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How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks 2020-04-20T09:47:27.067Z

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Comment by tsunayoshi on New Career Guidance Organization: Probably Good · 2020-11-07T14:33:04.673Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-11-04T13:04:07.153Z · EA · GW

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

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on Prioritization in Science - current view · 2020-11-02T13:37:28.958Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal · 2020-10-28T12:28:25.493Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on A beginner data scientist tries her hand at biosecurity · 2020-10-25T00:49:10.804Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-10-18T14:56:35.716Z · EA · GW

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

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

Comment by tsunayoshi on Some thoughts on the effectiveness of the Fraunhofer Society · 2020-10-03T14:16:33.699Z · EA · GW
Almost all of the contract research is done for public projects, often in joint-ventures with companies. That way, most of the funding comes from public sources.

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

https://www.bundestag.de/resource/blob/365560/21b0bb5898655935c70791e438c95e2c/Stellungnahme_FG-data.pdf

Comment by tsunayoshi on EA Uni Group Forecasting Tournament! · 2020-09-21T12:01:31.871Z · EA · GW

Great idea, since you asked for suggestions, here are some:

  • I have been involved in many soccer prediction tournaments at work places or among friends. A frequent problem is that as the tournament goes on, many participants clearly have no chance of winning anymore, lose interest and drop out. Having alternative/intermediate awards (that can be purely symbolical) like "best predictions in December" or "fastest learner"(for most improved predictions) could be a fun way to mitigate that.
  • Depending on the number of people who sign up but are not associated with a university group, it might make sense to have the "People" category split by countries/regions. This would also facilitate some networking in countries where EAs have a hard time getting to know each other.
Comment by tsunayoshi on EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization · 2020-06-20T20:34:00.887Z · EA · GW

As the post does not focus on assigning blame, it seems objectively relevant to include the alt-right. Of course definitions vary over what exactly the alt-right is but at a very basic level it is indisputable that the election of Trump has increased polarization in a way that I doubt a Mitt Romney (farther away from the far right than Trump) presidency would have.

Comment by tsunayoshi on EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization · 2020-06-20T20:29:19.672Z · EA · GW
I'd be interested to hear some reactions from EAs abroad on this article's characterization of the American "far left."

To me it seems that the focus of the post is on socio-cultural issues rather than economic. To wit, Bernie Sanders may be categorzied as part of the far left, but the focus of his platform and message were economic rather than socio-cultural. Arguably, the culture war is almost entirely focused, well on culture: i.e. the number of people being cancelled over demanding lower taxes is zero.

So from my European perspective: Yes, Bernie Sanders' economic proposals seem moderate (but not all of them: "Break up the big banks" ) but the "social justice oriented liberalism" does not.

Comment by tsunayoshi on EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization · 2020-06-20T20:15:37.533Z · EA · GW

I agree with this trend being very concerning.

One aspect that was not covered much in your post is how the EA community might be affected by increased polarization. Organizations/movements getting caught up and divided over the culture war is a frequent pattern (see e.g. the New Atheists), which would at the very least probably be very bad for trust and discourse norms in the community. Given the low percentage of some minorities in EA and EA's close relationship to academia, it is very conceivable that EA could come under more scrutiny and pressure in the future.

Of course this should be discussed in much more detail, but my intuition is that it would be beneficial to take actions to prevent that by remaining unoffensive to "both sides". Examples could be hiring practices that prevent discrimination and are meritocratic, or policies against sexual harassment that are supportive of the victim and prevent decision-making by outrage.

Comment by tsunayoshi on effektiv-spenden.org: 2019 - Year in Review · 2020-06-09T11:14:22.380Z · EA · GW
working hypothesis that a much broader fraction of the population might be interested in donating effectively compared to becoming full fledged and dedicated EAs

N<10, but I have had some friends approach me asking, I would like to help cause X, how can I do it most effectively. This is also one of the more frequent requests we get in our local EA group.

In general, people should have a much easier time asking the question how to e.g. support climate change most effectively, rather than whether to support climate change vs. long term risk reduction. The latter requires a substantial change of values and therefore also often identity while the former seems like a more practical question.

Therefore, this seems like a very promising and straightforward initiative!

