Centre for the Study of Existential Risk update 2016-08-31T09:06:12.796Z
Environmental risk postdoctoral research position at CSER. 2016-04-20T12:12:10.471Z
New Leverhulme Centre on the Future of AI (developed at CSER with spokes led by Bostrom, Russell, Shanahan) 2015-12-03T10:02:10.216Z
New positions and recent hires at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk 2015-10-05T17:55:07.679Z
Postdoctoral research positions at CSER (Cambridge, UK) 2015-03-26T18:03:27.544Z


Comment by sean_o_h on 10 Habits I recommend (2020) · 2021-01-06T17:14:12.669Z · EA · GW

Found this very helpful, thank you!

Comment by sean_o_h on What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others? · 2020-11-19T14:16:13.377Z · EA · GW

There's a powerful poem in my native language (Irish) that was published in 1971, whose title loosely translates to "Indifference cannot be permitted". It calls for equality, compassion, and our obligation towards people in all parts of the world, people with mental illness, non-human animals, and (depending on how one translates) possible life beyond earth. It was my first introduction to principles such as those that underpin EA. I won't try to translate it, but it's talked about (and part of it translated) in a recent blog post here:


Níl cuil, níl leamhan, níl beach
Dar chruthaigh Dia, níl fear,
Nach dualgas dúinn a leas,
Níl bean; ní ceadmhach neamhshuim
A dhéanamh dá n-imní;
Níl gealt i ngleann na ngealt,
Nár chuí dhúinn suí lena ais,
Á thionlacan an fhaid
A iompraíonn thar ár gceann
Ár dtinneas-ne ‘na mheabhair.

Níl alt, níl sruth, níl sceach,
Dá iargúlta iad, níl leac,
Bídís thuaidh, thoir, thiar nó theas,
Nár cheart dúinn machnamh ar a suíomh
Le gean is le báidhíocht;
Dá fhaid uainn Afraic Theas,
Dá airde í gealach,
Is cuid dínn iad ó cheart:
Níl áit ar fuaid na cruinne
Nach ann a saolaíodh sinne.

Comment by sean_o_h on What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others? · 2020-11-19T14:00:51.995Z · EA · GW

If you liked that, you might appreciate Stephen Fry denouncing god in no-holds-barred fashion on an Irish religious programme (I must confess feeling a little sorry for the presenter Gay Byrne - I don't think he got what he was bargaining for):

Comment by sean_o_h on Donating against Short Term AI risks · 2020-11-17T10:56:08.248Z · EA · GW

A couple of resources that may be of interest here:

- The work of Aviv Ovadya of the Thoughtful Technology Project; don't think he's an EA (he may be, but it hasn't come up in my discussions with him):

- CSER's recent report with Alan Turing Institute and DSTL, which isn't specific to AI and social media algorithms only, but addresses these and other issues in crisis response:
"Tackling threats to informed decisionmaking in democratic societies"

- Recommendations for reducing malicious use of machine learning in synthetic media (Thoughtful Technology Project's Aviv Ovadya and CFI's Jess Whittlestone)

- And a short review of some recent research on online targeting harms by CFI researchers

Comment by sean_o_h on OPIS policy paper: Legalising access to psilocybin for the treatment of cluster headaches · 2020-11-12T12:29:52.775Z · EA · GW

Well done on this, important work and a strong set of signatories.

Comment by sean_o_h on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-16T08:17:17.218Z · EA · GW

Yes, and this is likely to reflect that (1) initial outbreaks were concentrated in cities/international hubs, more of which vote democrat and (2) in the initial outbreak testing capacity was lower, meaning that there were likely many more undiagnosed cases in these states. Treatment and therefore survival has improved too, but I think overall Linch's suggestion of mortality is a fairer metric for covid prevalence.

Comment by sean_o_h on AI Governance: Opportunity and Theory of Impact · 2020-10-15T17:13:40.282Z · EA · GW

A quick note on epistemic security: we've just published a report exploring some of these ideas (previously discussed with GovAI) in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute and the UK's Defence Science Technology Laboratory, and building on a previous series of workshops (which Eric Drexler among others participated in). For those interested, it's available below.

