Open Thread 151

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Comment of the week: Bean questions The Precipice‘s assessment of nuclear winter, links back to a comment thread from years ago challenging the Robock paper Ord relies on.

2. New sidebar ad: this one is for SafetyWing, which bills itself as “Norwegian founders with an international team on a mission to offer the equivalent of a Norwegian social safety net globally available as a membership – currently offering travel medical insurance for nomads, and global health insurance for remote teams.” It also has a Medium article where it claims its end goal is to build a country on the Internet, which is a delightfully tech-startup-Medium-article thing to claim.

3. As always, I apologize for being bad at answering emails. In some cases, I am weeks behind. In other cases, I am grateful for what you have to say but have given up on responding. In others, I have said “that’s interesting, I’ll check it out” while secretly knowing that I will never do that. Expect this kind of thing to continue.

4. Dan Wahl has an automated Unsong audiobook.

5. Calling researchers and lawyers – does anyone know the legalities of running an informal study without IRB approval? IE, if I were to email the SSC mailing list recommending people try a certain vitamin, nobody would think twice of it. If I were to email the SSC mailing list asking people with last names A-M to try the vitamin, and people with last names N-Z not to, and to record their results and send them to me, how much trouble would I be in? If the answer is “not much”, what does the requirement that “studies” have an IRB mean? Where do you cross the line from neat decentralized science experiment to official study, and what happens to people if they end up on the wrong side of it?

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1,112 Responses to Open Thread 151

  1. wiserd says:

    Here’s one consideration that I’d add. Hospital workers seem to be more likely to get a severe form of COVID. If this is accurate, there are one of two likely explanations;

    1. The virus which causes COVID has mutated into virulent and non-virulent forms.

    2. Exposure to a higher quantity of viral particles leads to increase severity of symptoms.

    People more knowledgeable than myself seem to be opting for #2. If this is accurate, then social distancing should be able to actually reduce the number of severe cases. (If it’s not true it might still work.)

    I’d be interesting in evidence which supports or disconfirms anything here mentioned.

  2. Gurkenglas says:

    Even without a treatment, buying time decreases r0 as knowledge propagates. I expect that if there were no such thing as vaccines, we could still eventually transform our way of life to get to ~full economic power while keeping disease locked down indefinitely.

  3. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Good news

    New cases are dropping in the US

    And (I forget where I saw this, maybe here, sorry if dupe) the number of patients showing up in New York hospitals with flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms is tending downwards. (I don’t know what the parent page is for this, but if you are reading this from the future, change “0408” to “04xx” for the xxᵗʰ day in April.)

  4. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I can’t buy rice at the grocery store. The ultimate cheap food is now a luxury.

    I’m feeling some food anxiety (probably illogically, but still), and I’m trying to take positive action instead of hoarding. I want to go the Mark Watney route and grow potatoes. I have ample garden space.

    I cooked some potatoes last night but cut off the parts that looked like eyes and sat them in a dish of water. Can I bury these outside?

    • zoozoc says:

      I have never buried part of a potato, but when I buried a single store-bought potato in our little garden area, it didn’t have any problem growing into a potato plant.

    • Lambert says:

      Yes. With a bit of luck, they will grow into potatoes.
      But it’s far from optimal. (depending on how much spare time and space you have)
      There’ll be plenty of stuff online about what kind of soil they like and how to maximise yield (e.g. ridging soil up them as they grow to promote potato formation). Depending on your climate, you might also want to do something to keep the soil warm.

    • baconbits9 says:

      You can grow potatoes this way, the primary issue is that potatoes are susceptible to blights which kill them quite easily and seed potatoes are specifically grown and managed to be blight free while store potatoes aren’t so there is a higher likelihood of crop failure, but they should be low effort and still have a reasonable chance of productivity so go ahead.

    • Wency says:

      I’m all for learning to grow potatoes. It seems to me the best crop to fill a need for calories.

      I cut up a whole potato once and got a number of small potato plants, which produced a lot of tiny potatoes, but the total potato mass never exceeded what I started with. I guess the issue was either too much shade or not enough room for the roots (this was in a series of planters on an apartment balcony).

      One piece of advice I read was to keep burying the plant with additional dirt and stacking up a column of tires around it. This apparently forces it to grow upward and keep making potatoes. I’m waiting until my next house purchase to really pursue the potato-growing arts though.

      Side note: I’ve found French fries made in an air fryer with relatively low quantities of oil to be a delicious and not-too-unhealthy way to enjoy potatoes. Mine has a rotating mechanism in which to put things like fries. However, I have to cook them for 25-30 minutes, even though advice I’ve read online says 15 minutes.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m all for learning to grow potatoes. It seems to me the best crop to fill a need for calories.

        The best crop is probably sweet potatoes, fewer disease issues, more edible production (the leaves are edible as well and while low calorie they have some good nutrition) and basically as easy/easier to propagate and produce similar caloric yeilds.

    • AG says:

      Have you tried going to an Asian market? When I went last week, they had plenty of rice, eggs, and flour, and they’re probably lower-risk than regular grocery stores since the customer base has that face-mask culture. Some reports say that they even have face-mask stock.

      For some lower-carb options than potatoes or rice, you could plant squashes or beans instead.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes, you can, but you need to do a few things first. Ideally, small sprouting potatoes are planted whole, larger ones are cut up. Here’s a quick guide to growing your own spuds, and there seem to be plenty of advisory articles and tutorial videos around online. I’m presuming you’re in North America so local conditions and spud varieties will vary.

      (1) So-called lazy beds are the easiest way to plant your seed potatoes. Well, traditional anyway, there’s probably easier ways to dig the garden nowadays than with a shovel and brute force 🙂
      (2) Fertilising before planting. When I was a kid and my father planted spuds, we lived beside the sea so we literally gathered seaweed off the shore to use for this. You’ll probably need to go with a commercial product (unless you know somebody with cows or horses who can provide you with dung) 😀
      (3) Time of year, weather, and variety of spud to plant. You want to avoid blight if at all possible. In the old days it used to be traditional to spray with bluestone (copper sulphate) and that still seems to be in vogue.
      (4) Patience. Planting now (depending on variety whether early or maincrop) means you’ll have to wait a few months – June/July say – to harvest. On the other hands, the potato flowers are quite pretty so you’ll have something green to look at in your garden!

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Combined response:

      I’m technically in a Southern state, so I think the weather is good. Losing the whole crop isn’t going to kill us but it’ll be something to consider.

      I happen to have slices of sweet potato, because the store had huge sweet potatoes last week. Good to know I’ve started ahead of the curve there.

      I have a decent compost system I’ve been working on for a few years, so I should have good soil for this. My wife has also been getting some carrots and onions to sprout in dishes of water. I think this weekend will give me time to get the garden area cleared of leaves.

  5. One thing I haven’t noticed anyone discussing is impact of the Coronavirus by gender. According to the data on Santa Clara County, infections are slightly higher for men than for women, but deaths are more than twice as high.

    This appears to be a general pattern. The ratio is even higher in Italy, lower in other countries, but it seems to be consistently the case that men are more likely to die of Coronavirus than women.

    • Kaitian says:

      It appears to be true, but the reasons are as murky as the reasons for the general difference in life expectancy:
      – men are more likely to smoke or drink heavily
      – men are more likely to have workplace injuries
      – men wait for more severe symptoms before going to the doctor
      – the double X chromosome makes XX women more resilient
      – estrogen appears to be protective against respiratory illness

      Overall I wouldn’t assume this is a sex specific effect until it has been separated from the prevalence and severity of underlying conditions.

      • DinoNerd says:

        If it’s estrogen, it would show up as a gender difference in younger women – let’s say 20-40, and lack of such a difference in older women – let’s say 55+

        I can’t recall anyone displaying statistics broken down by both gender and age, however. They might be available, but OTOH, who knows what’s actually being reported, and by whom.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          It’s in Italian, and as of March 12th, but here, have statistics broken down by both gender and age.

          If it would be helpful I can try to find a more recent one – this is early enough that there are almost no deaths before your 55+ cutoff. But the effect is definitely showing up post-55.

          Edit: A bit of looking around suggests more Italian men than women smoke, but I’m not sure it’s a big enough effect to explain the coronavirus difference – but I only did a quick check; others are welcome to do a better one.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This effect is absolutely massive in NYC. Serious cases are about 4:3 male, hospitalizations 8:5, deaths 19:10 all adjusted for population, which is 10:9 female.

    • Silverlock says:

      Well, our cardiovascular systems are certainly excitable by women.

      • Deiseach says:

        Silverlock, some ladies also have excitable cardiovascular systems 🙂

        (Obligatory warnings: probably NSFW or problematic due to brownface or Asian stereotypes or something else by today’s standards which didn’t apply when I was a kid and this was played on the wireless).

    • Cliff says:

      There is a similar pattern for the flu, and I believe for most other illnesses, but it is more pronounced for CV

    • AG says:

      Is this career related? Other than in nursing, it seems that men would be more likely to be in those jobs deemed essential during lockdowns, and so have more exposure risk.

      • albatross11 says:


        That wouldn’t explain why serious cases are 4:3 male but deaths are 19:10 male.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Feds intercept 100 coronavirus test kits shipped to Portland apartment

    The COVID-19 test kits were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and prohibited from entering the country.

    There’s a comment in the story inferring that the tests must be fake because they’re far too inexpensive. Anyone here know anything about this?

    • CatCube says:

      Well, there’s been huge numbers of test kits from China sent all over the world that don’t work. Somebody did a rollup of how Spain, the Czech Republic, and Italy also had nonfunctional PPE and test kits, but I can’t find it right now.

      So here, this is probably the right answer; at least the CDC admitted they fucked up with the test kits and said they don’t function properly.

      • Matt M says:

        I mean, even putting COVID aside for a second… generally speaking, if you are looking for something that is either expensive or rare, and you go on the Internet and find a website based in China that says “We have tons of it available for super cheap!” they are probably sending you something that isn’t exactly what you want.

        It’s possible this is the one exception, but seems unlikely…

    • mtl1882 says:

      I read an article that noted “The main reason for Taiwan’s success is the rapid reaction and lack of faith in the data provided by communist China.”

      I think that makes an important point. Being instinctively suspicious of China (and presumably the WHO) in general was probably far more of an asset to Taiwan that any kind of technological brilliance or fancy strategy. China’s behavior in Wuhan should have been considered more relevant than their version of things/public data in the U.S. response, and I think that’s a weakness in a system that loves data and expert-driven government. There are many countries that just aren’t going to operate in the way you want them to on that front, especially in such a panicked, unforeseen emergency, and this is not hard to predict. You have to watch the situation as a whole, and know the typical behavior of each nation and how to interpret a situation like shutting down Wuhan. Not saying they don’t deserve criticism or more (although let’s wait until we don’t desperately need the medical supplies they can provide), but I’m not so much concerned with China’s honesty as I am with our ability to not take things at face value and use our own eyes.

  7. Edward Scizorhands says:

    If every other country has caught it and they haven’t, I could steelman them being in a position where they have to isolate themselves from an infected world and suffer economically for it.

    I’d bet against it, because people catching COVID next year will have better treatments and an outside world operating at near-normal levels of production to give them stuff.

    • Matt M says:

      people catching COVID next year will have better treatments and an outside world operating at near-normal levels of production to give them stuff.

      How much would you bet on that?

      Because I’d say there’s a distinct chance that next year we’ll have treatments in clinical trials, and an outside world that says “Oh, here comes COVID, better shut down again!”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        That wasn’t how I interpreted the hypothetical. I was thinking it had run its course in every other country but those handful.

        But on re-reading, I think your interpretation is closer to what was asked. That’s a tougher question.

  8. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Does “ineffective” mean no benefit at all? It might have a very weak benefit, or only in certain circumstances.

  9. Iago the Yerfdog says:

    I just ran across an interesting version of utilitarianism called space-time average utillitarianism (STAU). As the post says, the idea is that “instead of averaging the happiness of a population at every given moment of time, let’s average the total life value of anyone who ever lived or will live.”

    As I understand it, in addition to looking at the total amount of happiness over the life of the universe, the total amount of happiness over that period isn’t the sum of average happiness of all beings (normal average utilitarianism), but the average of the sums of each being’s happiness across its existence.

    Or to put it in psuedo-Python: instead of sum(average(happiness(b, t) for b in beings) for t in times), it’s average(sum(happiness(b, t) for t in times) for b in beings).

    It does seem like it avoids the “kill sad people to bring the average up” problem, but as the post itself states, it means that it’s only justified to bring a new person into the world if their expected happiness is greater than the average happiness of everyone who has ever lived so far. My problem with this is that it implies that after we hit “peak happiness,” reproduction will become immoral even if the expected happiness of your children is still astronomically high. That strikes me as wildly incorrect.

    STAU also suffers the same problem as NAPU (negative average preference utilitarianism): if, like me, you already think utilitarianism is a wrong-way reduction, this only confirms it. It gets around a theoretical problem by making the calculation even more impossible. Traditional utilitarian cost-benefit analysis at least has some real-world application, anywhere some proxy for happiness can be identified and optimized. Patching up utilitarianism in the way STAU and NAPU do feels like a game being played for its own sake.

    • AlexanderTheGrand says:

      I don’t think it implies that — it would imply that everyone should stop having kids if their average happiness will be less than the current average happiness, not less than current happiness.

      But I don’t like that model for a different reason: utilitarianism is supposed to be able to guide decisions. Does it really make sense to change your current actions because of a past that’s no longer relevant? For example:

      In one universe, God makes the first 1000 years of the world maximally blissful, and then poofs everyone out of existence. In another, the devil makes the first 1000 years of the world maximally painful, and then poofs everyone out of existence. On year 1001, the utilitarian council is wondering whether they should bring new humans into the world. Why should their decision be based on which universe they’re in?

      Even simpler: if we were the second form of intelligent life on Earth, the first disappearing a billion years ago, should the fact that they were blissfully happy make us all kill ourselves?

      I guess it makes sense if for decision making you only look forward and choose decision that maximize the future STAUtility, not the total.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        I don’t think it implies that — it would imply that everyone should stop having kids if their average happiness will be less than the current average happiness, not less than current happiness.

        I think I see what you’re getting at, and you’re right: as long as the next generation keeps pulling the average up, you can have kids, even if they’re less happy that the last generation. Depending on the specifics, though, you’d still have to stop when the next generation’s expected happiness is rather high, and that strikes me as silly.

        Does it really make sense to change your current actions because of a past that’s no longer relevant?

        That’s a very good point and I wish I’d thought of it.

    • creating a person is justified if and only if eir life value will be above the average of everyone who ever exist.

      Suppose you had a crystal ball and could see into the future and knew that most who live would have vastly better lives than your potential children. This would imply it is then wrong for you to have children.

      • The way I solve the repugnant conclusion is to accept it. That doesn’t mean we have to suffer to create lots of new people, as I don’t view people as morally obliged to go all the way to ideal utility at the cost of making their own lives worse. Some obligation on their part exists, people are obliged not to rob others, and I don’t have an “objective” theory of where this line lies. But it seems to me that the repugnant conclusion flows logically from moral principles nearly everyone claims to accept:

        • Iago the Yerfdog says:

          That’s an interesting way of looking at it. It strikes me as throwing out a good deal of what makes utilitarianism appealing, but then maybe that’s just me.

          I haven’t had a chance to read the whole paper you linked, but on a brief glance I think my position is pretty similar to Thomson’s: I think “good” and “bad” are pretty close to empty terms until you provide a context to give them meaning.

          So I think there are situations that simply can’t be compared directly, and so there’s no fact as to which is superior. Thus an inhabitant of World A could legitimately prefer A to Z, and an inhabitant of world Z could legitimately prefer Z. The most important difference is that in Z the people who wouldn’t exist in A do in fact exist, whereas in A they don’t. To my mind, existing and nonexistent people have a different moral status.

          (Incidentally, that strikes me as relevant to the MacIntyre “I can’t will that I was aborted” argument, but I’d have to think more about what it means.)

          • Suppose God is about to create world A. He then offers you a deal, pay him 1 cent and he will create world A+ instead. If you do so, he offers you another deal, pay him 1 cent and he’ll create Z instead. Then he offers you a third deal. Pay him 1 cent and he’ll create A instead.

            What is your choice?

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @Alexander Turok,

            I’d probably let him create whichever one he wanted, because I have no skin in the game. We’re also talking about people who don’t yet exist but who, once they do exist, won’t regret their existence. There’s not much to choose from in my opinion.

            Give me some skin in the game, such as stipulating that I will become an inhabitant in one of the worlds, and that will change. More importantly, put me in one of the worlds and tell me how you plan to change it into one of the others, and that would change.

            (I would object to killing 99 million people to go from Z to A, but maybe not to everyone collectively agreeing to have only 1 million children who could each have a larger portion of the remaining resources. Likewise, I might object to going from A to A+ if it involved forcing people to have children against their will, or creating an underclass of sentient-but-obedient robot slaves, and I might object to going from A+ to Z if it involved forcing the 1 million super-happy people to be occasionally non-lethally tortured for the amusement of the rest.)

            Edit: BTW, it took me a second to realize you meant “God” instead of someone writing a simulation in the Go language, which struck me as an oddly specific detail.

            Edit 2: I should point out that I’m not so much avoiding the repugnant conclusion as rejecting the whole issue.

        • s I don’t view people as morally obliged to go all the way to ideal utility at the cost of making their own lives worse.

          A lot of people try to fix utilitarianism by making it less demanding — but if your notions of where obligation stops aren’t coming from utilitarian calculus, where are they coming from? Really, this approach is some kind of hybrid theory flying under the flag of utilitariansim.

        • metacelsus says:

          Yes, I agree. It’s not so repugnant to me.

        • Deiseach says:

          most who live would have vastly better lives than your potential children. This would imply it is then wrong for you to have children.

          (a) Possibly, if by “most who live” you count in everybody. So that means that the kids of subsistence farmers in the Third World and those living in slums and urban youth and all the other less-fortunate people of our day have now, instead, got much much better lives. Yippee, I’m delighted!

          (b) So we’re not measuring “my kids are not going to have the same kind of wonderful potential lives as the kids of megabillionaires”, we’re measuring “everyone is going to be much much happier, even those who in today’s world are living bad lives”

          (c) But that means my potential kids are also part of “everyone”. So they have a chance at much much happier lives. Even if they don’t – even if you can prove to me “No, Manuel in the barrio is going to have a much much better life than your kid” – can you prove to me that their lives will be actively miserable and painful rather than “happy, just not as blissfully happy as everyone else”? And if it’s “most who live” rather than “everyone”, then that means that there are people who can and may have even worse lives than my potential children. Again, unless you can prove to me that “there are 3% of the population who are going to live wretched horrible lives, and your children are firmly part of that 3%, sorry that’s how it is” then it does not mean it is immoral to have children because they will have worse lives than others, where the “worse” simply means “not as amazingly happy” rather than “terrible by any measure”.

          People are having kids even though their kids are not going to have the “vastly better” lives of the kids of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk (though those may not be the best examples re: parental harmony and lack of upheaval in domestic life) and nobody is arguing that “you should not have children as it is immoral if you’re not a multibillionaire because you simply can’t give them the same quality of life or access to opportunity”.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      IMO it’s not really possible to create a logically consistent ethical framework that doesn’t violate our innate ethical intuition in some bizarre constructed extreme case. Our innate ethical intuitions are not logically self-consistent. And why would they be? They were evolved haphazardly and piecemeal to help small groups of apes cooperate with each other, with no evolutionary pressure to work outside of that limited context. Efforts like this are a waste of time, anyways, since nothing at all hinges on what we decide the “right” ethical formulation is, only the actions we take, which will be pretty much the same no matter what abstraction you put on top of it, because we do what we want and rationalize it afterwards.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        I actually largely agree with you. I don’t think trying to find a method for deciding ethical questions in advance is a reasonable goal. I think there’s still some value in finding better ways to teach ethical habits and skills for thinking about ethical decisions.

      • The theory of relativity also violates our innate intuition. That doesn’t lead us to throw it out. We recognize that there is an objectively “right” answer despite those intuitions.

        The consequence of accepting that “it doesn’t matter, just do what we were going to do anyway” is that we lose our ability to morally condemn other groups. They’d be able to say “you haven’t subjected your own ideas to self-criticism, why should we?”

        • Machine Interface says:

          Moral self-criticism is tautological, because the scale by which you judge your moral system is your moral system. So of course you’re always going to find that by the standards of your moral system, your moral system is superior to other moral systems.

          The “ability to morally condemn other groups” is not lost, it was never yours in the first place.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            I’ve thought for years now that an appropriate response to “Without objective standards of morality, how could we condemn [bad people]?” is “Why would they listen to us in the first place?”

            The question also seems to assume it would be objectively wrong to condemn another group without an objective standpoint from which to do so. That is a curiously circular argument.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Why would they listen to us in the first place?”

            For purposes of instruction, correction, reproof, punishment; chance to repent and amend life, chance of becoming better and happier. Are they living in accord with their consciences, and if so, are their consciences correctly formed and informed? Are they acting out of the belief that “I’m not bad, I’m just forced into doing this by lack of choice/this is how the world really works/I’m right and everyone else is wrong”? Very few people do believe that they are being actively evil, and those that do have no problem with being murderous and selfish and violent and destructive are so harmful to society and the people around them that they have to be dealt with somehow, the same way you would deal with a fire or other natural disaster.

            Having an ‘objective’ standard means that “Bill painted his door green when the Homeowners’ Association decided everyone would pain their doors blue – the result is disharmony, dissonance and acting against the common good of the larger group” means that Bill does not get put in jail or even shot, where “Bill is killing his neighbours and taking their stuff because he boasts ‘Your laws don’t apply to me’ – the result is disharmony, dissonance and acting against the common good of the larger group” is a matter of much more serious import that is a real threat and will result in Bill being put in jail or maybe even executed where the death penalty is applied.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:


            My response is admittedly flippant and perhaps badly worded. The real point of the response is anti-foundationalist: even if you had the correct system with the correct foundations, it wouldn’t make your arguments persuasive to those who had a different system with very different foundations, as all the wrangling between utilitarians, Kantians, etc. demonstrates.

            As to “objective” standards, I admit my use of the term was sloppy here. These days by “objective” I tend to mean something like “defined without reference to a subject qua subject.” And by “subjective” I’d mean something like “down to the whims of a particular subject.” (I think this is how David Chapman uses these terms in his writings, and I’ve been reading him a lot.) In those senses, I don’t think ethics is either objective or subjective.

            The examples you gave are a pretty good example of how I do think: Bill’s actions are bad in a specific way with specific results. As to which should be punished by law, the answer is obvious in these particular cases, but in general I don’t expect we’ll ever find a rule that gets it right in all cases. We just have do the best we can can in making imperfect laws and then applying them wisely.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          The difference is that the only reason to have a moral framework is that it agrees with our intuitions. We have many different feelings about ethics that are as strong as a feeling of hunger or an urge to breathe. But if you try to connect all of them and keep logical consistency, it blows up in your face in one way or another.

          Relativity, on the other hand, is a description of the physics of this universe. It violates our intuition, but here we are smart enough to throw out the intuition. We should do the same with ethics, but it’s less obvious because there’s no experiment that can falsify ethical frameworks. This is a hint that that they don’t actually exist independent of a human brain and the details of how our species learned how to work together in tribes.

        • The theory of relativity can be checked against empirical data. Ethical theories can only be checked against intuition. That’s why Torture vs. Dust Specks is so misguided.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            There’s also the method of reflective equilibrium where when particular intuitions conflict with principles you sometimes change the principle and sometimes you change the intuition, depending on which one is more obviously correct.

            It’s not perfect but it seems better at avoiding outrageously wrong conclusions than either trusting bare intuitions or picking a set of principles and sticking with it come what may. It’s also seems like a pretty good description of how I actually think about such things.

          • A principle is just another sort of intuition.

    • WashedOut says:

      Is it just me or is the whole premise moot and stupid because it assumes that more hedons = better. The idea that our collective reason for existence is to maximize happiness is a total non-starter.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        Is it just me or is the whole premise moot and stupid because it assumes that more hedons = better.

        I mean, that’s the basic premise of utilitarianism. So it’s not surprising that a new version of utilitarianism would also assume that.

        The idea that our collective reason for existence is to maximize happiness is a total non-starter.

        You might want to take that argument up with Aristotle, or maybe Aquinas. Happiness being the end goal of ethics, and living in general, is like the one idea that utilitarians and eudaimonist virtue ethicists share in common, although we mean significantly different things by it.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          For the record it is possible to live life with zero happiness. That life is just as good as a life with happiness. I have lived both.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            I’m honestly not sure I understand what you’re saying here and how it relates to my comment. Could you elaborate?

        • Deiseach says:

          although we mean significantly different things by it

          And that is the root of the problem. People in general seem to construe “happiness” as meaning “whoo, that nice rush of pleasure!” where it need not be so; one can derive happiness from doing one’s duty in a difficult situation, even if the performance of such can be painful (e.g. if I find out my brother is a murderer and I decide to inform the police). “Happiness” is a really tricky concept to define and a slippery word to use: that third slice of cake would make me happy in the short term but it is bad for my blood sugar control and bad for my general health, which will make me unhappy in the longer term.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            I think the Stoics were on to something when they judged pleasure to be a “preferable indifferent.” It won’t make an unhappy life into a happy one, but it can make either type of life better.

            I’m enough of an Aristotelian that I wouldn’t say that a life devoid of pleasure can be happy, because like him I think that a happy life will be at least somewhat pleasant, so “happy but unpleasant” is nonsensical to me.

            And of course the things you get pleasures from can make a difference between your happiness and unhappiness.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          @Iago the Yerfdog

          I’m honestly not sure I understand what you’re saying here and how it relates to my comment. Could you elaborate?

          You said happiness is the end goal of living. I said it is not. I said happiness adds nothing of value to life. Of course, you cannot know this without living a happy free life

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            Then I guess my question is, what do you mean by “happiness”?

            EDIT: After reading Statismagician’s reply, it seems worth pointing out that eudaimonists think of happiness as the end goal because all other values, or at least the important ones, are subsumed under it. Happiness is the condition of living well.

          • Statismagician says:

            Perhaps you might expand on what you think does have value, then?

          • HowardHolmes says:


            Perhaps you might expand on what you think does have value, then?

            Unfortunately for this discussion, I think nothing has value, there is no such thing as good or bad, or a better or worse life. This really can’t be defended with words and makes no sense to someone who doesn’t already believe that way. I should not have brought it up.

  10. ana53294 says:

    Interesting article on how Japanese companies’ cash hoarding system looks much better during the coronavirus crisis.

    The company had so much of it, Keyence boasted in its recruitment presentation, that it could survive for 17 years without any sales revenues.

    Having a bit of rainy day cash is all good, but if a company is not producing revenue for even half that period, maybe that means it should be winded down and the money given to shareholders?

    […]huge global brands like Nintendo, with ¥1.09tn ($10bn) net cash, to hundreds of small-cap minnows — hoarded cash while refusing to give shareholders the priority they enjoyed in the US and UK.

    […]The contrast with the US market is stark: 14 per cent of companies in the S&P 500 are net cash, whereas in the Japanese market the figure for the Topix index is 53 per cent. According to calculations by CLSA broker John Seagrim, the 434 non-financial companies in the S&P 500 have a combined market capitalisation of $18.8tn but just $880bn of tangible book value — net assets minus intangible assets and goodwill. In the Topix 500, 451 non-financial companies with a combined market capitalisation of $3.6tn are sitting on $2.6tn of tangible assets.

    […]But the swift and unforgiving economic impact of coronavirus, with its punishment of highly leveraged companies everywhere — including, prominently, SoftBank — has given Japan’s cash- and asset-hoarding companies a powerful new justification.

    It may also, say analysts and investors, insulate them against the more aggressive forms of shareholder activism.

    […]According to Mr Allum: “The supreme irony would be if the very traditional features of Japanese capitalism which the classic argument has always seen as backward — the addiction to holding large wodges of cash, the reluctance/inability to lay off workers, the pre-eminence of stakeholders rather than shareholders — will actually be . . . cherished by those who abide by them and adopted by those who do not.”

    The main problem with Softbank was certainly not aversion to cash, but that they were investing in basically pump-and-dump schemes. With WeWork, they ended up the ones holding the pumped up worthless assets. Liabilities don’t help, but when your business model is unsound, holding cash just means you waste more of the shareholders’ money.

    And while giving priority to all stakeholders sounds good, the investors are the ones who own the company. Why should they keep burning money to keep an unproductive company running?

    Certainly, Western companies are overleveraged. But holding 17 years worth of cash is not necessary, and is inefficient. That money should go to shareholders. So, while I don’t approve leveraging to give dividends, sharing excess cash with shareholders is the right call. Because what’s the point of investing into a company if it doesn’t produce income? Corporations are for-profit.

    • Lambert says:

      Shouldn’t it lead to those companies underperforming and investors taking their money elsewhere?

  11. HeelBearCub says:

    Some good news, or the hope of good news in the future.

    This is why you play for time.

    A new Corona virus treatment will start clinical trials very soon:

    When given as a treatment 12 to 24 hours after infection has begun, EIDD-2801 can reduce the degree of lung damage and weight loss in mice. This window of opportunity is expected to be longer in humans, because the period between coronavirus disease onset and death generally is extended in humans compared to mice.

    “This new drug not only has high potential for treating COVID-19 patients but also appears effective for the treatment of other serious coronavirus infections,” Baric said.

    Compared with other potential COVID-19 treatments that must be administered intravenously, EIDD-2801 offers ease of treatment and a potential advantage for treating less-ill patients or for prophylaxis — for example, in a nursing home where many people have been exposed but are not yet sick.

    “We are amazed at the ability of EIDD-1931 and -2801 to inhibit all tested coronaviruses and the potential for oral treatment of COVID-19. This work shows the importance of ongoing National Institutes of Health support for collaborative research to develop antivirals for all pandemic viruses, not just coronaviruses,” said Andrea Pruijssers, the lead antiviral scientist in the Denison Lab at VUMC.

    I’m sure there are other efforts ongoing elsewhere, I’m just not an alumnus of those other institutions.

    • Matt M says:

      I also give them credit for not violating the “just say in mice” rule!

    • The Nybbler says:

      If we’re going to “play for time” for novel compounds to get through clinical trials, given that we’re not relaxing any of the rules, we’ll be in lockdown for the better part of a decade.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        How much do you want to bet that they are following their normal process?

        • Skeptic says:

          Phase 3 trial duration could potentially be only 1 year, but we are still at least 1-2 years away starting it.

          The likelihood of any novel treatment hitting the market prior to Jan 2022 is extremely, extremely low. Vaccines are more likely by then?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Again, how much do you want to bet that phase 3 trials are at least 1 year away?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Cards on the table:
            They skipped non-human primate testing. The IND is already approved, and you will note from that first article that they seem to proceeding under compassionate use.

            Does that mean this drug will ultimately move forward? No. But it won’t be because they aren’t cutting the line much closer than normal.

          • JayT says:

            How much of this is because the need is so urgent and how much is because the federal compassionate use law has only existed since 2018?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think compassionate use in the US changed in 2018, but it’s been around since the 70s.

            The settlement in Randall v. U.S. [1978] became the legal basis for the FDA’s compassionate IND program.

            FDA simplified the application process, but stressed that it cannot require a manufacturer to provide a product. FDA receives about 1,500 expanded access requests per year and authorizes 99% of it.

