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
Will splashy philanthropy cause the biosecurity field to focus on the wrong risks? 2019-04-30T16:03:20.884Z


Comment by tessa on Maybe Antivirals aren’t a Useful Priority for Pandemics? · 2021-06-23T18:19:59.236Z · EA · GW

Not an expert, but Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE) shows that we are not guaranteed to produce useful antibodies for arbitrary diseases. In fact, we can produce antibodies that make a disease worse!

This happens in dengue, where there are different serotypes of the disease and antibodies for one serotype can be non-neutralizing for others, but "original antigenic sin" (I find this term quite funny) means that we don't generate new ones and the infection is enhanced because the non-neutralizing antibodies recruit macrophages, which dengue likes to replicate in.

Here's a Derek Lowe post from December 2020 on ADE, which also notes examples in HIV, Ebola coxsackievirus. I was in fact a bit worried about ADE with SARS-CoV-2 early in the pandemic, since spike protein immunization against feline coronaviruses has sometimes led to ADE.

Comment by tessa on Maybe Antivirals aren’t a Useful Priority for Pandemics? · 2021-06-22T19:36:49.850Z · EA · GW

What about the use of antivirals to prevent infection, in the form of pre-exposure or post-exposure prophylaxis?

The reverse transcriptase inhibitors (e.g. Truvada) used for HIV PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophlaxis) seem to also work for (treatment of) Hepatitis B. If we had platform pre-exposure prophylactics, wouldn't that complement vaccines, or perhaps be useful for stopping outbreaks of diseases that are harder to develop vaccines against?

These pills have enough side effects that we're not going to ask large groups of people to take them on a regular basis unless they're genuinely at risk of exposure, but that would be true in a pandemic. At least with HIV, it also seems like taking antivirals in the 72 hours after infection[1] is pretty good at preventing infection. That seems like the sort of thing that could bring R_0 down?

  1. I think this also means that your note that "the drugs take months to work" is not quite accurate, at least for this use case ↩︎

Comment by tessa on What are some high-impact paths for a young person in the developing world? · 2021-06-14T14:58:30.161Z · EA · GW

A few biosecurity-oriented answers and opportunities:

Comment by tessa on Which non-EA-funded organisations did well on Covid? · 2021-06-10T17:59:16.610Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

Comment by tessa on How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid? · 2021-06-10T17:41:09.509Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

Comment by tessa on How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid? · 2021-06-10T17:29:13.005Z · EA · GW

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

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

Comment by tessa on How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid? · 2021-06-03T21:20:14.883Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by tessa on How well did EA-funded biorisk organisations do on Covid? · 2021-06-03T13:58:13.412Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by tessa on Long-Term Future Fund: April 2019 grant recommendations · 2021-06-01T02:29:51.796Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by tessa on Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit · 2021-05-31T00:49:10.337Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by tessa on tessa's Shortform · 2021-05-30T03:41:55.042Z · EA · GW

Credible Alternatives for (EA-flavoured) Depressive Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by tessa on Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit · 2021-05-29T00:28:38.047Z · EA · GW

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

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

Comment by tessa on Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit · 2021-05-28T01:24:28.500Z · EA · GW

Do you happen to have filled out versions of the worksheets you could share?

No, alas; we only found Gather a few weeks before the event, at which point the schedule was largely finalized. But it was very clear that it would have been super useful to us if we'd found it earlier on.

Comment by tessa on Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit · 2021-05-28T01:23:29.732Z · EA · GW

Could you say more about what you asked the attendees to do?

Sure! I looked through our emails and found the following messages to attendees:

  • T-(1 month to 1 week): "Catalyst Biosummit: You're In!" was a generic reminder / acceptance email asking people to confirm their attendance and register e.g. dietary preferences
  • (lots of emails with the most engaged applicants asking them to give lightning talks and host design jam groups)
  • T-7 Days: "Get ready to participate in Catalyst": sent out full agenda and logistics. Prompted attendees to sign up for meetups and share anything that might facilitate full participation (we noted that the venue had a gender-neutral restroom and gave the example of "space for lactation" as an accessibility need we'd be happy to meet if we were made aware of it)
  • T-4 Days: "Start shaping your Catalyst experience" prompted attendees to sign up for a design jam group, join the Slack, schedule breakout rooms and make a list of their goals for the day.
  • T-2 Days: "Sign up for your Catalyst design jam group today" reminded people to sign up for a design group (noting that we'd by default be randomly assigning everyone except invited speakers to groups early the next morning, and noting that people could opt out of this by replying to the email)
  • T-1 Day: "See you at Catalyst tomorrow" more of a logistical email (e.g. here is when and where you should show up) but included links to design jam briefs, the full agenda, and notes on how to recognize organizers in case an uncomfortable incident needed to be reported
Comment by tessa on Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit · 2021-05-27T01:16:38.114Z · EA · GW

Thanks for reporting and for fixing!

Comment by tessa on Looking for: post-COVID pandemic preparedness initiatives · 2021-05-26T18:13:59.012Z · EA · GW

Additional group I learned about is Prevent Epidemics, which is a project of Resolve To Save Lives, which is itself a project of the global public health org Vital Strategies. Not sure why the org is so nested, but their Epidemics That Didn't Happen data story is just gorgeous and I think they might be worth investigating further.

Comment by tessa on Looking for: post-COVID pandemic preparedness initiatives · 2021-05-12T03:31:23.504Z · EA · GW

A pointer to someone else's list of initiatives, but: the Center for Global Development had a great post in March on Financing for Global Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness: Taking Stock and What’s Next.

More directly answering the question (and overlapping some of what is linked in that post):

Comment by tessa on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2021-04-19T18:07:53.829Z · EA · GW

I asked an epidemiologist for some paper recommendations and got the following (which I haven't yet read):

I have also had my mind blown a little bit by Virulence evolution and the trade‐off hypothesis: history, current state of affairs and the future. Learning more about viral evolution and evolutionary epidemiology has been fun, but/and I remain uncertain how helpful this is in thinking about high-potential-consequence biorisks.

Comment by tessa on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2021-04-10T04:25:04.959Z · EA · GW

Interesting observation! To be honest, I hadn't thought much about this list from the perspective of it being a portfolio of (types of) expertise, rather than a list of interesting + useful topics.

For what it's worth, epidemiology is one of four topics (along with cell biology, microbiology, and immunology) included under recommended Technical knowledge/Basic science in Gregory Lewis’s “ultra-rough” Global Catastrophic Biological Risks Reading List:

Epidemiology: A sketch of infectious disease epidemiology: surveillance and outbreak detection, some basic understanding of infectious disease dynamics (e.g. R0, attack rate, compartment models).

I do feel that 60% classical epidemiology (if I'm understanding your distinction right; your link gave the definition as "the study of the determinants and distribution of disease in populations") would be too high a weighting in a portfolio aimed at reducing global catastrophic biorisks. I think my reasoning there is based on a belief that GCBRs are most likely to arise from deliberate misuse of biology, and preventing that deliberate misuse is higher priority than developing better responses to natural pandemics. I don't feel terribly confident in this; my response here is pretty off-the-cuff, and I'll try to give this topic more thought.

Comment by tessa on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2021-03-19T13:28:15.274Z · EA · GW

Excellent― one thing I was hoping to get from posting this was links to resources I hadn't encountered yet, so I really appreciate this.

Comment by tessa on Responses and Testimonies on EA Growth · 2021-03-14T17:39:33.101Z · EA · GW

I think it's great to collect responses to posts in this kind of highlights-from-the-comments-on style.

I especially enjoyed the testimonies from various Christians in EA; I fit the "generally godless" descriptor one person used, but I am glad to hear of Christians finding convergence between EA ideas and their own charitable commitments.

This relates to a thing I've long wondered, which is whether there ought to be a version of the GWWC pledge that fits better with zakat, i.e. committing 2.5% of one's surplus wealth to the most effective causes, instead of 10% of income (which fits better with Jewish ma'aser ksafim / Christian tithing traditions).

Comment by tessa on AMA: Toby Ord @ EA Global: Reconnect · 2021-03-14T16:54:15.181Z · EA · GW

You recently shared a rather sweet anecdote about your daughter volunteering to be the youngest person in the world to take part in a COVID vaccine trial. This got me wondering: how do you think about parenting in relation to your career and commitments as an effective altruist? What crucial considerations (if any) do you think EAs should take into account when thinking about whether or not to become parents?