"Access to reliable information is crucial to the ability of a democratic society to coordinate effective collective action when responding to a crisis, like a global pandemic, or complex challenge like climate change. Through a series of workshops we developed and analysed a set of hypothetical yet plausible crisis scenarios to explore how technologically exacerbated external threats and internal vulnerabilities to a society’s epistemic security – its ability to reliably avert threats to the processes by which reliable information is produced, distributed, and assessed within the society – can be mitigated in order to facilitate timely decision-making and collective action in democratic societies.

Overall we observed that preserving a democratic society’s epistemic security is a complex effort that sits at the interface of many knowledge domains, theoretical perspectives, value systems, and institutional responsibilities, and we developed a series of recommendations to highlight areas where additional research and resources will likely have a significant impact on improving epistemic security in democratic societies"

Comment by sean_o_h on Open Communication in the Days of Malicious Online Actors · 2020-10-07T12:05:52.283Z · EA · GW

As a datapoint, the issues Ozzie raises feel quite relevant to issues I find myself needing to think about where it comes to different communities engaging with Xrisk-related issues and different aspects of our (an xrisk/gcr centre's) work - especially when it comes to different communities with different epistemic and communication norms - so I find it relevant and helpful in that sense.

Comment by sean_o_h on What are the leading critiques of "longtermism" and related concepts · 2020-07-20T15:59:03.055Z · EA · GW


Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T18:47:51.311Z · EA · GW

Thanks Juan, I hadn't seen that most recent R0 estimate you link to - concerning.

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T18:26:04.600Z · EA · GW
I'm not convinced that we would have already seen a significant uptick in reported/confirmed case numbers quite yet (weren't the largest protests this past Saturday?). The median incubation period is ~5 days, most people don't get tested at the time of symptom onset, and the PCR test turnaround time still seems to still be at least a day or two. Perhaps most importantly, most of the protestors seem to be relatively young and so many may be asymptomatic or may have mild cold/flu-like symptoms. I'm more interested in (and concerned about) any secondary transmission events that may involve older family members that protestors might live with/come into contact with. Many of these older folks would presumably have more serious symptoms and so would be more likely to show up in confirmed cases/hospitalizations data over the coming weeks.

Right. But with regard to R0 =0.9, I understand R0=0.9 was being used as the background R0 prior to the impact of the protest, rather than the R0 following the impact of the protests (if 'background' R0 is <1, then the impact of an R0-increasing event/set of events will have a lesser effect than if 'background' R0 is >1). It may be the case, as you suggest, that R0 has increased significantly since the start of the protests until now (whether due to the protests or in combination of other factors), in which case protests right now are happening against a higher R0 than these estimates assume - but we don't have the data. I agree that NYC will be interesting.

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T17:04:41.291Z · EA · GW

R0 could certainly be much higher in principle, though if it is, it doesn't seem to be reflected in the number of positive cases being recorded in the US - which has been holding steady or slightly declining for the past month - or the number of deaths (declining, although there would be a lag there). These indicators could be misleading of course - the US, like the UK, is nearly certainly undertesting and undercounting cases. However, the number of tests has been going up, and if the number of cases being 'caught' isn't increasing this is some indication that R0 is somewhere a little below 1. So I would tentatively agree with the OP's suggestion here.

One reason looking at different assessments based on R0=0.9 is informative is that it illustrates just how high the uncertainty and room for error is in these sorts of analysis. The OP predicts 75,000 deaths as a plausible possibility; Bedford predicts 150-600/day, so 2,100 -8,400 over the course of 2 weeks of protests (assuming each day carries the same impact on R0, which is probably wrong); both using R0=0.9 as a central assumption, and recognising that the present R0 is a key factor. Because present value of R0 is such a critical factor, comparing different estimates at the same R0 makes it easier to compare/contrast.

One of my personal concerns is that the BLM protests may end up unduly scapegoated (in terms of their role being overestimated) for any increase in cases and deaths; the US administration has done quite a bit of scapegoating already in my view, and there are many ways in which its own response has been far from adequate. My intuition is that other aspects of states reopening prematurely are likely to play a bigger impact in a possible second wave. If there were a significant overestimation of the impact of the BLM protests for example, this would be bad not only for the BLM movement and antiracism in the US; it would also be bad in terms of understanding the other causes of increase of R0 and putting in the appropriate planning overall for preventing and responding to future waves. (Likewise however, if those of us who think the impact of the protests is lower than in reality are wrong, it would be good to update).