            Note that the 99% figure seems to come from stats for 2009-2017

          • JayT says:

            The difference between expanded access and right to try is that expanded access (which has been around since the 70s) basically lets people do the same thing that clinical trials are doing if they weren’t accepted into the clinical trial. It’s still very regulated by the FDA. Right to try (which is from 2018) is much looser, and basically says that your doctor can try whatever they think is right. The article you linked seemed to me to be much more in line with the second option, though I don’t know that for certain.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            These guys are going ahead with FDA approved clinical trials. The FDA approved them when the normal course of action (according to the article) seems to be testing more in primates. I don’t see how right to try is relevant to that.

            I suppose right to try might be relevant to what would happen if the pandemic is still large in scale, with no proven efficacious treatment, and the drug looked strongly efficacious, but the FDA was being a stick-in-the-mud. The company could broadly make the drug available to prescribers.

            But I would think the more likely route would be that Ridgeback Biotherapeutics would just submit an Expanded Access request with a broad scope in terms of who qualifies, which seems possible to me under the regulations. Again, this is contingent on lots of people dying and the drug seeming to have good results in people who are dying.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s not an entirely new compound. It’s a drug that was shown to worked in 2018 against other coronaviruses.

  12. albatross11 says:

    Dumb question: Does anyone know what fraction of local tax revenue comes from sales taxes? I imagine we’re going to be seeing local governments with fiscal crises all over the place in the next few months, thanks to a huge drop in sales because people can’t shop in stores, eat out, go to bars, etc. Add in a much, much smaller number of people staying in hotels, renting cars, etc., and I think you’ve got the potential for a big impact. And while some of that will be eased by ending the lockdowns, a lot of it will not–as long as I can’t get a vaccine or an antibody test showing I’m immune, I’m going to be *really* reluctant to go out to eat or go to a theater or concert. Hell, I’m probably going to continue doing curbside pickup for groceries for the forseeable future. Lots of other people will be doing the same, and if we get a flare-up after we relax the lockdowns (which seems likely to me), that will become *very* widespread. A lot of the population has one or more people in their household that are over 50 and have some kind of preexisting condition.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think it depends. For instance, many tourist destinations are substantially funded by, I think, flat hotel fees.Although that isn’t any better.

      IIRC, the state of Tennessee is entirely funded by sales tax. A few others as well.

      Most school systems are funded by property taxes, but I believe the vast majority of municipal functions are funded by a combination of sales tax and usage fees. Although in NC, I think counties (separate from municipalities) are funded by vehicle property taxes.

      Very few cities have income taxes.

      Seems like a valid concern.

      • Clutzy says:

        I think its what is going to force governors to start acting like politicians and weighing policy choices against each other. When you are facing furloughing police at a time your populace is more likely to riot. That isn’t gonna go well.

    • keaswaran says:

      The CARES act included $340 billion for state and local governments. The total annual budgets of the states appears to be about $1,800 billion. I don’t know if local budgets are larger than state budgets. But it looks like the CARES act could cover nearly all of the state and local budgets for a month or two, and if states and localities have any amount of revenue and/or rainy-day funds, then it may be several months before Congress needs to act again to replace these lost funds (assuming things are allocated effectively, and assuming no new major expenses, like e.g. hiring a million unemployed people to do contact tracing).

  13. NTD_SF says:

    The United States Naval Institute has made access to the archives of the magazines Proceedings and Naval History free for several months. The first magazine dates back to 1874.

  14. ksdale says:

    In all of the discussion about the cost of various responses to the pandemic, and all of the various levels of shutdown, I have yet to see a very detailed analysis of what portion of economic activity is actually necessary to maintain most of what people consider an average standard of living in affluent countries.

    On the one hand, there are people who seem to think that a shutdown of almost any length will be a catastrophe (implying that basically 100% of economic activity is required to avoid wretched poverty), and on the other hand, there are people who seem to think that any length of shutdown is fine as long money is delivered into the right hands (implying that 99% of economic activity is unnecessary to avoid wretched poverty). And I don’t intend this paragraph to pass judgment on either position so as to avoid the political conversation.

    As with most dramatic and politicized things, I am assuming the truth lies somewhere in the middle, that we can maintain most of the standard of living with which we are accustomed with some smaller fraction our traditional total economic output, even if a lot of people aren’t working, as long as the output is efficiently distributed to those in need so as to avoid massive social upheaval. But is it like 95%? Or is it like 30%?

    I have a hard time believing it’s less than something like 30%, just because every time I think about what is required to do something as basic as grow food, my list of required things balloons to include all of the factories and infrastructure and services, and multiplying that by even just the most necessary industries seems to result in a percentage of economic activity that’s *way* more than a single digit percentage.

    By the same token, it seems obvious that a lot of economic activity, especially in the form of certain kinds of luxury consumption isn’t necessary to maintain an average standard of living, but how much?

    Does anyone know of good reading materials or data sources that address the question of how much economic output is vital to maintain, say, the average American standard of living? I’m not interested in having a discussion about the moral hazard of UBI or political feasibility of running an economy like this, mostly I want information from more of a Vaclav Smil-esque, work in, goods out perspective.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I’m not sure this is an answer, but it might focus your question:

      What would happen if all sports and theme parks and concerts closed down? How much of that is vital to the American standard of living? We’d have just fine food and water and air and transportation and medical care and drug development without those things, so in one way it’s all optional and no big loss.

      But some of those things matter a lot to people and they’d consider not having them to be a major loss of their standard of living. You might think they’ll get over it, and maybe they would and instead do something else — until maybe that something else gets wiped out.

      • ksdale says:

        Yeah I think defining a standard of living is super tricky, but it seems like we could ballpark it without defining a standard of living too rigorously… Like pin it down closer to 25% or 75%.

        Google tells me that entertainment comprised about 4% of US GDP, so you could just say it’s necessary and still get pretty close. But when I add up all of the industries as a percentage of GDP that seem naively necessary, I get to something like 60% percent, but that number probably includes a bunch of stuff that isn’t actually necessary and it *doesn’t* include certain professional services and insurance, etc that probably are necessary… so I’m right back where I started, swinging tens of percentage points in either direction depending on assumptions I don’t know how to make.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The problem is that luxuries employ the majority of the proletariat. If you try to shift down to an industrialized subsistence economy to contain an epidemic, to prevent homelessness and malnutrition the state has to either hire them (for some sort of public works that involve remaining >6 feet apart?) or give them a UBI funded by… what?

      • ksdale says:

        My question isn’t about where money comes from though, it’s what percentage of the population needs to work to provide what percentage of the average American standard of living. Agricultural workers make up less than 1% of the American workforce. So theoretically fewer than 1 out of every 100 people could produce enough food for everyone else. But then we have to add in processing and transportation, etc, etc. I don’t particularly care if it’s politically tenable, my interest lies in what portion of the economy needs to operate to produce a certain standard of living. Distribution and fairness are entirely different questions, and ones that I’m not looking for an answer for right now.

        • Randy M says:

          The number of people needed expands as the time scale does (not linearly), since, for example, you are going to need the people who maintain farm equipment, or roads, or logistics, or sundry other second order jobs that could possibly be skimped on for a few weeks but greatly increase or enable productivity long run.

          (For example, my company makes some construction materials. If the quarantine is lasts 2-3 weeks, there’s not much argument (imo, afaik) for us being open. If it lasts longer, it quickly becomes essential).

          I wouldn’t quite say unrelated luxury goods count for enabling workers to increase their productivity via healthier psychology, but there’s a case for it.

          • ksdale says:

            I think this is a good point, and I learn towards thinking that as time goes on, something like 85% of the economy is ultimately necessary to cover all of the edge cases that allow the smaller number of “essential” industries to operate. But this is why I want data…

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          1% of American labor makes the US a net exporter of food, apparently. I don’t know how migrant workers are counted, considering that keeping them off the books depresses wages for agri employers. That’s only true because 1) it’s capital-intensive and 2) petroleum-based fertilizer. So your next step should be to look up the corporations that manufacture tractors and other agri machines, how opaque their employment numbers are due to buying parts from a global supply chain…

          • ksdale says:

            Haha well I was really hoping that someone else had done all the hard work for me, hence my question.

      • Randy M says:

        This. The reason the shutdown will be catastrophic is because a great many people will not be producing or earning anything if the non-essentials are stalled.

        Now, we could have the same level of necessities for everyone if we cut luxuries but paid the people producing luxuries the same, or gave them equivalent in goods. But this seems like a very bad situation to be in, as now you have a lot of bored people on the dole, and a lot of productive people wonder what exactly they are working for when they don’t have luxuries and could get the same by quitting.

        This ignores the effects of technology, though. Perhaps we can keep most production of art (music, television, video games, books, w/e) through digital/remote production. And replace meals at restaurants with delivered meals, etc. It’s an interesting question how much of the economy is non-essential but requires in-person production.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I don’t want to get CW here, but ultimately I don’t think you can resolve this issue without a large debate on the merits of central planning in general.

        I’ll just point out that all the times people have tried to run an economy that provides the “necessary standard of living” but without all that nonessential luxury crap, it has resulted in breadlines.

        • ksdale says:

          I think we can totally answer this question without that discussion, and just adjust your answer depending on what is considered necessary.

          FWIW it seems perfectly clear to me that the distribution and fairness questions are currently insurmountable problems that, improperly addressed, result in breadlines, as you say, but I think that’s a cop out as far as calculating answers to my question.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think we can totally answer this question without that discussion, and just adjust your answer depending on what is considered necessary.

            I don’t think you can, because answering your question also solves the central planning problem, which is probably infeasible. Everything’s interconnected, the data isn’t all available in one place, and even if it were, it would be too complicated to figure out.

        • I don’t think you can resolve this issue without a large debate on the merits of central planning in general.

          Most people here seem to be imagining a central planning solution — the government decides what needs to be closed down. But the simple answer to the question is that price of goods is a proxy for both cost of production and value to the consumer— not perfect, but better than you can hope to get by the sort of analysis people are imagining. Take half the productive inputs off line and you get about half the value of output.

          Do you believe the result of cutting everyone’s income in half would meet your requirement? Would it if combined with some feasible income redistribution plan? If not, what fraction would?

          At the individual level, how much could you reduce your annual expenditure without giving up anything really important to you?

    • my list of required things balloons to include all of the factories and infrastructure and services

      Not all of that is counted in GDP, as only final goods are counted.

      • ksdale says:

        That certainly complicates things… Although I’m not wedded to GDP as a measure of anything, I’m more interested in how much work needs to be done to produce certain outcomes, which I don’t believe requires GDP.

    • Skeptic says:

      To provide goods and services to the US so that the average household receives the average household standard of living?

      100% of current GDP

      • ksdale says:

        I knew someone would say this! Of course the average as measured by a portion of national income is what it is and requires the whole… but I think you could chop off a whole bunch of goods and services from the top in a way that lowers the dollar value of the average standard of living without really lowering what it feels like to possess that average standard of living.

        • Randy M says:

          Let’s P-hack and find industries that employ a significant percentage of people but measurably effect a statistically insignificant number of people.
          Maybe Butlers? Telephone sanitizers… oh, wait.
          Has anyone seen an ark of supposedly useless people leave recently? We could use our telephone sanitizers back.

        • Skeptic says:

          I’m not sure what that means. Take out money, for what we’re talking about it’s just a medium of exchange. So put it aside.

          The US produces X amount of goods and services in a given year. What percentage of X do we need to produce to get the same X/population? Your question is a tautology.

          Or simplify it drastically. The US only produces apples. It’s an apple-topia fever dream of Johnny Appleseed. It’s a nation of 330m people and it produces 330m apples. How many apples do we need to produce so that the average consumption of apples is unchanged?

          It’s the exact same logic.

          • ksdale says:

            I don’t think it is though, because we don’t produce one thing. Some portion of the average standard of living is produced by Gucci selling things that a person with the average standard of living does not own. If Gucci ceases to exist, the average standard of living, as measured by the goods and services consumed by the average household, is unchanged, and now nobody needs to work to make or sell Gucci.

            Edit: @Skeptic, I guess I’m talking about median. I was using average colloquially, like a fool.

          • Skeptic says:

            It is. You don’t need to jump down a rabbit hole of differing brands and who purchases which goods. The answer is always going to be the same.

            Johnny Gucci fever dream – the economy produces 2 goods, Gucci bags and apples. The distribution is irrelevant, if you want the average consumption of goods and services (aka ‘standard of living’) to remain the same, then you cannot lower the number of Gucci bags produced.

            Now let’s say in the Johnny Gucci America apples consist of 70% of goods/services and Gucci bags consist of 30%. If you cut the Gucci bags to zero, you’ve still lowered average consumption/production (we’re making an assumption of a one time period economy with no saving) by 30%.

          • Skeptic says:

            No worries dude. I don’t have time to do the math and lookup the numbers right now, but this is an easier exercise than you think! The error bars will be large but should give you a decent number.

            1) look up median household consumption in the US for 2019 (including gov transfers! food stamps are consumption…)
            2) look up # of households in the US
            3) multiply
            4) divide by current GDP
            5) …profit!

            This assumes a one period economy, and make sure you include government transfers in your median household consumption #.

        • sidereal says:

          > without really lowering what it feels like to possess that average standard of living.

          Does this boil down to “luxuries have diminishing returns to life satisfaction”? It’s true but there’s not really a point on that curve that isn’t just an arbitrary choice.

          Yes, we could probably stand to lose some significant fraction of economic output and maintain internet, climate control, and acceptable quality food. But there’s still a real reduction in quality of life as all those ‘non-essential’ industries are lost, and probably a harder to measure yet very real cost in terms of lost livelihood, sense of purpose and self-worth, sense of hope, willingness to take risks, and so on. And if I had to guess, your healthcare and internet are gonna get worse too.

          Economic well being is human well being, broadly speaking.

    • John Schilling says:

      By the same token, it seems obvious that a lot of economic activity, especially in the form of certain kinds of luxury consumption isn’t necessary to maintain an average standard of living, but how much?

      Meaning something like, how many people could we (economically) dispense with if we just wanted to provide everyone with a middle-ish class life approximately as comfortable as our own, and not “waste” effort and resources producing the sort of luxury goods only people richer than you enjoy?

      Very few, and most of those only at the very bottom. It’s true that probably a minority of the population is actively engaged in producing the goods and services needed for a middle-ish-class lifestyle for all, but that’s because a lot of those people are very smart, very capable, and very motivated to use their skills productively. What motivates them to do that, is the “wasteful luxuries”. If you stop producing the luxury goods and services, the people who you are asking to produce the “essential” goods and services will become a lot less productive.

      I don’t know whether Alice is specifically into Gucci handbags; it could just as well be private school for her kids. But she’s using that six-figure salary to buy something that ordinary working-class families aren’t having. And it’s the something, not the presidential portraits, that she cares about. If your streamlined economy isn’t producing those wasteful luxuries any more, Alice is just going to devote her substantial intellect to out-slacking Wally, maximizing the time she can spend socializing with her cow-orkers or playing video games or whatnot.

      And part of the way she’s going to do that is to tell well-crafted lies about how productive she is being, which will be backed up by everyone else playing the game with her. So it will be five years after your streamlined, efficient economy has stopped producing the stuff needed for even a lower-middle-class lifestyle for all, before you realize anything is wrong.

      See, e.g., any Five-Year Plan of the old Soviet Union for how this actually plays out.

      • albatross11 says:

        OTOH, maybe the luxuries just get redefined. Alice wears a genuine 3M N95 mask and uses Charmin; Wally is stuck with a knockoff KN95 mask and El Cheapo brand 1-ply toilet paper; the guy who cleans the offices after hours gets a folded up paper towel to breathe through and one roll of cheap TP per week.

        But seriously, a lot of current luxuries (restaurant meals, cruises, concerts, live football games) will probably become less appealing even when they’re available again, for a lot of customers. Those industries need to contract and substitutes/alternatives need to expand, if they can. Delivery/pickup instead of in-restaurant dining is one example, but there are probably a lot more. Some people will lose from this change (young pretty women used to getting big tips as waitresses), while others will win.

        Or maybe someone will start selling access to live concerts/sporting events/cruises with adequate protection from catching COVID-19.

        • John Schilling says:

          Quite possibly, but that breaks the ground rule of maintaining the same average or median standard of living. Also, if you try to phase it in over less than a generation or three, Wally and Alice will be looking for opportunities to kill you and sell your children on the black market for a taste of the old good life.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I think you are seriously overestimating the medium term demand reduction for things other than cruises (I agree there’s a good chance no-one wants to go on a cruise ship any more). As soon as Coronavirus is dealt with, people will want to go back to restaurants and football games.

          • Matt M says:

            n =1 but I would absolutely still go on a cruise once things return to normal

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, my Facebook feed is filled with friends talking about all the concerts and sporting events they’ll want to go to once this is all over. If anything, I think there will be pent up demand for those types of events.

          • baconbits9 says:

            People talking about how many concerts they are going to go to in a few months pretty much shows how poor the response to this thing is.

      • Purplehermann says:

        If we’re looking at dispensing with luxuries inside one country (and especially if it’s only for a few years,) but people still make money then those smart capable folk will keep working.

      • Deiseach says:

        But she’s using that six-figure salary to buy something that ordinary working-class families aren’t having.

        Alice is buying status; having a six-figure salary means she is Important and Productive and a Striver And Leader and all the rest of it, all due to her Smarts and Hard Work and Leaning In while Wally who only makes five figures is plainly Less Capable, Not A Winner, and Less Valuable than she is. This is how society makes the measure: worldly success.

        Otherwise, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, etc. would all be giving up their jobs and living on their luxury tropical islands being hand-fed Impossible Burgers by sophisticated android staff. Why do very wealthy and successful people continue to work? They’ve already got all the solid gold knick-knacks and shiny doo-dads they want or need, now it’s for status – which is why you get the megabillionaire silliness of “my super-yacht is bigger than your super-yacht”. I do not see why you need a super-yacht as a scientific research vessel, if you really need all that space, why not go for a conventional ship instead and try having “world’s largest research vessel in private hands/outside of national navies”? I think this is more super-rich dick-measuring, to be frank.

        • Aapje says:

          Winning the dick-measuring contest comes with all kinds of perks, though.

        • John Schilling says:

          Otherwise, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, etc. would all be giving up their jobs and living on their luxury tropical islands being hand-fed Impossible Burgers by sophisticated android staff.

          Elon Musk wants to retire to a luxury arctic planet, which is for the moment expensive beyond even his ability to pay. Bezos’ goals are a bit more obscure, but I don’t think they are as simple as Moar Statuses. But we’re looking at people several levels down from them, and there are major limitations on using pure status as a motivator there.

          First, calling a thing “money” doesn’t magically grant it status-imbuing power. Money confers status because of what you can do with it. Most notably, hiring servants, employees, or minions to boss around, but also various forms of conspicuous consumption involving “wasteful” luxury goods. If money can’t buy those things, then it becomes just another sort of gold star or brownie point for teacher to hand out. The track record for turning that sort of purely arbitrary scoring point into enduring status is not good; even elementary school students usually wise up and stop caring after a few years.

          Related, we have a strong norm against revealing people’s salaries. And if we didn’t, people would lie about it for the status. So you still need expensive luxury goods even if all you’re using money for is to signal status.

          Second, status is inherently a zero-sum game. In order for Alice’s increased status to significantly improve her quality of life, which it must if it is to motivate her to devote much of her life towards seeking it, someone else must suffer an equally decreased quality of life in exchange. That’s a real decrease in average or median quality of life, compared to the world in which we motivate people with status but also with objectively and privately desirable goods and services.

          And third, with money we can buy status in multiple dimensions, not just “More gold stars on the OmniCorp employee status board”. I may not earn significantly more money than my professional colleagues, but I’m a better pilot than any of them. Dave has a better gun collection than any of us. Etc, etc. And we all preferentially hang out with people who care about the things we’re good at, so our positive status on one axis counts more to us and our negative status on others counts less. That makes for more winners, fewer losers, and a generally better standard of living for everything. But airplanes are expensive, gun collections are expensive, and even the cheaper hobbies involve things that are not part of the Median Middle-Class Lifestyle and so most voters will support the central committee in denouncing each of them as a “wasteful luxury”.

          I briefly believed a sort of anarcho-socialism in which productive labor was motivated by status within the peer group might be workable, but I am increasingly convinced that it would be an impoverished quasi-dystopia. Money works better, provided you can use it to buy things – things that you want, not just things that the committee has decided are essential.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Bill Gates has bought himself a lot of status with his charity work. Unfortunately this doesn’t really work generally: you can’t brag about charitable donations to get status. You could, however, wear a Livestrong bracelet and get a little status that way.

            I think we would be better off if people could get status through charitable donations just as they get it from driving a large expensive car. Culturally that isn’t here yet, Livestrong bracelets aside. Maybe that is something that those effective altruists could work on.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Surely there are some religious societies, or societies during major wars, where people have voluntarily gone without a lot of the luxuries they used to have.

        • John Schilling says:

          Highly religious societies are not generally renowned for their economic productivity, nor for their high standard of living except insofar as “we are all very happy because we are sure God loves us” sense. And societies engaged in major wars are either expecting to win those wars and return to peace and prosperity fairly soon, or they are so desperate that “at least we aren’t dead yet” is as high a standard of living as they can aspire to, or are highly militaristic societies where people derive status and possibly even outright pleasure from victory in battle.

          Granted, if the United States were to transform itself into a society where most people derive most of their happiness from their (presumably Christian) happiness, or from their participation in the process of putting American boot to foreign ass on a regular basis, we could probably maintain an equivalently happy standard of living with much less production of luxury goods and while maintaining sufficient productivity to keep us in communion wafers or rifle bullets or whatever. But I don’t think that’s a solution in the spirit of the OP’s request.

    • ana53294 says:

      I don’t think luxuries are as dispensable for a first-world country as it may seem.

      Developed countries moved from an agriculture based to and industrial to a service based economy. Most of the people in services need to work to be able to live.

      Also, there is this phrase, “You can build cars in Detroit or grow them in the fields of Iowa”.

      The film producers, luxury bag producers, all those luxury workers, are, in some sense, growing cars in the field of IP/financial services/tourism/etc. Hollywood produces blockbuster movies and makes a lot of money in China and China then sells the US some basic necessities. Isn’t Hollywood producing a basic necessity, in a roundabout way?

      • Clutzy says:

        In most first world countries, luxury goods besides property are just “state of the art” goods of normal things that get rolled down to other people at some point. Cell phones, floride toothpaste, ventillators for the sick. All were once luxury goods.

    • JayT says:

      The average* standard of living obviously dropped during the Great Depression, and that was about a drop of 15% in GDP, so I think it’s pretty clear that we can’t go that low and still give everyone that standard the average American now enjoys.

      Do you think the Great Recession lowered the average? That was about 5% of GDP. If yes, then we have a new lower bound, if no, then I’d say it’s somewhere between 5-15%.

      * I assume you are talking about the standard of living of something like the middle quintile of Americans, not the actual average, so that’s how I’m using the word average here.

      • Clutzy says:

        Also, its important to note that the 2008 crisis really crushed kids who graduated 2007-2012 from school. Those people are just now starting to be on stable ground (likely), another economic setback for that subset will basically be condemning people who are around age 30 or so to a really tough life.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I graduated during this time, and it’s hard to say how I feel about my prospects right now. I was not feeling good about them prior to Covid (I was comfortable and not struggling, but didn’t have confidence that there would be much further advancement or security). I knew I’d be able to make enough money to be safe, and find another job if one didn’t work out, but there was no sense of direction or progress. It felt like the assumptions underpinning everything were untenable, that I couldn’t plan at all in the long term, that few career paths available to me had a reliable future, etc. Jobs which had initially been a decent match for my skill set kept becoming more and more about checking administrative boxes, which I can technically do but it becomes a major drain on the quality of my work and my motivation. It just all seemed unsustainable and depressing. I realize this may have been mostly my mind, because I did become depressed at this time and am not sure whether it was a response to or a cause of this perception. But I felt I had no stability and also that people were ignoring the reality of the situation, good or bad.

          This to some extent broke the suspense. I feel a little more hope in that I think there could be different opportunities after this, or at the very least a reset of expectations where I don’t have to pretend to be on the verge of achieving the vision my parents had for me that just wasn’t on the table anymore. But I know it is also possible the economy will be so bad so suddenly, for people who weren’t expecting something like this would happen, that basically everybody is just worst off and unable to take accept starting over. I’m not so sure that things weren’t going to deteriorate in this decade anyway, just more slowly and subtly. Right or wrong, I already worried I was relatively screwed, and that many my age were in real trouble. My suspicion is that it is going to be the Boomers who come out of this in big trouble and the most resistant to accepting this–even less time to start over, and even harder at that age to adjust expectations for themselves and their kids. They may not be actually worse off in terms of like numbers or whatever, but just relative to what they thought they would have. If there are big social changes that kind of change the expected trajectory of one’s professional and financial life, young people may in the long run have a more stable situation than before. Maybe not as high an earnings potential, but more security. Just random thoughts.

          • Clutzy says:

            I feel you and hang in there. I made the comment because this is my age range, and my family is lucky because all of us are healthcare-adjacent. My 2 siblings are people still going into work, I am able to work from home (of course I still have that latent anxiety because I got into my new job later and thus am lower on the totem pole than one would have expected given my age). But on my S/O’s side. They are all freaked out. And my highschool freinds that aren’t in government are all freaked. So many people have 1/2 kids (of course another late start because of the 08 crisis) and just finally got to that 3 or 6 month savings buffer. And now this crisis starts when they are trying to start a family. Looking at a trajectory that looks like a 2 bedroom APT with 4 people living in it as the rosy case. That aint great.

          • Matt M says:

            Is general healthcare even safe?

            I keep seeing people post articles about how hospitals in non-outbreak areas are actually furloughing and laying off nurses and other support staff because of a lack of demand (they’ve shut down all of their “elective” operations, but the COVID deluge they’ve been promised is not materializing).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            The healthcare industry is actually one of the hardest hit so far in terms of new unemployment.

            My friends practice furloughed a bunch of people. Mother friend’s as well. My wife’s office is currently looking for volunteers to be furloughed.

            So you are correct.

          • Clutzy says:

            Is general healthcare even safe?

            Fair and true. My brother is a chem-E for a pharmaceutical company that specializes in rapid response and clincical trials. My sister is a NP in psyche who also has worked in ERs. She has more patients than ever. But if you are in surgery you are definately getting screwed because of the lockdowns. This is another reason why lockdown has never been a good universal plan, nor a good long term plan.

          • Matt M says:

            My brother is a chem-E for a pharmaceutical company that specializes in rapid response and clincical trials.

            k, this definitely sounds safe!

    • baconbits9 says:

      Others have hit on the answer but it is pretty close to 100%.

      An economy like the US is highly conditional, you can look at 5% of the economy and say we don’t really need that stuff but then what do you do with the people employed in that sector. Welfare might temporarily answer the ‘how do we make sure they don’t immediately become homeless and starve’ question, but it doesn’t answer the ‘what do we do with this segment of society that suddenly is going to be shifting behaviors and how does broader society react?’ question. We are already seeing major crime spikes in New York while under lock down, domestic violence reports are increasing and there are the early signs of a burst in suicides (Knoxville, TN reported 8 in 48 hours after 83 in all of 2019).

      Current standards of living are heavily dependent on the social situation we exist under, if you decrease trust then you have to increase spending on security or accept higher dead weight losses from theft. If you pay people not to work society has to bend to their new behaviors with their free time and lack of purpose and direction.

      • albatross11 says:

        We shut down parts of the economy all the time, continually. Mostly, we manage to replace those jobs and that chunk of GDP with something else. Go ask the cab industry or the video store industry or the set of mom-and-pop small stores in small towns whether we ever get rid of something that used to be a substantial chunk of the economy.

    • 205guy says:

      Most of the responses so far have focuses on the interconnectedness of the economy, as in you cannot remove a pound of flesh without spilling a drop of blood, but I think this misses the intent of your question.

      I would rather look to the FIRE community (financial independence/early retirement) who have been trying to live middle-class lives with less. By downsizing their living quarters, consuming less, bicycling more, and other measures, many live normally on 30-50K per year. This is probably about 50% of what the average middle class spends. Some of what they avoid is similar to the virus shutdown: eating out, paid entertainment, conspicuous consumption, etc. Some of what they suggest is very compatible: grow your own food, cook your own food, work from home, fix up your own home, spend time with family.

      It’s easy to criticize the FIRE movement, the common argument being if everyone followed them, it would tank the economy. For example, they espouse buying sensible used cars and shopping at thrift stores, which is only possible in a world where someone buys the new cars and shops at retail stores. This is back to the pound-of-flesh argument again.

      I’m more looking at it as how can people structure their lives to need less and still be happy. Indeed, one tenet of the FIRE movement is that less consumerism (up to a point) leads to more happiness. People like to watch sports on TV, but is it really necessary when you can play with friends or watch a high school game live? Same for Hollywood movies and networks, do you really need big blockbusters and Netflix original series when there are real entertaining people on youtube?

      That said, I don’t see a scenario where restrictions are lifted and people don’t watch professional sports–after all, the Romans had figured out the bread and circuses thing years ago. And FIRE is a small movement, most people aren’t attracted to it, so once the virus restrictions are lifted, people will go right back to watching sports, eating out, shopping, and traveling.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Everyone switching to FIRE at once would crash the economy — and I think what we’ve done this past month is an example of that.

        But if lots of people have switched to FIRE over the course of 10 or 20 years, we could have taken this hit with much less hurt. There still would be hurt, but less of it.

  15. EchoChaos says:

    Is there a medical reason that we aren’t using negative pressure ventilation instead of positive pressure for COVID-19 patients? I am not a doctor, but I understand that one of the major problems is that the pressure required may cause ruptures within the lungs. Negative pressure, as a closer approximation of natural breathing, seems like it would cause less damage.

    • johan_larson says:

      You mean like iron lung machines?

      • EchoChaos says:

        Yes, iron lung machines are negative pressure ventilators.

        • Lambert says:

          They look like even more of a nightmare to manufacture than positive pressure ventilators.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I believe that’s why they were phased out in favor of modern ventilators, but if they have an increased survival rate because of fewer burst lungs, isn’t that worth the increased cost?

            We’re already paying trillions in economic costs in order to save lives, what’s a few million more in manufacturing?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I think nowadays it would be something more like a cuirass ventilator, so not as mechanically complex as an iron lung.

            I have heard elsewhere that the specific nature of the lung damage from Covid-19 means that this sort of ventilation won’t actually get enough air into the lungs.

    • theredsheep says:

      (Respiratory therapy student) I doubt it would make much difference. Natural analog or not, what matters is the pressure gradient, which is much the same regardless of whether you’re pushing from the outside or pulling from the inside. Barotrauma is a common hazard of mechanical ventilation, but it has not caused us to continue using iron lungs. In addition, patients can require ventilation for a number of reasons, not all of which an iron lung can address. If the patient cannot protect their airway because they can’t cough, an iron lung can’t seal it against oral secretions. It wouldn’t provide a closed-circuit airway to protect providers from the patient’s exhalations either. Finally, it prevents RTs and other staff from accessing the patient for IVs, auscultation, and the like. One of the most critical therapies we’ve discovered for this disease is “proning” the patient, ie putting them face-down. Sounds difficult to do when they’re sealed up in a tube.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Thanks! Exactly the expertise I was looking for.