Comment by tessa on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2021-03-14T16:47:17.774Z · EA · GW

Oh, that's great to hear! That's very much the use case I was hoping this list might help with. As I said in the meta section, if you're feeling unsure what to read next from this rather long list, please feel free to ask for suggestions in the comments!

Comment by tessa on AMA: Holden Karnofsky @ EA Global: Reconnect · 2021-03-14T04:27:41.310Z · EA · GW

How has OpenPhil's Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness strategy changed in light of how the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded so far? What biosecurity interventions, technologies or research directions seem more (or less) valuable now than they did a year ago?

Comment by tessa on Don't Be Bycatch · 2021-03-11T03:13:13.019Z · EA · GW

I really liked the encouraging tone of this― "from one little fish in the sEA to another" was so sweet― and like the suggestion to instigate small / temporary / obvious projects. Reminds me a bit of the advice in Dive In which I totally failed to integrate when I first read it, but now feels very spot on; I spent ages agnoising over whether my project ideas were Effective Enough and lost months years that could have been spent building imperfect things and nurturing competence and understanding.

Comment by tessa on How to run a high-energy reading group · 2021-03-06T18:06:35.816Z · EA · GW

These are great ideas! I love all of the practical zoom-call-management suggestions. Splitting into breakout rooms based on upvoted questions in a Google doc sounds quite fun, I may have to try that.

Comment by tessa on AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions · 2021-03-03T04:18:27.826Z · EA · GW

Are there theory-of-change-level misconceptions that you commonly find yourself correcting for your clients? What are some of the strategic mistakes you frequently see made by institutions on the scale you advise?

Comment by tessa on What are some good online courses relevant to EA? · 2021-02-20T23:00:38.161Z · EA · GW

Some biosecurity-related content:

  • Next Generation Biosecurity: Responding to 21st Century Biorisks Useful broad six-week introduction to biosecurity issues, including lots of case studies. Put together by experts at the University of Bath, including the folks behind
  • Act Like A Pro! Set of three interactive biosecurity case studies set in Argentina, Uganda, and the UK. Developed as part of the 2018 Next Generation for Biosecurity competition, which is a project of NTI | bio and the Next Generation GHS Network.
  • Malice Analysis Half-day workshop put on by the Engineering Biology Research Consortium to help life sciences graduate students and biotechnology professionals assess risks in their own work. Most recent instances have been virtual and free, because pandemic, but I don't know if it's exactly an "online course".
Comment by tessa on Computational biology thesis topic suggestions · 2020-12-23T20:42:46.946Z · EA · GW

A few more thoughts:

Improving sequence screening tools for gene synthesis providers. NTI is working on a common mechanism to prevent illicit gene synthesis and I think they recently hired a comp bio consultant on that project.

You might also be interested in modelling for environmental use of gene editing? This is maybe more into evolutionary biology, but I'm thinking of some of the groups funding under DARPA's Safe Genes program and people working on reversible or limited-range gene drives.

Comment by tessa on Computational biology thesis topic suggestions · 2020-12-20T17:06:26.474Z · EA · GW

I have some biosecurity-related ideas:

You could look into genetic engineering attribution! There were a bunch of EA authors on the The biosecurity benefits of genetic engineering attribution, a useful background paper that came out two weeks ago. altLabs just finished running a data science contest on this problem using AddGene data. They got great results on that contest, so I think now the problem is around how to extend it beyond the AddGene database, how to

There's a ton of interesting work happening in metagenomics for infectious disease surveillance and modelling. I'm no expert in this, but Nextstrain and IDSeq both seem like useful projects.

You could also look into the projects being pursued under IARPA's FunGCAT (can we tell if DNA encodes for something dangerous) and FELIX (can we detect whether an organism was engineered) programs, and look for interesting ways to complement and build upon those projects / publications?