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T10:51:08.384Z · EA · GW

He did another analysis assuming R0 of 0.9, obtaining estimate of 150-600 downstream deaths per day of protests.

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T10:32:12.060Z · EA · GW

I would expect deaths to be on a lag (it takes a few weeks on average for people to get sick enough to die). At a quick glance, France, Spain, Italy and Germany are reporting an average of well under 1k new cases a day for the last 7 days, compared to 19-25K/day for the US (obviously necessary to correct for the USA having a 5-6x larger population than these countries).

Edit: this site estimates R0 as being 1.02 in the US overall, and <1 in all western and northern European countries (although >1 in several eastern european countries)

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-09T07:54:02.849Z · EA · GW

There are other factors (relating to points made in the post) to suggest the protests in UK and EU may carry less risk comparatively. Police tactics at protests in different countries may be a relevant consideration - e.g. the heavy use of tear gas in the US (bad for spreading covid, as larks notes) isn't happening in the UK. R0 also a relevant consideration - likely much lower in many european countries now than in many parts of the US.

Comment by sean_o_h on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-03T21:08:08.672Z · EA · GW

I am also sceptical about the central scenario. Protests have disproportionately high visibility relative to the numbers participating. If the 28% reduction Brauner et al estimate was the result of banning protests, parades, sporting events, concerts, political rallies, beach gatherings, lectures, house parties, crowded gyms and restaurants, yoga classes, and many other categories of >10 people gatherings, plus the indirect effects (e.g. on public transport etc) of these measures, then it seems unlikely to me that the recent protests could have an equivalent reverse impact, despite how relatively widespread they have been.

Comment by sean_o_h on Projects tackling nuclear risk? · 2020-05-30T16:10:53.980Z · EA · GW

I'd suggest considering:

Comment by sean_o_h on What are examples of EA work being reviewed by non-EA researchers? · 2020-03-29T15:53:53.878Z · EA · GW

Likewise for publications at CSER. I'd add that for policy work, written policy submissions often provide summaries and key takaways and action-relevant points based on 'primary' work done by the centre and its collaborators, where the primary work is peer-reviewed.

We've received informal/private feedback from people in policy/government roles at various points that our submissions and presentations have been particularly useful or influential. And we'll have some confidential written testimony to support this for a few examples for University REF (research excellence framework) assessment purposes; however unfortunately I don't have permission to share these publicly at this time. However, this comment I wrote last year provides some info that could be used as indirect indications of the work being seen as high-quality (being chosen as a select number to be invited to present orally; follow-up engagement, etc).

Comment by sean_o_h on Coronavirus Research Ideas for EAs · 2020-03-28T16:56:30.920Z · EA · GW

Thanks Peter, that's awesome!

Comment by sean_o_h on Coronavirus Research Ideas for EAs · 2020-03-28T09:52:10.920Z · EA · GW

Thank you for writing this up; it's extremely helpful, especially in such a rapidly developing space. A very optional request: might you consider updating this e.g. once a week with significant relevant developments on these ideas/questions? With so many of us involved in many different ways, it could provide a helpful evolving roadmap. Feel free to ignore if too much hassle or redundant with summaries elsewhere.

Comment by sean_o_h on The best places to donate for COVID-19 · 2020-03-21T12:25:47.808Z · EA · GW

[disclaimer: I am co-director of CSER, but giving an individual view]. Hi, a quick comment (apologies that I may not have time to respond to replies, very busy period).

>“We understand that CSER’s work mostly has little direct relevance to COVID-19, but some of it is relevant to pandemics and that they are looking to expand this element of their team. We believe that this may be a suitable choice for funders inspired to support pandemics as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.”

This is accurate in my view. However, I would emphasise that for EA funders keen to support (a) *direct* response to Covid-19 and/or (b) most time-effective use of funds relating to the current situation within the next 6 months, my view is that there are likely to be more timely interventions than supporting CSER at this immediate time.