      • Garrett says:

        Small point:

        When you use positive-pressure ventilation you end up increasing intrathorasic pressure which can decrease cardiac output making ventilation pointless (V/Q mismatch). This is usually treated with drugs to increase cardiac output.

        In-theory negative-pressure ventilation would avoid that and reduce that risk, but I don’t know because that’s well outside of my area of expertise. You’d be the person I’d ask about that. Is there anybody else here who can provide additional info?

        • theredsheep says:

          I don’t know enough about the mechanics to speculate; I can’t wrap my head around why it would make a difference whether the pressure would be created by pulling on one end or pushing on another.

          • noyann says:

            A bit of guesswork:
            You need to also consider the pressures of the blood coming in / going out of the lung.
            Increased pressure in the thorax means that more power is required to pump blood from the body (that is under ambient air pressure) into the lungs. Pumping from lungs to body is eased.
            A heart that is able to sustain e.g. a few hours of fast walking should be able to keep up, but for an already weakened heart a week of positive-pressure ventilation can be too much.

          • theredsheep says:

            So you’re talking about the extra pressure needed for the heart to overcome resistance from the lungs, correct? Which means this is ultimately a problem for the right ventricle, if I understand you correctly.

            I can see how negative-pressure ventilation would be helpful in that context (thanks!). Whether that outweighs the advantages of having a closed circuit airway and access to the patient’s body is another story. There’s also the question–and I don’t know the answer–of whether an iron lung type setup could provide sufficient pressure to keep the small airways open in this context. ARDS is a restrictive disorder–it’s hard to get the air in. Positive pressure may be needed to overcome resistance and pop the alveoli open. As ever, IDK.

          • noyann says:

            Which means this is ultimately a problem for the right ventricle, if I understand you correctly.

            So I imagine. But if pO2 drops the left ventricle would also have to do extra work. But IANAPhysician.

          • theredsheep says:

            I imagine added pressure from the lung would slightly help the left ventricle, which is in any case by far the stronger of the two since it has to drive blood much farther. Of course, both sides have to beat in synchrony, tachy is tachy, etc.

          • noyann says:

            Yes. But there is also a larger volume that needs to be pumped to compensate the lower oxygen saturation. I don’t know which effect is larger.

          • Garrett says:

            > Which means this is ultimately a problem for the right ventricle

            Looking at Starling’s Law of the Heart will ultimately show you that to increase cardiac output you need to increase heart rate, stroke volume, or both. Stroke volume is usually handled by increasing preload, which is directly related to ventricular filling, which is directly related to venous return.

            Increased intrathorasic pressure (in this case, from positive-pressure ventilation) impairs venous return, reducing cardiac output and pressure available through the right ventricle to the lungs. Folks in EMS are taught this because it’s a side-effect of intubation.

            Related side-note: this is why pregnant women are told to sleep on their side, and especially on their left side. The focused weight of fetus can apply pressure to the inferior vena cava, imparing venous return, and the vena cava is usually on the right side of the body.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I know it’s not a very constructive answer, but I wish I’d hear a lot less about ventilators, given that the benefit they offer is relatively small. Plus there was a nice graph made by someone here in the early days of corona, showing relative impact of different measures as weights placed at various distances from the pivot point: ventilators are at the very extreme end. They save about half a life, but no second order effects whatsoever. I think we’re likely to focus on them because they’re an engineering problem, and as such feels solvable.

  16. Matt M says:

    Anyone else having some issues with the comments? Appears like some plugins are disabled or something… the “new comments” feature that normally appears at the top right of the window is gone, and when I reply a lot of the formatting buttons (quote, bold, etc.) appear to be gone too…

    • Jake R says:

      Yeah thought it was just me. Appears the “Hide” and up arrow buttons are gone too.

    • Nick says:

      It happens sometimes but goes away after a while. They were gone for a few minutes for me.

    • metacelsus says:

      Yes the “Hide” buttons are gone. (I’m using Firefox on a Mac, in case it matters.)

    • Eltargrim says:

      Windows 10, Chrome 80.0.3987.149, I can see both Hide and Up Arrow buttons.

      EDIT: They persist after Ctrl-F5. They are also both functional.

  17. johan_larson says:

    So, the deal is you get a lump-sum payment now, but you have to move to Manhattan and you can’t leave for the rest of your life.

    Anyone taking this deal, and for how much money?

    • EchoChaos says:

      I don’t know what the cost is of a nice house on acre of land in a good neighborhood on the river plus enough to live on for the rest of my life and leave to my kids, but that would be my basic minimum. Probably ~10-15 million, I’d guess?

      • johan_larson says:

        Are there single-family homes on Manhattan? Isn’t it all highrises or at least rowhouses?

        • EchoChaos says:

          Are there single-family homes on Manhattan?

          With enough money, there are single family homes wherever you want them to be.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          FSVO Manhattan- I think there are some in Inwood, for instance.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          I live in a farmhouse in the village has a whole new meaning.

          I for one would need enough money to buy Palazzo Chupi and keep it continuously full of glittering gay gatsby-esque excess so at least when I finally jump from the balcony to escape manhattan it will be a suitably colorful story.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          Yes. Around Wash Heights.

        • BBA says:

          I know of one but it’s pretty difficult to buy.

          If you count the other islands that make up the borough of Manhattan, there are several detached homes at the former military base on Governors Island. Many are in poor states of repair and may not have electricity or running water available, not to mention how there are no bridges there and you’d have to rely on ferry boats to get anywhere. Presumably with enough money one could restore it to its former state and make it livable.

        • JayT says:

          Wasn’t Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion the biggest single-family home in Manhattan? So, there’s at least one available!

      • The Nybbler says:

        Not available in Manhattan at any price (unless you can buy a lot of politicians). If it were, I think you’d be talking over $100 billion, with a B, maybe a few more orders of magnitude.

        • johan_larson says:

          A single-family home on an acre of land on the Hudson river in Manhattan would be if nothing else, an act of monetary machismo. You’d probably have to buy an entire apartment building, evict everyone, and demolish it. Plus you’d need enough pull that no one stopped you from lowering the number of living spaces on the island by 500 or so.

          Mmm. Power.

          • Well... says:

            And you’d still have a really crappy view in 3 directions. Plus you’d still be in f#$&ing NYC every time you left your property.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I think you’d be talking over $100 billion, with a B, maybe a few more orders of magnitude.

          Then that’s my number.

      • Deiseach says:

        If I had to live in Manhattan, I think I’d probably be guided by Nero Wolfe’s living arrangements and look for a townhouse (though I wouldn’t like to be in the heart of either the business or tourist/entertainment quarters).

        It seems like to get a reasonable place (if you wanted an entire home of your own and not simply an apartment) you’d need something in the range of $7-10 million. This one is definitely a fixer-upper for just over $1 million but I imagine you would need considerably more to renovate it to a liveable state and that’s before you take into account that judging by the look of it the neighbourhood may not be of the most salubrious.

        So at least $10 million to buy someplace that I wouldn’t be stuck living with neighbours on top of me and probably another $10 million on top of that for upkeep etc. – make it $50 million to account for inflation over time (if I’m going to hope to live there for a decade or more) 🙂

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          ehh.. at these prices apartment living is fine. Half a million will buy you some astoundingly good soundproofing. Okay, for the full, “I have neighbors”? effect, it kind of needs to be a quite new building, but..

    • Kaitian says:

      I’d have to do some research, but I think I wouldn’t do it for any price. That’s assuming that all of Manhattan is busy streets with very little greenery. If it turns out Manhattan is actually more like a mid-sized city, with some quiet corners, nature, and varied entertainments, I’d do it for enough money to live a rich person life there for the rest of my life.

      I’d also want an out clause in case it sinks into the waves or otherwise becomes unlivable, or in case I develop some condition that makes it very unreasonable to continue living there.

      • There are a lot of concrete canyons in the downtown area but Manhattan also has streets like this. You’re not going to get a detached single family home but I’d find a row house on a tree-lined street perfectly acceptable as a home.

    • abystander says:

      I think a majority of the world would pay for this deal.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Quite possibly, but the “can’t leave” clause adds a great deal more risk because you can’t move to someplace cheaper if you can’t make rent and are stuck with homelessness in Manhattan. Plus, this blog’s audience is primarily people who already live in the US or Europe and who are (by my standards as a “working class” American) moderately wealthy. In other words, most of the people responding could already have moved to and found work in Manhattan if that was what they wanted.

        • EchoChaos says:

          That, plus Manhattan is a very specific lifestyle that is actively opposed by a large percentage of America. We’re a suburban/rural folk by and large.

          • meh says:

            rural is a very specific lifestyle that is opposed by a large percentage of America. We’re a suburban/urban folk by and large.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Guys, guys, can you just agree that most Americans are suburban?

          • meh says:

            and don’t like cities and don’t live in one. but people who live in them are just as american as anyone else. our cities are just as much the real america as the country.

          • Noah says:

            Suburban is a very specific lifestyle that is opposed by a large percentage of America. We’re an urban/rural folk by and large.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Noah: Your folk are Boat People by and large.

          • meh says:

            if by and large means majority, then this is the one version of the statement that is not true

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I looked into this awhile back and came away convinced that no one is interested in measuring this with definitions “urban”, “suburban”, and “rural/small town” which actually conform to the average American’s conception of those terms.

            I would tend to argue that if you are lumping this and this together into your definition of “Urban”, you have a bad definition.

            A more realistic set of definitions which extends “Suburban” to small to mid-size towns and cities which are either low density and isolated or exist as outlying bedroom communities to major urban centers (which is what most people mean when they say suburban) would get you a fairly sizable majority of the country in “suburban” areas, the next largest fraction in “Urban” (meaning high population density, highly built-up cities large enough to become the center of economic and political gravity for a geographic region), and the smallest Fraction “Rural”.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, I don’t feel like we actually have a name for cities that are the centers of their area, but still only have like 50,000-150,000 people. They usually aren’t urban in the way most people think of urban, but they’re also not rural. It’s like small urban or something.

          • JayT says:

            I responded before your edit, but I don’t think you can call a place like Rogers suburban unless you are completely redefining what that term means. Suburban doesn’t mean smaller than urban, it’s more like below urban. I don’t think you can have a suburban area that doesn’t have an urban area to provide the majority of the work. A place like Rogers can have a suburb in my mind, even though Rogers is a fairly small city.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I don’t feel like we actually have a name for cities that are the centers of their area, but still only have like 50,000-150,000 people. They usually aren’t urban in the way most people think of urban, but they’re also not rural. It’s like small urban or something.

            They’re technically not sub-urban (in the sense that they don’t border an urban city) but they’re similar in every way that matters. Here’s my definition:

            Urban: You don’t need a car, and if you have one, parking is a bitch.
            Suburban: With a car you can get to most things in <15 minutes, parking is trivial in almost all places, public transportation exists and is usable, but is not preferred by anyone.
            Rural: You need a car, it'll take you over 15 minutes to get anywhere worth going, Public transportation doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.

          • Lambert says:

            And there’s a difference between being in a suburb half a mile from the centre of a small city and one five miles from the centre of a megacity.
            Or even like somewhere like Bushey which is kind of both.

          • JayT says:

            @Matt M, That doesn’t really work either, because there are several very large urban areas in the US that you absolutely need a car to live in. Phoenix and Los Angeles are the one I have the most experience with, but most of the Southwestern cities are very sprawling with not much in the way of public transit. So, by your definition, you’re saying that like 6 or the ten biggest cities in the US aren’t urban.

          • Matt M says:


            I’m really not sure that’s true. I lived in Downtown Houston for two years, and I’m sure most people would cite Houston as a city where you “need” a car. And I really didn’t. I had one, but I rarely used it. Public transportation wasn’t nearly as useful/critical as it is in New York or Boston, but it was plenty usable.

            I also think Uber changed things a lot in that regard. Because of the lack of cheap parking, I ubered all the time, even though I had a car.

          • Matt M says:

            And there’s a difference between being in a suburb half a mile from the centre of a small city and one five miles from the centre of a megacity.

            Is there? Other than having more options of things to do on the weekend?

            Day to day life I’m not sure it’s that different. I’ve lived in both and they seemed pretty much the same to me.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is there? Other than having more options of things to do on the weekend?

            And more industrial and commercial jobs you can take, and probably in having a four-year college you can attend without having to move away from home. Those add up to a pretty substantial difference. If you’ve graduated from college and found a job you like in a small city, you may not notice the difference between that and a large city that offers a similar job (and many other different ones), but it’s significant regardless.

            The defining factor isn’t the density or the availability of transit – there are as noted plenty of low-density cities that require cars.

            The difference is that a suburb neither aspires to provide those things nor expects its residents to eschew them. It specializes in housing and basic service industries for its residents, who are all free to partake of high-level industrial or commercial jobs and go to colleges and universities and sporting events and concerts and museums and whatnot, but have to go to The City to do so. How broad a range of such things is available, will depend on the size of The City, but the suburb depends on The City to provide them.

            A low-density town or city without a suburb, may at first glance look a lot like a suburb, with single-family houses and lawns and restaurants and shops. With a closer look you’ll see a somewhat broader range of services and at least a few export industries – but what you see is what you get, and if you walk, drive, or ride to the far side of the city you won’t find anything fundamentally different.

          • JayT says:

            Matt M, I’ve never been to downtown Houston, but in my examples of LA and Phoenix, there are small parts of the city that you could live without a car in, but it’s a very small portion of the city as a whole.

            I have family living in both cities. In LA they are up in the hills and it would basically be impossible to live without a car. You would spend hours on busses just to get to and from work or the store. My family member’s car got stolen, so he looked into becoming a one car household since the only thing he used his car for was to get to work. It turns out that he would have gone from a 20 minute drive to over an hour and a half by bus, including several transfers.

            There’s a reason like 90% of households in those areas have cars. If you want to define downtown LA as urban, and the rest of it as suburban, I think you could make that argument, but I don’t think most people do.

          • EchoChaos says:


            I wasn’t trying to say that urbanites aren’t “real Americans”, just explaining why so many here would require sums in the billions to live on Manhattan Island when many others rather obviously pay for the privilege.

    • bean says:

      How do we define “Manhattan”? Can it be the territory covered by the Manhattan Engineering District?

      • John Schilling says:

        We can at least hire a bunch of Dutch engineers to reclaim a chunk of the East River, merging Manhattan with Long Island and then buying off enough politicians and cartographers to use the former name for the combined land mass. That would be expensive, but perhaps cheaper than convincing me to forever limit myself to Manhattan’s current boundaries.

        Alternately, if I can equip the island with a Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator, that would help quite a bit.

        • Lambert says:

          You’re almost 353 years late to ask the Dutch for help.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not entirely averse to Greater Manhattan being a Dutch crown colony instead of an NYC megaborough. They’ll need to out-negotiate Donald Trump to make it happen, of course. Maybe they can trade him for Greenland.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Maybe they can trade him for Greenland.

            Would they invade the Danes to get it first?

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s crazy talk; you don’t need to materially possess Greenland to sell it to Donald Trump. There’s no golf courses there, so no chance that he’s actually going to notice the Danish flags flying all over the place before and after the sale.

          • Noah says:

            And once it’s bought, the Marines can move in whatever flags are flying there.

          • John Schilling says:

            Greenland is a hardship posting, if not an actively punitive one, for the US military. The Dutch and the Danes will just work out a deal where any US Marine who shows up is quietly shipped off to a beachfront resort on Curaçao to serve out their tour, in exchange for regularly sending home reports about how Greenland is prospering under the American flag.

    • Well... says:

      Build a connected system of hovering domed platforms spanning several acres, with trees and wildlife and ponds and a swimming pool on them (plus a cozy 2K sqft cabin for me and my family to live in), into which food and supplies and visitors can be conveniently shuttled whenever needed, parked several hundred feet over Manhattan but not so high it obstructs airways. Whatever that costs, that’s my number.

      But seriously, I am very encouraged by the anti-NYC and anti-urban sentiments on display in the comments above.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Define “Can’t Leave”. Are we talking “Cannot move your residence and employment off the island of Manhattan”, or “Cannot physically cross the Hudson, whether by water, tunnel, bridge, or air?”.

      For the former, 15 years ago I would’ve done it for the cost of tuition at a college or vo tech school on Manhattan, and living expenses for the length of that education. These days I’d want enough to make the move debt-free, a year’s living expenses at my current lifestyle while I search for work, and secure housing of some sort whether that’s owning my own apartment somehow, equity in a co-op or condo, or a townhouse. I’d be perfectly happy with a studio or efficiency that was well-maintained and decently located, but no matter how you look at it the housing is by far the most expensive part of the package. Average condo/co-op price was $1.66 million last year apparently, so somewhere in the $2 Million range would do it for me these days.

      If the latter, cannot ever leave the island in any way, my price goes up to…$10 million, ish? Basically enough to own the condo plus “Fuck You Money”, based on a quick look at Nerd Wallet.

      • johan_larson says:

        Define “Can’t Leave”. Are we talking “Cannot move your residence and employment off the island of Manhattan”, or “Cannot physically cross the Hudson, whether by water, tunnel, bridge, or air?”.

        The latter.

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t think I would take this deal *anywhere*, because it basically leaves you wholly unable to escape any sort of localized disaster.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          EDIT: Your point is very well-taken, Matt, and a heavily urbanized island isn’t my first pick of where to ride out a “TEOTWAWKI” event, even if I liked The Division. That said, with the financial security below, I feel I would have at least decent odds of securing myself against anything -short- of a full-on societal collapse.

          Then I stand by my $10 Million. This is my analysis:

          -I turn 39 in a few months. 50 years is an optimistic number for the timeframe I’m looking at for long-term financial planning.

          -I literally cannot afford to start a new career at this point (as in, I don’t believe I have the wherewithal to successfully complete a college degree in a rewarding field while simultaneously working full time for four years and then starting over at my age), and there are no jobs on Manhattan that I could get that wouldn’t result in noticably worse quality of life compared to my current situation.

          -Therefore, for this deal to be attractive, I don’t want to depend on the Manhattan job market, so I need “fuck you money”. Nerd Wallet says that’s about $105K a year to sustain an equivalent lifestyle in Manhattan to the one I lead now. I also don’t particularly want to be stuck in Manhattan forever and would want a bit better QoL than I currently have to compensate, so I bumped it to an equivalent of $50-60K a year here which works out to ~$150K a year in Manhattan. Multiply that by 50 years and you have $7.5 Million. Factor in a generous cushion for the costs of ownership of real estate over 50 years in a market like Manhattan and you get my $10 Million-ish.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          Well if I am physically bound by mysterious forces than this is a delicious devil’s deal I’ve made and I’ll have to update my mere falling from the bacchanal on the Palazzo Chupi balcony to leaving the bacchanal behind as I observe a Marian apparition (actually someone’s cleaning lady across the way).

          In the film of the story I’ll be seen to walk tremulously in the open air as the champagne and revelry turns to blood and muteness and the world is gradually lost in the sunset’s glare over the Hudson. At the last minute I’ll be seen to falter, jerk, or fall but it cuts to black and credits roll.

          Bonus points, my soul is still bound to the deal, and I end up a tormented ghost wandering Manhattan forever. So I think I’ll forego the money and try my luck with hell.

        • BBA says:

          That changes the calculus a bunch. I live in Manhattan, the days I spend entirely within Manhattan add up to 9 or so months of the year (more if you throw in the outer boroughs) and I like it plenty. The only reason why I’d move away is cost. But if you’re saying I can’t travel, then no, just no.

    • Lambert says:

      Do I have to give up my colonial ambitions in Suriname and the Spice Islands?

      • johan_larson says:

        If you can find a way to push around brown people halfway around the world by Skype, go for it.

    • johan_larson says:

      Speaking of New York City, I had a look at this map of crime rates. They differ by quite a bit.

      Anyone know why the Manhattan South Precinct (Koreatown, the Garment District, Midtown South) is a sewer of crime?

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        A fairly important insight is that this is true most of the time for most places, and so arguments that follow the pattern “[City] is a war zone, more dangerous than [Actual War Zone]!” “Why you ignorant fool, I have lived in [City] for years, and can assure you that’s nonsense!” are pretty much a waste of time.

        It’s often the case that moving literally one block, or across a highway or if more historically and poetically inclined a set of train tracks can change your odds of being the victim of property or violent crime by a huge margin.

      • BBA says:

        Those numbers are per capita. Midtown South is full of offices and restaurants and shops, as well as both major train stations, Madison Square Garden, and the southern half of Times Square. But there are only a few apartments there, so with a low denominator obviously the per capita numbers will be through the roof.

      • MilesM says:

        Petty crime related to tourism would be my guess. That area has Times Square, the stretch of theaters people go to for popular Broadway shows, Empire State Building, MSG, and lots of hotels and restaurants.

        Might also have a lot more drunk people in the evenings, per capita.

        Still, I’ve lived in NYC for decades, and I’d never have imagined that area has the highest crime numbers in Manhattan. (at least not today)

      • SamChevre says:

        Probably the same reason that the highest-crime country in the world is ….

        Vatican City.

        Lots of pickpockets and other petty predation on the large population of tourists, and very few residents.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          So lots of clerics, lots of thieves, and the Swiss Guard are fighters?
          Is Vatican City optimized or unoptimized for saving the world?

          • Nick says:

            What class is a Harvard symbologist? How about albino assassins?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            What class is a Harvard symbologist? How about albino assassins?

            Depends on edition. Assassin was originally its own class, but currently (5th Edition) a Rogue subclass.
            A Level 1 Harvard Mage could read all symbolic languages.

    • Kindly says:

      One possible price is an army of loyal soldiers ready to march across the world and conquer it in the name of the Manhattan Empire.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        A vast and terrible borough-empire covering half the world with a peculiar New Jersey shaped hole in the middle.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I will turn the entire island into my pleasure palace. Only the most beautiful women will be allowed to step on its sacred soil. I will rule the world from my golden throne as the new Forbidden City.

        This is the price I demand and no other.

    • FLWAB says:

      Well it depends on who the money comes from but if, say, its coming from your aliens with the big spaceship…

      Then I’m going to go with $500 billion. $499 billion of which will go towards ending poverty and disease.

      Which I guess means my actual minimum number is somewhere south of $1 billion. If it was an actual human and we were actually bargaining on it, I think the minimum amount I would need is about…$100 million? I might do it for $50 million. But I’d really prefer not to be stuck in Manhattan for the rest of my life.

    • JayT says:

      As long as I can take vacations outside of Manhattan, I would agree to move there for the cost of a large, four bedroom dwelling, plus $250K a year, in 2020 dollars. Doing some back of the envelope calculations and looking at Redfin, I’d probably need about $20 million cash and $5-$10 million for the house.

      If I have the option to leave if I don’t like it, my price would go down quite a bit, since I’d actually like to live there for at least a little while. I’d move there for a job that gave me something like 20% over what I’m making right now.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      An island that you can never leave is a prison, no matter how luxurious. No amount of money, or even full post-scarcity matter replicators, could ever make this prospect anything other than horrifying. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the world and I haven’t finished exploring it.

      • EchoChaos says:

        An island that you can never leave is a prison, no matter how luxurious.

        How big does this island have to be before it’s not a big deal? Serious question. 99.9999+% of humans never leave the island called Earth, 63% of Americans never leave the USA, etc.

    • Bobobob says:

      I lived in Manhattan for 25 years, in a rent-regulated apartment I “inherited” from my aunt. Most people in that situation do in fact leave feet-first, but I got married and had kids and am now happily settled elsewhere. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I don’t much like living in big cities, and I’d like it a lot less if I could never go out to the countryside. I haven’t been to New York since I was too young to remember it, but I did live in London for a while and I’d definitely had enough of it by the time I left. If the deal was for Zone 1 of London, I’d probably want enough money to run my own smallish movie studio indefinitely (say making two to four films a year with budgets of $10m-$50m and not worrying too much about the box office – we’re making the pictures I want, whether or not they’re the pictures the public want). So a few billion. But almost all the people I care about either live in London or can get there easily; the same does not apply to New York. So a few billion, plus whatever was necessary to persuade a good proportion of my family and close friends to move across the Atlantic.

    • knite says:

      What’s this in reference to? Nothing in the post seems to be about living in Manhattan?

      • Silverlock says:

        This isn’t in reference to anything in one of Scott’s posts. Johan likes to post whimsical hypotheticals just for the fun of discussion. The “So, the deal is . . .” is just the intro to one of those.

    • Another Throw says:

      I heard somewhere that I don’t feel like checking the median rent in Manhattan is $1 million. Since 1/3 of your income should go to rent, that would mean that associated cost of living would be $3 million per year. The rule of thumb used to be that you could spend 5% of the value of your principle per year indefinitely. But that is a unprecedented-post-war-expansion-centric rule of thumb, and nowadays financial planners are quoting 4%, or maybe even 3% if you’re conservative. Choosing 3% because it makes the numbers easier, you would need a $100 million lump sum to be your principle. For median Manhattan living.

      So that’s the floor.

      Since I don’t like cities very much, probably a rather lot more than that.

      • JayT says:

        the median house/condo might be $1 million to buy, but rent is nowhere near there. My quick search is showing that it’s $3K-$4K per month.

        • Another Throw says:

          Don’t be a stick in the mud. Not checking random things you heard years ago is a deliberate lifestyle choice. (IIRC the context was oligarchs stashing their money doing funny things to the Manhattan real estate market.) In a larger sense, the whole thing was really just an excuse to come up with $100 million.

          But since you brought it up, it looks like the median asking price is $1,599,000, and median asking rent is $3,600/mo.

  18. mcpalenik says:

    I made several edits in a row to try to fix something and this comment got eaten by the spam filter. Fortunately, I copied the text, so let’s try again today:

    We are not living in a simulation.

    I’ve been thinking about writing a post like this for a little while, but I figured it would have to be rather lengthy to spell out all of the technical details and didn’t want to put in the effort. However, I figured it might be nice to have something to discuss other than coronavirus, and since I saw the topic of simulations come up again in the X-risk thread, I thought now might be the time to make this post.

    I’m a physicist, and my research is in quantum chemistry, which involves simulating molecules, chemical reactions, materials, etc. using quantum mechanics. I’ve also recently, sort of by accident, written two papers on quantum computing (they’re not published yet or even submitted, because I work at a DoD lab, and there’s a rather lengthy public release process), so I have a small amount of knowledge on that subject as well.

    The essence of this post is that simulating more than around 25ish electrons (by that, I mean, finding the ground state) with a reasonable degree of accuracy is impossible on a state of the art computing cluster in a few weeks time, and that simulating the entire universe on a quantum computer would require a quantum computer with several times as many qubits as there are particles in the universe. So, if we are living in a “simulation”, it would have to be on something so vastly different from anything we recognize as a computer that it wouldn’t make sense to call it a simulation anymore.

    I’ve decided to break my post up into a couple of smaller sections below, for clarity.

    First, you might be wondering how we can do any kind of meaningful modeling of chemical systems if we can’t even really simulate 25 electrons.

    The answer is that there are approximation techniques that give pretty good answers to a variety of questions most of the time. Most of the practical simulations I do involve something called density functional theory, which works well enough, except when it doesn’t. And even with any of these approximation techniques (which are still fairly computationally intense), if you were to probe the wave function the right way, or perhaps actually try to propagate the wave function in time, instead of just finding the ground state, or do any number of “wrong” things, you could potentially immediately see the approximation break down. Furthermore, even density functional theory is difficult enough to compute that it would be impossible to, say take a box of water with side lengths of 15 Angstroms (10^-9 m) and simulate more than a few hundred picoseconds per month, using classical nuclei without even taking into account electronic excitations.

    What about if nature is also using some sort of approximation rather than exactly obeying the laws of quantum mechanics

    The fact is, too, that the more accurate our quantum mechanical calculations are–that is using a larger number of basis functions, using fewer approximations to solve the equations, including relativistic effects, making the nuclei behave quantum mechanically, etc. the closer the answers we get are to what we observe experimentally. This includes chemical reaction rates, reaction energetics, conductive properties, heat capacities, NMR measurements, excitation energies, various other types of spectroscopy, and more.

    This indicates that nature is consistently obeying the actual laws of quantum mechanics, or at least, something that reduces to them on observable energy scales. Whatever it is that appears to behave exactly like quantum mechanics, even if it involves some unknown laws of physics, is unlikely to be simpler (or rather, computationally more tractable) than quantum mechanics.

    What types of calculations can be done on a classical computer and what is missing

    There are a few major simplifications that are used in quantum chemistry that make problems computationally much simpler, even for so-called “exact” solutions. The ~25 electron limit I mentioned earlier is in the context of these simplifications.

    1) Typically, people use non-relativistic quantum mechanics, or non-relativistic quantum mechanics with some relativistic corrections built in, like core electron mass corrections and spin-orbit coupling. This immediately reduces the complexity of the problem in two major ways (aside from any relative difference in solving the Dirac equation vs. Schrodinger equation):

    1a) The number of particles is conserved. Relativistic quantum mechanics is not compatible with conserved particle number because it violates causality. Only when you use quantum field theory, which uses the full Fock space (which allows particle number to change) is microcausality preserved. The Schrodinger equation, by contrast (the non-relativistic equation), conserves particle number.

    1b) The electromagnetic field cab just be treated as the Coulomb (electrostatic) field. There’s no problem with a classical, 1/|r_1-r_2| potential between electrons, so we just use it. The field isn’t even treated quantum mechanically, like it should be.

    2) The Born-Oppenheimer approximation (well actually even more drastic approximations). The Born-Oppenheimer approximation says, essentially that electronic and nuclear wave functions are separable (in reality, they’re not). Beyond that, in practical calculations, the nuclei are usually treated as classical particles.

    3) A finite-dimensional Hilbert space. This is essentially the method of discretizing the Schrodinger equation to solve it on a computer. We use a finite number of basis functions to represent the electronic wave function, reducing the problem from on in infinite dimensions to one in finite dimensions.

    So, given all of these approximations, how do the calculations scale?

    Given the approximations above regarding a finite basis and a fixed number of particles, and only electrons being simulated (not fields, which are bosonic), assume we have N particles and M basis functions. The wave function is going to be a linear combination of states with the N particles occupying some subset of the M basis functions. Because electrons are fermions, we can’t put more than 1 particle in a given basis function.

    So the question becomes, how many combinations of these states are there? The answer is M choose N, or

    Finding the ground state wave function then becomes an eigenvalue/eigenvector problem in that number of dimensions, which scales approximately cubically with the number of dimensions.

    To be able to provide a reasonable description of the wave function, you need quite a few more basis functions than electrons. If you only had the same number of basis functions as electrons, you would only have one possible state available to your system–the one where all of your basis functions are occupied, so your wave function wouldn’t be able to change in different environments, you wouldn’t be able to have excitations, etc.

    So, let’s take a look at manganese, which has 25 electrons. A reasonable-sized basis to choose for doing density functional calculations on manganese is one called “Def2-TZVP”. I won’t go into the details of how it’s defined, but needless to say, while it’s very good for use with density functional theory, it’s not really good enough to get a super accurate description of the true wave function, which is more complicated than the density functional theory wave function. But let’s assume that it is and proceed anyway.

    I’m going to ignore electronic spin for now, because if we make assumptions about the total spin of the system, it simplifies the problem a bit, but in an actual simulation of the universe, we can’t do that, and it would actually greatly increase the complexity of the problem. So I’m just going to leave it out of the equations here, and you can assume the real thing would be even more complex.

