Biosecurity Happy Hour - EAG Bay Area 2023 2023-02-23T00:03:34.315Z
List of Lists of Concrete Biosecurity Project Ideas 2022-07-16T15:57:16.331Z
Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous 2021-12-09T21:27:42.387Z
Examples of Successful Selective Disclosure in the Life Sciences 2021-08-19T18:38:24.582Z
tessa's Shortform 2021-05-30T03:41:54.856Z
Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit 2021-05-26T13:10:22.942Z
A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List 2021-03-14T02:30:48.814Z
How to run a high-energy reading group 2021-03-01T02:38:35.050Z
What are your top papers of the 2010s? 2019-10-22T22:08:59.410Z
Evidence Action – We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why 2019-06-16T16:42:18.103Z
Will splashy philanthropy cause the biosecurity field to focus on the wrong risks? 2019-04-30T16:03:20.884Z
Scott Alexander – Axiology, Morality, Law 2016-08-28T15:00:02.241Z
Minding Our Way – Dive In 2016-06-13T14:52:43.075Z
Minding Our Way – Deliberate Once 2016-05-23T13:47:58.760Z
Minding Our Way – Conviction without self-deception 2016-05-08T13:56:16.841Z
Scott Alexander – Nobody Is Perfect, Everything Is Commensurable 2014-12-19T16:02:59.908Z
Carl Shulman – How migration liberalization might eliminate most absolute poverty 2014-05-27T19:50:04.215Z
Paul Christiano – Machine intelligence and capital accumulation 2014-05-15T00:10:33.714Z
Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor? 2014-01-24T01:15:56.276Z
Brian Tomasik – Reasons to Be Nice to Other Value Systems 2014-01-17T00:28:12.101Z
Brian Tomasik – Differential Intellectual Progress as a Positive-Sum Project 2013-10-23T23:31:23.470Z
Carl Shulman — How are brain mass (and neurons) distributed among humans and the major farmed land animals? 2013-09-10T23:22:55.680Z


Comment by Tessa (tessa) on On the First Anniversary of my Best Friend’s Death · 2023-03-07T21:28:27.392Z · EA · GW

Another poem about loss that moves me, this one specifically about grieving a dear friend:

It's what others do, not us, die, even the closest
on a vainglorious, glorious morning, as the song goes,
the yellow or golden palms glorious and all the rest
a sparkling splendour, die. They're practising calypsos,
they're putting up and pulling down tents, vendors are slicing
the heads of coconuts around the Savannah, men
are leaning on, then leaping into pirogues, a moon will be rising
tonight in the same place over Morne Coco, then
the full grief will hit me and my heart will toss
like a horse's head or a threshing bamboo grove
that even you could be part of the increasing loss
that is the daily dial of the revolving shade. Love
lies underneath it all though, the more surprising
the death, the deeper the love, the tougher the life.
The pain is over, feathers close your eyelids, Oliver.
What a happy friend and what a fine wife!
Your death is like our friendship beginning over.

for Oliver Jackman, Derek Walcott

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Recipe book recommendations for EAs · 2023-03-07T20:28:36.249Z · EA · GW

My favourite cookbook right now is The Korean Vegan. Magical, delicious flavour combinations. The bulgogi blew my mind. The cookbook also sets you up to have a fridge full of sauces and banchan to dress up any weekday rice + protein combination into a delicious meal.

This West-African-inspired peanut soup from Cookie and Kate is what I pull out whenever I want to make something impressively delicious, but also fast and low-effort.

I found I Can Cook Vegan by Isa Chanda Moskovitz to be somewhat hit and miss, but the hits (buffalo cauliflower salad, sloppy shiitakes, chickpea tuna melt, maple-mustard brussel sprouts) were really solid. I recommend this over her earlier cookbooks; she has really reined in her desire to have 30-ingredient recipes that take over an hour to prepare.

The Moosewood Cookbook is a classic for a reason, but you gotta get a version released either before or after the 1990s low-fat fad. We like oil and salt! We like calories! Put the fat in!!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on On the First Anniversary of my Best Friend’s Death · 2023-03-07T19:12:12.073Z · EA · GW

This was a beautiful remembering, thank you for sharing it. Often how I want to grieve people is just to remember them in detail, saying: they were here, not like anyone else, but specifically this is the way they were; I remember, and I wish they were still in the world. This post felt like that sort of grief.

This is my favourite poem about grief, which I often return to when grieving the people I've lost (most especially my partner Zach):

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Dirge Without Music , Edna St. Vincent Millay

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Advice on communicating in and around the biosecurity policy community · 2023-03-07T06:40:34.116Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this post! I agree with your point about being careful on terms, and thought it might be useful to collect a few definitions together in a comment.