E.g. we ourselves are working to support other initiatives by collaborators relating to the immediate situation (I have been looking for ways to support Univursa*, whose researchers we’ve worked with before, and which I individually consider particularly promising in the current situation). As the writeup says, our work is more focused on broader GCR and pandemic/biorisk goverance and preparedness. We are in the process of making a number of hires (50% of whom are biorisk/epidemiology/biosecurity specialists). I expect we will have a lesser need for additional funding in the 0-6 month window. In the >6 month window, as the world (hopefully) moves from immediate crisis response to better preparedness/governance/biosecurity, and as our expanded bio team develops expands its work relevant to this, we are likely to have significantly more RFMF (although I could not give a view at this time on comparative value of funds with other orgs in future). I should also mention that some of our work is likely to be under the banner of other initiatives our researchers are a part of (e.g. the Biorisc initiative, which has gained good traction in the UK policy context

Very grateful to Sanjay, and to everyone else working hard to identify opportunities to combat Covid-19!

*Footnote on my being excited about Univursa: While the approach was initially developed with a focus on haemorrhagic epidemics (e.g. ebola), based on my analysis of the method, and discussion with the researchers, I believe it will be very suitable for adaptation to covid-19 diagnostics (although no guarantees can be made until database development and field testing completed); and could play a v important role in resource-limited settings like sub-saharan Africa where testing and outbreak detection ability is extremely limited. Further, above and beyond regional benefits, it is my understanding that unless appropriate tools are provided to these regions, getting this pandemic under control globally will be a lot more challenging.

Comment by sean_o_h on Toby Ord’s ‘The Precipice’ is published! · 2020-03-11T20:23:16.827Z · EA · GW

That would be a shame. If you're fairly familiar with Xrisk literature and FHI's work in particular, then a lot of the juiciest facts and details are in the footnotes - I found them fascinating.

Comment by sean_o_h on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-03-04T15:59:02.957Z · EA · GW

Datapoint (my general considerations/thought processes around this, feeding into case-by case decisions about my own activities rather than a blanket decision): I am (young healthy male) pretty unconcerned personally about risk to myself individually; but quite concerned about becoming a vector for spread (especially to older or less robust people). While I have a higher-than-some-people personal risk tolerance, I don't like the idea of imposing my risk tolerance on others. Particularly when travelling/fatigued/jetlagged, I'm not 100% sure I trust my own attention to detail quite enough on reliably taking all the necessary steps carefully enough, so this makes me a little hesitant to take on long-haul travel to international events (I also work/interact with older colleagues reasonably regularly, and am concerned re: the indirect activities of my actions on them).

I would also like to see society-level actions that reduce disease spread, and I intuitively feel that EA should be a participant in such actions, given it takes such risks seriously as a community.

Comment by sean_o_h on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-03-03T15:35:31.232Z · EA · GW

The information Singapore is gathering, collating and making available is fascinating.

Singapore is also one of the nations that appears to be dealing most effectively with their coronavirus outbreak (rate of new cases is comparatively low). The country also had a very effective response to SARS in 2003. (Although by Western standards the extent to which they gather information on the population might be uncomfortable).

Comment by sean_o_h on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-03-02T19:53:51.266Z · EA · GW

6 deaths now reported in Washington State is also consistent with the outbreak there being substantially larger than the 14 cases currently recorded.

Comment by sean_o_h on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-03-01T10:23:28.425Z · EA · GW

FYI, sequencing from the Snohomish county washington cases suggest there has been cryptic transmission in washington state for the last 3-6 weeks, and potentially a substantial outbreak (a few hundred cases) ongoing in washington state (likely missed because of the focus on travellers returning from China).

Comment by sean_o_h on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-02-29T15:25:55.538Z · EA · GW

Too early to have confidence on higher temperatures limiting spread IMO (although some reason to hope, certainly); cases in japan are only <2.5x higher than singapore (234 vs 102 last I saw, and IIRC it got to japan slightly earlier); surveillance and testing in African nations unlikely to be as extensive as e.g. Japan/SK; likely less volume of travel going through african nations than some of the Asian hubs.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-27T18:49:06.364Z · EA · GW

I must admit, I would not make the same bet at the same odds on the 27th of February 2020.

Comment by sean_o_h on My Charitable Giving Report 2019 · 2020-02-27T17:47:46.020Z · EA · GW

Well done on your charitable giving, and thank you for sharing! For me, it's important and inspirational to hear about giving at all levels (and sometimes we hear less about giving at the level less high-earning people can afford, so this is great).

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-27T12:35:38.863Z · EA · GW

Hi Wei,

Sorry I missed this. My strongest responses over the last while have fallen into the categories of: (1) responding to people claiming existential risk-or-approaching potential (or sharing papers by people like Taleb stating we are entering a phase where this is near-certain; e.g.