    We have 45 basis functions and 25 electrons. 45!/(20!*25!) = 3.17×10^12 –that’s about 3.2 trillion possible states. Storing the coefficients on all of those basis states requires 3.17×10^12 floating point numbers. Solving for the “exact” (and not even truly exact) ground-state wave function is an eigenvalue problem on 3.2 trillion dimensional matrix. True this matrix is usually sparse, so in a lot of situations, the eigenvalue calculation will scale much better than cubically (though never linearly), but in the general case, this takes on the order of 3.19×10^37 operations to solve.

    That’s 3.19×10^37 operations just for the electrons in manganese, and that’s given all the other approximations (non-relativistic, fixed particle number, etc). The storage for the coefficients on all of the basis states quickly gets out of control. To simulate the entire universe, you’d never be able make anything big enough to store all of the basis states.

    And again, we can’t really get around this by using clever classical approximations, because all the chemistry we do all the time obeys appears to obey the laws of quantum mechanics. The more closely our calculations come to solving the exact quantum mechanical calculations, the better our simulations are. Always!

    What about quantum computers

    There are a variety of ways of putting these calculations onto a quantum computer. One of the simplest actually involves removing one of the approximations that we made earlier–namely the fixed particle number approximation. This brings us closer to reality if we want to do a full relativistic calculation and doesn’t affect the non-relativistic calculation.

    The Jordan-Wigner transformation allows you to directly map fermionic creation and annihilation operators to combinations of Pauli operators, which correspond to observables on a quantum computer. In this formalism, each qubit on the quantum computer represents one basis function, which can be occupied by either 0 or 1 particles. Therefore, if you have M basis functions, you have 2^M possible states.

    Going back to manganese, with the 45 basis functions we talked about earlier, this would require a quantum computer with 45 qubits to simulate (90 if we consider we can have spin up or spin down electrons in each state), and would involve diagonalizing a 2^45 ~= 3.5×10^13 dimensional matrix.

    Leaving the difficulties of diagonalizing the matrix aside, keep in mind that it requires 45 qubits to simulate 25 electrons. Remember, to create a good description of the wave function, we need significantly more basis functions than electrons, and therefore, we will always need significantly more qubits than the total number of particles that we want to provide a good description of.

    In practice, in relativistic quantum mechanics, this number becomes infinite, but if we say on average that the universe has a certain number of particles, then the number of qubits we need is some multiple of that number. So, basically this boils down to the same fact–we need more qubits than there are of particles in the universe to simulate it.

    What about bosons?

    You can put an infinite number of bosons in any given state, so to do anything computational, at some point in your calculation, you have to cap the number of particles. If you cap the number of particles at N and have M basis states, you end up with (N+M)!/(N!M!), which grows extraordinarily quickly (faster than for electrons).

    So what does this mean?
    For any known type of computer, quantum or classical, it appears that simulating the universe in such a way that it doesn’t violate the laws that we reliably measure appears to require a computer significantly bigger than the universe that it’s simulating. Even making it appear that chemistry is obeying these laws would require carrying out the necessary computations to fake the measurements, so you can’t solve the problem that way. If the computer simulating us actually has several times as many atoms in it (memory, qubits, whatever) as there are particles in the universe, or if there is some totally different computing paradigm where none of this applies, then it hardly seems like our universe could be considered a simulation in the sense that we understand it.

    • matkoniecz says:

      We are not living in a simulation.

      This is not possible to conclude. Universe simulating us could have different physics, allowing more powerful computation.

      if there is some totally different computing paradigm where none of this applies, then it hardly seems like our universe could be considered a simulation in the sense that we understand it.

      Why? Let’s say the simulation is running on magic of rock enchanted with +100 computation spell or on foobar particles or whatever. Why it would immediately mean that we would not consider this as a simulation?

      (disclaimer – I consider that we are not simulated. And even in case of being simulated this is just new styling on old “God exists” or “gods exist”.)

      • mcpalenik says:


        Erm. . . read the post?

        Seriously, did you read any of it? Because that’s what the post was about.

        • matkoniecz says:

          This post is explaining why simulating universe with physics identical to our own is impossible for us.

          What seems quite weak attack on simulation idea, as it is assuming that world above can run only on the same physics.

          • mcpalenik says:

            If you’re asking if this disproves the existence of God, then, no. But it does show that regardless of the physics of universe of the simulator, it couldn’t be simulating our universe using anything that’s remotely like a computational paradigm as we understand it. I mean, I guess you could posit a physics (maybe, I’m not sure if it’s even logically coherent) that allows for infinite storage and processing power, but barring that, the simulation would have to be executed in some way that’s not even remotely like anything we understand as computing. Like, if it turned out that our universe was contained inside a marble that some giant aliens were playing with, I’m not sure I would consider that a simulation. But YMMV, and that’s not really a point I’m extremely interested in debating.

          • Cliff says:

            the simulation would have to be executed in some way that’s not even remotely like anything we understand as computing.

            This seems like a major caveat.

      • Deiseach says:

        If you’re going to posit different physical laws or magic or whatever, then just bite the bullet and believe in a creator deity.

        I honestly do not get the “of course it’s stupid to believe in a god that created our universe – but oooh, we could all be imaginary creations in a really big computer simulation run by aliens!” dichotomy, but then again that’s just me. I especially do not get the “only the weak and fearful use the crutch of religion and belief in an afterlife to cope with the Stern Iron Truths of life, but if we close our eyes and wish really hard, maybe in an undefined period of time really superior AI will happen and it will solve the problems of resurrecting us all to live either literally in new physical bodies or in virtual space as uploads in the post-scarcity paradise of fully automated luxury gay space communism”. Because yeah, science is going to get us there someday, just like we’re going to spread out into the galaxy and colonise space. (I’m a lot less sanguine about SF futures than when I was much younger, and odd science news articles I’ve been reading about how humans cope in space and the harshness of the environment, based on what little space exploration we’ve done to date, makes me think that even getting astronauts to Mars – surviving the journey and arriving at the other end in a functional state of health – is a long way off and more of a pipe dream than a plausible scenario. My conclusion is that the Great Filter is that it’s just not doable to have an expanding COLONISING SPACE!!!! civilisation, nope not even fancy nanomachines to do it for us).

        I can believe in God, I can believe in blind materialism, but I can’t believe in the half-way house approach of Really Superior Indistinguishable From Magic Technology. Look at how a fucking virus in the same broad family as the goddamn common cold is kicking our advanced technological globalised 21st century backsides right now, for heaven’s sake!

        • It’s kicking our backsides only because we are not willing to bite the bullet and accept one or two percent of our population dying. That’s a reflection of just how rich and coddled our advanced technology globalized 21st century world is.

          The black death killed something like 40% of the population of Europe — I’m not sure about the figures for the rest of the world — and civilization continued.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure, but I’m pretty sure places with that kind of death toll faced much bigger economic and social strains than we’re facing now.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s kicking our backsides only because we are not willing to bite the bullet and accept one or two percent of our population dying. That’s a reflection of just how rich and coddled our advanced technology globalized 21st century world is.

            Tell me more about how taking measures to mitigate, by your calculations, approximately 100 million dead is being coddled.

          • Doctor Mist says:


            David Friedman is taking the long view here. Two hundred years ago we would have just wept and carried on — we would have had no other choice. The miracle of the modern world is that we can take measures to mitigate it. The miracle of two centuries hence is that those measures won’t bankrupt us, though whether that’s true now is less clear.

          • Tell me more about how taking measures to mitigate, by your calculations, approximately 100 million dead is being coddled.

            The fact that we regard having one person in eighty die as a horrible catastrophe which we should do almost anything to prevent is evidence that we are living in a much pleasanter and safer world than most humans have ever lived in. Isn’t that obvious?

          • Matt M says:

            Two hundred years ago we would have just wept and carried on — we would have had no other choice.

            I think two hundred years ago we wouldn’t have even noticed. Death from illness was so common, COVID specifically wouldn’t have looked that abnormal. Right now it’s mostly killing people who 200 years ago would have already been dead of other illnesses anyway.

      • This is not possible to conclude. Universe simulating us could have different physics, allowing more powerful computation.

        There are at least two different simulation hypotheses. The simulating-universe-like-simulated-universe hypothesis runs in computational constraints, as explained above. The simulating-universe-unlike-simulating-universe hypothesis runs into the problem that is unable to make any predictions — if the simulators are completely alien, there is no way we could discern how interested they are in making simulations or what their aims would be. So both versions have big problems.

    • Well... says:

      This sounds similar (but way more informed and detailed, obviously) than a similar criticism of simulation theory I wrote about on my blog: basically I said that if we’re in a simulation, then our (simulated) universe must necessarily be of “lower resolution” than the “actual” universe, because even very advanced computing power will be finite. But also, if our universe is a simulation, according to the logic of simulation theory it must almost certainly be somewhere in the middle of a huge stack of nested simulated universes in which only the topmost one is the real one. That one’s resolution would have to be so fine as to be inconceivable (as if the granularity of ours isn’t inconceivable enough!).

      • matkoniecz says:

        f we’re in a simulation, then our (simulated) universe must necessarily be of “lower resolution” than the “actual” universe, because even very advanced computing power will be finite.

        I am not fully convinced. It is possible to generate extremely complex objects from simple equations. See for example the Mandelbrot set ( * )

        * Mandelbrot zoom with center at (-0.743643887037158704752191506114774, 0.131825904205311970493132056385139) and magnification 3.18 × 10^31.

        The Mandelbrot set is defined as follows “a complex number c is a member of the Mandelbrot set if, when starting with z0 = 0 and applying the iteration repeatedly, the absolute value of zn remains bounded for all n>0.”

        The Mandelbrot set from within may appear to be unimaginably complex while being extremely simple. And that is a very simple example.

        Note that “we need to store data” – we can generate part of the Mandelbrot set on demand, without storing entire thing in the memory.

        See also procedural generation. We are doing this with things that are basically toys, typically in computer games. Often used to generate worlds that seem more complex than in a reality. But I can imagine plausible world where you can do this on larger scale.

        (BTW, feel free to correct my grammar mistakes)

        • Well... says:

          I don’t think that’s relevant: in the simulated universe, the residents eventually run their own universe simulation. (That is the premise behind the simulation hypothesis, and the supposition which allows the simulation theory to proceed to the hypothesis.) Can a universe we simulate be of greater complexity than our own? I don’t think it can. Sure, you can get complex iterations from a relatively simple seed equation, but those still exist within this universe, which is already more complex than those iterations. If our universe was not that complex, the equation would simply break or be impossible or something.

          It’s like, you can’t render a 4K image on a 1080p monitor, no matter how elegantly the image is represented in code.

          So you end up with a tall stack of nested simulations, each one less complex than the one outside of it. The topmost (“real”) universe cannot be infinitely complex, and the computers within it can’t be infinitely powerful either.

        • mcpalenik says:

          That’s great, but what does that have to do with simulating physics?

          We’ve gone from:
          Physics is really complicated and it’s effectively impossible to simulate all of the physics of the universe.

          The Mandlebrot set looks really complicated, but we can generate part of it on demand.

          and then:
          Therefore, we can simulate the physics of this universe.

          That’s like saying traveling from here to the andromeda galaxy is effectively impossible for you.

          Bench pressing 350 lbs is really difficult, but I knew a guy who did it.

          Therefore, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for me to get to the andromeda galaxy.

          It just doesn’t follow.

          • Three Year Lurker says:

            > Bench pressing 350 lbs is really difficult, but I knew a guy who did it.

            If we postulate a being without a limit on strength, then it would be possible for such a being to bench press the Andromeda Galaxy.

            Is there some part of the simulation argument that is not based on postulating that limits do not exist? It seems tautological to dismiss limits the way that matkoniecz did.

          • matkoniecz says:

            It seems tautological to dismiss limits the way that matkoniecz did.

            The problem is that from within simulation one can’t really say anything useful about the upper universe.

            Yes, simulating our universe using resources from our universe is ridiculous.

            Yes, simulation hypothesis is ridiculous, almost entirely useless and without any proof whatsoever. Yes, you cannot disprove it.

            Yes, it makes more sense to worship Zeus than to treat simulation hypothesis seriously.

            BTW, there is plenty of good reasons to not worship Zeus but “I can’t summon and target lightning and thunder at will, therefore Zeus is also unable to do this” is not something useful.

            In the same way you cannot say anything about physics of universe simulating without access to it. Compare simulated world of $COMPUTER_GAME and reality, any analogues will be nearly/completely worthless.

            Is there some part of the simulation argument that is not based on postulating that limits do not exist?

            Yes, simulation requires computation abilities that is ridiculous and not achievable by us. But given that it explicitly postulates a different universe there is no good reason to expect that it runs very similar (or even the same) physics as ours.

            Maybe upper universe is literally filled with physically existing Turing machines with infinite memory tapes. Or is outrageously bigger. Why not, if one is already postulating different universes then feel free to add gratis “and perpetum mobile is possible in upper universe”.

            Or math works differently there, why not.

            If one postulates different universes then “and it requires different universes to run on different physics” seems to not be a significant step.

      • mcpalenik says:

        I wrote about on my blog: basically I said that if we’re in a simulation, then our (simulated) universe must necessarily be of “lower resolution” than the “actual” universe, because even very advanced computing power will be finite.

        I think the intuition is correct. I think it’s only (effectively) provably true for computational paradigms as we understand them (and since I’m a physicist and not a CS guy, I may be using the term “computational paradigm” in a non-rigorous way, but I think what I’m trying to get at is gate-model computers, quantum gate-model computers, or quantum D-wave type computers).

    • Purplehermann says:

      Is there any chance that the high-computational power exact computation reactions you talk about are only simulated faithfully when measured?
      That way the rest of the universe would take far less power, and the simulation could be on a much smaller computer

      • mcpalenik says:

        I’ve tried to think about that a little bit. My thoughts are
        1) If we measure something at time A and then wait and measure again at time B, we could ask if it’s possible that between A and B, something else is happening that doesn’t require such a detailed simulation?

        I can only speak for the less accurate types of simulation that I know about–things like density functional theory, classical molecular dynamics, the approximations I mentioned, etc–there are different types of approximations that are better or worse, but they all get things wrong, and even the best ones have circumstances where they get things VERY wrong. These errors only compound if you try to time propagation. After a picosecond of simulation using DFT-B for example (a tight binding approximation of DFT), I’ve had calculations veer off in an incredibly wrong direction.

        [edit: and there is research into trying to come up with better approximation methods that perform as well as fully quantum simulations for chemical systems, but no one has ever been able to achieve this, and we shouldn’t really expect it to be possible. For decades, for example, one particular researcher I know of has been promising this, and yet, objectively, the accuracy of his method hasn’t substantially improved.]

        So, it seems to me that if you want to fill in the gaps between A and B, you have to do it essentially exactly, or the universe starts to get really screwy.

        2) So much depends on quantum mechanics and can’t be simulated with classical physics that there aren’t really gaps between A and B anyway. I mean, everything, from photosynthesis to the transistors inside the computers we’re using depends on quantum mechanics. And even if we only consider the people explicitly measuring, say something there are tons of people running experiments to capture atomic resolution stuff all the time.

        3) Even for the things that we explicitly measure, the systems are HUGE compared to the 25 electron calculation that I mentioned earlier.
        Tons of people are doing explicit chemistry involving several milliliters of reactant and product all the time. This is infinitely bigger than the system I described. And quantum mechanics always seems to correctly predict everything they observe, and better calculations get closer answers. So, even just simulating the times that people are explicitly doing chemistry would take a ridiculous amount of computing power.

        • Purplehermann says:

          1) video game universes seem to run fine without doing quantum calculations, by extrapolation simulating our universe should work fine most of the time

          2) no matter how many experiments you have to model with quantum mechanics, that should take an almost infinitely smaller amount of computation than running the entire universe with quantum mechanics. How many qubits would be required for something like this?

          3) could a simulation run the calculation for say, fire (I don’t understand the field btw) then just copy the normal results to incidents in the world?

          • Loriot says:

            Videogame universes are a perfect demonstration of the “any simulated universe is incalculably less complex than the simulators” argument.

          • mcpalenik says:

            The question is becoming what level of approximation could the simulation use before we’d notice something was up. The fact is, the models I’ve presented are already simplified to the extent that we’d notice something is up at the level that we’ve probed things, and yet, they’re still computationally intractable even for a single large atom. But to answer your specific questions.

            1) Video game universes don’t do all the things that our universe does. The problem is, whenever we create a simplified model of anything, it fails to replicate the behavior of the actual thing in ways that matter and would compound errors over time.

            Are we assuming that this simulation is run with human intelligences in a box, a la the matrix, and therefore, only the parts of the world that we humans observe are being simulated to whatever level is required to make them convincing? If so, maybe it’s possible to do something like what you’re suggesting. I’m not entirely certain, because it’s possible that it might leave behind detectable artifacts if a scientist measures something at time A and time B, but leaves in the mean time and lets the world run on a simpler simulation for that time. It would still require nearly infinite processing power, regardless. Classical physics isn’t exactly tractable either for unlimited numbers of particles.

            In the more general case, though, where this isn’t a matrix-style simulation:

            If you want photosynthesis to work correctly and DNA replication to work correctly, UV induced mutations to work correctly (i.e. skin cancer), then you need quantum mechanics to be running. Geckos sticking to things seems to be trivial to simulate, until you realize that they stick exactly the way you would predict based on Van-der Waals interactions that depend on electron correlation. Quantum mechanics actually does affect things that we see on a macroscopic level. It affects the spectrum of sunlight, LED bulbs, etc.

            You can’t just switch on quantum mechanics when a human is looking for it, because you’d notice all sorts of mismatches at the crossover. The macroscopic phenomena that it affects wouldn’t behave correctly, or you’d end up with a quantum state that doesn’t match up correctly, or something. There are too many macroscopic phenomena that rely on quantum mechanics.

            2) Simulating just the electrons in 100 ml of water would to a fair degree of accuracy require on the order of 10^23 qubits (back of the envelope calculation, I may be slightly off on certain numbers I used). It should require somewhere around 100x as many qubits as water molecules.

            Of course, the more closely we probe, the more qubits it would require. And if we really wanted to model the full electromagnetic interaction between electrons quantum mechanically, it would take a lot more than that.

            3) The problem is that things seem to interact with other things the way they’re supposed to. If we have quantum system one and quantum system two, and they interact, we can’t just slap them together without making the computational complexity grow exponentially (or factorially, depending on what approximations you’re considering “exact”). There’s also way too much variability for things just to be an exact copy over and over again. Sometimes the smallest change to a reaction changes the outcome completely. It seems unlikely that this would work.

          • Purplehermann says:

            1) in computer programs if something is off because of small errors compounding, a lazy way to fix it is setting a check which if failed (the measure is too far off from what it should look like) then the measure is set manually to be back within the bounds of reasonableness

            I was thinking more of a “the universe is simplified as it can be and still be coherent”, and humans looking at things forces better calculations to stay coherent. It sounds like this is harder than I thought.

            2) I don’t really have many reference points to understand how large that is, but this should mean the computational power required is much more plausible than a computer bigger than the universe right?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      > We are not living in a simulation.

      > So, if we are living in a “simulation”, it would have to be on something so vastly different from anything we recognize as a computer that it wouldn’t make sense to call it a simulation anymore.

      Sorry, no. Our whole visible universe can be simulated with a Turing machine with enough tape and time.

      • mcpalenik says:

        Thanks for skipping the middle. I actually allowed for discretizations and approximations in my post that would make your comment true in the most technical sense. However, since you didn’t bother with a meaningful reply, I may as well be snarky and point out that you’re actually wrong, because to the best of our knowledge, the universe involves infinite dimensional Hilbert spaces which cannot be simulated without an infinite amount of tape and time.

    • MilesM says:

      Well… Couldn’t you be living in a much smaller simulation, where you’re the only “real” person, everyone else is an NPC, and all things requiring quantum mechanics level of detail are only simulated if you’re directly observing the measurements? With everything you don’t experience first hand or can’t understand well enough to notice the discrepancy only vaguely approximated.

      (Note: I don’t believe we’re living in a simulation.)

    • Loriot says:

      The problem is that in order for the simulation argument to actually be meaningful, the outer universe has to bear at least some similarity to the inner universe. Otherwise, it’d be like wondering whether ants care about the rings of Neptune.

    • mcpalenik says:

      I don’t have to be able to perform exact calculations to notice at a sequence of progressively better calculations give better answers, that approximations that are more like quantum mechanics work better than ones that aren’t, and that reducing truncation (by e.g. increasing basis set size) always gives better answers. I can also look at systems where I can do nearly exact calculations and see that they come out right to within a degree of accuracy that nothing else reproduces.

      Point 11 from the FAQ seems to have to do with multiple levels of accuracy in simulations. My point is, though, that just the stuff we actually have observed at a detailed, quantum mechanical level, would take orders of magnitude upon orders of magnitude of computation power beyond what we have. Because, you know, people do things like time resolved crystallography and spectroscopy on rather large chemical systems that require stimulating thousands of electrons to reproduce.

      If we want to talk about processing power of the present universe, however, since the article mentions quantum computers, for anything like existing algorithms on a qubit gate model quantum computer, you’d need several times as many qubits as we have particles in our universe. So, somewhere between an incredibly large number and infinity, the latter case being if you don’t want to truncate your Hilbert space.

      If the laws of physics are so different in the isn’t universe that this isn’t an issue, or if negative somehow could possibly work differently there as someone suggested, or if our actually simulator has infinite capacities, then that actually is just God. That’s not somebody running an ancestor simulation, because the beings in that universe truly are infinite compared to us. And with all the divine intervention of memory editing, which implies a close, painful connection to us, where our simulators are aware of our hearts and minds, this becomes a religious argument, not one about anything that we can define according to our limited conception of logic and finite beings.

  19. Tarpitz says:

    On the other hand, 5% of African adults have HIV. I can’t imagine that’s a positive for their chances of surviving CoViD-19.

    • fibio says:

      You never know, maybe the viruses will fight for dominance and cancel each other other.

      • Garrett says:

        They infect different cell types, so not likely.

        • John Schilling says:

          Great, now you’ve got me imagining a bunch of Spartanesque retrovirii saddling up their macrophages and T-cells while their general gives a stirring speech about those damn dirty coronaviral invaders and their treacherous fifth column of alveoli, threatening our sacred homehost, Today We Ride for the Lungs, for Victory or Death!

          Well, logically HIV does command a powerful immune system, and has an evolutionary imperative to make sure no other virus kills off their host or even threatens it to the point where social isolation replaces promiscuous unprotected sex.

        • Statismagician says:

          Quick, somebody call HBO, this seems right up their alley.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, particularly with lots of gratuitous retroviral nudity.

  20. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Wow, Iceland

    They are doing over 7000 tests per million citizens per day. That’s more than 10x the next closest country. (Germany is missing, and if Germany were there, Iceland would only have a 8x or 9x advantage over them.)

    • Jake R says:

      Iceland has a population of about 350,000 people. Almost as many as such thriving metropolises as Aurora, Colorado or Bakersfield, California. With a denominator like that per capita numbers tend to get pretty weird.

      • Vosmyorka says:

        Iceland participates as a ‘real’ country in things like sports leagues and international panels, in contrast with other very small countries of its size, and has an incredibly distinctive culture in terms of language, cuisine, art, and so forth, which often produce extremely weird numbers ‘per capita’ (or surreal moments like presidential candidates mistakenly bumping into each other in an elevator). A prominent politician, delivering an English-language interview, called the phenomenon ‘ecstatic numerical aphasia’:

        In thinking about Iceland, one is always whipsawed between two facts. On the one hand, there’s the tiny scale of the place. There are only three hundred thousand-plus people in the country, and a Presidential election, even though it gets a huge, Nordic-style turnout, will still top out at about two hundred and forty thousand voters, about one-third the number in a single congressional district in New York City. One might read that, as a proportion of the population, more Icelanders died in the Second World War than Americans did, which means two hundred and thirty, most of them in seafaring accidents. “Icelanders suffer from ecstatic numerical aphasia” is the way that Heiða Helgadóttir, a prominent alternative politician, put it one morning, over milky coffee, the country’s vin ordinaire. “We are convinced that we come from a country of at least two or three million, and nothing dissuades us.” On the other hand, Iceland is an honest-to-God country, not a principality, like Monaco, or a fragment fallen off a larger one, like Montenegro. It has a language and a history and a culture entirely its own, it fields competitive teams in international football tournaments, and it can claim about as many famous artists—Björk, Sigur Rós—as its far larger Nordic peers.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          >fragment fallen off a larger one, like Montenegro.

          I’ve just been reading the Montenegro chapter in Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms, an excellent book on states in Europe that no longer exist, at least in their original form. Montenegro before it was swallowed by Serbia is an interesting piece of history in itself- it was the only Allied country to cease to exist as a result of WW1, and AFAIK the only country anywhere to have had hereditary rulers who were celibate clerics (succession was uncle to nephew).

      • I was told that my first book, in English, sold more copies in Iceland than in the U.S. Per capita.

  21. bullseye says:

    Does English spelling slow down learning to read? Do speakers of other languages learn faster?

    • aho bata says:

      The only study on this I can remember off the top of my head is this one, which shows that children learn to read faster in Italian (a language with a fairly transparent spelling system) than in English but only when the children are learning conventional English spelling.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Romanian has one of the easiest writing systems out there (grammar is unlearnable to compensate). Exceptions can probably be taught in half hour.

      It’s standard to learn to read and write in the first school year, and many (most?) smart kids already do it when starting school. I remember, possibly incorrectly, that I taught myself to read/write – mostly by asking questions when my parents read to me, and then learning one book by heart and following along. It wouldn’t be a big deal if I did.

      Feel free to compare with English. It was a second language for me, but it took a few years of effort.

    • Machine Interface says:

      For another point of data, I know that French school spend on average twice as much time at teaching reading and writing in French than do schools of other European countries in other languages, for results that are nonetheless inferior, since French children just out of elementary school are both less well read and worse at spelling than those in most other European countries.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        That makes me feel better. I can communicate in French well enough, but when I need to write something… sorry, but it’s gonna be written by google translate.

      • Garrett says:

        As someone who was in French Immersion for 12 years, I have to agree. There are a lot of grammatical conjugation rules in general, and when written even more. A lot of verb conjugations which sound identical when spoken are written differently. There are standard patterns, of course, but enough differences that you can buy books on how to do it. Note that there are enough elements in common that “12,000 verbs” is only 174 pages because many are regular and follow the basic patterns. Just enough that you might think you can get by. Oh, no. There’s a very fat long tail.

    • ana53294 says:

      At least English doesn’t have dialects that are differentiated. There are accents, to be sure, but the language more or less is the same.

      In Basque, only one dialect is considered correct. Writing and reading becomes this completely alien experience. Native Basque speakers who spent 12+ years learning to read and write in Basque still fail an exam where their knowledge of Basque is tested*.

      I heard German also has many dialects, and only High German is used for writing.

      Having a way of spelling and a way of saying something is much better than having many ways of saying something which may not correlate at all with the way you’re supposed to write it.

      *I also failed it, despite having won several prizes in Basque literary competitions.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        English definitely does have dialects, though there has been a lot of levelling in recent years (as everywhere) because of TV. In most parts of England the dialect is just an accent plus a few odd words, but Scots (especially Doric) is very much its own thing. There’s an ongoing argument as to whether it is a language or a dialect of English- they’re mutually intelligible, but it takes effort.

        Though, as with Swiss German etc, it is quite rare for people to write in dialect- the only exceptions really are some poets (most famously Burns) and modern Scottish nationalists who seem to enjoy making all their online postings in broad Scots.

        Here is a woman speaking Shetlandic, the version of Scots spoken on the Shetland Islands in the far North of Scotland- which has more Norse influence than other forms of Scots.

        And that’s only English spoken in Great Britain. There are also American varieties, plus Indian English, Nigerian English, Singlish…

        • Creutzer says:

          Though, as with Swiss German etc, it is quite rare for people to write in dialect

          You chose the one example that doesn’t show what you want. 😀 The Swiss are kind of famous for writing their dialect all the time in informal communication, unlike most other dialect speakers in the German-speaking world, who rarely, if ever, write full dialect forms and usually at best hint at them in their spellings.

      • Del Cotter says:

        Many people don’t know Basque has dialects. You didn’t know English has dialects because only one dialect of English is acceptable for the purpose of writing on the Internet.

        Scots Wikipedia says this about dialect: “A dialect, whiles cryed a byleid an aa, is a variety o a leid. It is the name gien tae a variety o spaek that isna conseidert tae differ eneuch frae the “staundart” variety o a leid for tae be cryed a leid o its ain.

        “Hou muckle differs there maun be afore a dialect becomes a leid is gey subjective an aften lippens on poleitical conseiderations (the debate ower whither Scots is a leid o its ain or juist a dialect o Inglis is a prime exemplar). This gies rise tae the saw that “a leid is juist a dialect wi an airmy an a navy” — that is, ae variety o langage is mair like tae be cryed a leid gin it’s spak in an unthirlt kintra, an mair like tae be cryed a dialect gin it’s spak in ae region o a lairger kintra.

        “Acause o this difeiculty, monie linguists disna like tae uise the terms “leid” an “dialect”, an wad liefer talk anent “varieties o langage” juist.”

        If you can’t read a dialect like this all, then it’s no use to you in international Internet discussions. What’s worse for English dialects is that many people can read it, but would rather the dialect writer go to the trouble of writing in the standard English dialect. After all, if one party has the power to read with a bit of effort, then the other party had the power to write, with no more effort; so they reason it’s up to the party doing the writing to be standards-compliant. English dialects you can just about puzzle out read like “comedy English” to international standard English readers, who quickly lose patience and accuse the writers of playing games.

        • Del Cotter says:

          On the one hand, Scots is one of the dialects that’s been English from Anglic origins forever, so its word order and so forth is relatively familiar. On the other hand, some English dialects have grown up written by people with their own original language. In those cases, there are some quirks of grammar carried into their English from the original language.

    • tgb says:

      Another point to consider are languages that use Chinese characters. Japan has a 99% literacy rate while students have to learn three writing systems one of which teaches them over 2000 characters with many or most words consisting of multiple characters. I’d argue that’s harder than learning English, even though the characters are highly related (for example, you have a two-dimensional layout of sub-characters to remember instead of a linear sequence, and there are over 200 radicals to learn in the first place, plus some things that are not composed of radicals). China’s literacy rates are slightly lower but probably catching up quickly. Does anyone else know how much time is spent learning these in school?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        While that’s true in the context of the kanji, the hiragana and the katakana are very easy to read or spell for speakers of the language. Japanese has an extremely low orthographic distance. Things sound just like they’re spelled (with a few rare exceptions, like the silent u’s, but even then it’s usually* a pretty common pattern where the spoken u comes before voiced consonants but not unvoiced consonants or at the end of words. “Desu” is pronounced “des.”).

        * I am a beginning Japanese student, no bully if I’m wrong about that.

      • Del Cotter says:

        I was shocked to read the story of the academic who wanted the character for “sneeze” and none of the educated people round the table knew it. And they were used to not knowing characters in their own writing system.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          One of my coworkers is Chinese, and she was telling me she’s bad at writing the characters from memory. You do that in school, but these days with cellphones and keyboards, you just type, so you don’t need to remember the exact placement of the radicals. You start typing I think the sounds, the phone pops up recommended symbols, and you pick the one you want. She bragged about her mother who can still do beautiful brushwork by hand.