DURC (Dual-Use Research of Concern)

DURC is defined differently by different organizations. The WHO defines it as:

research that is intended to provide a clear benefit, but which could easily be misapplied to do harm

while the definition given in the 2012 US government DURC policy is:

life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, materiel, or national security

ePPP (enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogen)

ePPP is a term (in my experience) mostly relevant to the US regulatory context, and was set out in the 2017 HHS P3CO Framework as follows:

A potential pandemic pathogen (PPP) is a pathogen that satisfies both of the following:

  1. It is likely highly transmissible and likely capable of wide and uncontrollable spread in human populations; and
  2. It is likely highly virulent and likely to cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans.

An enhanced PPP is defined as a PPP resulting from the enhancement of the transmissibility and/or virulence of a pathogen. Enhanced PPPs do not include naturally occurring pathogens that are circulating in or have been recovered from nature, regardless of their pandemic potential.

One way in which this definition has been criticized (quoting the recent NSABB report on updating the US biosecurity oversight framework) is that "research involving the enhancement of pathogens that do not meet the PPP definition (e.g., those with low or moderate virulence) but is anticipated to result in the creation of a pathogen with the characteristics described by the PPP definition could be overlooked."

GOF (Gain-of-Function)

GOF is not a term that I know to have a clear definition. In the linked Virology under the microscope paper, examples range from making Arabidopsis (a small flowering model plant) more drought-resistant to making H5N1 (avian influenza) transmissible between mammals. I suggest avoiding this term if you can. (The paper acknowledges the term is fuzzily defined, citing The shifting sands of ‘gain-of-function’ research.)

Biosafety, biosecurity, biorisk

The definitions you gave in the footnote seem solid, and similar to the ones I'd offer, though one runs into competing definitions (e.g. the definition provided for biosafety doesn't mention unintentional exposure). I will note that EA tends to treat "biosecurity" as an umbrella term for "reducing biological risk" in a way that doesn't reflect its usage in the biosecurity or public health communities. Also, as far as I can tell, Australia means a completely different thing by "biosecurity" than the rest of the English-speaking world, which will sometimes lead to confusing Google results.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Advice on communicating in and around the biosecurity policy community · 2023-03-07T06:22:05.799Z · EA · GW

Just echoing the experience of "it's been a pretty humbling experience to read more of the literature"; biosecurity policy has a long history of good ideas and nuanced discussions. On US gain-of-function policy in particular, I found myself particularly humbled by the 2015 article Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate, an adversarial collaboration between researchers involved in controversial viral gain-of-function work and biosecurity professionals who had argued such work should face more scrutiny. It's interesting to see where the contours of the debate have changed and how much they haven't changed in the past 7+ years.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on More undergraduate or just-graduated students should consider getting jobs as research techs in academic labs · 2023-02-16T18:12:06.928Z · EA · GW

Yeah, my impression from Canada is that master's degrees are not all scams. A totally normal path for an academic is to do a (poorly) paid, research-based master's in one lab, then jump over to another lab for a (maybe slightly shorter than in the USA) PhD.

That said, the most academically impressive researchers I knew at my Canadian school (i.e. already had solid publications and research experience as undergrads) went straight to US-based PhDs, even if they were hoping to return to Canada as academics after getting their doctorate.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA Global and EAGx megathread · 2023-02-02T23:49:25.129Z · EA · GW

One thing that sort of did this for me at EAGxBerlin, which I wonder if we could have some kind of infrastructure for, was hosting "unofficial office hours" where I put my name on a piece of paper and sat in a specific place for two hours, and talked with people who came past. (I was also able to tell people  in Swapcard that we could talk during that time as well as or instead of in a 1:1.)

I could imagine unconference-y or "host your own conversation table" infrastructure for this as well (instead of or in addition to "unoffical office hours with X").

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA Global and EAGx megathread · 2023-01-30T12:33:12.659Z · EA · GW

Related to some recent posts about linguistic inclusion ― allow people to indicate on Swapcard if they're open to having 1:1s in non-English languages?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Biosecurity newsletters you should subscribe to · 2023-01-30T12:27:34.737Z · EA · GW

A few I'd add:

  • CBW Events (daily reports from Bioweapons Convention meetings) → subscribe here
  • You might also find it useful to keep up with developments in biotechnology, for which I'd point you at:
  • There are a lot number of interesting public health and epidemiology newsletters as well; I don't feel like I have an amazing recommendation here, though I've recently been skimming Force of Infection
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Advice I found helpful in 2022 · 2023-01-29T21:34:23.087Z · EA · GW

Items 1 through 4 rhyme with the advice in the Learning By Writing post on Cold Takes, which I found quite inspiring (emphasis in the original):

[During this process I am] trying to “always have a hypothesis” and re-articulating it whenever it changes. By doing this, I try to continually focus my reading on the goal of forming a bottom-line view, rather than just “gathering information.” I think this makes my investigations more focused and directed, and the results easier to retain. I consider this approach to be probably the single biggest difference-maker between "reading a ton about lots of things, but retaining little" and "efficiently developing a set of views on key topics and retaining the reasoning behind them."