Comment by tessa on Are there historical examples of excess panic during pandemics killing a lot of people? · 2020-05-28T05:09:39.405Z · EA · GW

I've seen claims before that the CDC's response to the 1976 H1N1 epidemic had long-term negative public health consequences, but after a few minutes of looking for evidence of this, I'm not sure it's true.

In the fall of 1976, based on fears that a January outbreak of swine flu was going to become a 1918-scale pandemic in the coming season, the CDC vaccinated around 25% of the American populace. However, new cases of H1N1 weren't appearing, people were developing Guillain–Barré syndrome after being vaccinated, Ford lost the election, and the whole program was abandoned. The received wisdom (e.g. this Discover article) seems to be that this was viewed as a disaster and increased distrust of government vaccination campaigns.

From what I can tell from this article on Influenza Pandemics of the 20th Century and the the CDC's 2006 reflections on the vaccination program, though, the public health officials involved in the campaign feel like they reacted reasonably given the information they had? (Most of the world did not mount mass vaccination campaigns, and it was not an unusually bad flu season.)

Anyway, leaving this as a comment rather than an answer, since this was an overreaction to the H1N1 strain that existed, but I don't know if it was an overreaction to the information accessible in February 1976, and it's not clear that it had terrible consequences.

Comment by tessa on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-06T08:13:55.235Z · EA · GW

You might be interested in the Just One Giant Lab OpenCovid19 project. They just had their first conference call and their goal is to "develop an open source methodology to safely test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 using tools as common as possible".

Comment by tessa on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-06T00:57:45.246Z · EA · GW

Could be (the two groups are currently talking to each other)

Comment by tessa on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-04T10:02:39.892Z · EA · GW

A "portable, easy-to-use ventilator" was highlighted in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security report on Technologies to Address Global Catastrophic Biological Risks (press release, full PDF). Their write-up of this technology is on page 61-63 of the report.

One of the sources they link describes the OneBreath ventilator. Might be a good place to start looking!

Comment by tessa on Linch's Shortform · 2020-03-04T02:56:26.737Z · EA · GW

I'd really appreciate ideas for how to try to confer some of what it was like to people who couldn't make it. We recorded some of the talks and intend to edit + upload them, we're writing a "how to organize a conference" postmortem / report, and one attendee is planning to write a magazine article, but I'm not sure what else would be useful. Would another post like this be helpful?

Comment by tessa on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-04T02:51:07.366Z · EA · GW

Other prior work: Would activism to ensure local hospitals and health departments are adequately preparing for COVID-19 be high-leverage?

Comment by tessa on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-04T02:47:05.805Z · EA · GW

This now has a website:

The (all-volunteer) team could use more help! You can ask for an invite to the Slack, or send tips about other related efforts, using

Comment by tessa on Should effective altruists give money to local beggars? · 2020-02-29T01:03:43.497Z · EA · GW

I like this answer from theunitofcaring on tumblr:

Q: What do you do when (presumably) homeless people ask you for money? This happens fairly regularly where I live and I really don't think "I'm sorry sir, you are not the most efficient from of charity" would be received well. So I tend to ignore them, or say "no" and keep walking. Which feels cruel. It doesn't help that the ask is something like "any spare change?" so if I don't want to give them money I usually have to lie or get into a longer conversation.

A: I used to give homeless people money a lot because of basically this problem! I eventually realized that was unsustainable and stopped carrying cash so I did not have the option, and could truthfully say “I’m sorry but I don’t carry any cash”. This is inconvenient if you want to carry cash for emergencies or that one stupid Berkeley sushi place that doesn’t take cards, but “I don’t have any cash to give you, sorry” is always true. I still occasionally buy someone ice cream but this feels less pressure-y and more “it’s hot out, it will make me happy to buy myself and this person some ice cream”.

It also is totally okay to ignore people on the street. It feels bad to me too, and I try to avoid it, but streets only work because people mostly agree not to make random costly requests of one another except when desperately needed, and it is morally fine to avoid interacting with people while out in public.