Comment by tsunayoshi on effektiv-spenden.org: 2019 - Year in Review · 2020-06-09T11:05:40.459Z · EA · GW

Sebastian, those two media reports seem rather positive and you outline your cause very well. I also realize that this is something you have less control over, but both of those clips have a clear association with EA. They both talk about William MacAskill as the founder of EA, the second one has a tag calling you "Supporter of Effective Altruism", while the first one has a separate interview with an anonymous person who is being introduced and interviewed as a member of the EA community. Thus at least those two clips *did* have a strong emphasis on the EA brand which seems to be somewhat in opposition to "We do not emphasize the EA brand in our activities and communications".

To be clear, I do not think of this as a net negative, especially if the portrayals are as sympathetic to the cause as the ones you linked.

Comment by tsunayoshi on External evaluation of GiveWell's research · 2020-05-22T12:10:05.778Z · EA · GW

Related to external evaluations: 80000hours used to have a little box at the bottom of an article, indicating a score given to it by internal and external evaluators. Does anybody know, why this is not being done anymore?

Comment by tsunayoshi on How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks · 2020-04-20T11:54:48.156Z · EA · GW

Point 2 is fair, but do note that I did post this under question, so some degree of uncertainty is implied.


Point 3 seems like addressing a standard that is at the very least not consistently applied. I went back through all question posts of the last 6 months; this seems to be fairly similar in form to this question and does not contain a cost-benefit analysis either. And as already mentioned, it is still part of the question category.

Comment by tsunayoshi on How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks · 2020-04-20T11:40:32.354Z · EA · GW

1) I was aware of this podcast, and actually contemplated not posting because the superficial similarity between the topics might be a problem. First of all Lewis' criticism is not just slightly different, it's all about EA's discussion of cloth masks. About medical masks, which this post is about, he specifically says "medical masks are pretty good for the general population which I’ll just about lean in favor of, although all of these things are uncertain.". Furthermore I am uncertain whether one very recent expert's opinion should promote a huge shift in EA's consensus on this topic.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Coronavirus Research Ideas for EAs · 2020-03-30T15:50:18.162Z · EA · GW

[Epistemic status: Uncertain]

While working on covid-19 is by no means neglected, working on unconventional solutions is. I would be surprised, if there is a serious organization outside of the EA sphere evaluating just one of these proposals:

Robin Hanson has suggested both variolation, and controlled infection of essential workers.

Distribution of medical knowledge to amateurs. As most people in the third world will not have access to medically trained professionals, they will turn to local sources of treatment. Having some people armed with a bunch of youtube videos and DIY respirators as your sole treatment option is terrible, but might be less terrible than no treatment or herbal remedies.

Research into whether these ideas might be valuable or could cause long term harm to the EA community might be really important.

Comment by tsunayoshi on [Linkpost] - Mitigation versus Supression for COVID-19 · 2020-03-17T22:45:45.500Z · EA · GW

Not an expert myself, but the naive calculations that I have seen with regards to herd immunity are incorrect. The precise numbers are just to illustrate the thought process.

"We need 60-70% of people to be immune, people 65 and younger make up 65 % percent of the population, so if they catch it we have achieved herd immunity to protect the elderly".

The flaw with that reasoning is that the immune people need to be essentially randomly distributed in the population. However, the elderly make up a sub population with their own distinct networks, in which the virus can spread after the quarantines are lifted.

It also would probably not work in much (probably the larger part) of the world, where the elderly live together with their families, unless one would relocate them to special made quarantines.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Are there any public health funding opportunities with COVID-19 that are plausibly competitive with Givewell top charities per dollar? · 2020-03-13T12:02:27.444Z · EA · GW

Fund a study to investigate the use of DIY-masks. Promote their use to at risk population, and fund add campaigns with scientists.

Although Western governments have come out against face masks, Eastern ones (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan) are strongly in favor of people wearing face masks to protect themselves. There is evidence, that even homemade masks are good at protecting people from respiratory droplets . These could be used if the shortage in surgical masks persist.

Since in the West nobody is promoting this evidence in favour of face masks, this is a potential high impact intervention.

Comment by tsunayoshi on COVID-19 brief for friends and family · 2020-02-29T14:29:40.159Z · EA · GW

There will not be a vaccine soon, but anti-viral drugs are currently in an FDA approved Phase 3 trial, and from what I have heard could be both approved and available in May.