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Native English speaker EAs: could you please speak slower? · 2023-01-29T16:31:31.194Z · EA · GW

For virtual contexts, you can also try turning on auto-captioning, which Zoom ( and Google Meet ( support. It helps!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Native English speaker EAs: could you please speak slower? · 2023-01-29T16:28:59.783Z · EA · GW

In terms of trivial inconveniences / perception and gratitude for the work people are doing to speak English, one other small note: there may be more native English speakers than you realize who have spent periods speaking another language?

In EA contexts, it's pretty much always the case that the shared level of English between myself and my conversation partner is higher, since my Spanish is around a B2 level and my French around B1... but I have spent ~6 months each in countries that speak those languages and know it's hard!

I've gotten feedback before when I'm speaking too quickly, and I've always been grateful for it. Do you have any other suggestions for how native English speakers can indicate willingness to receive feedback ― I sometimes worry about making people self-conscious by drawing attention to their (good but non-native) level of English, but maybe adding something in my EAG bio like "I know it can be exhausting to speak English all day if you're not a native speaker, please tell me to slow down if I'm speaking too fast!" would be helpful?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Native English speaker EAs: could you please speak slower? · 2023-01-28T06:56:35.343Z · EA · GW

I love the subject line suggestion, this seems really helpful! A few other suggestions (also based on my experiences as a native English speaker living in non-English-speaking countries):

  1. Slow (especially with distinct gaps between words) makes more of a difference than simple, and is MUCH better than loud, which mostly distorts what you're trying to say.
  2. Be careful about mistaking accent for content; if you're not careful, you might assume someone isn't putting together fluent sentences when in fact they are just mispronouncing some words.
  3. Speaking in your non-native language is very cognitively demanding, and if someone taps out of a discussion early, it might be because of that rather than because of a lack of interest or things to say.
  4. Comprehension of a second (or third) language is much easier than speaking; don't necessarily assume someone isn't following the discussion because they speak hesitantly.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Native English speaker EAs: could you please speak slower? · 2023-01-28T06:55:13.833Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this post!

I wanted to link a few previous discussions of this topic on the EA Forum, as I think the discussion there might also be relevant to this issue:

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on [[Survey launch]] Gender in EA · 2023-01-25T22:06:01.817Z · EA · GW

+1, thanks for designing this! Another thing that wasn't entirely clear to me was whether questions like "Have you made professional decisions based on wanting to escape a particular group of coworkers or company culture?" and "Have you ever experienced any of these behaviors while at work, or from your coworkers, managers, or other individuals you knew in a professional setting?" were meant to refer to my current role, or my entire career.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on CEA statement on Nick Bostrom's email · 2023-01-13T16:25:36.620Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing out a reaction very similar to my own. As I wrote in a comment on a different topic, "it seems to me that one of the core values of effective altruism is that of impartiality― giving equal moral weight to people who are distant from me in space and/or time."

I agree that "all people count equally" is an imprecise way to express that value (and I would probably choose to frame in in the lens of "value" rather than "belief") but I read this as an imprecise expression of a common value in the movement rather than a deep philosophical commitment to valuing all minds exactly the same.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Why did CEA buy Wytham Abbey? · 2022-12-08T16:23:48.639Z · EA · GW

This is not a comment on the cheapness point, but in case this feels relevant, private vehicles are not necessary to access this venue― from the Oxford rail station you can catch public buses that drop you off about a 2-minute walk from the venue. It's a 20 minute bus ride, and the buses don't come super often (every 60 minutes, I think?) but I just wanted to be clear that you can access this space via public transport.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on New Cause Area: Demographic Collapse · 2022-11-18T13:05:28.851Z · EA · GW

I don't plan to engage deeply with this post, but I wanted to leave a comment pushing back on the unsubtle currents of genetic determinism ("individuals from those families with sociological profiles amenable to movements like effective altruism, progressivism, or broad Western Civilisational values are being selected out of the gene pool"), homophobia ("cultures that accept gay people on average have lower birth rates and are ultimately outnumbered by neighboring homophobic cultures", in a piece that is all about how low birth rates are a key problem of our time) , and ethnonationalism ("based in developed countries that will be badly hit by the results of these skewed demographics") running through this piece.

I believe that genetics influence individual personality, but am very skeptical of claims of strong genetic determinism, especially on a societal level. Moreover, it seems to me that one of the core values of effective altruism is that of impartiality― giving equal moral weight to people who are distant from me in space and/or time. The kind of essentialist and elitist rhetoric common among people who concern themselves with demographic collapse seems in direct opposition to that value; if you think a key priority of our time is ensuring the right people have children, especially if your definition of "the right people" focuses on elite and wealthy people in Western countries, I doubt that we have compatible notions of what it means to do the most good.

Many pieces that criticize effective altruism quote this paragraph from Nick Beckstead's2013 thesis:

To take another example, saving lives in poor countries may have significantly smaller ripple effects than saving and improving lives in rich countries. Why? Richer countries have substantially more innovation, and their workers are much more economically productive. By ordinary standards, at least by ordinary enlightened humanitarian standards, saving and improving lives in rich countries is about equally as important as saving and improving lives in poor countries, provided lives are improved by roughly comparable amounts. But it now seems more plausible to me that saving a life in a rich country is substantially more important than saving a life in a poor country, other things being equal.