          Reading is definitely easier than writing. Most common kanji I can read, but if I had to write I would mess something up. I was asking my coworker about one (since the kanji came from China it’s pretty much the same symbols), I wrote the character and then she laughed at me because I drew a little part of it angled up instead of angled down.

          I understand better now when I see my 1st grader, who can read very well at a 3rd or 4th grade level, but still struggle to remember how to spell common words. Reading and writing are not the same thing.

          • AG says:

            Definitely. I was reading at grade levels higher than my peers, and already typing like a champ, but I still flunked the first round of the spelling bee.

      • Loriot says:

        I think this proves the opposite of your point, since Japanese children spend much of their time in school learning those kanji (first year covers 80, while they’re expected to know 2,136 by graduating high school). Books aimed at children will typically spell out words that would normally be written with kanji or write the pronunciation over the kanji.

      • keaswaran says:

        I’d be interested in how literacy rates are compared across languages. If you say two countries both have “90% literacy”, are the people being classified as “literate” or “non-literate” in the two countries both going to have the same sort of functional abilities/impairments?

        This is just sort of a roundabout way of saying that I don’t trust the official government numbers out of China (but in this case there’s an excuse because what it means to be “literate” in Chinese characters could well be very different from what it means to be “literate” in English or Italian).

        • Del Cotter says:

          My mind was blown recently when I read a claim that all those accounts of mass illiteracy in the medieval period were based on people not being able to read and write Latin. They might be able to read and write in their own language, but that didn’t count.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Source? I would also like my mind to be blown.

          • Kaitian says:

            I don’t doubt that the language they were literate / illiterate in was mostly Latin, but I doubt that many more people were literate in their native language. Many of their native languages didn’t have anything like a conventional spelling system, or much literature to be literate in.

            That said, it’s certainly plausible that a lot of medieval people knew the alphabet and were able to write simple phrases in their native language without being able to read or write Latin. I would like to see your source about that.

          • Del Cotter says:

            I wouldn’t be able to find the original source now; here are a couple of discussions saying something similar:



            The preview page of this article says “the classic overstatements of medieval illiteracy in the nineteenth century [2] the most influential of these were … such exaggerations are however by no means rare in the twentieth century…”

            I don’t want to be thought of as claiming 100% or 80% literacy. It just surprised me that the rates were underestimated due to a misunderstanding.

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s the practical value of being literate in Manx Gaelic or North-West Catalan, in a world where paper hasn’t been invented and the closest substitutes are far too expensive for making shopping lists or whatnot? Books of any sort are a privilege; having one in your local dialect would be an extravagance. Letters are for communicating with people you can’t walk over and visit, which likely means far enough away that they don’t speak your local dialect. So it’s quite plausible that learning to read and write the international language of the day was far more valuable than learning to read and write a language known only in one small region.

          • Matt M says:

            What’s the practical value of being literate in Manx Gaelic or North-West Catalan, in a world where paper hasn’t been invented and the closest substitutes are far too expensive for making shopping lists or whatnot?


            In those sorts of societies, most of the stuff that was actually written down was written down in Latin, so that would seem to be the relevant question…

          • Del Cotter says:

            If your native language lacks standardised spelling, how could you be accused of being illiterate in it? Nobody could accuse Samuel Pepys of being illiterate, having come down from Cambridge with both ancient and modern languages, but his spelling was not consistent; there was no requirement that it be.

            (This is useful for researchers of historical English speakers, as they could study words via writing. That source dried up in the Enlightenment when a push to standardise spelling got under way)

          • bullseye says:

            This idea is what got me thinking about it. I saw a guy on Youtube who claimed that (as I remember, it’s been a few weeks):

            1. Medieval Europeans considered themselves to have a low literacy rate because they only counted literacy in Latin. Literacy in the vernacular was much more common.

            2. Learning to read and write in the vernacular was easier back then, because there was no standard spelling. You just had to learn the alphabet and then sound everything out. (This reminds me of claims that the Cherokee syllabary is extremely easy to learn for native speakers.)

            3. Good quality parchment was expensive, but the process of making it also produced lots of low quality parchment. Also you can write on other things, e.g. wood.


            I would certainly like to see a more authoritative source.

          • Del Cotter says:

            John, well, yes, but it’s not what we mean when we say someone’s illiterate today, and it’s more than your life’s worth to call someone in an English speaking country “an illiterate” if it turns out they’re learned in Persian poetry in their home country.

            What I was trying to get at–and I feel like I’m being pecked to death by contrarian ducks for it–is what Asimov called the problem of meaning being “lost in non translation”. We expect something when we hear that someone in China is “literate”, and then are shocked when we learn he can’t write down common words in his own language. Meanwhile we expect, on being told medieval people were “illiterate”, that they couldn’t write a diary, or do business. Then we learn it’s only that they couldn’t write to a correspondent in another country via Latin.

          • Lambert says:

            I’m just glad Alcuin of York and his contemporaries somewhat standardised the letter forms.

            Pre-Caroline scripts were a mess.

          • Del Cotter says:

            I do disagree that reading and writing in the language you speak is of no practical value. The speech itself would have to be of no practical value for that to be the case. The practical uses of writing are myriad, from records for one’s own recall, to letters and notes to family, to even business as far afield as Ireland and Scotland if you’re Manx (people can puzzle it out with a bit of effort). Let alone in your own town. Writing is a superpower.

            I understand now why contemporary authors called them “illiterate”, but they have misled us in the present, or we misled ourselves.

          • Del Cotter says:

            To avoid misunderstanding: the presenter of the video bullseye links to gave a figure of 20%, and got pushback saying it was nowhere near that high. Nobody’s claiming 80%.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I feel like I’m being pecked to death by contrarian ducks for it

            Sir, this is not a Wendy’s.

            Also, to the other contrarians: “quack.” Which means I think you’re right.

          • Del Cotter says:

            Elsewhere in OT 151 zardoz wrote “I know we’re all contrarians here”, and I had to struggle hard not to go full Life of Brian and post “I’m not!”.

  22. Loriot says:

    I’m thinking about ordering an exercise bike so I can get exercise without having to go outside. Any tips on what to look out for when choosing one to buy?

    P.S. I already have a good bike (I used to bike to work in the distant past before the Times of Plague). I’ve seen advice to just get a trainer instead of an exercise bike. What do you think?

    • salvorhardin says:

      My wife got a Wahoo Kickr Snap smart trainer and a matching bike desk to put her iPad on so she could train using Zwift. She’s been pretty happy with it so far. It’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than e.g. a Peloton if you already have a bike and iPad that you like, and less expensive still if you already have a bike-level platform you can put your iPad on.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Depends on what you’re trying to do, price range, etc. If you’re looking to train for outdoor biking, the trainer is definitely better. Trainers can also be much smaller (when you don’t have the bike attached), and are generally less expensive for the features. Exercise bikes can be more comfortable, they are typically self-contained (no need for a tablet or phone or computer to fully use them, as is often needed for the fancier trainers).

      Trainers come in several categories, from the very basic, e.g. something like the Kurt Kinetic, which is completely mechanical, resistance varies with speed only and no computer connection (you can rig up a bike computer for very basic stuff), to fancier trainers with variable resistance and “smart” features, to direct-drive trainers where you remove the rear wheel of the bike and connect the chain directly. The last are much quieter and smoother and have more features, but are also lots more expensive.

      I don’t know a lot about the standalone bikes.

      • Aapje says:

        Kurt Kinetic is a brand, they sell simpler trainers, but also a direct drive one.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Ah, they’ve changed that. “Kurt” used to be the brand; mine is styled “Kinetic by Kurt”. Looks like they don’t even sell the most basic any more, but the “Road Machine Smart” is the same thing with telemetry built in (no control of resistance).

    • Aapje says:


      A trainer is smaller when not set up, but requires setup time (the significance depends on how often you do so). A simple trainer will press the wheel of the bike against a roller (‘wheel on’), which causes tire wear and can cause extra noise (in particular if the tire is profiled, which is nonsense for on-road bike tires anyway, but many consumers demand it). There are special training tires, but using them means either switching out the tires when setting up the trainer or switching to a separate rear wheel with the tire mounted already (the latter only works well for a quick-release wheel).

      A direct drive trainer is more expensive, but quieter and doesn’t have issues with tire wear or fitting a training tire. Some people have wheel slippage on wheel on trainers, but a direct drive will not have that issue. It safer around pets and children, because you don’t have a spinning wheel.

      Fixed trainers have the big advantage that they are always ready to just jump on. The downside is that they will pretty always be different from your normal bike, so switching back and forth is sub-optimal. They also tend to be more expensive for the same features.

      In all cases be aware that:

      Boredom is the big issue when cycling indoors. It is way more boring than riding outside. Seriously consider a ‘smart’ trainer or exercise bike that connects to a screen, so you can ‘virtually’ train outdoors or with others (depending on whether you are more motivated by nature or people). This may mean setting up your trainer with a laptop or tablet in front of it.

      Some people are motivated by performance. The (slightly) pricier trainers/exercise bikes can measure power at various levels of reliability, which may motivate you. Of course, initial progress is fast and then you plateau, so it this is your only motivation, you may get bored when that happens.

      Because of the boredom of indoor cycling, there is a large secondhand market for lightly used trainers & exercise bikes. You may want to scout your local second hand market, rather than buy new. Then again, right now you might not want to interact with random people.

      A big issue for indoor cycling is heat & sweat. Riding outdoor provides a lot of wind cooling that you don’t get indoors. Putting your trainer/exercise bike in a cold garage/cellar/attic may seem unpleasant when you are not using it, but it may really make life better when you do. You may also want to bring in a fan.

      Again, in itself riding indoors is really boring. Don’t underestimate this. First consider whether you can and how you will motivate yourself. Be willing to spend the money not just on the ability to train, but to get a setup that will motivate you to actually train, or you will end up with an expensive paper weight.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I put my new fitness bike in front of the (mostly unused) big screen TV. I’m currently clocking well over a movie a day, and the limiting factor is my butt getting sore.

        Last time I tried a few years ago had a more awkward setup and it didn’t last long. I kinda expected it to be a bust this time too and I mostly got it to do some work while in quarantine, but the combination of netflix+bike turned out to be a winner. Ah, it’s a recumbent bike – more comfortable for watching TV and/or reading.

    • Lambert says:

      Unless you or someone you live with is especially vulnerable, I’d just go for a bike ride.
      You don’t have to worry about formites and any aerosolised viruses (if it can be transmitted that way) disperse quickly outdoors. There’s a slight risk of droplet transmission but you’re only exposed for a few seconds while you pass someone.

      Stick to areas that aren’t too busy and I can’t see the risk being non-negligible compared to buying groceries.

    • Well... says:

      I have a Nautilus recumbent exercise bike in my garage (with which I recumb/practice recumbance). I like it a lot. But I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I hadn’t bought it at auction for about 1/6th retail.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Nautilius is kindof a brand name. You can tell because even I recognize it 😀 When I shopped around I found pretty much every price possible from about $100 to many thousands. Stopped at around $300 myself, mostly because I didn’t expect to use it long (I may be wrong).

    • Yeep says:

      I bought a £500 smart direct drive trainer (Elite Direto) a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been doing a lot of Zwift, which while not as enjoyable as riding a bike outside, has enough dangling achievement carrots to keep me entertained and is certainly better than spinning with no structure or interaction. The UK is basically out of smart turbo trainers what with everyone having panic bought one and if I’d been a bit quicker to make my mind up I could have got a slightly better/quiter model for slightly less cash but I have a dog to walk which takes up my 1 allocated outdoor exercise trip each day so being able to cycle indoors is keeping me sane. Plus I was going to have to buy one for training this winter anyway.

      This site has some very good advice on buying a smart trainer (and more information than you would ever want to know about each individual one)

  23. Simulated Knave says:

    There was a comment thread in a recent open thread or link roundup about a guy who’d found a course of antihistamines eliminated his anxiety, even after he stopped taking them.

    I cannot find it. It’s like I hallucinated it.


  24. ddxxdd says:

    Coronavirus and cigarettes. I made a comment in the Motte spin-off subreddit about a theory going around.

    Long story short, cigarettes may actually prevent you from contracting the virus by inhibiting ACE-2 cellular receptors in your lungs. Some studies show that cigarettes inhibit ACE-2 receptors, other studies show that cigarettes activate ACE-2 receptors. Does anyone want to take a look at this?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I didn’t think 4chan would be a good source for medical advice, but then again, it’s already been cited in a math paper. We truly live in strange times.

    • matkoniecz says:

      “cigarettes help in lung diseases” seems highly dubious to me. And that is before 4chan involvement.

      I would not believe in overall positive effects even if that would be announced by experts. Maybe after it would enter generally accepted knowledge.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I remember reading in Gwern’s article about nicotine that you’d expect cigarettes to be much more harmful than we can actually see. There is some weird protective effect at play that partly compensates. He thought it’s nicotine, but when you put so many things together and burn them, you’re bound to end up with strange consequences from more than one direction.

  25. LesHapablap says:

    It has been mentioned that the coronavirus is as bad as the spanish flu. But back in 1918, the vast majority of would-be fatalities were already dead: people with heart disease and diabetes. Maybe the same is true in developing countries, I don’t know.

    • Robin says:

      Wasn’t it that the spanish flu killed mostly young and healthy people, because it was the immune system wreaking havoc on the lung, and thus a good immune system would be more dangerous than a weak one?

  26. Ghatanathoah says:

    First thing: I have OCD and have been attempting bibliotherapy. I have been dismayed to discover that two common suggestions for how to deal with it seem contradictory. The first technique, which I discovered in “Brain Lock” by Jeffrey Schwartz, is a form of mindfulness that involves devaluing and dismissing your OCD thoughts by recognizing them as being caused by a disease rather than a rational part of your brain. Another suggested treatment I found in “The Mindfulness Workbook of OCD” instead suggests that you should spend time dwelling on your obsessions without trying to dismiss or devalue them in order to become acclimated to them. I am not sure which treatment I should do since they seem to suggest different behaviors, although I think I would prefer “Brain Lock” since it sounds less unpleasant. I would greatly appreciate any advice in regards to either choosing between these treatments, or an explanation for why I am mistaken about them being contradictory.

    A second, related thing: While I have a lot of the more common OCD symptoms like being afraid I forgot to lock the door and being afraid I might get into a car accident; I also often get scrupulosity OCD. Since I am not religious, this OCD targets the abstract philosophical and moral beliefs that I derive happiness and meaning from, such as the joy of scientific discovery and humanity’s potential in the universe. Ideas that fascinate and interest me easily become twisted into sources of existential dread. In particular I’ve always enjoyed the ideas of the rationalist diaspora, but occasionally my OCD finds some way to distort them in some really distressing way.

    For example, I’ve always like the idea of a “rescue simulation” where future people/AIs might be able to somehow resurrect everyone who ever lived through ridiculously advance data recovery/simulation, even though I know it is a little fanciful. My brain decided to cross that with the Simulation Hypothesis, and the idea that historical research/rescue simulations may be among the most common, and came up with the absolutely ridiculous idea that it is better to die sooner because that means you will be taken out of the simulation sooner and get to live in the future sooner (it’s basically a secular variation of the “If Heaven is so great why not commit suicide to get there?” question). I am aware that this is an insane thing to think for a number of reasons, including:

    – It is quite possible no such simulation will be built, especially if we believe Toby Ord’s calculations Scott recently talked about.
    -If everyone thinks like this it definitely will not be built because if everyone dies to be resurrected in the future there will be no one left to build the simulation, or have descendants/create an FAI who will build it.
    -If it is built, its builders can probably run minds at different speeds or store them, so there is no guarantee that getting taken out of the simulation early means that you will get the same amount of subjective time as you would have had inside it.
    – They may find a way to reconstruct the past without having to create conscious simulations of it, in which case I am not in a simulation.
    – This is a really stupid version of Pascal’s Mugging. If you are in a simulation, you get to live in the future eventually regardless of how long you live, and you get to do it without leaving anyone behind. If you are not, you lose the rest of your life. It seems unlikely that extra years in the future will be worth the trade, providing you get them and are not stored on a hard drive or slowed down or something.

    I know all this but it still haunts me. It won’t stop, I think the reason it is especially horrible to me is that it combines my abstract scrupulosity OCD with my more concrete OCD fears of death and harming myself. Right now my brain is going through iterations of what would happen if there were multiple simulations. I hate that my brain has turned this fun, whimsical, hopeful idea into something scary and disturbing. I know it is a crazy distortion and not a real idea that should be taken seriously, but it is still sucking away my attention and happiness (for example, usually donating to an EA charity makes me happy, now I am being haunted by the idea that someone I save won’t get out of the simulation as fast. This has not stopped me from donating because I know this OCD messing with my brain and not a real critique of EA. But I would like to be able to enjoy the experience again).

    There are two reasons I am dumping all this hellbrains into this thread: First, I would deeply appreciate if someone demolishes this crazy idea that is bothering me, or confirm that my demolition of it is logically sound. I know that if I do not treat my underlying OCD eventually some other distorted idea will take its place, but it would be nice to have some temporary relief for a few weeks until that happens. This idea has proven unusually stubborn, it usually takes a day or two for my brain to stop being bothered by it but this one has been bugging me since Friday.

    The second reason is that most scrupulosity OCD resources I have seen online are focused primarily on religion. Since my scrupulosity is not religious in nature, they are not always helpful, even though I know the same underlying brain problem is the cause. Does anyone have any specific advice for dealing with my weird brand of philosophical/futurist scrupulosity? Or a link to a resource?

    • bullseye says:

      First, I would deeply appreciate if someone demolishes this crazy idea that is bothering me, or confirm that my demolition of it is logically sound.

      Your demolition is logically sound. Particularly your first and last points; there’s a very good chance this crazy thing won’t happen, and if it does you’ll get there sooner or later regardless. And the middle points too, come to think of it; you don’t have any idea how this thing will really go.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I assume what you are looking for is effective arguments against the idea that you haven’t already articulated. I don’t know if this will help, but you know more about yourself than I do.

      it is better to die sooner because that means you will be taken out of the simulation sooner and get to live in the future sooner

      Possibility 1 – You have a finite life outside the simulation, within a few orders of magnitude of our life length. There should not be any correlation between when you get out of the simulation and your age when revived in the real world. You’ll spend the same amount of time outside the simulation regardless.
      Possibility 2 – Your life outside the simulation is nigh endless, till eons in the future, the heat death of the universe. In that case, when you get out of the simulation, in terms of our lifetime, even assuming the simulation is running at 1:1 speed with real life, is essentially irrelevant as regards how much time you will have left.
      Possibility 3 – The simulation argument also assumes that simulations run faster than 1:1 with external time. That means that, from our point of view, possibility 1 looks like possibility 2. The entire simulation will be over before your clone body is done growing, so it doesn’t matter when you die in the simulation.

      Hope that helps.

    • MaureenC says:

      So here’s the thing. For some of us–maybe in particular those of us whose default strategy is “logic the shit out of my problems” (I’m working with a sample of one here)–using reason to get out of OCD loops doesn’t always work. And since your OCD keeps changing targets, I don’t think the mental equivalent of putting your hairdryer in the front seat is going to work here.

      Are you working with someone re this? I’m hesitant to recommend the acclimation approach (aka the “Fuck it” approach) unless you are working with someone, at least to start with. But as someone who *has* compulsively tried to get reassurance online–please talk to someone with training in this.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I have a talk therapist who has been helpful in the past.

        My experience with logicing the shit” out of OCD is that it will make my scrupulosity go away for days to weeks, until it eventually finds a new target. My more basic OCD related to anxiety about mundane dangers like car crashes and burglaries is resistant to logic. Over the past few years my amount of OCD related to mundane issues has increased and the amount related to scrupulosity has decreased, but when scrupulosity shows up it tends to last longer and feel worse.

        I went through a period of compulsively seeking reassurance, and have gotten better at not doing that. Today was just really bad. I will talk to my therapist about this too, when I get a chance.

    • Purplehermann says:

      As far as I can tell both techniques would be useful for pretty much the same reason: you can take a look at your thoughts ‘from the outside’. Same as most meditation, you examine your thoughts and relax.
      The point isn’t necessarily to understand them better or have a revelation, it’s to be relaxed and self aware while having these thoughts. They are both about “acclimating ” and “differentiating”.

      Whether devaluing them is helpful to you, you can figure out through trial and error. That’s just the details though imo

  27. Here’s a non-political hot take: I don’t think introversion is a natural human condition. We are a social species. Sure, in our modern environment, some people are on one side of the curve compared to others. But the fact that it’s so common today is mainly an environmental cause that comes about when living in an atomized society, not an inherent personality difference. We only think so because our psychological studies are performed on WEIRD people.

    • FLWAB says:

      I’m not saying you are wrong, but how would we know if atomized society is causing more introversion, or simply enabling the same amount of introverts to more effectively be introverts than in previous time periods? As in, introverts in other cultures may have been forced to adapt, but do not have to adapt in our current culture.

    • Apogee says:

      Couldn’t you reverse that and say extroversion is not a natural condition either? IIRC group sizes in early human history were significantly smaller than the number of people we’re expected to keep track of nowadays, and much less diverse to boot.

      • It depends on what you mean by extroversion. Yes, meeting new people constantly is certainly not natural. But people often define introversion as needing alone time as a kind of break from socializing, with extroversion being its opposite. I doubt hunter-gatherers ever spent significant amounts of time alone, except maybe in some kind of ceremony or by accident.

        I heard about a study that said people felt most authentic when they were being extroverted, even if they were normally a very introverted person. We’re socialized to do a lot of things that go against our nature and I wonder if that’s where that feeling of “inauthenticity” comes from.

        • Aapje says:

          I doubt hunter-gatherers ever spent significant amounts of time alone

          Why not? Gathering low density and spread out food really benefits from splitting up, rather than bunching together.

          Hunting small game also doesn’t benefit from doing it together.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Being alone is a great way to get yourself killed, whether from a large animal, another tribe or a simple accident.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hanging out with other people is a great way to get yourself killed, mostly from other people. And I don’t think the bit where if you get yourself killed by another person, it’s probably someone you know and socialize with, is at all new.

          • Wrong Species says:

            You might have a higher chance of dying from people you know because you spend more time around them, promoting more opportunities for an argument to escalate. But any given encounter with other tribesmen has a much higher likelihood of ending with someone dead. They don’t feel any loyalty to you and probably wouldn’t feel any guilt about your death, especially if you’re in conflict with them. But if you stumble on them with a group, they’ll be much more hesitant about doing anything than if you’re alone. There’s safety in numbers.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Why not? Gathering low density and spread out food really benefits from splitting up, rather than bunching together.

            Hunting small game also doesn’t benefit from doing it together.

            “Let’s split up, gang!”
            “… Fred, you’re not a girl. Go take Scooby hunting.”

          • Leafhopper says:

            After watching the first six seasons of TWD, I’ve concluded that “don’t leave the group unless you really have to/assume anyone you don’t know will try to kill you” is the natural human pattern in the state of nature.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            After watching the first six seasons of TWD, I’ve concluded that “don’t leave the group unless you really have to/assume anyone you don’t know will try to kill you” is the natural human pattern in the state of nature.

            The consensus model I learned from cultural anthropologists at Uni is that a hunter-gatherer meeting someone they’d never seen before would recite their lineage, because if they understood your language and recognized a common ancestor, they were a human being and killing could be avoided.
            Compare Diomedes and Glaucus in Iliad 6, scions of Bronze Age civilization.

          • acymetric says:

            Seems like the person reciting would be at a disadvantage to the person who “shoots” first and asks questions later.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      Introversion doesn’t mean you dislike social interaction, it means that it tires you out and you recharge by being alone. It’s possible to construct armchair evolutionary psychological theories about why it would be adaptive for some people to spend some time thinking about things by themselves. It may allow them to fill niches in their village that would otherwise go unoccupied, which would increase their own fitness, and the fitness of others.

      I remember reading an anthropologist’s description of two Yanomamo leaders. One of them was an extroverted hotheaded blowhard who always wanted to go to war. The other was a thoughtful introvert who kept having to intervene to bail the first guy out when he got in over his head. It seemed like maybe his introversion stopped him from going along with the blowhard, which probably saved both him, and his genetic relatives, from an untimely death.

      • Beans says:

        Introversion doesn’t mean you dislike social interaction

        This. I’m somewhere on the border myself, but most introverts I know (which there have been plenty of, since I’ve been in academia for some time) actually really do like and want social interaction but on their terms for a finite amount of time. Much different from simply not liking to socialize ever, which, anecdotally, I suspect is a property derived from unfortunate circumstances or experiences that make a person bitter or afraid of interaction. Not a baseline state they would have arrived at regardless of their life context.

        Of course I’m sure there is a very small amount of people who are genuinely happy being alone constantly, and an internet dork discussion area like this is precisely the place where we might find a few.

      • Before a bunch of people repeat this, I never said that introversion means you hate socializing. I think the idea of socializing in itself being “draining” would be foreign to a hunter-gatherer.

        • Byrel Mitchell says:

          I don’t know; there’s plausibly room in that society for someone who prefers to be out alone or in a small team hunting as much of the time as their social obligations will allow. It’s even plausibly evolutionarily advantageous to have a subset of the tribe with such traits, which could build an incentive structure like getting wearied if you spent too much time amongst your tribe.

      • Deiseach says:

        One of them was an extroverted hotheaded blowhard who always wanted to go to war. The other was a thoughtful introvert who kept having to intervene to bail the first guy out when he got in over his head.

        That sounds like a good balancing act, I think, You have the “good cop/bad cop” approach going on there – Mr Hothead can do the “Argh, nothing but blood will wipe out this dishonour laid upon us!” when negotitating with rival tribes, while Mr Calm does the diplomatic approach. Face is saved all round – nobody need seriously worry that they’re going to war (because everyone knows the diplomatic solution is available) but nobody needs to seem like an easy pushover because the requisite “diss us and you pay for it” display gets made.

        Hothead on his own will get the tribe into a lot of avoidable conflict, Calm on his own will get the tribe a reputation of being doormats that you can take advantage of.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Natural human condition is to live in misery, infested with parasites, with 80% chance of dying in childhood. It can go to hell.

    • Aapje says:

      @Wrong Species

      Extroversion has upsides and downsides, just like introversion. The average person is neither maximally extroverted nor maximally introverted. There are also outliers and I see no evidence that these are more or less common now.

      Modern society has various features that are not necessarily healthy to people with certain personality traits and perhaps everyone, including superstimuli that satisfy certain needs very well with low cost, but fail to satisfy other needs.

    • a real dog says:

      Social anxiety is not a natural human condition, introversion definitely is. I’d say that feeling socially drained with no way to escape social contact is the unnatural condition, to which we are brutally acclimated in school so we treat it as normal during our adult life. It takes a lot of effort to make a child sit still instead of run around wherever it pleases, and that’s probably the root of many mental problems that we have.

      Introversion is not as bad when you have plenty of space around you instead of living in a giant human hive – countryside vs city and all that.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I would argue that most of Jane Austen’s heroines and many of their love interests are introverts. They’re Western, Educated, mostly Rich for their time and live in a Democracy of sorts, but their England is neither Industrialised nor atomised – they live in large households in small villages. These novels were contemporaneously extremely popular, suggesting the characters resonated with readers. If something in our environment is responsible for introversion, I don’t think it’s industrialisation or urbanisation.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t mean to suggest that introversion only came about in a post Industrial Revolution. My theses would be that with hunter gatherers, it was basically nonexistent. During the agricultural era, it became more common but was more of an upper class phenomenon, although by no means ubiquitous. Then with the Industrial Revolution, it became more common with the masses. And of course, the last few decades has made it even easier to be an introvert. Jane Austen straddles the agricultural era and the industrial one so I’m not sure how much of a counter example her books are. I don’t think it’s just your immediate environment but also the kind of society you live in.

    • Garrett says:

      Alternative just-so stories:

      If you have hunter-gatherers, the amount of interaction and other-consideration you want the hunters to worry about is related to the size of the game they are taking down. If you have a community of extroverts all trying to stick together while going to hunt/snare rabbits, you’re going to have a lot of scared rabbits with a lot of people getting a single shot at the same rabbits. Whereas if everybody prefers to go out alone they can cover more ground and have overall more encounters with more game, perhaps coming back with more food overall. If, instead, they are all introverted but are going after wild boar or aurochs or similar, you’re going to be missing the manpower to be effective and likely to have a lot of dead tribesmen with nothing to show for it.

    • Purplehermann says:

      This seems right to me. I am “introverted” in regards to most socializing, but time with very good friends is usually as good or better than alone time.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Your model is far to simplistic. Take

      1. Being born into a local group of 50 individuals with a local carrying capacity of 100. Sticking with the group and getting an average return is great, the average return is positive as the group grows.

      2. Being born into a local group of 100 with a carrying capacity of 100. Average return here is weak, there is a good chance you won’t survive to have kids, and if you do there is still a decent chance their kids won’t have kids. Being weird here will get you killed a bunch but also gives you a chance at being a founder as you and a few others split away and go look for another location.

      3. being born into a local group of 100 with a carrying capacity that has just dropped to 80. Now average has a negative expectation, and being the weird guy who was poking around at the tubers beneath trees for a few hours a day poking around at tubers rather than socializing with the max amount of leisure time might unlock a food source that puts you at positive with compound interest if the decrease to 80 individuals is temporary.

      The founder effect is one of the strongest evolutionary pressures, the first people to stare at the Pacific Ocean on a southeast Asian shore and get the urge to build a boat and see if they could find other land were certainly weird, but they probably made it to that point because they were weird in those ways. They made it out of Africa, across thousands of miles over rivers and mountains with all kinds of new predators and food source, while the most social people, the ones who couldn’t imagine moving on from most of their group with just a couple of others were the least likely to expand out, the least likely to be founders and the least likely to be the parents of an new race.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think in general, innovating is a high-variance strategy. Most innovations fail, you can tell the pioneers by the arrows sticking out of them, etc. For most of human history, innovation was probably a worse strategy than it is now–since change was slower, tradition and accumulated knowledge and common practice was probably more likely to keep working. But sometimes, the innovator and their tribe/offspring/hangers-on end up with a huge win, like learning to eat a new food that will sustain them in hard times, or learning how to make a new kind of tool.

        • baconbits9 says:

          It is a fairly simple cycle between innovation and imitation. Every successful innovation opens up a massive space for imitation, but you get into diminishing returns on imitation which starts pushing up the relative returns on innovation again. Unfortunately no one has told the Federal Reserve this.

    • AG says:

      Hunting is not necessarily an extroverted activity. Plenty of introverts do not feel the same kind of social fatigue when playing video games, because strictly functional activity isn’t the same thing. Even if it is, it is perfectly plausible to hunt as a social activity, and then recharge back at the village. It is not simply being with other people that drains social energy, but the active interactions.
      I think it’s more that the modern extroverted have a lower tolerance for the people around them not actively interacting at all times (concerns about making sure they don’t feel left out), whereas even just a few decades ago, having a quiet member of a friend group was a regular occurrence. The extroverted group leader didn’t bother them when they didn’t want to be bothered.

      Also, though, passive hanging out was more common, meaning that an introvert could be present more frequently. Modern atomisation means that a lot more activities require committed higher interaction levels (the logistics of getting a friend group together to do anything), so it’s a more polarized situation.

  28. MeepMorp says:

    I’m looking for leads on organizations/individuals/companies that do a lot of good in developing countries that can make good use of high-tech-education volunteers/employees.