There is evidence that higher temperatures will limit the spread: Africa has so far been mostly spared, and warm places like Singapore are doing much better than Japan or South Korea.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Any response from OpenAI (or EA in general) about the Technology Review feature on OpenAI? · 2020-02-24T22:29:01.787Z · EA · GW

It's important to react with an open mind to outside criticism of EA work, and to especially engage with the strong points. Most of the responses posted here so far (including the links to tweets of other researchers) fail to do so.

Yes, the article has a much more accusing tone than content. But, the two main criticisms are actually clear and fairly reasonable, particularly given that OpenAi (as per the article) acknowledges the importance of being respected in the greater machine learning community:

1)Whatever it is that you think about the value of openness in AI research, if you call yourself OpenAI(!) people WILL expect you to be open about your work. Even though the Charta was changed to reflect that, most people will not be aware of this change.

2) I actually agree with the article that much of OpenAI's press releases feel like exaggerated hype. While I personally agree with the decision itself to not immediately release GPT-2, it was communicated with the air of "it's too dangerous and powerful to release". This was met with a strong negative reaction, which is not how you become the trusted authority on AI safety. (see here https://www.reddit.com/r/MachineLearning/comments/aqovhz/discussion_should_i_release_my_mnist_model_or/

Another instance that I personally thought was pretty egregious was the announcement of Microsoft's investment: https://openai.com/blog/microsoft/ :

We’re partnering to develop a hardware and software platform within Microsoft Azure which will scale to AGI.

Note that this sentence does not include "attempt", or "we hope will scale" .It is hard to read this without coming away with the impression that OpenAI has a very high degree of confidence in being able to build an AGI, and promising so to the world.

Comment by tsunayoshi on COVID-19 Risk Assessment App Idea for Vetting and Discussion · 2020-02-20T20:18:56.507Z · EA · GW

Just to be clear, to me the fact that Western government are already doing it is a positive point in favor of your proposal, since it is evidence for utility of contact tracing in containing the virus.

Comment by tsunayoshi on COVID-19 Risk Assessment App Idea for Vetting and Discussion · 2020-02-20T14:06:46.545Z · EA · GW

Your sections on incentive design is very persuasive, and seems like a great starting point.

And before I start with my concerns, Western governments are already kind of doing a similar thing: They identify contacts of infected people, including people who dined at the same restaurant at a similar time, in order to test them.

However, some concerns/questions that were partly raised in the fb group already:

0)Even basic questions about the virus and how it spreads are still unanswered, like how infectious one is during the incubation period. This makes more advanced questions regarding a risk score difficult to answer.

1) How likely are you to catch the virus at all just by being in the same area/frequenting the same shops as somebody infected? My impression from the Western cases so far was that it infections occurred generally with close contacts; this risk changes obviously when more infected people are around, but still should be estimated to decide whether such an app would be worth it.

2) Regarding the computation of the risk score: If you only use confirmed cases with voluntary sign up, you might not get enough data; if you use suspected cases by symptoms, you will get a lot of false positives due to worried people with the flu. In the absence of data on how to properly account for that, this is a very difficult problem.

3) You mention that Google traffic data is still useful, even when few people use it. I am not familiar with that part of the app, but if it involves some form of prediction, it is important to note that Google has had years to get this right. With a pandemic, you have at best months(!), and on top of that the situation changes constantly.


Given what I assume is a dearth of good historical data on every aspect of this , I think that calculating both an accurate risk score AND communicating it without doing more harm than good, is a very tough problem.

A dumbed down (but maybe not useful anymore) version of the app could just do without the risk score. It would essentially be a more convenient approach for governments to identify people who have been to certain areas to self-isolate or watch their symptoms. The location tracking and notification could still be done by the app, but the decision making would lie with health offices.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-02T00:02:31.212Z · EA · GW

I am extremely skeptical of the high R0 estimate for one reason: SARS has a lower R0, but was much worse overseas than nCov currently is.

According to the Lancet report you linked, SARS has an R0 of around 2 in China, so substantially lower than nCov. However, we know how the first cases abroad spread. Compared to the current situation, it was far far worse, by mortality and by number of cases. The first case in Toronto infected first her family, then some hospital works who in turn spread it further until the whole hospital had to be closed. Eyeballing the graph for Canada found here, this really does not look like the situation we currently have, despite higher interconnection and more rigorous testing (more testing -> more discovered cases).