I would like our community to be unequivocal that all other things are not equal, and would distance myself from a community/movement that embraced an idea that lives in rich countries are more important than lives in poor countries. This seems, as I said, in direct opposition to the core values that attracted me to effective altruism.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Biosecurity Dual Use Screening - Project Proposal (seeking vetting & project lead) · 2022-10-16T14:39:35.296Z · EA · GW

I definitely don't think "sounds bad" (I really, really would like it to be easier for publishers to adopt dual-use screening best practices) but I do think "sounds partly duplicative of other work" (there are other groups looking into what publishers need / want, seems good to collaborate with them and use their prior work) and "should be done thoughtfully" (for example, should be done with someone who has a good appreciation for the fact that, right now, there does not exist a set of "dual use best practices" that an organization could simply adopt).

I'm going to gesture towards some related initiatives that might be of interest, from some folks who have already undertaken (at least some of the) "Let’s talk to the platforms, ask what they need, and give it to them" step:

Anyway, I feel like one way in which this project could go wrong is viewing itself as trying to lock in a new standard, rather than running an experiment in biosecurity governance that is part of the project of Consensus-finding on risks and benefits of research.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on An EA's Guide to Berkeley and the Bay Area · 2022-10-14T10:55:07.874Z · EA · GW

A few other recommended attractions, from someone who lived in Oakland and Berkeley for a few years:

  • Indian Rock Park (Berkeley): an incredible sunset point, one of my all-time favourite parks, great for a rock scramble or a picnic or serious bouldering if you're into that
  • The Pacific Pinball Museum (Alameda): If you like pinball at all you should go there. You pay entry and then their like 100 pinball machines are free to play.
  • The Exploratorium (SF): Highly interactive science museum. If you go on Thursday night, you won't have to elbow children out of the way of the exhibits. The tactile dome is a very unusual experience
  • The Chapel of the Chimes (Oakland): Sombre and moving crematorium in Oakland. One of the most beautiful (in a sublime / sad way) places I've ever been.
  • Berkeley Path Wanderers Association Resources for self-guided walks

(ETA: some of these were already in the Bay Area Attractions spreadsheet you linked)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on What's the best platform/app/approach for fundraising for things that aren't registered nonprofits? · 2022-10-04T22:56:23.453Z · EA · GW

I came across this question today, and wanted to note that one can currently donate to the Center for Health Security though, which also supports setting up fundraisers with many of the features you mention.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on List of Lists of Concrete Biosecurity Project Ideas · 2022-09-16T21:47:00.376Z · EA · GW

There is definitely a lot of further research on some of these specific ideas (I tried to link out to a few projects), but I don't know of a ton of comparative research on them. It's possible there are internal ITN estimates at some grantmaking orgs? And this graph from  Technologies to Address Global Catastrophic Risk is in the right direction (but doesn't focus on neglectedness):

Additionally, I believe some organizations in the EA community (e.g. Open Philanthropy and Convergent Research) working on deeper strategic / comparative investigations of possible biorisk mitigation efforts. 

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on What domains do you wish some EA was an expert in? · 2022-09-07T11:05:34.824Z · EA · GW

Inside-view understanding of policymaking in major / emerging bioeconomies outside the US/Europe. I'm thinking BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) but also countries that will have huge economies/populations this century, like Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the DRC, countries with BSL-4 labs, and places with regulatory environments that allow broader biotechnology experimentation (e.g. Israel, Singapore).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Get advice from a biosecurity professional · 2022-08-25T11:46:40.978Z · EA · GW

I don't know how much of her time Jennifer Doudna spends thinking about bioweapons, but I do think she spends a lot of time thinking about the ethical implications of CRISPR. If you read things like this NYT interview with her from last week she's saying things like:

Interviewer: It’s also easy to imagine two different countries, let alone two different people, having competing ideas about what would constitute ethical gene editing. In an optimal world, would there be some sort of global body or institution to help govern and adjudicate these decisions? In an optimal world? This is clearly a fantasy.

OK, how about a suboptimal one? The short answer is: I don’t know. I could imagine that given the complexities of using genome editing in different settings, it’s possible that you might decide to use it differently in different parts of the world. Let’s say an area where a mosquito-borne disease is endemic, and it’s dangerous and high risk for the population. You might say the risk of using genome editing and the gene drive to control the mosquito population is worth it. Whereas doing it somewhere else where you don’t face the same public-health issue, you might say the risk isn’t worth it. So I don’t know. The other thing is, as you indicated with the way you asked the question, having any global regulation and enforcing it — hard to imagine how that would be achieved. It’s probably more realistic to have, as we currently do, scientific entities that are global that study these complex issues and make formal recommendations, work with government agencies in different countries to evaluate risks and benefits of technologies.