    Details: My SO and I are both close to completion on our respective computer science PhD programs. Once we get out, before starting our normal careers, we want to spend spend 1-2 years doing full-time volunteer work (or being employed by a company doing good work) and improving something specifically in developing nations (or “low-income nations” or whatever the new term is, you know what I mean). As far as we can tell, the greatest need is in sub-Saharan Africa, so we’re focusing our search there, though we’re trying to avoid places that are so unstable that we would have an unacceptably high chance of death. We have a comparative advantage in computer science (and our subfields of robotics and security), but we also bring what any other dedicated person brings to the table and are more just looking for options.

    We’re looking for leads. Most Google results are crap because they’re either pitched as “go on vacation to Africa and pretend to teach English or something” or “you can go and do great volunteer work in the place that needs it most — New York City.” We’ve looked into a couple well-known organizations (UNV, Peace Corps, Engineers Without Borders) and so far we have not been impressed; feel free to try to change my mind. We’re US-based, if it matters. Suggestions in the comments are appreciated. I’m not going to list my email yet because we’re still in the initial phase of figuring this out.

    [EA disclaimer: Why donate time instead of money? This comment is part of the calculation to figure out which is better. We’re trying to figure out what the “best possible” use of our time is; later we will compare it against the value of our donations if we just stayed in traditional careers.]

    [AI-risk disclaimer: We’ve already talked about AI risk and decided not to focus on it. I’m not going to get into a debate about it here.]

    [Coronavirus disclaimer: All this wouldn’t start until 2021-22 at the earliest, and we’re assuming coronavirus lockdowns will be less locked down by then.]

    • Lambert says:

      Disclaimer: I don’t know anyone who’s done it this century.

    • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

      We’ve looked into a couple well-known organizations (UNV, Peace Corps, Engineers Without Borders) and so far we have not been impressed;

      Can you say more about why you’ve been unimpressed with these organizations? I’ve known several people in Peace Corps and their experiences didn’t seem like either of the things you described in the previous sentence. Maybe not actually that useful, but definitely neither vacation nor NYC.

      • MeepMorp says:

        Perhaps that sentence was overly harsh, especially on the Peace Corps — I know two folks who have done that and they were definitely both positive examples. For Peace Corps specifically, we were trying to see if there was something that would spend our relative tech expertise better. None of the organizations listed fell into the “vacation” nor “NYC” camps, but from their websites it felt like there could have been something better.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Is the position being onsite in a third-world country a requirement? And also, do you want to focus specifically on the charities that improve people well-being directly, as opposed to say policy-making or animal welfare?

      • MeepMorp says:

        Not a requirement, but it seemed like it would come with the territory for a lot of these things. We’re mostly focused on directly improving well-being of humans. Policy-making could be part of that, as could environmentalism. Animal welfare is a little lower on our priority list, but since we’re in the early research stages of figuring out what this would look like, I’ll take any leads I can get.

    • Erusian says:

      Before I sold out, I was heavily involved in the social enterprise space. Still am to some extent. So let me be harsh: you have no idea what you’re doing and you aren’t committed enough to learn. You would do more good taking the job for a few years, working, and giving the money to someone who specializes in dealing with these issues. One or two years is not enough to accomplish anything substantial, whether you’re a PhD or a high school dropout. You’ve just spend a decade gaining computer science skills. Do you imagine social problems are easier to deal with?

      Here’s the thing: labor allocated by the amount of sympathy in your heart is rarely efficient. You need to respond to something people actually need and which you are well positioned to supply. Or you need to facilitate that happening.

      Now there is an alternative: you could commit more than one or two years. You do it part time leading up to a one to two year full time period every five or so years when it’s convenient. Or you could start something intended to have the ultimate effect you want. Or you could commit to a career in development. You could also volunteer to teach as professors at a university that needs it, though that will have repercussions to your career back home. But volunteering for the international equivalent of Teach For America is probably not a great use of your time.

      Another thing: Sub-saharan Africa is over-subscribed as a region to do good. Westerners tend to have this image of Sub-saharan Africa as backwards, savage, and conflict torn but it’s really not. Aside from Somalia, there’s really only a few regional conflicts: northern Nigeria, Eastern Congo, etc. (Most of the conflicts we associate with Africa are in the Sahel or North Africa, a much more turbulent region these days.) The majority of the poorest Africans live in functional tribal communities. They’re not beggars subsisting on the edges of wealthier societies but instead full participants, even elites, in societies that are poor in global terms. This is part of why there’s been so much progress in disease prevention: functional social networks that mostly accept the need to cooperate with medical authorities. Unless you’re willing to invest in local knowledge and bringing them what makes sense in their own context, you’re just going to be a tourist.

      Some other suggestions, which play more to the strengths of computer scientists (ie, economically integrated, internet, infrastructure, primarily innovation/economic issues):
      Eastern Europe (particularly Ukraine, Moldavia, Macedonia, maybe Belarus or Former Yugoslavia): More cultural familiarity, more economic integration, a lot of poverty, better internet infrastructure and a strong history of computer science. The combatants in the region are mostly limited/states: Putin has no interest in hauling Americans to Moscow and beheading them.
      Central Asia (Especially Kyrgyzstan, Khazakhstan, and Tajikistan): Something of a hotspot for funding, especially with Chinese and Russian influence duking it out. Can still get pretty far knowing one language (Russian) and the governments are mostly pretty sane, plus there’s a few genuine democracies. Lots of challenges left over from decades of conflict and serious demographic/resource challenges are leading them to try and innovate. An educated population, including some computer science, and pretty peaceful.
      Central America/The Caribbean (Pretty much any of them, minus a few if gangs are a concern): Very different problems but appealing for the same reasons. They’re poor and uneducated but open to Americans and desperately trying to innovate, including making significant investments in technology. Also pretty culturally familiar to most Americans and with a growing technology sector, often with ties back to the United States. Short flights and good weather too.

      • MeepMorp says:

        Thank you for your comment, it was extremely helpful!

        Regarding the timeline, we’re partly considering this a “trial run”; if we find something that’s both really beneficial and that we think we can handle, it could definitely turn into a longer thing.

        I really appreciate your other suggestions as well, I’ll broaden the search.

        • Erusian says:

          Happy to help further, if I can. I’m much more of a social enterpriser than an effective altruist but I’m not sure the distinction is all that relevant in this case. There is a lot you can do, including personally if that’s your wish. This is especially true if you want to get involved in something related to innovation/the internet, since by definition you can do part of your job remotely.

          (To illuminate the distinction: EAs believe in rationalizing and making the current systems aiming to make change more efficient. SEs believe in leveraging the profit motive to effect positive change.

          To give an example of contrasting approaches, when I was in Kenya the EAs were attempting to convince the government and NGOs to change water purification standards and fund a relatively cheap but effective infrastructure project. They were pointing out, correctly, that an investment of twenty million dollars could pay for itself within two years just in healthcare costs and could prevent tens of thousands of deaths. By the time I left, they were getting a trial run on a specific small river with a limited budget.

          The SEs set up a water jug factory and coated the jugs with a disease killing liner. They hired local designers to make them pretty and then sold them at a profit to local housewives. They used those profits to open up new factories until they were supplying almost forty percent of water jugs in the province. This meant at least forty percent of the drinking/cooking water was disease free.

          There wasn’t any conflict between the two: both agreed the other was doing something good. But it’s a difference in approach.)

    • Aapje says:


      After finishing your PhD, you may be academically trained, but you will not be trained for the workplace yet. Getting that experience while also negotiating a very different culture is a tall order. Wanting to make a significant contribution to a third world country at the same time is nearly impossible.

      Frankly, you come across as the kind of naive that Africans have come seen and go: the immature, yet arrogant Western idealist who is going to show Africans how it’s done in a very brief period, yet who would/should still be an apprentice in the west, let alone in a place where they haven’t spend a lifetime learning the local limitations and the cultural differences.

      My advice is to stay in the West, get your career going and when you’ve got your feet under you in a few years’ time, consider your options. Most likely, that will be to donate money.

      • MeepMorp says:

        Fair enough. I appreciate the feedback. As mentioned, this is part of the computation of how much value our time might have; if the answer is “not much” then that’s just how it is.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      You could look into one of the organisations listed here, but I highly doubt that anything you could do would be more Effective than donating by any common metric (but no-one says EAs should spend all their money and time on charity, and similarly I don’t think you have to spend all your charity on Maximally Effective causes).

      • MeepMorp says:

        I’ll look into it, thank you!

        We’re not sure either whether anything we could do is better than just donating money; this is what we’re trying to figure out.

    • MeepMorp says:

      Thanks to everyone who commented, especially Erusian! This will be useful as we evaluate.

      Like I said, this is more “figure out what the best time-spending option is” as we compare against the amount of money we would donate if we stay put. Depending on how this ends up going, I might make a follow-up post in a few months.

  29. jswisher says:

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. As a part of my day job I handle IRB and other compliance issues for a large university research lab.

    There are three places I can think of offhand where an IRB requirement might come into play:

    * Requirement imposed by the funding source. All US government agencies have a regulatory requirement for IRB review, which flows down to anyone receiving Federal money for research. Most foreign governments and nearly all foundations/nonprofits have a similar requirement, as well as (I believe) all US states. If you violate this, you put your current and/or future funding at risk, but (without having checked) I don’t believe there are further direct legal ramifications. Presumably in Scott’s current case this does not apply.

    * Requirement imposed by the venue where you want to publish. As noted in other comments, many journals and other venues require you to state that you had IRB or other similar ethics oversight before you are allowed to publish there. Again, presumably does not apply in the current case.

    * Requirement imposed by one’s institution. This gets tricky when you start considering side gigs like SSC – on the one hand, Scott clearly isn’t acting as a representative of his employer when writing here; on the other, if I’m a (personified) educational, research, or medical institution, and somebody tells me that one of my employees is conducting human subjects research without ethics oversight, I’m probably going to freak out a little bit, whether they’re doing it as part of working for me or not. Whether this actually violates any terms of employment probably depends on exactly how paranoid and/or creative the relevant lawyers were when drawing up whatever had to be signed in order to work there. So this might or might not apply in the current case.

    As others have mentioned, it’s possible to get an IRB-for-hire when working outside of an institution that already has their own standing IRB. These are expensive, and my experience has been that they’re mainly used only when required as a condition of Federal funding. I would guess you’d be unlikely to be able to talk the IRB at an existing institution (not one’s own) into reviewing your protocol – IRB coordinators are busy, generally not looking for extra work, and I know at least at my current institution there’s an explicit policy against reviewing work unless there’s some institutional affiliation involved.

    So I think you’re likely in the clear, except potentially where your employer is concerned. As others have stated, getting IRB approval is not a bad idea, but in the case of minimal risk research, with appropriate attention to participant privacy, etc (basically minimal risk research that actually is ethically conducted – keep in mind we’re talking about anonymous surveys here), I’d say the benefit of getting the bureaucratic top cover likely doesn’t justify the effort required to obtain it. Unless of course you want to publish it somewhere that would require it. Or unless you’d get fired otherwise. Little things like that.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Excellent post! This was a great reason to get out of lurker mode and post. I hope you stay, although you’ve already done a very good deed here.

    • mustacheion says:

      My take is that needing an IRB for such a simple experiment is burdensome over-regulation, though this post takes me further toward the “Ugh, I guess it’s probably better to do it than not do it” side of things. Mostly over the concern that it would make Scott’s employers uncomfortable, given the legitimate concern that bad people could use this to paint both Scott and his employers in a bad light.

      But maybe we can elide the issue by adding another layer of abstraction. Scott could privately tell some selected blog reader about his plans for the study, have them actually write the email and post the data somewhere public, and then Scott can simply write a run-of-the mill blog post about somebody else’s work. I would volunteer to do some work, though I am probably not the most reliable candidate available.

      • Garrett says:

        IRBs in-theory have an expedited review process for minimal-risk studies. It requires a bit of paperwork but shouldn’t otherwise be too difficult. In theory. It’s usually a single designee who confirms that, indeed, it’s a minimal-risk study and is generally doing the right thing. This might involve a little back-and-forth over best-practices and a request to include eg. reference to the suicide hotline for people who might feel bad over the study results or something, but nothing that can’t be addressed trivially.

        The two problems involve the responsiveness of the IRB, and what they decide to do. Nobody can really guarantee in-advance what will be and won’t be approved. One IRB might be fine with a study as-presented where another might decide that something doesn’t fit the existing models they have in their mind and decide it needs to go to the whole IRB which involves multiple people from multiple specialties including lay-people all bike-shedding the study.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Alright, since nobody else is going to say it …

      Scott clearly isn’t acting as a representative of his employer when writing here;

      I actually think that a Scott would be, at the very least, acting as a representative of his profession. There is big difference between Scott, the guy in accounting, saying he is running a scientific study of a medical treatment, would you like to participate, and Scott, the board-licensed psychiatric fellow saying he is running a scientific study of a medical treatment. I would wonder what his licensing board would have to say about this.

      On the margin, the qualifications of the person running the study makes a difference to participant pool. Scott might like that not to be true, but there is an ethical implication here. At the very least he would be treading on the commons of the psychiatric field.

  30. Etoile says:

    Someone a few threads ago was posting the hypothesis that COVID19 was mediated by a bacterium plus the virus, not just the virus.
    Here’s a pre-print paper suggesting a similar thing:


    Furthermore – if we engage in speculation that Covid19 originated in a lab…. biologists (I am not one) — don’t you replicate viruses by more or less growing them in bacteria?

    • outlace says:

      You replicate viruses by incubating them with cells that they can infect. Viruses are generally very specific about which kinds of cells they can infect since they bind to specific molecular patterns. SARS-Cov2 is not a bacteriophage, it is highly unlikely it infects bacteria and mammalian cells.

  31. FLWAB says:

    I need some perspective on a question.

    Short version: What is the danger in chewing nicotine gum as a stimulant?

    Long version: I am very drug averse. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I have never had pot or any illegal drugs. I don’t even like taking aspirin for a headache.

    I have only recently and reluctantly started taking caffeine in the form of black tea. I hate the taste of coffee or tea but I’ve found that a cup is necessary from time to time to be productive at work. I work an office job and I have had a lot of trouble staying focused and productive. I don’t think I have ADHD: but then, how would I know if I did? I just know that by 3:00 I’m usually running on fumes and throughout the day I find myself constantly checking websites and getting distracted. Case in point: I’m writing this comment when I’m supposed to be updating a database with someone time sensitive information. I really shouldn’t be here right now. I’m not as productive as I want to be, and if I waste a lot of time during the day I feel depressed when I go home. I feel like a failure and a leech, and a cup of tea helps a little bit with my focus and productivity.

    A while ago I read a post by Scott (can’t find it right now) where he pointed out that a lot of us are working jobs that are unnatural, that require more focus and ability to sit still and work then humans have adpated for and as a result people are turning to Adderral and the like to keep up. And so I started to wonder: would a stimulant help me out? What are the risks? Would it be morally acceptable? I had always assumed my problems were due to akrasia and I just needed to improve myself, but maybe it’s a chemical problem. And if it’s a chemical problem, then maybe a chemical solution would be acceptable.

    Then I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast yesterday and his guest remarked as an off-hand comment that nicotine is a powerful stimulent and that he (a non-smoker) was in Turkey and smoked socially and found that he was full of energy and “flying.” I didn’t realize nicotine was such a powerful stimulant. I started to wonder if the fact that more and more people have stopped smoking has made us less productive, or at least less able to focus, as a culture. Could that contribute to why so many people are having trouble focusing these days? Fifty years ago would I have just been like any other American male and started smoking early and found myself much better suited to productive work?

    I Googled around and found some people claiming that they had ADHD and that nicotine helped them as good as prescription drugs. I also found people claiming that nicotine could prevent Parkinson’s disease, improve cognitive ability, and was harmless by itself. Of course, you can find people on the internet claiming that just about anything is a wonder drug. I also found a lot of official sources making it very clear that people should definitely not take nicotine supplements unless they’re trying to stop smoking, but never really giving any concrete reason why you shouldn’t. I couldn’t get a solid answer as to whether nicotine gum or patches caused bad health outcomes, or whether nicotine by itself is addictive.

    So I’m starting to wonder if I should try going down to Wal-Mart, picking out some low dose generic nicotine gum, and seeing if it improves my quality of life. I’m naturally adverse to take drugs, and this one comes with a lot of scary stuff attached to it, but as far as I can tell it’s not harmful by itself. So I’m looking for some advice. Should I try it out, or are there dangers I’m not seeing? Would it be worse or better than, say taking caffeine pills?

    • mcscope says:

      I expect that if you start chewing Nicotine gum, you will never stop. I read a book by author Augusten Burroughs where he talked about his Nicotine gum addiction – he goes through 72 pieces a day, EVERY DAY.

      And much like the little cliques of smokers that spring up outside restaurants and bars or the tobacco chewers who can spot one another by the circle the tobacco tin wears through the back pocket of their jeans, there is a secret society of Nicoretters. ”You’ll see people chewing, and you can just kind of tell,” Mr. Burroughs said. ”You’ll say, ‘Nicorette?’ and they’ll nod. Then you say, ‘How long?’ and they’ll say ‘four’ or ‘five.’ It’s never weeks or months they’re talking about. It’s always years.”

      Quote found here but it’s an excerpt of his book

      People manage to quit smoking because of the massive health concerns that smoking has, but even then it is very hard for people. I think most people who chew this gum never quit. There’s not enough disincentive – it isn’t as ‘bad’ as smoking, so you just chew it every day for the rest of your life.

      I’d be very cautious of trying something that has no good way of desisting, regardless of the outcome of the experiment.

      I’ve smoked hookah a few times and never found that it was very stimulating in an ADHD-focus-creating type way, but every time I have done it I have REALLY enjoyed it to the point where I find myself plotting in the subsequent days on how to get more hookah.

      • acymetric says:

        72 pieces a day, EVERY DAY.

        That basically means he’s popping one in his mouth, chewing it for a few seconds, spitting it out and popping it in the next one (only a slight exaggeration), especially if you account for time he spends eating or sleeping. He would also likely be experiencing side effects (or possibly even overdoes effects) that would make it borderline impossible to do this long term.

        I find this self report…dubious. I’ll believe he chews a lot of nicotine gum, but I’ll probably never believe he chews that much.

        • FLWAB says:

          He could be chewing multiple pieces at once. Also, apparently it’s really hard to overdose on nicotine. Apparently people almost always throw up before they get close to OD.

          • acymetric says:

            I would consider vomiting from too much nicotine a symptom of (mild) OD (the kind of symptom that would make it difficult or impossible to keep a pace of 72 pieces up over any extended period of time). OD doesn’t mean “died”.

          • FLWAB says:

            Fair enough.

        • bullseye says:

          This sounds entirely plausible to me. 72 pieces a day works out to one every ten or fifteen minutes. I can easily imagine getting into the habit of always having gum in your mouth and getting a new piece whenever the old one wears out.

      • FLWAB says:

        Good information to have. I am a bit stymied by the fact that Mr. Burroughs was previously a three pack a day smoker, and that he has no desire to stop chewing Nicorette. If he was trying to stop taking the gum and failing that would be one thing, but he seems pretty happy. So it’s hard for me to tell if those people are unable to stop chewing Nicorette because it is addictive, or just because there is no side effects and they don’t want to stop.

    • WoollyAI says:

      I do not recommend, based on 3 years of smoking and about the same off/on while quitting.

      Nicotine is awesome. It’s basically everything I want in a stimulant, it both sharpens mental acuity and calms you down. Plus, if you actually smoke, there’s social upsides.

      But nicotine is impressively addictive and at some point you’ll notice that nicotine isn’t calming you down or clearing your mind; you’re just agitated and unfocused whenever you’re not smoking. And then you either keep smoking for the rest of your life or you go through the long and sucky process of quiting nicotine.

      I’m sure nicotine patches are safer than cigarettes but the core issue is still how addictive nicotine is. Maybe you could safely manage it’s addictive properties but
      A. Doing that over multiple years sounds really tough
      B. The opportunity cost in mental energy and health risks seems like a bad deal compared to modafinil or something else.

      • Matt M says:

        But nicotine is impressively addictive and at some point you’ll notice that nicotine isn’t calming you down or clearing your mind; you’re just agitated and unfocused whenever you’re not smoking. And then you either keep smoking for the rest of your life or you go through the long and sucky process of quiting nicotine.

        Assuming it’s trivially easy to get and afford all the nicotine gum you need, is this really such a bad thing?

        Like, imagine you’re stranded on a desert island. Through great effort, you can barely scavenge enough food to live… but you’re critically malnourished. Your malnourishment results in you being super thin, tired, irritable, unable to think clearly, etc.

        Then some local missionaries visit. They plan to give you all the food you can eat, and they promise to keep coming to replenish it. They continually deliver and you have no reason to doubt they’ll ever stop. Should you eat the food? If you do, you’ll suddenly feel a lot better. You’ll be in better shape, you’ll have less fatigue, you’ll be in a better mood, you’ll think more clearly.

        But after awhile, this will become normal for you. And if the food ever runs out, you’ll definitely feel bad again. But is this a reason to never eat the food at all?

        • Apogee says:

          I think this analogy falls a little flat. In the desert island case, even if your emotional baseline for “normal” changes, you’re still receiving all the physical benefits of better nutrition that you listed long-term. My understanding of drug tolerance is that the regression to the mean is physiological, so in the long run your focus, anxiety, etc. would end up the same as it was before you started (meaning withdrawal would leave you even worse off).

        • acymetric says:

          Assuming it’s trivially easy to get and afford all the nicotine gum you need, is this really such a bad thing?

          Here’s probably the key point from @WoollyAI that makes this not worth it:

          at some point you’ll notice that nicotine isn’t calming you down or clearing your mind; you’re just agitated and unfocused whenever you’re not smoking.

          It doesn’t take that long for this to happen, and once it does ratcheting up your nicotine intake doesn’t really seem to make a difference. If someone wanted to use nicotine for it’s stimulant properties, they would need to plan to probably use it once a week or less to maintain the stimulant benefits.

      • FLWAB says:

        B. The opportunity cost in mental energy and health risks seems like a bad deal compared to modafinil or something else.

        How easy is it to get modafinil without a prescription? Is it legal to buy online?

        • WoollyAI says:

          I have been lead to believe it’s trivially easy to acquire modafinil and the legal consequences are minimal but I have no first hand experience.

          I have tried adrafinil, which is cheap and can be purchased online, but I didn’t notice any effect. This freaked me out because, well, this is supposed to be reasonably powerful stuff, so I’ve stayed away since.

        • Liface says:

          It’s extremely easy to buy online. I have no idea if I’m allowed to post links here, but a simple Google search and some reference-checking of the sites that come up should get you by. It typically ships in a couple weeks from somewhere like India or Singapore.

          Everything you’re looking to get out of nicotine, you can pretty much get with modafinil, without the addictive qualities.

          • FLWAB says:

            Just to be clear though: it’s not really legal to buy online, right? Like, you can do it and get away with it but its not legal. Or is it legal but only if you buy it a particular way?

    • zardoz says:

      Wikipedia has this truly intimidating list of side effects of nicotine. I know we’re all contrarians here, but I’d leave this particular stone unturned.

      Just get your doctor to write you a prescription for Modafinil. You just have to go through the right kabuki theater. Scott even documented exactly what you have to say in a previous post (I forget which one).

      Or just start drinking espresso. You have all the caffeine of a full cup of coffee, but in a very little cup. If you add one of those tiny teacups of espresso to a full 8 oz cup of milk and ice you’ll barely taste the coffee anyway.

      • FLWAB says:

        If I need a prescription, I’m not going to go to the trouble. For one thing it just feels wrong to me to go to a doctor with the intention to manipulate him into writing me a prescription for a drug I probably don’t need. I don’t know if it’s morally wrong but it’s a bridge too far for me.

        I think, oddly enough, that part of the appeal of nicotine gum is that I can just buy it at Wal-Mart. If you can buy it al Wal-Mart how bad could it be? Atrocious logic, but it just feels more comfortable. Not to mention I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. “Yeah honey, I just went to the doctor so I could convince him to give me a narcolepsy drug. I’m not sleepy, I just want to work harder.” Not the easiest conversation to have. Then again, it may be easier than “Hi honey, I decided to start taking an addictive drug on the off chance it makes me more productive.”

        If I’m just drinking coffee for the caffeine I may be better off buying caffeine pills. Anybody have a problem with them?

        • Scarbrow says:

          You may want to read up on Jacob’s take about chewing coffee beans. I’ve tried it myself with excellent results, it’s as good as caffeine pills if not better, and comes with small but good side effects like satiation through dietary fiber.

          Plus, it’s cheaper. Plus, caffeine intake is higher than drunk coffee. Minus, the flavor is strong until you get used to. Plus-or-minus depending on your environment, it increases your weirdness points.

    • aho bata says:

      n of three, but I and two people I know have used nicotine gum at one point or another.

      My m.o. over the past couple years has been to buy one pack (24 4mg pieces) when there is a specific reason for it, e.g. increased anticipated workload. For me, the effects are qualitatively similar to caffeine, the main differences being that it is overall noticeably less potent but more likely to induce a flow state (along with the increased confidence that entails). If the need for it continues, I buy more, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it for more than 3 weeks at a time, with several-month periods of abstinence in between. I find it slightly addictive, but much, much easier to quit than caffeine.

      Neither of my acquaintances who used it became addicted, but their experiences with it were more mixed. One of them was very sensitive to its stimulant effects; his reaction was significantly stronger than mine despite his chewing about a third as many pieces per day. He found it made him process things faster, but occasionally put him in a state where his “mind was racing” but he couldn’t keep any one thought in his crosshairs for more than a few seconds at a time. The other quit after having an anxiety reaction.

      I’d recommend it if there were little chance of getting addicted long-term, but I imagine that would depend on your constitution, and it’s certainly possible my firsthand experience is all with outliers.

    • Controls Freak says:

      N of one.

      In the before days, I would chew a piece of nicotine gum in the morning at the gym. I don’t really remember how I got interested in trying it, but I knew that it had mild stimulant effects and apparently some positive cognitive effects. I had heard stories of bodybuilders in the past stacking it with caffeine, as well. [In college, I had experienced some issues with too much caffeine (like you do in college), had cut it out entirely, and then reintroduced it in limited fashion (pretty much just black tea; never after noon; no reason for anything more than one serving).] I thought that I could either stack caffeine/nicotine in small doses or rotate them, so I’m not getting either one of them quite as regularly. The clincher that got me to be willing to try it was reading an article (I think in Scientific American, but I can’t find it now) that was sort of trying to rehabilitate nicotine, itself. They said that nicotine, itself, wasn’t nearly as additive as tobacco smoke. In particular, they quoted a researcher who had said that while you could get (JUST SAY IN) RATS addicted to tobacco smoke relatively easily, it was basically impossible to get them addicted to straight nicotine.

      From the other comments here, there is at least an N of one for another person basically being addicted to nicotine gum, so there’s also that. But I started having a piece in the morning on days that I went to the gym. During some periods of time, I was rotating; during others I was stacking. During some periods, I was going to the gym 3-4 days a week; during others I was going six. I never craved it on any of my off days or during the day after the gym, nor did I ever use it outside of that schedule. If anything, I had to make sure to include “grab a piece of gum” in my morning routine, because I was liable to just forget. When I stopped going to the gym last month, I didn’t even think about it; I just stopped taking it. No withdrawal, no cravings, I don’t think I can overstate how non-addictive it has been for me, personally, at least not at the doses/frequency I’ve taken it.

      I did feel strong and alert in the mornings, more than in the past, but I don’t know that I can actually correlate much of an effect with the nicotine. I’d say that those things correlated most with how well I was taking care of my sleep cycle and how consistent I was actually lifting (interrupted mostly by travel, injuries, or other life choices). I did improve on those things over the period in which I used it, so that’s a confounder, too. Being a mild stimulant, the only thing I can probably say is that it has a mild affect, if anything.

      That’s my personal experience. Please defer to others on potential long-term health impacts.

  32. Matt M says:

    What are the long-run economic effects of setting both a legal and cultural precedent that the state has the proper authority to designate businesses as “essential” or not, and to unilaterally and indefinitely shut down all the nonessential ones?

    I’m thinking from like a labor market standpoint. Even after all this blows over and we return to normal, what will happen to unskilled labor? Wouldn’t the marginal laborer much prefer stocking grocery store shelves over waiting tables, given that the grocery store will stay open no matter what, but the restaurant can be gone in an instant if the governor decrees it so?

    And if so, won’t the restaurants have to offer a wage premium over the grocery stores? Will all “non-essential” businesses now be forced to pay well above minimum wage to attract unskilled labor away from the safer, essential jobs. And if so, won’t they attempt to pass some of those costs on to the consumers? Are the prices for everything “non-essential” about to explode, relative to the price of essentials?

    I’m just spitballing here, but this seems like it’s going to be a big deal and permanently alter our structure of production in ways people haven’t even started thinking about yet…

    • Wouldn’t the marginal laborer much prefer stocking grocery store shelves over waiting tables, given that the grocery store will stay open no matter what, but the restaurant can be gone in an instant if the governor decrees it so?

      Not necessarily. People don’t usually like work and some would prefer a lower amount of unemployment to a higher amount of continued wages.

      • Matt M says:

        Sure, sure, ceteris paribus and all that.

        But if before all of this, you were indifferent between grocery stocking and waiting tables (at an equal wage), doesn’t this change things for you? Wouldn’t you now prefer the grocery stocking, given that it comes with more job security?

        Given the premise that job security is desirable, these lockdowns have drastically altered the desirability (for better or worse) of basically all unskilled labor occupations.

        • Not if everyone assumed this will be a one-off.

          A test would be if there was any effect from world wars, which shut down a lot of non-essential businesses. Sure, in that case the workers could usually work in the armament factories, but they’d be coming in at a lower skill level than they were at the job they lost.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think if unskilled laborers were that prone to long-term decision making they wouldn’t be unskilled laborers.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not sure they sit down and model it out in excel, but I think they generally have a pretty good intuition for these sorts of things.

        Certainly everyone who was working in a non-essential job and is now sitting at home on the couch hoping for an unemployment check has learned something that they probably won’t soon forget…

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      None, unless the government decides to unilaterally and indefinitely shut down nonessential businesses in non-pandemic situations (why?) in which case there will obviously be bad effects from businesses being shut down.

      • Matt M says:

        It seems to me that people might credibly fear…

        1. Future “waves” of COVID-specifically (perhaps via mutation or ineffective vaccination)

        2. Future non-COVID pandemics (everyone always fears/fights the last war)

        3. Non-pandemic emergencies. Legally, the government is getting away with this not because it’s a pandemic specifically, but because it’s an “emergency” generally. There are plenty of things the government might consider an emergency in the future – natural disasters, terrorism, hell a lot of people have been trying to tell us that climate change is a national emergency!

        • Murphy says:

          1:There’s more vaccine research programs than I’ve ever seen at once for one disease. If a bunch don’t work that would still leave multiple.

          2: Pandemics are rare. I wouldn’t expect them to suddenly become more common, indeed given the fantastic cost of this event I fully expect world governments to invest heavily in preventing future pandemics, at least for a generation or so.

          3: there’s still the same kind of political and practical costs. People are willing to do this because it’s a “10% chance your mom dies” scenario. Not just shits and giggles. Good luck getting the political momentum going to convince the country that the economy needs to be shut down for climate change vs the more likely reality of slowly tightening environmental regs.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect ecological regs may take a hit in the next decade or so, due to the economic damage done by COVID-19.