Comment by tessa on How can EA local groups reduce likelihood of our members getting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases? · 2020-02-27T15:18:40.592Z · EA · GW

Yeah, edited to clarify a bit. At this point I'm just a bit confused about the CDC recommendation to favour handwashing:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
Comment by tessa on How can EA local groups reduce likelihood of our members getting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases? · 2020-02-27T04:27:30.920Z · EA · GW

I wish I could look up the source for that 90% quote, but it's from a book from the 1990s. Quoting a press release from ASM about that same 2019 result:

The influenza A virus (IAV) remains infectious in wet mucus from infected patients, even after being exposed to an ethanol-based disinfectant (EBD) for two full minutes... Most studies on EBDs test the disinfectants on mucus that has already dried. When he and his colleagues repeated their experiments using fully dried mucus, they found that hand rubbing inactivated the virus within 30 seconds... Washing hands with an antiseptic soap, they found, deactivated the virus within 30 seconds, regardless of whether the mucus remained wet or had dried.

More alcohol isn't necessarily better- this 2002 CDC Review on Handwashing notes that:

Alcohol solutions containing 60%–95% alcohol are most effective, and higher concentrations are less potent because proteins are not denatured easily in the absence of water.

The tests summarized in that report suggest high efficacy at the 70% concentration for a lot of viruses, included some non-enveloped ones:

Other nonenveloped viruses such as hepatitis A and enteroviruses (e.g., poliovirus) may require 70%–80% alcohol to be reliably inactivated. However, both 70% ethanol and a 62% ethanol foam product with emollients reduced hepatitis A virus titers on whole hands or fingertips more than nonmedicated soap.

[edited to clarify] So maybe the reason that the CDC recommends handwashing is that healthcare workers are likely to have soiled [ETA: or damp or mucus-covered] hands?

Comment by tessa on How can EA local groups reduce likelihood of our members getting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases? · 2020-02-27T04:22:13.290Z · EA · GW

If children washing their hand in Spanish daycares looks like "regular person use", then this study found hand sanitizer to be more effective.

(Though I can't tell how much more carefully supervised the children using hand sanitizer were; there's a paragraph that sort of suggests this-"The HSG children were supervised by DCC staff and parents when using the hand sanitizer, and in the case of young children, it was administered by DCC staff and parents. The CG followed usual hand-washing procedures."- and that might explain the whole difference, since it's not that dramatic.)

Comment by tessa on How can EA local groups reduce likelihood of our members getting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases? · 2020-02-26T23:03:44.135Z · EA · GW

Happy to be corrected here, but I think hand sanitizer is recommended by the WHO for healthcare workers because of its strong antibacterial properties, and if you're concerned specifically about viruses you will usually be better off with hand washing.

Comment by tessa on How can EA local groups reduce likelihood of our members getting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases? · 2020-02-26T23:00:13.702Z · EA · GW

Yeah, most people (including me) don't apply multiple mL of hand sanitizer over every surface of their hands, then rub the hands together until it dries completely (which takes around 20 seconds).

Comment by tessa on Responsible Biorisk Reduction Workshop, Oxford May 2020 · 2020-02-07T20:57:45.055Z · EA · GW

That's great!

I've been working on a biosecurity event (Catalyst) that's happening later this month in SF. It's going to be a larger and less purely EA audience (and thus I expect it to have less of a working-group atmosphere) but I'd be happy to connect afterwards and share any takeaways on biorisk event organization.

Comment by tessa on 8 things I believe about climate change · 2019-12-29T23:30:56.852Z · EA · GW

Myself and Zachary Jacobi did some research for a post that we were going to call "Second-Order Effects Make Climate Change an Existential Threat” back in April 2019. At this point, it's unlikely that our notes will be converted into a post, so I'm going to link a document of our rough notes.

The tl;dr of the doc:

Epistemic status: conjecture stated strongly to open debate.

It seems like there is a robust link between heat and crime (at least 1%/ºC). We should be concerned that increased temperatures due to climate change will lead to increases in conflict that represent an existential threat.