This doesn't seem like a person who is just arguing "CRISPR should be everywhere, for everyone". I also think she is not claiming to be an expert at making bioethical determinations of what technology should be deployed, and my sense from hearing her public speaking is that she is reluctantly taking on a mantle of going around and saying that we all need to have a very sober and open discussion about where and how CRISPR should be used, but that she doesn't feel particularly qualified to make those determinations herself. The Innovative Genomics Institute, which she co-founded, has an entire research area dedicated to Public Impact, including initiatives like the Berkeley Ethics and Regulation Group for Innovative Technologies. You can argue that these actions are poorly targeted, but I don't think it's accurate to frame Doudna as a naively pro-technology actor.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Get advice from a biosecurity professional · 2022-08-25T10:02:41.109Z · EA · GW

You say "we can't control drugs, guns, or even reckless driving". I don't think that's entirely true. For example, the RAND meta-analysis What Science Tells Us About the Effects of Gun Policies shows moderate evidence that violence crime can be reduced by prohibitions associated with domestic violence, background checks, waiting periods, and stand-your-ground laws. Similarly, I believe that progress in car safety engineering has radically reduced the human suffering caused by reckless driving. I have heard biosecurity professionals use cars as an example of a technology that was deliberately and successfully engineered to be safer.

I also suspect the learning you describe ("anyone who has reached the level of expert in a field like genetic engineering has too large of a personal investment") is too strong a conclusion to draw from your experience. People infer a lot about what it might be like to engage with someone from how they attempt dialogue; I don't know what the content of your posts was, but posting similar content every day seems likely to cause observers to conclude that you have very strongly-held beliefs and are willing to violate social norms to attempt to spread those beliefs, which might lead them to decide that engaging in dialogue with you would be unpleasant or unproductive.

(I will note that I hesitated to write this reply because of the tone of your comment, but then didn't want the only comment on a post targeted towards people interested in the field of biosecurity to be so despairing about its prospects; I personally believe there is a lot of useful work that can be done to reduce risks from pandemics.)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The EA community might be neglecting the value of influencing people · 2022-08-23T11:15:29.876Z · EA · GW

I would love to see other more targeted and ambitious efforts to influence others where the KPI isn't the number of highly-engaged EAs created.

+1, EA is a philosophical movement as well as a professional and social community.

I agree with this post that it can be useful to spread the philosophical ideas to people who will never be a part of the professional and social community. My sense from talking to, for example, senior professionals who have been convinced to reallocate some of their work to EA-priority causes is that this can be extremely valuable. Or, I've heard some people say they value a highly-engaged EA far more than a semi-engaged person, but I think they are probably underweighting the value of mid-to-senior people who do not become full-blown community members but nevertheless are influenced put some of their substantial network and career capital towards important problems.

On a separate note, I perceive an extremely high overlap between the "professional" and "social" for the highly-engaged EA crowd. For example, my sense is that it's fairly hard to get accepted to EA Global if your main EA activity is donating a large portion of your objectively-high-but-not-multimillionaire-level tech salary", i.e. you must be a part of the professional community to get access to the social community. I think it would be good to [create more social spaces for EA non-dedicates](

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Should EA shift away (a bit) from elite universities? · 2022-08-22T15:01:22.784Z · EA · GW

This feels very related to the recent post Most Ivy-smart students aren't at Ivy-tier schools, which notes near the beginning: 

I don't address/argue the normative claim that EA should focus less on college rank at the individual (e.g., hiring) and/or community (e.g., which schools' EA groups to invest more resources in developing) levels, but that would indeed be a non-crazy takeaway if the post makes you update in the direction I expect it to, on average!  

Comment by tessa on [deleted post] 2022-08-15T22:44:41.674Z

While referencing the 7 Generations principle, I would credit it to "the Iroquois confederacy" or "the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy" rather than "the Iroquois tribe". There isn't one tribe associated with that name; it's an alliance formed by the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca (and joined  by the Tuscarora in 1722).

(Aside: In Ontario, where I'm from, we tend to use the word "nation" rather than "tribe" to refer to the members of the confederacy, but it's possible this is a US/Canada difference, and the part that bothered me was the inaccuracy of the singular more than the specific word choice.)

Thanks for putting together the summary, I enjoyed reading it!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Why I view effective giving as complementary to direct work · 2022-08-01T17:07:16.534Z · EA · GW

I really liked this post, and resonate strongly with the sentiment of "Nothing can take donating away from me, not even a bad day". 

Although I do direct work on biosecurity,  my donations (~15% gross income) go almost entirely to global health and wellbeing, and some of this is because I want to be reassured that I had a positive impact, even if all my various speculative research ideas (and occasional unproductive depressive spirals) amount to nothing.

I would be curious how you feel that intersects with the wording of the GWWC pledge, which includes 

I shall give __ to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to improve the lives of others

As the sort of pedant who loves a solemn vow, I wonder if my global health and wellbeing donations are technically fulfilling this pledge, based on my judgements of how to improve the lives of others. That said, this only bothers me a little because, you know, this mess of incoherent commitments is out here giving what she can, and I recognize that might not meet a theoretical threshold of "most effective".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on - I might work there soon · 2022-07-18T19:47:11.696Z · EA · GW

Relatedly, an area where I think arXiv could have a huge impact (in both biosecurity and AI) would be setting standards for easy-to-implement manged access to algorithms and datasets.