So far the majority of overseas cases are still travelers from China; the people that they infected are generally close contacts; it is positively surprising how few spouses seem to get the virus. This can also not just be attributed to higher awareness I think. Even before the news story of a new dangerous story broke, there were no human-to-human transmissions overseas despite some travelers already present.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-01T23:29:07.987Z · EA · GW

The link to the Lancet study seems to be broken when I click on it, although the text of the link itself is correct. This should be (hopefully) a working link: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30260-9/fulltext

Comment by tsunayoshi on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-01T16:29:08.920Z · EA · GW

Just some quick thoughts:

-Your lowest discovery rate (15%) might still be too high, this recent preprint estimates 0.05% https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.23.20018549v2.full.pdf

-The spreadsheet compares the current number of deaths with the current number of known cases. However, deaths will always leak behind the number of confirmed cases; this way you will be underestimating death rate.

-It might also be interesting to do some back of the envelope math on the cases outside of China, since discovery rate should be much higher. So far, there are very few serious, and I think no critical conditions. However, most confirmed infections outside of China are actually people who were infected in China and then traveled overseas which selects for people healthy enough to travel, so mostly younger. Doing a proper analysis of those numbers will be hard; one could compare them to SARS figures of the relevant age bracket.

Comment by tsunayoshi on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-29T11:52:10.192Z · EA · GW

Some slightly positive evidence: By the 24th, 19 cases had been reported outside of China, with onset of symptoms usually before that. Given the most recent estimate of a mean incubation period of 5 days, it seems surprising that only 1 of the 19 cases has infected another person that we know of so far (a man traveling from Wuhan to Vietnam infected his son, who shared a hotel room with his father for 3 days). Since monitoring of people the infected came into contact with is high, finding infected people should be fairly quick.

Seems that effective containment, a lower R0 than expected (both good), or a longer incubation period than previously assumed (bad) could be the reason.


Source for the 19 cases by the 24th: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1yZv9w9zRKwrGTaR-YzmAqMefw4wMlaXocejdxZaTs6w/htmlview?usp=sharing&sle=true#

Comment by tsunayoshi on Movement Collapse Scenarios · 2019-09-09T01:01:40.029Z · EA · GW

There is an established industry committed to providing criticism from outside (well, kind of): external auditors, commonly known as the Big 4. These companies are paid by usually big firms to evaluate their financial statements with regards to accuracy and unlawful activity. While these accountants are supposed to serve the shareholders of the company and the public, they are remunerated and chosen by the companies themselves, which creates an obvious incentive problem. Empirically, this has led to serious doubt about the quality of their work, even after governments had to step in because of poor audits and provide stringent legal requirements for auditors. See: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/05/24/reforming-the-big-four

Essentially, a similar problem would arise if CEA would pay external people to provide feedback, which is something GiveWell also ran into (from memory: the page somebody below already linked outlines that finding people who are qualified AND willing to provide free criticism is really hard). If you pay a reviewer beforehand, how do you choose a reviewer? Having such a reviewer might actually be a net negative, if it provides a false sense of security (in probabilistic terms: it would seem from the outside that estimates A and B are independent of each other, but in fact since the first evaluator chooses the second they are not). If you use a format like the current one, where everybody is free to submit criticism, but the organization itself chooses the best arguments, there is no incentive for the organization to pick the most scathing criticisms, when it could just as well pick only moderate ones. (although it is probably better to incorporate moderate criticism rather than none at all)


Even if you solve the incentive problem somehow, there is a danger to public criticism campaigns like that: that they will provide a negative impression of the organization to outside people that do not read about the positive aspects of the organization/movement. There are several reasons to consider this as a realistic danger: 1) On the internet people seem to really love reading negative pieces, they capture our interest and they are shared more often. 2)The more negative the opinion expressed, the more salient to the memory it is. 3) With EA, it's likely that this might end up being on of the first impressions people have of it.

4)All of this is what happened above with the link to the glassdoor review of CEA: we now have a discussion in this thread about the negative reviews on there, but not really of the positive ones. Previously I had no special information about whether CEA was internally open to self-criticism, but now I only have these negative reviews to go on with and I expect that in a year I will still remember them.

I realize that these points do not necessarily apply to asking for external criticism in itself, just for certain ways to go about it, but I do believe that avoiding the aforementioned problems requires clever and nontrivial design.