  • We assumed that:
    • Climate change is real and happening (Claim 0).
    • Conflict between humans is a major source of existential risk (Claim 1).
  • Tessa researched whether increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations would make people worse at thinking (Claim 2).
    • She concluded that there is only mixed evidence that CO2 concentrations affect cognition, and only at very high (i.e. indoor) concentrations.
    • If you are concerned about the CO2 → poor cognition → impulsivity/conflict link, worry about funding HVAC systems, not climate change.
  • Zach researched whether heat makes people more violent (Claim 3).
    • They concluded that "This seems to be solidly borne out by a variety of research and relatively uncontroversial, although there is quibbling about which confounders (alcohol, nicer weather) play a role. On the whole, we’re looking at at least 1%/ºC increase in crime. The exact mechanism remains unknown and everything I’ve read seems to have at least one counter-argument against it."
    • The quality of the studies supporting this claim surprised both of us.
  • We did not get around to researching the intersection of food scarcity, climate change, and conflict .

The rough notes represent maybe 4 person-hours of research and discussion; it's a shallow investigation.

Comment by tessa on Against value drift · 2019-11-21T01:53:09.632Z · EA · GW

My values being differently expressed seems very important, though. If I feel as if I value the welfare of distant people, but I stop taking actions in line with that (e.g. making donations to global poverty charities), do I still value it to the same extent?

That said, my example wasn't about external behaviour changes, so you probably weren't responding with that in mind.

I've inarguably experienced drift in the legibility of my values to myself, since I no longer have the same emotional signal for them. I find the the term "Value Drift" a useful shorthand for that, but it sounds like you find it makes things unclear?

Comment by tessa on Against value drift · 2019-11-07T21:37:07.662Z · EA · GW

It seems they are worried they might learn more and decide they were wrong and now want something different... If you truly, deeply care about altruism, you'll keep picking it in every moment, up until the world changes enough that you don't.

I don't object to learning more and realizing that I value different things, but there are a lot of other reasons I might end up with different priorities or values. Some of those are not exactly epistemically virtuous.

As a concrete example, I worry that living in the SF bay area is making me care less about extreme wealth disparities. I witness them so regularly that it's hard for me to feel the same flare of frustration that I once did. This change has felt like a gradual hedonic adaptation, rather than a thoughtful shifting of my beliefs; the phrase "value drift" fits that experience well.

One solution here is, of course, not to use my emotional responses as a guide for my values (cf. Against Moral Intuitions) but emotions are a very useful decision-making shortcut and I'd prefer not to take on the cognitive overhead of suppressing them.

Comment by tessa on What are your top papers of the 2010s? · 2019-10-22T22:09:33.127Z · EA · GW

Dylan Matthews's answer, excerpted from the Future Perfect newsletter

This question is inspired by today's Future Perfect newsletter (signup link), in which Dylan Matthews wrote:

We’re barely two months from the end of the 2010s, and that has meant a lot of end-of-decade best-of lists on everything from movies to songs to albums to TV shows. And, at least for me, it's meant a lot of arguments with friends over whether, say, Yeezus actually holds up, or if The Master or Phantom Thread is the better Paul Thomas Anderson movie, or if The Good Place is better than Parks and Recreation.

So I started wondering what a list of the papers — in economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy — that most influenced me over the 2010s would look like. Unsurprisingly, it looked like a list of ideas that have influenced my writing in Future Perfect profoundly.

I should say that this is a small fraction of the research that’s influenced me greatly this past decade, and if you’re an academic reading this and I’ve left you out, I mean no disrespect at all! But here are five papers that have really changed how I think about the world in the 2010s (and keep an eye out for an expanded list on the site in the coming weeks!).

"Cluelessness” (2016) by Hilary Greaves

The choices we make have unpredictable consequences that ripple out for centuries or millennia, by affecting life and death. This is a very technical paper (this podcast presents a more accessible version), but Greaves does a great job of explaining cases where this kind of cluelessness is fine (where we can just make our best guess as to which action will work out best) and in which cases it’s really, really troubling.

"Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing?” (2010) by Jessica Cohen and Pascaline Dupas

I’m cheating slightly with this one; Cohen and Dupas’s article appeared in working paper form before being officially published in 2010. It uses a randomized experiment to show that giving away anti-malaria bednets for free dramatically increases their usage relative to charging a small, nominal fee.

This implies that charities like Against Malaria Foundation that facilitate the direct distribution of bednets can have huge positive effects. I’ve given thousands of dollars to AMF due in no small part to this paper.

