaccination rates.
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Robin Hanson on the Long Reflection

It seems unlikely but not impossible given how strong status quo bias is among humans. NIMBY movement, reactionary and conservative politics in general, lots of examples of politics that call for less or no change. 

Humans have had periods of tens or hundreds of thousands of years where we stagnate and technology doesn't seem to change much, as far as we can tell from the archaeological record, so this isn't unprecedented. 

Robin Hanson on the Long Reflection

If Hanson thinks WBE and his resultant predictions are likely barring some external event or radical change, and also doesn't favor a Long Reflection, isn't that equivalent to saying his scenario is more desirable than the Long Reflection?

Robin Hanson on the Long Reflection

While Hanson is correct that the Long Reflection is rather dystopian, his alternatives are worse, and his "Age of EM" gives plenty of examples from a hypothetical society that is more dystopian than the "Long Reflection". 

Hanson's scenario of "a very real possibility that this regime could continue forever" is certainly worrying, but I view it as an improvement over certain alternatives, namely, AGI destroying humanity, severe values-drift from unconstrained whole brain emulation + editing + economic pressures, and resultant S-risk type scenarios.

So I... (read more)

I see an unconstrained Age of Em as better than an eternal long reflection.

I don't think Hanson would disagree with this claim (that the future is more likely to be better by current values, given the long reflection, compared to e.g. Age of Em). I think it's a fundamental values difference.

Robin Hanson is an interesting and original thinker, but not only is he not an effective altruist, he explicitly doesn't want to make the future go well according to anything like present human values.

The Age of Em, which Hanson clearly doesn't think is an undesirable future, would contain very little of what we value. Hanson says this, but it... (read more)

The long reflection as I remember it doesn't have much to do with AGI destroying humanity, since AGI is something that on most timelines we expect to have resolved within the next century or two, whereas the long reflection was something Toby envisaged taking multiple centuries. The same probably applies to whole brain emulation. This seems like quite an important problem for the long reflection case - it may be so slow a scenario that none of its conclusions will matter.

Afaict there is a difference between the Long Reflection and Hanson's discussion about brain emulations, in that Hanson focuses more on prediction, whereas the debate on the Long Reflection is more normative (ought it to happen?).