          • Garrett says:

            I’d like to see non-environmental regulations take a hit. Get rid of the legal risk associated with the EEOC et al.

    • JayT says:

      If this actually happened, it would work itself out pretty quickly. There’s only so many grocery store jobs to go around, and if that becomes the more desirable job because of employment certainty, then the wages will drop in comparison to jobs like restaurant worker. Then, there will be people more likely to trade the certainty for the higher wage.

    • Etoile says:

      I think that there will be massive consolidation across non-restaurant industries where there used to be small businesses, but who won’t be able to afford the shut-down (I don’t know — toy manufacturers, candy manufacturers, stuff like that). I think that’s generally bad, but that’s just accelerating an existing trend of consolidation across every industry that’s been going on for years.

      With regards to waiting tables vs. stacking shelves: first, unless wages are completely frozen, there might be a wage differential; second, while tips exist, anecdotal experience suggests that people working waitress or bar tender jobs like it because they make a lot of money in tips, more than they would in a low-paid office environment.

      Second, I imagine not all low-skilled jobs are amenable to all people, depending on how much you like to interact with others, how strong and physically fit you are, how far away you need to drive to get to work, what shifts you need to work.

      I think that the market will find a way; but they won’t be the same for sure.

    • keaswaran says:

      I think that it’s not clear that the set of businesses deemed “essential” in a pandemic is different from the set of businesses deemed “essential” in a war or a natural disaster.

      I think that declarations of disaster or emergency have often led to unusual work conditions that are different for “essential” and “non-essential” businesses, but what is unique about the current situation is that it is so long and widespread.

  33. A1987dM says:

    asking people with last names A-M to try the vitamin, and people with last names N-Z not to

    You might want to ask people born on an even-numbered day of the month instead — last names A-M might be biased toward certain ethnicities and/or social classes.

    • keaswaran says:

      Also different letters are vastly different in frequency. Letters U-Z are all fairly uncommon as initials of last names. When I was writing my first published paper, I noticed at one point that my bibliography ended at the bottom of a page with “Moore”, and I at first thought that I must have lost a page somewhere, but then noticed that no, in fact, I had cited several dozen books and articles with names up to “Moore” alphabetically, but not one later than that in the alphabet.

  34. zenojjones says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by trying to figure out where musical artists got their inspirations.
    Last week I came across 3 recordings while I was working which I believe do a great job laying out some of the key roots of the early wave Punk rock movements of the late 70’s. This is a super quick illustration of influences on the evolution of a genre and doesn’t even come close to covering everything about punk, but it’s my favorite way to gain context on a new genre of music.

    Stonewater Context – Roots of Punk

  35. floplo says:

    Do companies face IRB constraints ?

    I mean,when Amazon, Facebook or Uber collect data from A/B testing, they presumably don’t have IRB approval for that. Would you then be able to publish with that?

    So, if you can set up formally a market research firm, which then conducts the survey/experiment/tests and then ‘sells’ you the data, would that get you around IRB ?

    • Matt M says:

      I mean,when Amazon, Facebook or Uber collect data from A/B testing, they presumably don’t have IRB approval for that. Would you then be able to publish with that?

      Good point.

      It feels like a good portion of our knowledge of how modern dating markets work comes entirely from the OKCupid blog…

    • BlueGold says:

      They typically do not go through an external IRB. Odds are they have some kind of internal structure. However, it’s worth mentioning that they’re generally still satisfying the main requirements of an IRB. They got your informed consent when you signed up for the service. They aren’t trying to contribute to generalizable knowledge because it’s only going to internal metrics. They minimize risks by following their own TOS and collecting only aggregate and anonymous data making it literally impossible to put any individual participant at risk (because it is literally impossible to identify any single participant).

      The IRB requirements for massive datasets are typically very low simply because its very difficult if not impossible to trace it back to a single individual person in that set and even if you could, the data is still anonymous. This also means they sometimes don’t even need informed consent, just basic consent because its impossible to tell you everything they plan on doing with the data when collecting.

      • Garrett says:

        There are also legal IRB exemptions for things like this. A/B testing of simple interface design elements expected to be useful (as opposed to explicit, shocking, frustrating) probably falls under categories 3 or 4.

  36. Well... says:

    I’ve noticed that the gas I keep in a 2-gallon gas can in my shed for my mower sits over the winter and still powers my mower when I fill up in the spring. In fact, if I fill up that gas can it will frequently last me a whole year; the gas in it doesn’t appear to go bad.

    This suggests it might be possible, even advisable while gas is cheap right now, to fill up several much larger gas cans, and then use it later when gas gets more expensive.

    I’ve heard people say you can’t do this because the gas degrades when stored over extended periods of time. Is it that my mower can for whatever reason tolerate the somewhat-degraded gas? Or is it that those people are wrong, or are imagining a scenario where the gas is like a decade old or something, rather than 6-12 months?

    • broblawsky says:

      The gas doesn’t become non-combustible, but it does become more hydrated and oxidized over time. That means it forms more gummy, polymeric deposits in your engine when burned. That can happen in ~6 months. Your mower engine is probably much less finely machined that your car engine, so the deposits have less of an impact, and because you run it less often, you don’t notice the changes in performance. If your canister is fully airtight, you can avoid this, but it’s hard to get large, airtight containers.

      • Well... says:

        That makes sense, thanks.

        Just curious, why would a large plastic gas can be less airtight than a small one? Does air get in through microscopic cracks in the seams? The actual openings to pour through are usually the same (presumably standard) size for both.

        • A1987dM says:

          The actual openings to pour through are usually the same (presumably standard) size for both.

          If the total amount of air leaking is the same for both, then the larger one will have less air leaking per gallon of gas.

        • broblawsky says:

          Pressure vessels just generally get worse at containing pressure as they get bigger. It’s harder to cast/mold them seamlessly. The square-cube rule is on your size, but practical mechanical engineering questions aren’t, and in this case, they win.

    • mitv150 says:

      I think the problem here is “much larger gas cans.”

      My car’s gas tank holds 17 gallons. That’s a considerable volume and it weighs about 100 lbs.

      Gas has dropped about $0.60/gallon, meaning that I can save $10 a tank.

      So, for each $10 saved, I need to fill, transport, and store 100 lbs of gasoline? This doesn’t seem economical or safe, short of owning some type of large tank that can be towed.

    • Econymous says:

      Ethanol is hydrophilic. Water in engines is bad news.
      I’ve heard from many sources that ethanol-free gas is pretty stable, but that gas with ethanol is really bad for engines after it has sat more than a month, particularly in a gas can, which I’ve never found to be 100% airtight. It might run but be doing permanent damage to your equipment.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      EMH complaint: if hedging like this was worth it, professionals who can manage millions of barrels of stuff would do it already.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, there’s a wide variety of people who are much better equipped to profit from doing this sort of thing than you are. They include oil companies themselves, terminal companies, container ship companies, and more I’m probably not thinking of.

      • matkoniecz says:

        Note that in this case transaction costs are lower. Product will not be resold for profit, but just used later.

        Storage costs are still likely going to make it a bad idea, but EMH complaint does not really apply here. Yes, market reaction will reduce profitability but this alone is not enough to make it pointless.

        In the same way as buying more of some products where price is lowered makes perfect sense. It is useful for discounted products that will be bought anyway, will not be used more if one has large storage of them and can be stored easily. For me it is for example clothes, sugar, pasta, peanuts and canned tomatoes.

    • acymetric says:

      If the thing you want to do was the premise of an Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, you should probably not do it.

    • Scarbrow says:

      I’ve actually done this experiment and I found the main problem was evaporation.

      (warning: I’m from Spain, and this was done with local gasoline and standardized plastic gasoline containers, 5l and 10l capacity (1,3 and 2,6 gallons)

      This was done for my motorbike. The size of the cans was selected to fit in the bike’s topbox, and because the motorbike’s gas tank holds just 9,4l (almost 2,5 gallon), but I invariably refuel before exhaustion so I usually take ~7l (1,85 gallon) per trip. So by going to the gas station with the tanks, I could re-fuel both the bike and the tanks, for a savings of 2x trips to the station (go once, fuel thrice). Savings are on gas, but mostly on time.

      With my usual rate of consumption, I went through the tanks in two to three months. But occasionally there were periods when I rode much less, and thus the tanks lasted up to 6 months. I made a decision to weight each of the tanks weekly, to see how much I was losing due to evaporation. In short, I was losing about 10 g (0.35oz) per week, or about 1% of the gas per month. A little more on the “big” tank than the small one. Combined with the mileage of the motorbike, this meant that over 3 months I lost gas equivalent to 5km (3,1 miles) which was equivalent to a round-trip to my nearest gas station. So the absolute cutoff for this storage method being economically viable was 6 months of storage.

      I would wager the numbers are worse for cars (worse mileage and need bigger containers) unless you use military-grade jerrycans (which cost a pretty penny). So, in short, not very recommendable, not very scalable.

  37. dsc says:

    Question for people with a medicine/physiology background (which I definitely do not possess):
    Are ventilators more effective for people from high elevations? It seems to me this could be the case since their bodies are acclimated to having less oxygen, so I could imagine that when placed on a ventilator their bodies would be better able to make use of that sudden large influx of oxygen than people from lower elevations. Is this the case? Why or why not?

    • theredsheep says:

      RT student, haven’t got to vents yet, but if you need a vent at all you’re in pretty terrible shape, regardless of your starting point. IIRC–don’t quote me on this–people from elevation do better by having higher red blood cell counts, but since your RBCs are always being replaced that would probably go back to normal after a while at a low-elevation hospital. Not sure. In any case, people go on vents for different reasons; if you’re on there because you can’t protect your airway, for example, that’s a different issue, and if your lungs are filled with fluid the extra RBCs won’t do much good (extra RBCs also increase your risk of embolism, which is why we don’t all have extra). Being from elevation might encourage you to be in better shape and avoid getting on a vent in the first place, IDK.

      Also there is definitely such a thing as too much oxygen, for various reasons, not all of them relevant to this scenario.

    • rahien.din says:

      The rate-limiting step in oxygen absorption is gas diffusion across the biological membrane, and this must occur before the red blood cells can take up the oxygen.

      People who live at higher altitudes have more oxygen-carrying capacity in their blood chiefly because they have more red blood cells.

      In ARDS (such as due to COVID-19), the problem, in large part, is disease of the gas-exchange membrane.

      Since the adaptation/acclimitization is downstream of the rate-limiting step and downstream of the problem, there shouldn’t be any physiological difference between high- and low-to-moderate amplitude persons. They may be able to transport more oxygen via the blood, but their problem is getting oxygen to the blood.

      That said, in some circumstances you may have to operate your ventilator differently. If you are at high altitude and don’t adjust your ventilator pressure settings, your ventilator might not work as effectively. So there is a failure mode wherein high altitude could contribute to ineffective ventilation.

      • theredsheep says:

        Do you know if pressure at elevation would make air entrainment work differently? That just occurred to me.

        • rahien.din says:

          You mean in concrete production?

          • theredsheep says:

            Don’t know what you mean by concrete production. I mean in the Venturi system used for mixing air and O2. It depends on the width of an aperture to mix the air with O2 from the wall outlet. But if that’s calculated based on a given pressure from the wall, and the atmospheric pressure is different, I’d think that could skew the output. No?

          • Lambert says:

            I’d hope that there’s some kind of closed-loop (homeostatic) control system monitoring the air pressure and O2 partial pressure and adjusting valves accordingly. (Either automatically or with an RT twiddling the knobs till they get the right numbers)

            Absent this, I don’t think a venturi would behave the same. But I’m too tired to apply Bernoulli’s principle right now.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, there’s not usually a need to dynamically adjust a Venturi system, since atmospheric pressure generally doesn’t change–but by the same token, I imagine that, if it makes a difference, hospitals at elevation have specialized Venturi masks/valves/etc. I’ve never heard either way.

          • Lambert says:

            So are they entraining air from the environment into the patients lungs?
            Without filters or anything?

          • theredsheep says:

            Filtering is a whole separate matter. But if you want a patient to have a given amount of oxygen per liter of gas inhaled into the lung (FiO2, fractional inspiration of O2), the simplest way to achieve this is to take room air, with a known O2 concentration of 21%, and add more oxygen. And the simplest way to do that is by letting in air through an aperture–you can do this with a cheap set of disposable plastic parts, no need for power beyond the pressure of the O2. I imagine ventilators use that same process, just with fancier parts. Although, come to think of it, I do believe they use medical-grade air from the wall outlet, so that’s your answer. I imagine there’s a mechanized Venturi process in the middle of the machine, anyway.

            ETA: And that’s my answer, too–atmospheric pressure is irrelevant if they’re using wall outlets for both. I do wonder about the entrainment systems we use outside fo vents, though, like in venturi masks.

          • Garrett says:

            > venturi masks

            Those have the property of being run at atmospheric pressure in-practice. All ventilation is handled by the patient so there’s no need to have changing pressure to force air into the lungs.

            They come with a series of plastic adaptors with slightly different opening sizes and require different flow rates for different fractions of oxygen which are embossed on the side in barely readable type.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yes, I’ve handled venturi masks. My question is, since they depend on using a variable-size aperture to allow a certain amount of room air to mix with the O2 flow, could that room air being at a different atmospheric pressure make a difference in their function? IDK enough to say either way; I haven’t heard that they use different masks in Denver, but then why would I?

  38. Conrad Honcho says:

    If you’re stuck at home with the kids, have a Switch and are looking for couch co-op games to play, there’s some good sales right now.

    Trine Ultimate Collection (4 players) – On sale 19.99

    The Swords of Ditto (2 players) – On sale $7.49

    No Heroes Here (4 Players) $14.99

    Super One More Jump (4 players) – On sale $0.99

    Conduct Together (4 players) – On sale $0.01

    For The King (3 players) – On sale $12.49

    Death Squared (4 players) – On sale $2.24

    Full Metal Furies (4 players) – On sale $6.79

    Crawl (4 players) $14.99

    I bought Trine, Swords of Ditto, For the King, and Conduct Together (literally only a penny).

    I also highly recommend Castle Crashers, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, and Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2 (1 is also good but 2 is great) but none of those are on sale right now. Still all pretty cheap though.

    On Steam Greedfall and Disco Elysium finally went on sale, so I picked those up. Also Hellblade and I finally bought Cities Skylines. Just finished Jedi: Fallen Order, which was really, really enjoyable. It was just…a video game, instead of a platform for EA to sell me microtransactions. Please make more Star Wars games like that.

    What are you playing? Besides Plague, Inc, obv.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Just got Hollow Knight in the Humble Covid Bundle, so giving that a shot. My metroidvania experience is pretty slim (Just the Metroid Prime games), but I’m having a good time so far. Getting the dash cape has been helpful, was having a harder time with the moss knights without the extra mobility.

      • Three Year Lurker says:

        The pogo bounce where you swing your nail down as you come down on something is probably the most important skill. Good for getting in a couple hits when the knight swings at you.

        • Eltargrim says:

          I’ve noticed a few sections where the pogo bounce seems to be a method of mobility, rather than a simple attack; in particular I’m thinking of the path between the Greenway and the Fog Cloud (sorry if I’m butchering the names, been playing only for a couple of hours). I’m not great at it, but sounds like I should practice!

          • Three Year Lurker says:

            Yeah, it’s important in many places. You can even cross some spikes with it (but not spiky vines). There are some things that are impossible without it. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say what.

            It’s also possible to parry some attacks by hitting their attack on the right frame. I can never time it right on purpose, so I don’t try.

            If you ever need to travel a long distance without taking damage, travel the path twice without using a bench. Enemies only respawn when you rest so you can go through once clearing enemies, then come back and have a much easier time avoiding damage. (this will make sense when you reach the point you need it)

      • mitv150 says:

        I found that skipping over a difficult portion and coming back later almost always led to it being much easier the second time around due to either new charms or new abilities.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Now I don’t want to do anything illegal, but I would kill a man, in front of his own mama, to get just the release date for Silksong.

      • Peffern says:

        Hollow Knight for game of the decade 2010-2019. Enjoy it. It’s great.

      • Apogee says:

        Me too! I played it back when it first launched but this is the first time I’ve gone for a serious try at the DLC, which gets pretty ridiculous.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m generally a few years behind on gaming trends, but lately I’ve been reaching even farther back in the well than that.

      I just recently completed Alan Wake, which had been sitting in my library for years following when I picked it up for like $1 when they put it on fire sale because music licensing issues were about to cause them to have to yank it off the market entirely. Decent game, but not great. Not really my favorite genre so maybe others would enjoy it more.

      And I just started Saints Row 4, which I’m enjoying quite a bit. I’m a pretty big fan of the sandbox/action genre and for several years, this was basically the little brother franchise to GTA, but I never really got into it. I’m liking it enough to regret having not played it when it was current. I’m somewhat interested to go back and revisit the earlier games in the series, but I always struggle with that because I just hate going “back in time” as it regards features and convenience. I do hope they re-start this franchise again someday though. “GTA but with the absurdity cranked up to 11” is a formula that is working very well for me.

      • acymetric says:

        And I just started Saints Row 4, which I’m enjoying quite a bit. I’m a pretty big fan of the sandbox/action genre and for several years, this was basically the little brother franchise to GTA, but I never really got into it.

        Saints Row was like the little brother and the class clown to GTA. Took itself even less seriously, which allowed for a lot of great fun. I haven’t played since II (I may have played III a little) but I really enjoyed that series.

        • Loriot says:

          I haven’t played them, but my impression is that it started as a GTA parody, but each successive game doubled down on the wackiness factor, to the point where the games end up with you becoming president, fighting off an alien invasion, and then recusing people from hell while they sing opera songs.

          • Matt M says:

            4 (the only one I’ve played) starts with you as President and all your friends as cabinet, and then immediately proceeds into a crazy alien invasion.

      • I discovered the existence of Everquest Project 99 ( and have been enjoying some nostalgic MMO action. Turns out that the game, which was a quantum leap twenty years ago in several ways, looks even more rich and gorgeous on my new medium-gaming-caliber (for 2020) graphics card and monitor.

        As for the gameplay, I’m loving it now just as much as I did then. Nothing but compliments for the volunteer team who’s behind Project 99.

        The Project 99 population has risen these past couple of weeks, just enough to provide plenty of fellow lowbies/tourists for me to group with. (I was never a hardcore raiding guy even back in the day.) So I’m pretty happy with it as an immersive sheltering-in-place diversion.

        Anybody wants to try it out, email me and I’ll help you shortcut the install.
        And if you join the Green server, look up Chinetter the dwarf cleric or Spotswood the wood elf ranger.
        “You’re In Our World Now”

      • Nick says:

        My only familiarity with Saints Row is Jesse Cox’s playthrough of 3.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        There’s a pretty big leap in premise and feel between Saints Row 2 and Saints Row the Third. SR2 still feels like a GTA clone, whilst the Third gives up all semblance of sanity or seriousness – and is all the better for it.

        If you’ve got a bit of spare cash (I think ten to fifteen bucks on, you might want to put SR4 on hold and finish SR3 first. SR4 has major throwbacks to previous parts of the series (but SR3 more than anything) and it feels so much better if you have the background. Plus, SR3 is an excellent game in its own right.

      • Matt M says:

        I enjoyed that video and wholly agree with just about everything said in it.

    • Randy M says:

      There’s a free demo for Mario and Sonic at the Olympics which I played when I was with my kids.
      I finally bought Darkest Dungeon this weekend. Scratches an itch I had for a strategic, team management fantasy game.

    • tossrock says:

      Divinity: Original Sin II is great for couch co-op, which I’ve been playing a lot of with my partner. Really satisfying turn-based combat gameplay, with a Diablo-like loot system and real RPG style dialogs. Would recommend highly.

    • matkoniecz says:

      What are you playing?

      I really recommend Factorio if one likes base-building/optimization/construction games. Has free demo. Game is well optimized, with big attention given to fixing bugs and performance issues – next versions keep getting faster, not slower. Massive amount of content, no grinding. It has OK price (and never was on sale and developers announced that sale will never happen).

      As bonus is really interesting blog by its authors about how game is developed.

      Besides Plague, Inc, obv.

      Plague, Inc seems to be typical in-game-purchase game, so I assumed that it is not worth playing. Even in case of bonus irony.

      Additionally, it looks like a game mechanics that are supposed to be modelling reality but utterly unrealistic to the point that will just irritate me. Apparently plague in this game is a telepathic Zerg that evolves worldwide at once with the same mutation.

      • acymetric says:

        There isn’t really any reason to ever purchase anything in-app for Plague, Inc. It’s just a fun (free) time-killer.

        As far as modeling reality, yes a free mobile game isn’t a perfect real-world model of disease spread/evolution…but most other games aren’t perfect real-world models of anything either.

      • Nick says:

        Apparently plague in this game is a telepathic Zerg that evolves worldwide at once with the same mutation.

        That’s absurd, to be sure, but I don’t think there are better options for a playable game. Suppose you choose everything at start instead. Given a plague doesn’t have any agency, you’re effectively locked out of affecting the results of the simulation once it starts playing, which is not very fun. It may be neat to watch things play out, but it’s not a game.

        (It’s not impossible to imagine a game where you’re locked out after turn one. Suppose it’s a two player game where one player kits out his plague and another player chooses how the world will respond and what resources it will have. That would be very different, but at least it would be a game.

        It seems hard to make it fun, though. Suppose you give both players a lot of variety. The plague player should just go every time for something weird that the world is unlikely to be specially prepared for. But the defensive player, without information, will just play the likeliest strategy to win; perhaps a very conservative strategy that invests a lot in cure research and fast acting quarantines. Alternately, suppose you don’t give the players a lot of variety. Then where does the strategy come in?)

    • acymetric says:

      Currently working my way through FF7 (still on disc 1). The mods available for the PC make it a pretty nice experience.

      Have Baldur’s gate, Elder Scrolls Online, and the two Knights of the Republic games queued up…keeping my eye out for other games on my wishlist to go on sale.

      I also got Crusader Kings II for free, but I haven’t been able to focus and get into it enough to understand what is happening.

      • Randy M says:

        Currently working my way through FF7 (still on disc 1). The mods available for the PC make it a pretty nice experience.

        Interesting timing, I hear they just released the first episode of the remake (PS4).

        • acymetric says:

          I don’t have a console (and I don’t like paying 60+ for games) so I probably won’t be picking that one up any time soon.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We bought Untitled Goose Game on the Switch and it is so much fun for 20 bucks.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I want UGG, but I refuse to pay $20 for a 3 hour game. If it goes on sale I’d pick it up.

          • Randy M says:

            Fair enough, I’m in a similar place as far as that one goes, but I saw a review for it this morning that was pretty positive.
            The end of disc one was, what, the Cid and the Rocket? Or the haunted mansion and Vincent?

          • acymetric says:

            No clue, I’ll let you know when I get there 😉

          • Randy M says:

            Well, that makes sense. Do you have Cid, Vincent, or Yuffi yet?

            The mods available for the PC make it a pretty nice experience.

            I missed this at first. Are these content mods, or more of a UI thing?

          • acymetric says:

            UI stuff. Higher resolution for textures and the menus, updated character/enemy models that look a little less dated. Nothing that changes the story or the way the game plays (although there are mods for that, I’m not using any). Basically just visual improvements.

            Oh, and newer arrangements of the music that sound better than the old MIDI stuff (the MIDI especially seems to not come off well on Windows for some reason, apparently). Still the same music, but someone arranging it with real orchestral sounds and such instead of just base old school MIDI.

          • Matt M says:

            In the original game, the end of disc one was… uh… I guess it counts as spoilers still so I won’t say it, but it’s the spoiler from this game that everyone knows…

          • Matt M says:

            Oh, and newer arrangements of the music that sound better than the old MIDI stuff (the MIDI especially seems to not come off well on Windows for some reason, apparently).

            IIRC, the soundtrack between the original PS1 version and the original PC version were actually different. I think the PS1 didn’t actually use MIDIs but something a little more advanced/complex. But the PC version went full MIDI and a lot of the songs were sloppily remade as midis. I could be remembering that wrong though…

        • theredsheep says:

          I think it gets released on the tenth, so three days from now. To be avidly snapped up by a grouchy, demanding, quarantined audience. Poor Squeenix.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I hear good things, but there is zero chance I’m playing until the full game is released. Episodic games can bite me.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        If you want something new in that genre, I’m really enjoying Greedfall so far. It’s on sale on Steam (or was last week).

    • Apogee says:

      I’ve been getting into One Step from Eden lately. I don’t usually like deckbuilding games for a variety of reasons, but I’m having fun with this one. I think I’ve seen people talk about Slay the Spire in the discord before, and this has a pretty similar setup albeit with another layer of mechanical execution added on.

      I share a house with a bunch of other nerds and we’re all on lockdown together, so we’ve also been playing a bunch of board games both on and off Tabletop Simulator. One of them even has a VR rig that we got set up in the living room and I’ve been having a blast with it.

      • Randy M says:

        From what I’ve seen there’s a lot of twitch to it Eden.
        Slay the Spire recently added the fourth character to the switch version, so I’ve been learning that again, much fun.

    • Nick says:

      Let’s talk Minecraft. 1.16 is on its way, bringing a lot of new content to the Nether, including new biomes and mobs. I’ve been playing a bit of 1.15, and I like most of the content they’ve added in the last year or so, following the long sleep. The new villages are really nice, and the ocean stuff is neat. So are the new textures. I also like many littler additions like hay bales and campfires; they’re both so multipurpose!

      I mostly play modded, though. I have a 1.12 pack I put together with the following mods, chosen basically to make the game more fun and pretty to explore: Ambient Sounds, Better Foliage, Biomes O Plenty, Dynamic Trees, Sound Physics, Underground Biomes, YUNG’s Better Caves. Plus Optifine and shaders, and a few others for quality of life. It looks gorgeous, at least going by the usual standards.

      I also have a 1.10 pack with a secret building project on it. It’s just an instance of Feed the Beast Beyond with about half the mods disabled and a few of my own selection added, because I was too lazy to gather the files myself. I also made some of my own textures, because I wanted a higher resolution. Texture packs can’t hope to keep up with the modding community, so you either make due with a mixed pack—ugly, especially if you want higher resolution—or you make your own—impractical, but at least you can be selective. In my case I could afford to be selective.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        Currently enjoying a Realms server with my friends, we’ve been working on a town and starting wars over the forest of bamboo that has grown from the single shoot I found in a sunken ship.

        Also, figured out how to run a modded minecraft server on Amazon EWS’s free tier, so that I could play this gamemode where you fall sideways with my friends. If you want to avoid having to use the honor system and give yourself another anchor from creative mode every time you die, simply give yourself a repeating command block, install it in the bedrock near spawn, set it to no redstone needed, and give it the following command:
        /replaceitem entity @a slot.inventory.26 mysttmtgravitymod:gravityanchor 1 2

    • acymetric says:

      Since we’re talking about games, what do people think about No Man’s Sky? I bought it when it came out, only to find that my system at the time couldn’t run it (I had a slightly old Nvidia card) so it sat “on the shelf” for several years. My new laptop, it turns out, can run it. Is it worth trying to dive into?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I have not played it, because the reviews when it came out were “this was so promising what the hell did you people do?” A year later apparently they fixed it and it’s a good game now.

        So, I’ve never played it, but people on the internet say it’s good now, and you should probably give it a try and report back.

    • DeWitt says:

      I got Bannerlord on release, and have been playing it since then. The game is about as janky as you’d expect, but Taleworlds has been patching it literally every day since then, and the multiplayer is really quite enjoyable already

    • Just bought Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which should keep me entertained for a good while. I’m starting with Adventure Mode and will see where that takes me.

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      It’s not on sale, but I got the Megaman Zero/ZX Legacy Collection and have been really enjoying it. Close to beating the first Zero game (using Save-Assist but not Casual Story mode), then I plan on going to ZX since I’ve watched LPs of the Zero games back when I assumed I’d never get a chance to play them but I purposefully avoided watching a playthrough of ZX or ZX Advent.

  39. Edward Scizorhands says:

    It’s early to see if this is true, and the NYT is biased, but Germany says they are getting good results by putting people on ventilators very early.

    “When I have an early diagnosis and can treat patients early — for example put them on a ventilator before they deteriorate — the chance of survival is much higher,” Professor Kräusslich said.

    • albatross11 says:

      That is a strategy that relies on having a lot of ventilators and a lot of people trained to manage patients on ventilators. I think it won’t be able to continue if they get a huge surge.

      • Scott says:

        Sure, but it’s still evidence that ventilators actually do something to better clinical outcomes.

  40. Ethical considerations with research are a professional ethics concern and would not typically overlap with actual laws, except insofar as a research grant carries with it certain legal obligations. And of course it would be entirely possible to design a study that violated actual laws. As an easy example, any RCT involving marijuana would still federal law.

    I know of no legal basis on which your voluntary vitamin study would violate any state or federal law. That said, there are a lot of laws in this country (and around the world, since you have an international audience), so if you do this enough times, it’s entirely possible you could inadvertently run afoul of some obscure law. To definitively answer your question, you’d have to research the laws of every state and every country where you have people who are solicited in the study with specificity. That, of course, would be a colossal waste of time.

    Most research does not run into this problem because it is conducted within a single jurisdiction and under the guidance of one or two universities. Sadly, the frictionlessness on which the internet is built does not lend itself to simple answers with respect to complex legal questions.

    I suspect if I were sufficiently motivated, I could find a few ways in which you’re violating GDPR with this site. It’s just a question of whether you’re doing this enough to get on the radar of a motivated regulatory authority. The answer is almost certainly not. My suggestion would be to use common sense and cross your fingers that you don’t get in the crosshairs of some motivated prosecutor or regulatory body.

    • I suspect if I were sufficiently motivated, I could find a few ways in which you’re violating GDPR with this site.

      I don’t doubt this is true, but I do find it an odd example to pick, since this is harder than most people might initially think. Allow me to hijack your comment to dispel some GDPR myths! 😀 (I’m sorry, this topic is like a flare gun, it summons me.)

      He’s not selling anything to European citizens; he’s not offering a free service explicitly to European citizens, either; that European citizens use his site despite the aforementioned doesn’t actually imply his site falls under GDPR. But assuming for a moment that it did, since the site is (effectively) only run by one person (Scott), this rather limits what GDPR would even expect of him. HTTPS and the promise to keep his WordPress installation and plug-ins up to date might be quite enough.

      (That said, IANAL, though I did do GDPR compliance for a living for a few months, and I’m one of the bizarre people that actually read the whole thing.)

      • gph says:

        I’m curious, what would happen if he wasn’t in compliance and whatever organization enforces the GDPR decided they wanted to take action? Would they attempt to enforce fines in some way? Would they block the site in Europe?

        • pas says:

          Short answer is nothing. Because SSC is not an EU business.

          GDPR is not a criminal thing, the EU doesn’t really deal with criminal stuff anyway (member states do and some of them do sometimes block sites usually via DNS or BGP that they deem illegal – for example online casinos without license in some specific member state).

          Enforcement has two routes, one is when someone in a member state reports a site (actually they report the business – as the GDPR extends to mailing lists and even paper based stuff too, obviously, but talking about sites is easier), or if the data protection agency in that member state notices a problem without a report, and the other way is when an EU agency starts a proceeding (and this is when we get the news about billion euro fines).