(shared in one xrisk group, for example, as "X-riskers, it would appear your time is now: "With increasing transportation we are close to a transition to conditions in which extinction becomes certain both because of rapid spread and because of the selective dominance of increasingly worse pathogens.". My response: "We are **not** "close to a transition to conditions in which extinction becomes certain both because of rapid spread and because of the selective dominance of increasingly worse pathogens".)

Or, responding to speculation that nCov is a deliberately developed bioweapon, or was accidentally released from a BSL4 lab in Wuhan. There isn't evidence for either of these and I think they are unhelpful types of speculation to be made without evidence, and such speculations can spread widely. Further, some people making the latter speculation didn't seem to be aware what a common class of virus coronaviruses are (ranging from common cold thru to SARS). Whether or not a coronavirus was being studied at the Wuhan lab, I think it would not be a major coincidence to find a lab studying a coronavirus in a major city.

A third example was clarifying that the event 201 exercise Johns Hopkins did (which involved 65 million hypothetical deaths) was a tabletop simulation , not a prediction, and therefore could not be used to extrapolate an expectation of 65 million deaths from the current outbreak.

I made various other comments as part of discussions, but more providing context or points for discussion etc as I recall as opposed to disagreeing per se, and don't have time to dig them up.

The latter examples don't relate to predictions of the severity of the outbreak, more so to what I perceived at the time to be misunderstandings, misinformation, and unhelpful/ungrounded speculations.

Comment by sean_o_h on Any response from OpenAI (or EA in general) about the Technology Review feature on OpenAI? · 2020-02-25T10:41:23.474Z · EA · GW

On (2), I would note that the 'hype' criticism is one that is commonly made about the claims of both a range of individual groups in AI, and about the field as a whole. Criticisms of DeepMind's claims, and IBM's (usefulness/impact of IBM Watson in health) come immediately to mind, as well as claims by a range of groups re: deployment of self-driving cars. It's also a criticism made of the field as a whole (e.g. see various of Gary Marcus, Jack Stilgoe's comments etc). This does not necessarily mean that it's untrue of OpenAI (or that OpenAI are not one of the 'hypier'), but I think it's worth noting that this is not unique to OpenAI.

Comment by sean_o_h on Any response from OpenAI (or EA in general) about the Technology Review feature on OpenAI? · 2020-02-21T09:51:39.182Z · EA · GW

A few comments from Xrisk/EA folks that I've seen (which I agree with):

FHI's Markus Andjerlung:

CSER's Haydn Belfield:

To me, AI heavyweight and past president of AAAI (and past critic of OpenAI) Rao Kambhampati put it well - written like / has tone of a hit piece, but without an actual hit (i.e. any relevation that actually justifies it):

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-03T19:55:21.002Z · EA · GW

I don't think so to any significant extent in most circumstances. And any tiny spike counterbalanced by general benefits pointed to by David. My understanding (former competitive runner) is that extended periods of heavily overdoing it with exercise (overtraining) can lead to an inhibited immune system among other symptoms, but this is rare with people generally keeping fit (other than e.g. someone jumping into marathon/triathlon training without building up). Other things to avoid/be mindful of are the usual (hanging around in damp clothes in the cold, hygiene in group sporting/exercise contexts etc).

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-02T17:15:30.019Z · EA · GW

Thanks bmg. FWIW, I provide my justification (from my personal perspective) here:

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-02T11:37:32.193Z · EA · GW

Thanks Khorton, nothing to apologise for. I read your comment as a concern about how the motivations of a bet might be perceived from the outside (whether in the specific case or more generally); but this led me to the conclusion that actually stating my motivations rather than assuming everyone reading knows would be helpful at this stage!

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-02T10:45:23.204Z · EA · GW

While my read of your post is "there is the possibility that the aim could be interpreted this way" which I regard as fair, I feel I should state that 'fun and money' was not my aim, and (I strongly expect not Justin's), as I have not yet done so explicitly.