"Using the Results from Rigorous Multisite Evaluations to Inform Local Policy Decisions"(2019) by Larry Orr, Robert Olsen, Stephen Bell, Ian Schmid, Azim Shivji, and Elizabeth Stuart

The Cohen-Dupas paper is in some ways the best possible case for randomized trials being valuable. Here’s the best countercase I’ve seen.

Focusing on education, this team of researchers tries to use average results of education policies, as measured by big randomized trials held in different locations, to predict the results in individual locations. They find that this doesn't work very well at all: you can't just take average results and expect that the same effect will hold in your specific case. It's a challenging result for evidence-based policy and one I'm still grappling with.

"The Coalition Merchants" (2012) by Hans Noel

If public opinion doesn’t determine the future of public policy, what does? Here, Noel tells a compelling story that places “coalition merchants” — party activists, sympathetic journalists, and other ideologues — at the center, deciding “what goes with what” and what it means to be a conservative or a liberal.

He illustrates this using race relations in the 1950s and 1960s; he argues that intellectuals like William F. Buckley and groups like Americans for Democratic Action were crucial in identifying support for government services with support for civil rights, and opposition to one with opposition to the other.

"Does School Spending Matter? The New Literature on an Old Question" (2018) by C. Kirabao Jackson

We probably focus too much on individual studies and not enough on big pooled evidence reviews. In this review (ably summarized here for folks without NBER access), Jackson walks through 13 recent papers, many coauthored by Jackson himself, that use highly rigorous near-random methods to measure the influence of money on school outcomes.

It’s a very basic question — does pouring more money into public schools improve outcomes? — and the answer, Jackson finds in the research base, is yes. It’s a good model for reviewing an evidence base, and it's a paper that’s genuinely changed my mind on the topic. I previously thought per-student funding didn’t matter much; I now think it matters a great deal.

Comment by tessa on What book(s) would you want a gifted teenager to come across? · 2019-08-07T18:20:13.476Z · EA · GW

I'd second Thinking, Fast and Slow.

I took a general primer on human biases ("Psychology of Critical Thinking") at a local university in high school, which overall had an enormously beneficial effect on my thinking.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is the most comprehensive popular book I've read which covers that territory, and wins points for describing in detail the experiments that Kahneman and Tversky used to reach their various conclusions. My understanding is that most of Kahneman and Tversky's results have held up, but not everything the book discusses has replicated well- many of the results it describes on priming are questionable.

Might be worth complementing with some of Ben Goldacre's books (e.g. Bad Science or I Think You'll Find It's A Bit More Complicated Than That) for very object-level critiques of research (and especially research reporting in the press and the UK government) or Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto for descriptions of how to systematically avoid human errors when doing complicated tasks.

Comment by tessa on What book(s) would you want a gifted teenager to come across? · 2019-08-07T18:06:06.843Z · EA · GW

I think it might still be worth sharing with caveats.

I got a lot out of reading Feynman as a 14-year-old girl. In particular, I was spending much of my time on creative projects (making props for theatre shows, drawing comics, etc.) even though I grudgingly felt like I'd need to work towards a STEM career to be more useful. His stories about painting and picking up random library books and learning languages (another hobby of mine at the time) made STEM careers seem much more compatible with the kinds of thinking I enjoyed.

That said, I have much more mixed feelings upon re-reading the book as an adult. Stories that seemed like harmless good fun now read as incredibly inconsiderate.

For example, Feynman describes playing a prank on a waitress at a local restaurant by putting her tip under an inverted full glass of water. When she goes to collect her tip, she spills the water. He shows her how she could have avoided the spill by slipping a sheet of paper under the glass and carefully sliding it to the edge of the table. The next time he goes to the restaurant, he inverts an empty glass, and is amused to watch the waitress very carefully and slowly slip paper underneath. I don't find this funny, especially since he describes how busy and rushed the waitresses are, but he clearly did.

The book also includes some stories about how he'd pick up women at bars in somewhat manipulative ways, but that didn't faze me as a teenager (I think I chalked it up to ambient sexist and adversarial relationship norms, which aren't unique to Feynman's writing) and still bothers me less than the above story.