This is something called for in Biosecurity in an Age of Open Science:

Given the misuse potential of research objects like code, datasets, and protocols, approaches for risk mitigation are needed. Across digital research objects, there appears to be a trend towards increased modularisation, i.e., sharing information in dedicated, purpose built repositories, in contrast to supplementary materials. This modularisation may allow differential access to research products according to the risk that they represent. Curated repositories with greater access control could be used that allow reuse and verification when full public disclosure of a research object is inadvisable. Such repositories are already critical for life sciences that deal with personally identifiable information.

This sort of idea also appears in New ideas for mitigating biotechnology misuse under responsible access to genetic sequences and in Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery as a proposal for managing risks from algorithmically designed toxins.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Existential Biorisk vs. GCBR · 2022-07-18T17:30:05.835Z · EA · GW

The paper Existential Risk and Cost-Effective Biosecurity makes a distinction between Global Catastrophic Risk and an Existential Risk in the context of biological threats:

Quoting the caption from the paper: A spectrum of differing impacts and likelihoods from biothreats. Below each category of risk is the number of human fatalities. We loosely define global catastrophic risk as being 100 million fatalities, and existential risk as being the total extinction of humanity. Alternative definitions can be found in previous reports, as well as within this journal issue.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on New ideas for mitigating biotechnology misuse · 2022-07-17T20:54:26.988Z · EA · GW

One thing I find hopeful, under the "Consensus-finding on risks and benefits of research" idea, is that the report Emerging Technologies and Dual-Use Concerns (WHO, 2021) includes two relevant governance  priorities:

  • Safety by design in dual-use research projects: "A comprehensive approach to identifying the potential benefits and risks of research may improve the design and flag potential pitfalls early in the research. "
  • Continued lack of a global framework for DURC: "Previous WHO consultations have highlighted the lack of a global framework as a critical gap, and regulations, norms and laws to address DURC remain fragmented among stakeholders and countries."

This was based on an expert elicitation study using the IDEA (Investigate, Discuss, Estimate, Aggregate) framework... I find it hopeful that this process identified these governance issues as priorities!

That said, I find it less hopeful that when "asked to allocate each issue a score from 1 to 100 reflecting its impact and plausibility" the scores for "The Lack of a Global DURC Framework" appear to range from 1 to 99:

Figure 2 from the CSER / WHO report on Emerging Technologies and Dual-Use Concerns.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Project Ideas in Biosecurity for EAs · 2022-07-16T22:20:19.949Z · EA · GW

I had recent cause to return to this post and will note that I am currently working on a short paper about this.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA for dumb people? · 2022-07-12T14:44:02.519Z · EA · GW

I think people are also unaware of how tiny the undergraduate populations of elite US/UK universities are, especially if you (like me) did not grow up or go to school in those countries.

Quoting a 2015 article from Joseph Heath, which I found shocking at the time:

There are few better ways of illustrating the difference than to look at the top U.S. colleges and compare them to a highly-ranked Canadian university, like the University of Toronto where I work. The first thing you’ll notice is that American schools are miniscule. The top 10 U.S. universities combined (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.) have room for fewer than 60,000 undergraduates total. The University of Toronto, by contrast, alone has more capacity, with over 68,000 undergraduate students.

In other words, Canadian universities are in the business of mass education. We take entire generations of Canadians, tens of thousands of them recent immigrants, and give them access to the middle classes. Fancy American schools are in the business of offering boutique education to a very tiny, coddled minority, giving them access to the upper classes. That’s a really fundamental difference.

Oxford (12,510 undergraduates) and Cambridge (12,720 undergraduates ) are less tiny, but still comparatively small, especially since the UK population is about 1.75x Canada's.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on New ideas for mitigating biotechnology misuse · 2022-07-12T08:55:27.692Z · EA · GW

In terms of needing such a system to be lightweight and specific: this also implies needing it what is sometimes called "adaptive governance" (i.e. you have to be able to rapidly change your rules when new issues emerge).

For example, there were ambiguities about whether SARS-CoV-2 fell under Australia Group export controls on "SARS-like-coronaviruses" (related journal article)... a more functional system would include triggers for removing export controls (e.g. at a threshold of global transmission, public health needs will likely outweigh biosecurity concerns about pathogen access)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Co-Creation of the Library of Effective Altruism [Information Design] (1/2) · 2022-07-11T15:40:59.981Z · EA · GW

Freakonomics also currently in Global Poverty!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on What is the top concept that all EAs should understand? · 2022-07-06T20:43:54.725Z · EA · GW

Distribution of cost-effectiveness feels like one of the most important concepts from the EA community. The attitude that, for a given goal that you have, some ways of achieving that goal will be massively more cost-effective than others is an assumption that underlies a lot of cause comparisons, and the value of doing such comparisons at all.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Community Builders Spend Too Much Time Community Building · 2022-06-29T15:51:49.756Z · EA · GW

I want to especially +1 item (3) here― the best actions for a skill-focused group will be very different depending on how skilled its group members are. Using my own experience organising a biosecurity-focused group (which fizzled out because the core members skilled up and ended up focused on direct work... not a bad outcome).