I think it's important to be as well-calibrated as reasonably possible on events of global significance. In particular, I've been seeing a lot of what appear to me to be poorly calibrated, alarmist statements, claims and musings on nCOV on social media, including from EAs, GCR researchers, Harvard epidemiologists, etc. I think these poorly calibrated/examined claims can result in substantial material harms to people, in terms of stoking up unnecessary public panic, confusing accurate assessment of the situation, and creating 'boy who cried wolf' effects for future events. I've spent a lot of time on social media trying to get people to tone down their more extreme statements re: nCOV.

(edit: I do not mean this to refer to Justin's fermi estimate, which was on the more severe end but had clearly reasoned and transparent thinking behind it; more a broad comment on concerns re: poor calibration and the practical value of being well-calibrated).

As Habryka has said, this community in particular is one that has a set of tools it (or some part of it) uses for calibration. So I drew on it in this case. The payoff for me is small (£50; and I'm planning to give it to AMF); the payoff for Justin is higher but he accepted it as an offer rather than proposing it and so I doubt money is a factor for him either.

In the general sense I think both the concern about motivation and how something appears to parts of the community is valid. I would hope that it is still possible to get the benefits of betting on GCR-relevant topics for the benefits-to-people I articulate above (and the broader benefits Habryka and others have articulated). I would suggest that achieving this balance may be a matter of clearly stating aims and motivations, and (as others have suggested) taking particular care with tone and framing, but I would welcome further guidance.

Lastly, I would like to note my gratitude for the careful and thoughtful analysis and considerations that Khorton, Greg, Habryka, Chi and others are bringing to the topic. There are clearly a range of important considerations to be balanced appropriately, and I'm grateful both for the time taken and the constructive nature of the discussion.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-01T16:53:52.504Z · EA · GW

Thanks, good to know on both, appreciate the feedback.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-01T14:32:55.597Z · EA · GW

I would similarly be curious to understand the level of downvoting of my comment offering to remove my comments in light of concerns raised and encouragement to consider doing so. This is by far the most downvoted comment I've ever had. This may just be an artefact of how my call for objections to removing my comments has manifested (I was anticipating posts stating an objection like Ben's and Habryka's, and for those to be upvoted if popular, but people may have simply expressed objection by downvoting the original offer). In that case that's fine.

Another possible explanation is an objection to me even making the offer in the first place. My steelman for this is that even the offer of self-censorship of certain practices in certain situations could be seen as coming at a very heavy cost to group epistemics. However from an individual-posting-to-forum perspective, this feels like an uncomfortable thing to be punished for. Posting possibly-controversial posts to a public forum has some unilateralist's curse elements to it: risk is distributed to the overall forum, and the person who posts the possibly-controversial thing is likely to be someone who deems the risk lower than others. And we are not always the best at impartially judging our own actions. So when arguments are made in good faith that an action may respond in group harm, it seems like a reasonable step to make the offer to withdraw the action, and to signal a willingness to cooperate in whatever the group (or moderators, I guess) deemed to be in the group's interest. And I built in a time delay to allow for objections and more views to be raised, before taking action. I would anticipate a more negative response if I were calling for deletion of others' comments, but this was my own comment.

I would also note that offering to delete one's comments comes at a personal cost, as does acknowledging possible fault of judgement; having an avalanche of negative karma on top of it adds to the discomfort.

If there's something else going on - e.g. a sense that I was being dishonest about following through on the offer to delete; or something else - it would be good to know. I guess there could be a negative reaction to expressing the view that Chi's perspective is valid. In my view, a point can be valid without being action-deciding. Here there are multiple considerations which I would all see as valid (value of betting to calibrate beliefs; value of doing so in public to reinforce a norm the group sees as beneficial and promote that norm to others; value of avoiding making insensitive-seeming posts that could possibly cause reputational damage to the group). The question is one of weighting of considerations - I have my own views, but it was very helpful to get a broader set of views in order to calibrate my actions.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-01T08:47:43.775Z · EA · GW

My take is that this at this stage has been resolved in favour of "editing for tone but keeping the bet posts". I have done the editing for tone. I am happy with this outcome, I hope most others are too.

My own personal view is that I think public betting on beliefs is good - it's why I did it (both this time and in the past) and my preference is to continue doing so. However, my take is that that the discussion highlighted that in certain circumstances around betting (such as predictions on events such as an ongoing mass fatality event) it is worth being particularly careful about tone.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-31T08:52:10.135Z · EA · GW

Re: Michael & Khorton's points, (1) Michael fully agreed, casual figure of speech that I've now deleted. I apologise. (2) I've done some further editing for tone but would be grateful if others had further suggestions.