Some examples of the purposes of skill-focused groups, at different skill levels:

Newcomer = learn together

  • Member goals: Figure out if you are interested in an area, or what you are interested in within it.
  • Core Activities: Getting familiar with foundational papers and ideas in the field.
  • Possible structures: reading groups, giving talks summarizing current work, watching lectures together, collectively brainstorming questions you have, shared research on basic questions.

Advanced Beginner = sharpen ideas

  • Member goals: Figure out if your ideas and projects in an area are good, be ready to pivot as you learn more.
  • Core activities: Get feedback on your ideas, find useful resources or potential collaborators.
  • Possible structures: lightning talks, one person presents and receives feedback on their project, fireside chats or Q&As with experts.

Expert = keep up with the field

  • Member Goals: Make progress on your projects while staying aware of relevant of new developments.
  • Core activities: Find potential synergies with your work, get feedback and critique, find collaborators.
  • Possible structures: seminar series focused on project updates, research reading groups where summary talks are given by more junior group members.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Bad Omens in Current Community Building · 2022-05-13T23:25:04.477Z · EA · GW

a rhetorical move that introduces huge moral stakes into the world-view in order to push people into drastically altering their actions and priorities

What is the definition you'd prefer people to stick to? Something like "being pushed into actions that have a very low probability of producing value, because the reward would be extremely high in the unlikely event they did work out"?

The Drowning Child argument doesn't seem like an example of Pascal's Mugging, but Wikipedia gives the example of:

"give me five dollars, or I'll use my magic powers from outside the Matrix to run a Turing machine that simulates and kills 3 ↑↑↑↑ 3"

and I think recent posts like The AI Messiah are gesturing at something like that (see, even, this video from the comments on that post: Is AI Safety a Pascal's Mugging?).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Hypertension is Extremely Important, Tractable, and Neglected · 2022-05-13T18:07:48.186Z · EA · GW

I haven't looked into this in detail (honest epistemic status: saw a screenshot on Twitter) but what do you think of the recent paper Association of Influenza Vaccination With Cardiovascular Risk?

Quoting from it, re: tractable interventions:

The effect sizes reported here for major adverse cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality (in patients with and without recent ACS) are comparable with—if not greater than—those seen with guideline-recommended mainstays of cardiovascular therapy, such as aspirin, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, β-blockers, statins, and dual antiplatelet therapy.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Bad Omens in Current Community Building · 2022-05-13T12:40:42.244Z · EA · GW

Minor elaboration on your last point: a piece of advice I got from someone who did psychological research on how to solicit criticism was to try to brainstorm someone's most likely criticism of you would be, and then offer that up when requesting criticism, as this is a credible indication that you're open to it. Examples:

  • "Hey, do you have any critical feedback on the last discussion I ran? I talked a lot about AI stuff, but I know that can be kind of alienating for people who have more interest in political action than technology development... Does that seem right? Is there other stuff I'm missing?"
  • "Hey, I'm looking for criticism on my leadership of this group. One thing I was worried about is that I make time for 1:1s with new members, but not so much with people that have been in the group for more than one year..."
  • "Did you think there was there anything off about our booth last week? I was noticing we were the only group handing out free books, maybe that looked weird. Did you notice anything else?"
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk · 2022-05-13T11:49:24.286Z · EA · GW

Some recent-ish resources that potential applicants might want to check out:

David Manheim and Gregory Lewis, High-risk human-caused pathogen exposure events from 1975-2016, data note published in August 2021.

As a way to better understand the risk of Global Catastrophic Biological Risks due to human activities, rather than natural sources, this paper reports on a dataset of 71 incidents involving either accidental or purposeful exposure to, or infection by, a highly infectious pathogenic agent.

Filippa Lentzos and Gregory D. Koblentz, Mapping Maximum Biological Containment Labs Globally, policy brief published in May 2021 part of the Global Biolabs project.

This study provides an authoritative resource that: 1) maps BSL4 labs that are planned, under construction, or in operation around the world, and 2) identifies indicators of good biosafety and biosecurity practices in the countries where the labs are located.

2021 Global Health Security Index,

If you click through to the PDFs under each individual country profile, they have detailed information on the country's biosafety and biosecurity laws! (Example: the exact laws aren't clear from but if you click through to the "Country Score Justification Summary" PDF ( it has like 100 pages of policy info.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk · 2022-05-13T11:37:44.431Z · EA · GW

One now-inactive past project in this space that I would highlight (since I would very much like something similar to exist again) is The Sunshine Project. Quoting its (sadly very short) Wikipedia page:

The Sunshine Project worked by exposing research on biological and chemical weapons. Typically, it accessed documents under the Freedom of Information Act and other open records laws, publishing reports and encouraging action to reduce the risk of biological warfare. It tracked the construction of high containment laboratory facilities and the dual-use activities of the U.S. biodefense program.

Some more on Edward Hammond's work/methods show up in this press article on The Worrying Murkiness of Institutional Biosafety Committees:

In 2004, an activist named Edward Hammond fired up his fax machine and sent out letters to 390 institutional biosafety committees across the country. His request was simple: Show me your minutes.


The committees “are the cornerstone of institutional oversight of recombinant DNA research,” according to the NIH, and at many institutions, their purview includes high-security labs and research on deadly pathogens.


When Hammond began requesting minutes in 2004, he said, he intended to dig up information about bioweapons, not to expose cracks in biosafety oversight. But he soon found that many institutions were unwilling to hand over minutes, or were struggling to provide any record of their IBCs at all. For example, he recalled, Utah State was a hub of research into biological weapons agents. “And their biosafety committee had not met in like 10 years, or maybe ever,” Hammond said. “They didn’t have any records of it ever meeting.”

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-11T17:51:14.785Z · EA · GW

I logically acknowledge that: "In some cases, an extravagant lifestyle can even produce a lot of good, depending on the circumstances... It’s not my preferred moral aesthetic, but the world’s problems don’t care about my aesthetics."

I know that, but... I care about my aesthetics.

For nearly everyone, I think there exists is a level of extravagance that disgusts their moral aesthetics. I'm sure I sit above that level for some, with my international flights and two $80 keyboards. My personal aesthetic disgust triggers somewhere around "how dare you spend $1000 on a watch when people die of dehydration". Giving a blog $100,000 isn't quite disgusting, yet, ew?

The post I've read that had the least missing mood around speculative philanthropy was probably the So You Want To Run A Microgrants Program retrospective on Astral Codex Ten, which included the following:

If your thesis is “Instead of saving 300 lives, which I could totally do right now, I’m gonna do this other thing, because if I do a good job it’ll save even more than 300 lives”, then man, you had really better do a good job with the other thing.

I like the scenario this post gives for risks of omission: a giant Don't Look Up asteroid hurtling towards the earth. I wouldn't be mad if people misspent some money, trying to stop it, because the problem was so urgent. Problems are urgent!

...yet, ew? So many other things look kind of extravagant, and they're competing against lives. I feel unsure about whether to treat my aesthetically-driven moral impulses as useful information about my motivations vs. obviously-biased intuitions to correct against.

(For example, I started looking into donating a kidney a few years ago and was like... man, I could easily save an equal number of years of life without accruing 70+ micromorts, but that's not nearly as rad? Still on the fence about this one.)

[crosspost from my twitter]

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-05-04T16:15:52.606Z · EA · GW

You might be interested to know that iGEM (disclosure: my employer) just published a blog post about infohazards. We currently offer biorisk workshops for teams; this year we plan to offer a general workshop on risk awareness, a workshop specifically on dual-use, and potentially some others. We don't have anything on general EA / rationality, though we do share biosecurity job and training opportunities with our alumni network.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T22:22:13.294Z · EA · GW

On passive technologies, I imagine the links from Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists would be informative. The areas highlighted there under "physical protection from pathogens" are:

  • Improving personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in the built environment
  • Improving biosafety in high-containment labs and clinics
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in vehicles

For spread in vehicles and the built environment, my sense (based on conversations with others, not independent research) is that lots of folks are excited about about upper-air UV-C systems to deactivate viruses. I don't know the best reading on that so here's a somewhat random March 2022 paper on the subject: Far-UVC (222 nm) efficiently inactivates an airborne pathogen in a room-sized chamber

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T22:13:43.841Z · EA · GW

On cyberbiosecurity:

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T17:00:12.373Z · EA · GW

Under Solutions to deal with misinformation, Tara Kirk Sell at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has done a bunch of related work (her list of publications includes things like a National Priorities to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation for COVID-19 and Future Public Health Threats: A Call for a National Strategy and Longitudinal Risk Communication: A Research Agenda for Communicating in a Pandemic). She was also interviewed for the 80,000 Hours podcast in May 2020, though I suspect her thinking has evolved since then.

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Nathan Young's Shortform · 2022-05-02T13:50:48.440Z · EA · GW

I have strong "social security number" associations with the acronym SSN.

Setting those aside, I feel "scale" and "solvability" are simpler and perhaps less jargon-y words than "impact" and "tractability" (which is probably good), but I hear people use "impact" much more frequently than "scale" in conversation, and it feels broader in definition, so I lean towards "ITN" over "SSN".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Project: bioengineering an all-female breed of chicken to end chick culling · 2022-04-28T21:11:20.950Z · EA · GW

Thank you for highlighting this opportunity, which seems like the sort of cool research that this community is into funding (including me, I chipped in a little bit), as well as for doing so much investigation of the project in order to write up this report.