I also agree re: Chi's comment - I've already remarked that I think the point was valid, but I would add that I found it to be respectful and considerate in how it made its point (as one of the people it was directed towards).

It's been useful for me to reflect on. I think a combination of two things for me: one is some inherent personal discomfort/concern about causing offence by effectively saying "I think you're wrong and I'm willing to bet you're wrong", which I think I unintentionally counteracted with (possibly excessive) levity. The second is how quickly the disconnect can happen from (initial discussion of very serious topic) to (checking in on forum several days later to quickly respond to some math). Both are things I will be more careful about going forward. Lastly, I may have been spending too much time around risk folk, for whom certain discussions become so standard that one forgets how they can come across.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-31T07:51:00.946Z · EA · GW

I'm happy to remove my comments; I think Chi raises a valid point. The aim was basically calibration. I think this is quite common in EA and forecasting, but agree it could look morbid from the outside, and these are publicly searchable. (I've also been upbeat in my tone for friendliness/politeness towards people with different views, but this could be misread as a lack of respect for the gravity of the situation). Unless this post receives strong objections by this evening, I will delete my comments or ask moderators to delete.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-30T21:24:52.725Z · EA · GW

10:1 on the original (1 order of magnitude) it is.

Comment by sean_o_h on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-01-30T10:25:30.749Z · EA · GW

Possibility of verbal confusion as this is how most people vocalise 'CSER' (where EA folk also tend to go in the UK).

(We had a 'Julius' for a while, which was excellent).

Comment by sean_o_h on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-01-30T09:48:11.669Z · EA · GW

Too good - how could you possibly turn this down!

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-30T09:25:46.667Z · EA · GW

This seems fair. I suggested the bet quite quickly. Without having time to work through the math of the bet, I suggested something that felt on the conservative side from the point of view of my beliefs. The more I think about it, (a) the more confident I am in my beliefs and (b) the more I feel it was not as generous as I originalyl thought*. I have a personal liking for binary bets rather than proportional payoffs. As a small concession in light of the points raised, I'd be happy to offer to modify the terms retroactively to make them more favourable to Justin, offering either of the following.

(i) Doubling the odds against me to 10:1 odds (rather than 5:1) on the original claim (at least an order of magnitude lower than his fermi). So his £50 would get £500 of mine.


(ii) 5:1 on at least 1.5 orders of magnitude (50x) lower than his fermi (rather than 10x).

(My intuition is that (ii) is a better deal than (i) but I haven't worked it through)

(*i.e. at time of bet - I think the likelihood of this being a severe global pandemic is now diminishing further in my mind)

Comment by sean_o_h on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-01-29T19:00:45.038Z · EA · GW

I like Rosie's suggestions (inspired by Jonas's).

Comment by sean_o_h on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-01-29T18:42:41.315Z · EA · GW

HEAR - Hub for enabling EA Research. HEALR - Hub for enabling EA Learning and Research.

Or call it the EARL - EA Research and Learning Centre (the 'centre' bit can often easily be dropped from the acronym).

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T14:03:42.078Z · EA · GW

Re: whose mortality estimates, I suggest we use metaculus's list here (WHO has highest ranking) as standard (with the caveat above).

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T13:58:46.398Z · EA · GW

MERS was pretty age-agnostic. SARS had much higher mortality rates in >60s. All the current reports from China claim that it affects mainly older people or those with preexisting health conditions. Coronavirus is a broad class including everything from the common cold to MERS; not sure there's good ground to anchor too closely to SARS or MERS as a reference class.

Comment by sean_o_h on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T13:47:35.314Z · EA · GW

Agreed, thank you Justin. (I also hope I win the bet, and not for the money - while it is good to consider the possibility of the most severe plausible outcomes rigorously and soberly, it would be terrible if it came about in reality). Bet resolves 28 January 2021. (though if it's within an order of magnitude of the win criterion, and there is uncertainty re: fatalities, I'm happy to reserve final decision for 2 further years until rigorous analysis done - e.g. see swine flu epidemiology studies which updated fatalities upwards significantly several years after the outbreak).

To anyone else reading. I'm happy to provide up to a £250 GBP stake against up to £50 of yours, if you want to take the same side as Justin.