          As far as I know there’s no blocking just fines in the GDPR itself. But member states usually have their own version too.

          • gph says:

            Thanks for the response, that’s about what I expected. Though it does make me wonder why some newspaper websites based in the US would block European traffic due to concerns about the GDPR? I guess they probably are owned by multinational media conglomerates that do business within European jurisdiction.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          GDPR insists they have domain over things that have no connection to the EU.

          In practice, they aren’t going to fine Scott, and if they did Scott could use the SPEECH Act to tell them to STFU.

          • acymetric says:

            How would the EU even go about enforcing a Fine against Scott, a person who lives in the United States who owns a site that (I assume) is hosted in the United States?

            What mechanism even exists that would allow them to enforce anything here?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            That’s why “in practice, they aren’t going to fine Scott.” They would rather ignore him than reveal their impotence: that they cannot enforce a fine against some guy.

          • acymetric says:

            That’s why “in practice, they aren’t going to fine Scott.”

            That isn’t “in practice”, it’s “by policy and jurisdiction”. “In practice, it won’t be enforced” makes sense for people driving 53 mph in a 50 mph zone, not here.

            “In practice” implies that something could be enforced they just don’t enforce it. That isn’t the case here.

  41. matthewravery says:

    This board has basically failed to address the most pressing issue of our day*: Tiger King

    Critical questions that need to be addressed:

    1) Who is the most awful person in this show? Despite everything, I kinda want to go with Antle.

    2) Did Baskin kill her husband? Plenty of memes around this, and a lot of folks close to him seem sure she did it. She certainly was ready to pounce (heh) when his disappeared, but I heard a lot of motivated reasoning behind, e.g., the ex-wife and kids. Plus, I think it was obvious that he was into so scummy stuff. I put the likelihood that she did it around 70%.

    3) Should Joe be in jail? I think he obviously should, though the murder for hire charge seems like a transparent set-up by Jeff Lowe and company.

    4) What’s the deal with Carole’s new husband?? Who is that guy? Where did he come from?! Biggest unexplored mystery in the show, IMO.

    *Or maybe I’ve missed it in all the COVID-19 discussion

    • BlazingGuy says:

      1) Agree that Antle is probably the worst, but a lot of people gave him a run for his money.

      2) Cui bono? Wouldn’t he have tried to take some of the money with him to Costa Rica?

      3) I mean probably? I agree that he was set up by Jeff and Alan, but it sounds like he actually *did* give Alan money to go kill Carol (even if Alan never planned on doing that.) AIUI that would not rise to the level of entrapment, if Jeff/Alan had been police officers and not sketchy weirdos. I don’t really know about the ethics/legality of euthanizing tigers that you bred yourself.

      4) No idea but I heard that Netflix is going to drop a new episode this week, maybe the people will finally get the answers we deserve!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Uh, spoiler warning maybe?

      1. How do you figure Antle is more awful than Joe? Sure, he’s got a sex cult, but so did Joe, and, while I think joining Antle’s sex cult is a terrible idea, nobody forced the girls to do it. They seem happy. If it’s about cub euthanasia that’s not proven, and Joe shot a couple of his tigers, too.

      While Joe is the most awful, Carole gives me the creeps more than any of them. Her act is so phony, and she started this mess going after everybody, and she is no better. She was going after the competition, exploiting people, exploiting the tigers, while pretending like she’s all noble. At least the rest of them admit how awful they are.

      2. Yes. I mean, obviously. 100%. I don’t care if Yudkowsky sets fire to my garage in the middle of the night.

      3. Yes. And I doubt he’ll get out early because you kind of need to show some contrition, and as far as I can tell he thinks this is all a travesty of justice.

      And I don’t buy the murder-for-hire thing being a set-up. There’s absolutely no reason for Jeff Lowe to set him up. He already had the zoo and had it in his name for years. There’s no reason for him to set up Joe. And given Joe’s extensive public rants about wanting to kill Carole, there’s no reason to think “gosh, he might have hated her but he would never do anything like that!” Of course he would.

      4. I don’t know, but I also found him creepy. And the biggest unexplored mystery was why Joe could buy his husband trucks and guns and toys but not a damn bridge for his meth-mouth. Edit: Or a shirt.

      • matthewravery says:

        Maybe it’s because I don’t know Antle’s background. Both Joe and Carole seem like they came from pretty fucked up circumstances and sorta stumbled into where they ended up. With Joe especially, nothing seemed premeditated. It was all just him reacting to things. He didn’t set out to do this thing with the cats, it just happened to be the first consistent way he found to survive (and thrive?) in the world. Carole I read in a similar way. She stumbled around until she found a grift that worked and then couldn’t do anything but double down because she didn’t know anything else to do. I also think both Joe and Carole are full believers in their own bullshit.

        With Antle, I got the sense that he knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way. Less self-deluded, more calculating. Also the soul patch.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I see where you’re coming from, but in the episode about Antle, didn’t they show that he grew up with the elephant, and studied with the…yogi or whatever the spiritual leader was? It seems to me like that was who he is, but then he basically figured, “I’m really awesome at all of this stuff, I should also have a harem.”

          ETA: #1 thing I learned from this show: tigers will get you mad laid.

          • Winja says:

            Lotsa people drinking their own bathwater and peeing in the tub in that show.

          • Winja says:

            ETA: #1 thing I learned from this show: tigers will get you mad laid.

            Was anyone else surprised at how cheap it is to buy a tiger cub?

            $2,000 for your very own tiger seems crazy cheap. I’d have expected a tiger to be more like $5,000-$10,000.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah but then they cost like $10k/year just in meat. Unless you get expired meat from Wal-Mart, that is.

          • Winja says:

            True. Food costs, like you say, are ridiculous. Also, I would presume that you’d also have to have ample space, and you’d probably have to take them to a specialist vet.

    • Winja says:

      I would go with Lowe possibly being the worst.

      The difference between Jeff Lowe and Joe Exotic is the difference between Steve Martin and Michael Kaine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

    • Anteros says:

      I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I watched Tiger King (My wife was watching it, and it sort of crept up on me, like an unpleasant rash) but hey ho..

      1) I’d almost find it easier to answer ‘Were there any non-awful characters?’ Just about – the young lady who had her arm torn off by a tiger seemed surprisingly sane and grounded.
      Funnily enough, I quite warmed to Antle – despite the obvious character flaws.

      2) No idea, but of course she quite clearly could have done.

      3) Yes, for a few months or so.

      4) Good question, but also ‘Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence that he’s just as much of a fruit cake as everyone else on the show (torn-off-arm-lady excepted)?’

      I don’t want to provoke the ire of all you wonderful USanians, but both my wife and myself were muttering ‘Only in America…’ as the characters and their behaviors became more bizarre by the episode.

      ETA How come the only person on the show who could walk normally was the guy with no legs??

      • BlazingGuy says:

        This was not at all clear from the show, but apparently Saff is a trans man who hasn’t gone by ‘Kelsey’ in years. I guess a lot of people were unhappy w/ their portrayal on the show, but for my money that’s the only one that’s remotely justified.

        I’d also submit that Reinke isn’t awful. Maybe there is something about losing a limb that gives people a better sense of perspective?

        • Anteros says:

          Thanks for the correction.

          And yes, I agree that Reinke wasn’t awful. In fact he was so non-awful, I’m not sure why he was on the show..

        • matthewravery says:

          I actually thought most of the folks who worked at Joe’s zoo (pre-Jeff Lowe, and not including the reality show guy) seemed okay. Like, I buy that most of them had tough lives and were working there because it was one of the few paths open to them. And they legit seemed to care about the cats and got pissed at Joe when he stopped caring.

          But a lot of that could come down to framing by the filmmaker.

      • Winja says:

        Agree that the employee who lost her arm seemed decent.

        My vote for most reasonable person on the show is Joe’s Campaign Manager.

    • Jeff Lowe is the most detestable person in my opinion. He doesn’t seem to have any kind of sense of morality.

      Honestly I can’t hate Joe Exotic. Yeah, he tried to kill Carole Baskins but can you really blame him? She ruined his life out of spite. That would be enough to make anyone want someone dead.

      • Winja says:

        I want to like Joe Exotic because he seems like the archetype of the sort of larger than life person that can only exist in a libertarianish-type America; someone who’s totally outside of the norm and manages to take their outsider status and build something real with it.

        He’s the sort of protagonist that I want to root for, but I can’t just simply because he’s so ridiculously unsafe; firing guns around other people, engaging in sketchy behavior to run his business, distributing meth, etc.

        On the other hand, Carol Baskin is the sort of despicable person I can’t stand. The archetypal nosy bitch who can’t abide by anyone doing things she doesn’t like, even if they’re the sort of things she’s doing. She’s a total Dolores Umbridge.

        Jeff Lowe is a despicable grifter who’s perfectly happy to take advantage of other people for his own gain; he has no goal outside of satisfying his own avarice.

        I want to like Antle for the same reasons I want to like Joe Exotic, but ultimately, I think he and Lowe are somewhat similar in that they want to use the pretext of dangerous animals and wealth as a way to get laid. Lowe just packages it up in Vegas glitz and Antle dresses it up in Eastern mysticism.

        Of all of the animal dealers, the least despicable one seemed to be the ex-drug dealer guy who showed up for about one episode.

        • Anteros says:

          She’s a total Dolores Umbridge.

          Spot on!

          • Winja says:


          • gbdub says:

            Was Umbridge ever so obviously hypocritical though? Nosy, cruel, condescending, sure. But the infuruating thing about Baskin is the hypocrisy. She got her start breeding big cats and teaching other people to have cats as pets. She runs a zoo where she ruthlessly exploits volunteer labor with a creepy Skinner box shirt system, monetizes the hell out of everything, spends all that money on he legal feuds, all while riding her high horse and unleashing self righteous twitter mobs on her rivals.

            At least she doesn’t breed cats anymore? But oh yeah, she offed her rich hubby and dumped his family.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And her zoo looked less than pleasant for the animals. Antle looked like he had the nicest facilities. The one thing Carole’s doing better than the others is “no cub petting/breeding,” but that’s not a financial hit for her. She could just as well have realized if she does cub petting she can get a few bucks from the rubes who come to her zoo, but if she comes out as an anti-cub petting crusader on the internet she can get lots of bucks from rubes all over the world. I’m not sure that counts as virtue.

          • Winja says:

            I don’t get the “no petting” thing.

            I mean, I could see how it might be a bad deal for a cub that you’re planning to raise to release into the wild, but under a controlled situation with proper supervision, it seems to me like something Carole Baskin was just using as a wedge issue than something that’s really damaging in and of itself.

            Frankly, I think her hatred for Joe was a much higher priority than her love of big cats.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think the real problem is the perverse incentives. Cub petting looks like it makes some serious money. But then you kind of want cubs so you can make money off them. Which can only be used for petting for about six months. Then they turn into a $10,000/year expense that can only be looked at, just like the other 100 tigers you’ve got. So maybe Doc Antel takes six-month-old cubs out in the back woods and snuffs them out, while breeding more cubs he can make bank off of for six more months.

          • Winja says:

            I could definitely see that being the case. After all, how many people in the US are going to buy one of those tiger cubs to keep as a pet after that 6 month period where you can do the whole petting zoo thing?

    • Konstantin says:

      One thing I would have liked to see is an experienced zookeeper explaining exactly how you humanely take care of tigers and what everyone is doing wrong. I know you probably shouldn’t feed them a diet of diseased cows and expired Walmart meat, but it would be nice to have an expert voice explain why. Do any of these people employ licensed veterinarians, or anyone with formal training and experience working in accredited zoos?

    • gbdub says:

      Didn’t Scott write a whole post about Buddhist sex cults? Surprised this hasn’t come up yet, since it features one!

      1) Antle is probably the worst, but we don’t see enough of him on the show so seems comparatively sane. I mean he lures girls into a creepy sex cult and runs the big cat version of a puppy mill (hidden behind a slick exterior).

      Carole is worse than Jeff. Jeff is a sleaze bag and a con artist, but he’s amoral. Carole is a hypocrite and probably a murderer.

      2) Yes. If not yes, she definitely knows a lot more than she’s letting on about what happened.

      3) Yes. The particular way he got nailed was a setup, but he was going increasingly insane and was going to something that wound up with him jailed or dead eventually. And it es clear that whatever care he may have originally had for the animals, it was long gone by the time of his downfall.

      4) Agreed that his origin was oddly unexplored given how important he was… it seems like there is more to him than just Carole’s sidekick

  42. Loriot says:

    It occurred to me that I should probably start thinking about what to do if my roommate catches CV. We’re both working from home, so the risk is low, but I figure it’s better to think about these things now rather than having to figure it out on the spot should the worst happen.

    I share a two bedroom apartment with a roommate. My understanding is that if one of us catches it, it will be basically impossible for the other to not catch it as well, though I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. I’m also wondering about things like how to react in an emergency.

    What sort of things should I be thinking about to prepare? P.S. We live in California, in the south bay.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What facilities do you share? Kitchen, bathroom? If one of you caught it, do you both agree that the person who caught it would try to isolate themselves, and in exchange the unsick person would bring food to the sick person?

      You could use colored tape to mark paths on the floor for each person to walk, and places on each door for each person to touch.

      Do you have a thermometer that you could use to monitor your temperature daily?

      When I was prepping[1], I bought a shower curtain that I could use to try to seal off a room, as a makeshift filter in addition to a door, and that if this all turned out to be nothing would still be useful as a shower curtain.

      [1] I was very late to the game as far as preppers go, but way ahead of the game as far as the normal public.

      • Loriot says:

        We do share a bathroom and kitchen. I’m not sure he’d want to eat anything I might cook (he followed the carnivore diet and worries a lot about nutrition). I don’t have a thermometer.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Can you agree to get food the other would eat? That’s your call on if you could come to an agreement, but both of you will seriously benefit, from either side, whichever gets sick. Even if it means the sick one orders out and the healthy one drops it in front of their door.

          If you can, come up with schedules for using common areas, so you know you can avoid each other. If nothing else, then top-of-hour/bottom-of-hour, or even/odd hours. The sick one should clean thoroughly after using it. If you can’t come up with schedules, text each other when leaving your room.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      It may be that many people can’t catch it or get it asymptomatically, so there’s that at least. In fact I think the advice here – at least of a week or two ago – had you holing up longer than him, because he’s further on in the infective stage.

      A mask for him while he’s around the house, and him using facilities last (are chamber pots still spoken of?) and eating only pre-prepared food in his room. While you go heavy on the bleach and soap and never ever touch your face. That’s all I can think of!

      If he gets to an emergency state, he’ll have to be admitted to a hospital. I guess it would be good to keep a history of dates and symptoms.

      (Speaking of pre-prepared food, I guess buy or prepare and freeze some, including stuff of a kind that a sick person might like.)

    • JayT says:

      I think the only thing you can really do in the case that your roommate catches it, is leave. Even then, there’s a really good chance you already have it from the period before he was symptomatic. If I remember right, you’re pretty young, which means you’re probably a fairly low risk person anyways. Unless you have other health reasons, I think you probably just shouldn’t worry too much.

    • Robin says:

      The trouble is, one of you might catch it, but have very mild or no symptoms at all, but still be infective.

      And just a few OTs back, they were saying that whoever catches it outside will have a much smaller virus load and better chance of a mild outcome than the one who gets infected at home and gets a higher virus load.

      But keeping all this in mind while not even showing symptoms will make your daily life pretty unpleasant, when you still need to share a kitchen and a bathtub (Ha! Loriot reference!).

      Best is if anyone suspects having symptoms, start keeping distances, washing hands, maybe wearing masks around each other? A more positive thought: Some people get very bedridden and unable to get up, so you might be lucky to have a roommate at all who can look after you.

    • robirahman says:

      I had coronavirus already and have recovered, and my roommate didn’t catch it from me. (Or if he did, his case was asymptomatic.) I would suggest avoiding being in shared spaces concurrently, and airing them out after you walk through them if possible.

      I had also stockpiled two weeks worth of food and multivitamins, and that turned out to have been a great decision. I was stuck inside for two weeks, but at least did not suffer much for want of items available only outside.

  43. Well... says:

    The meetups section of the sidebar makes it seem like they’re all cancelled, but presumably many of them are still going on via some kind of virtual platform (Google hangouts, Zoom, etc.). This presents an opportunity for people to attend meetups in other areas they normally wouldn’t be able to get to. May I request that organizers post dates/times/links to their virtual meetups?

  44. benquo says:

    IRBs are a way for institutions to cover their asses. If you’re not relying on an institution that this would expose to perceived reputational risk, the realistic worst case scenario is that randos who are already inclined to get mad at you seize on the lack of IRB approval as a grievance. A/B testing is NOT regulated by anything like an IRB, even though it’s psychological testing for the explicit purpose of separating the targets from their money, without informed consent.

    Although you might be mistaken about whether your plan does in fact rely on an institution that this would expose to perceived reputational risk.

    Not all institutions that seem like public utilities behave as such. Email & office software providers will probably let you do nearly anything they don’t think is spam, but if you make an app that seems medical at all it may be difficult getting it approved without an academic or related institutional endorsement, which may then require an IRB. (A friend just had trouble getting their open-source contact-tracing app into an iOS testing environment for just this reason. No trouble with Android, though.)

    As pointed out elsewhere, academic journals and reviewers are, unsurprisingly, extremely credentialist, and thus exactly the kinds of institution you’d expect to care about IRB approval.

  45. sjcatchpole says:

    Out of curiosity, has anyone looked at whether not having had a tonsillectomy plays a role in defense against Covid-19? Twigged by:
    Tonsil and adenoid removal associated with respiratory, allergic and infectious disease
    Date: June 7, 2018
    Source: University of Melbourne
    Summary: Removing tonsils and adenoids in childhood increases the long-term risk of respiratory, allergic and infectious diseases, according to researchers who have examined — for the first time — the long-term effects of the operations.
    linked here

    and various data on regional and temporal differences in the rate of removal including

    Large international differences in (adeno)tonsillectomy rates. and

    [Epidemiology of tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in Italy]. “We observed a wide geographical variability of regional tonsillectomy rates, standardised by age and sex. They ranged from 3.5 x 10.000 (CI 3.1-4.0) in Basilicata to 19.0 (CI 18.6-19.5) in Piemonte. We found an inverse correlation (r = -0.50) between regional tonsillectomy rates for tonsillitis and minimum temperatures recorded in capitals of the regions.”

    Compared with this data on Covid-19 deaths in Italy – where Piedmont is #3 on the list with 1,168 deaths, and Basilicata is very last on the list with 13 (notwithstanding other obvious potential factors like proximity to the original outbreak)

    • George3d6 says:

      I would assume you can de-confound this data from anything else.

      Deconfounding the effects of tonsils themselves is hard since the people that have them removed are going to have been a less-healthy demographic by default to being with (though for many it might have corrected as they reached adulthood).

      Now deconfounding that from other traits that encourage a region to “prescribe a lot of tonsillectomies” and just the random noise that goes in CFR in a given region… yeah, no, that’s impossible.

      The only way to answer this question is to look at individual patient data, but because we live in a Bizzaro-land none of the Western countries (or any country really) will publish in-depth patient histories, even when said patients already died, even when it can save millions of life… so, eh.

      • sjcatchpole says:

        Based on other reading (admittedly starting from the tonsillectomy Wikipedia page) it seems like rates are somewhat arbitrary by place and over time, and determined somewhat by health care funding structures (if you pay per surgery rather than fixed salary) and different clinical standard (it was really common in the uk and parts of the us 80 years ago, less so by the 60s and had fallen out of favour by 40 years ago – so in line with the death curve for covid-19)

        Agree without case data this would be hard but was curious if anyone knows whether people are making that sort of data available (or analysing it)

    • keaswaran says:

      Basilicata is one of the southernmost regions and Piemonte is one of the northernmost regions. There’s lots of things that run on a north-to-south gradient in Italy. What we think of as one country, Italy, is actually in many ways more naturally thought of as a project of Piemonte occupying the south (and it was doing so under the rulership of a family from Savoie, much of which is now in France or Switzerland).

      If you could find variance within the south on these variables, and variance within the north on these variables, and correlations within each region, then maybe there would be good evidence. But if it’s all just correlation that results from two separate correlations with the north-south gradient, then it doesn’t tell us much.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        What we think of as one country, Italy, is actually in many ways more naturally thought of as a project of Piemonte occupying the south (and it was doing so under the rulership of a family from Savoie, much of which is now in France or Switzerland).

        Italy is a good example of how weird nationalism can be. It had an organic element (the language everyone had to learn in national primary school was the language of Dante, not something made up the week before), but it absolutely was a mid-19th century expansionist project by the King of Sardinia and Savoie/Piedmont (a Southeast Corner of Francophonie).
        During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, the Rightist philosopher Joseph de Maistre was a Francophone Savoyard noble whose family had been ennobled from the ranks of cloth merchants by the king of that oddly-shaped monarchy.

      • sjcatchpole says:

        This was just the first set of tonsil data that had some solid geographic spread – agree Italy might have plenty of other data.

        Based on other reading (admittedly starting from the tonsillectomy Wikipedia page) it seems like rates are somewhat arbitrary by place and over time (even within countries), and determined somewhat by health care funding structures (if you pay per surgery rather than fixed salary) and different clinical standard (it was really common in the uk and parts of the us 80 years ago, less so by the 60s and had fallen out of favour by 40 years ago – so in line with the death curve for covid-19)

        Just seemed like there is a big unknown which is why deaths seem to vary so much by age cohort, and to be geographically patchy (although lots of drivers for this likely related to how epidemics spread)

        Would love to see US regional data for the tonsillectomy – one article was saying that back in the 20s and 30s in New York it was more common than not to have them out…

    • sjcatchpole says:

      Another point on this – it is something that old people have in common that younger people don’t in the US:

      Year US Tonsillectomy Rate per 10,000 population (under-15s)
      1965 165.5
      1970 124.7
      1975 86.5
      1980 57.4
      1985 37.8

  46. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    The big activity this time has been on the merchant ship front, where I’ve looked first at the old general cargo ships, and then at the container ships which replaced them, massively reducing shipping costs and enabling today’s global economy.

    Reader Suvorov has looked into the checkered history of Southern privateers during the American Civil War.

    Lastly, my wife recently paid a visit to the SS Anne, and shared her experiences.

    • ChrisA says:

      Container ships and containers in general are another good example of a technology that seems to have been invented far later than it should have been. I would imagine they would have been really useful during the second world war for instance. Any thoughts on why they were so late?

      • Bobobob says:

        This reminds me of a book I once saw on display in Barnes & Noble that made me think the whole “X: Why the invention of X was indispensable to the modern world” craze had run its course:

        The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

        On the other hand, the second edition has almost 400 reviews on Amazon, so the topic may be of wider interest than I first imagined.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’ve read that book; it’s very good. Apparently containerization was a huge impetus to the modern globalized economy, by drastically decreasing shipping costs of just about everything.

        • keaswaran says:

          It’s a great book. I read another book about shipping containers at around the same time (Ninety Percent of Everything, by Rose George) and I have trouble remembering which facts I got from each book independently and which were in both. But I think it’s much more foundational to the world you think you know than you realize.

          (One of the unexpected points – why do you think every urban area had a renaissance of its waterfront in the last couple decades? One part of it is all the clean water acts that made the rivers into pleasant things to look at rather than sources of pollution, but another part is that container ships need much bigger land areas to load and unload, so that shipping, and the industry that locates next to it, left the cities, so that industrial pollution of the 50s and 60s could give way to industrial abandonment and beginnings of water cleanup in the 70s and 80s, and then artist followed by residential occupation in the 90s and 00s.)

          • Bobobob says:

            The fact that there are not one, but two, books about shipping containers does in fact convince me that they are more important to the world than I realized.

      • Del Cotter says:

        IIRC containerisation kind of did get its start in WWII, particularly the part where you keep the ships leaving on schedule and do not delay departure for the sake of filling hold space. It turned out to be more important that they keep transporting, than that they be “efficiently” full. If convenient, you could throw in junk you wouldn’t normally prioritise, on the off chance they could use it at the other end. Late deliveries could just go on the next ship, because you could rely on their being a next ship, since they were shuttling regularly.

      • matthewravery says:

        How is the technology of a shipping container fundamentally different from the technology of a wooden barrel? Volume and material, sure, but weren’t people shipping barrels of (relatively) consistent size for centuries? Merchant ships were built to ship barrels of goods. Systems were developed for efficiently loading and unloading barrels. What am I missing? (Probably a lot! Please enlighten me.)

        • bean says:

          One big issue is the tare weight. An ISO container can hold 5 to 10 times its weight in cargo. A barrel usually can’t, unless it’s cargo is high-density. So packing, say, clothes in a barrel isn’t going to work well, particularly as barrels also stack very poorly. They’re also not an atypical size for break-bulk cargo, so you don’t really gain much in efficiency.

          The other issue is one of scale. It only costs a little bit more to move a container on and off a ship than it does a barrel. You need a couple of guys to hook it up, and one to run the crane. But each container holds a lot more, so the total amount of work required is vastly reduced.

          • Garrett says:

            Containers can also be locked and sealed which makes it less convenient for longshoremen to pilfer.

        • Del Cotter says:

          Palletization, that was the word I was missing. Here’s a history site:

          I suspect barrels are a nightmare we civilians don’t appreciate from outside. At a guess, they’re inconvenient for powered vehicles to lift, hard for humans to lift, all too easy to start rolling, easy to be injured around, easy to come loose in a ship. I’m re-reading The Pride of Chanur and “canisters on the dock” hefted and stacked by the spaceship crew has not aged well.

          • Kindly says:

            Barrels are round precisely because we want them to roll, since they’re hard for humans to lift. This is less relevant when there are cranes.

          • Del Cotter says:

            No, it’s for structural integrity; a rectangular hoop would not be able to serve its function. Rolling them is handy (until they crush you) but as an affordance, roll-ability is more what Stephen Jay Gould called a “spandrel”, something that just happens to exist because the essential features bring it into being, while not being an essential feature itself.

            The existence of containers you can’t roll never did them any harm. You roll a barrel because you can, but it’s not why you made a barrel a barrel.

          • zardoz says:

            Barrels are a really old technology that goes back to ancient Rome, or possibly even earlier. They’re round because they’re basically a bunch of planks held in by metal hoops, right? You can’t really make a square one with ancient Roman tech (or medieval tech for that matter).

          • Del Cotter says:

            The oldest ones were made with wooden hoops. The Wikipedia page describes one of the uses of second-hand wine barrels as lining for wells, which is the source of many surviving ancient barrels, since old barrels would usually otherwise be burned or broken up (same problem as with old papyrus documents we wish had survived). That page gives as an example the one now about 900 yards from me, from Silchester.

            Clay amphorae for shipping (and clay tablets for writing) don’t have the problem of being valuable fuel sources when their primary use is over, so they are much more common (don’t rot either)

        • zzzzort says:

          The scale and concomitant movement to a capital intensive crane instead of individual longshoremen moving barrels one at a time is the major factor.

          There were a lot of smaller advantages, like being able to load one shipping container on a semi, and having the containers be weathertight enough that they can be shipped outside of a hold. Containers stack really well, both because they’re nice rectangles but also because they’re strong enough to support it.

        • Lambert says:

          It’s much harder for dwarves to smuggle themselves in shipping containers.

      • bean says:

        I’d say it’s a mix of cost and lock-in. Labor costs rose a lot post-WWII, which made the system more viable. And container ships can’t use ports which aren’t equipped for it, which is a serious problem for independent shipowners. If you’re a big enough customer, you can make that work, but a lot of them were always kind of financially marginal, particularly with the depression. Add in the post-WWI shipping glut, and you have a case where nobody is willing to pay to set up the system.

        There were some steps towards containers during WWII, with extensive use of pallets and the like. But the vast majority of the shipping stock had old cargo-handling gear, and they were spending a bunch of time offloading cargo in places that didn’t have good facilities. And the specter of a ship showing up with containers and being able to unload them would not please logistics planners.

      • cassander says:

        the container needs a few conditions things before it’s useful. Most importantly reliable, high speed cranes and other container moving infrastructure combined with labor costs high enough to make the investment in them worthwhile. I’m not an expert, but I’d guess that electric motors for cranes powerful enough to lift full containers quickly weren’t a thing until the mid-20th century.

        • CatCube says:

          I think the electric motors capable of handling them existed, but they were very expensive and you economized on the number of motors.

          I look at a dam we constructed in the 1930s, Bonneville, and they used two cranes to handle all 18 spillway gates. This required much more labor for riggers and crane operators, but minimized the (relatively) very, very expensive capital costs for the hoisting equipment.

          Twenty years later, when building further dams in the late 40s to the 60s, we gave each gate its own hoist so now you don’t have to rig at all, just push a button. Much less efficient in the use of equipment, since each motor is now being used for a tiny fraction of the time, but much more personnel-efficient.

          We went back in the 70s to give each gate at Bonneville its own hoist, so they could be operated from the control room, though this was as much for fish passage purposes.

          • ChrisA says:

            I remember seeing pictures of cranes lifting stuff out of holds of ships, including cars etc from the 1930s. It looked like they were rigging each item specially, and it must have taken a long time to unload each ship. They must have had cranes that could lift large loads though since that is necessary in both container and non-container systems. My guess is the coordination issue, one port doing this wouldn’t be enough for the entire system to move to containerisation.

    • Procrastinating Prepper says:

      The SS Anne? Did she fight Gary and obtain the Cut HM? /s

  47. Hysteria says:

    Here in Brazil things are going pretty badly regarding Covid19.

    Not even two weeks of quarantine and people “are sick” of it already; store owners figured out that they can stay open and keep all workers working if they “control the amount of people inside of the store”, thus evading the government orders against gatherings.
    End result is that people will be crowded in long queues on the sidewalks while a couple clients go inside to do their business. (Sidewalks being public and thus not the store’s responsibility)

    People also got sick of not being able to go outside to enjoy parks/smoke/buy street food so they’re just going out and doing it anyway; parks in particular were very crowded on this weekend, with families playing around and old people chilling under the sun.

    I mean, what could go wrong?

    • Nick says:

      Not counting on it, but I really hope name checks out. 🙁

      • Hysteria says:


        Brazil as a country prepared pretty readily for the pandemic; PPE production got ramped up; the government decided on quarantine measures comparatively earlier than other countries and there was (and is) extensive media campaigns to make people stay home and follow safe behaviors.

        But none of that matters if people at large just decide to do whatever. The average brazillian’s trust on media (or ability to understand what’s going on) is pretty low, so everyone from store owners to the poor worker is pushing the limits of what they can and can’t do “under quarantine laws” and engaging on riskier behaviors just to restore the “normalcy” of day to day life.

        We are also not testing nearly enough cases because we lack the lab equipment to do so, and the government has extremely narrow requirements to allow testing. (Most people get a CT scam and if it shows a possible infection on the lungs, they’re sent home for 14 days, not everyone gets the official test and becomes a statistic.)

        • Robin says:

          Thank you for this first-hand information. Over here, the newspapers only write that the Brazilian president does not believe in Covid-19, says that it is just a grippezinha, Brazil must not stand still, and does everything to undermine what regional governors try to do, and the favela gangs force a lockdown.
          Good to hear that this is not the entire truth and the government is doing something, after all.

          About following the quarantine, or being sick of that, it’s similar in Ecuador, especially in Guayaquil it is bad. And people are still protesting against the closing down of the markets. Sure, many poor people need to make their living every day and cannot afford to lock down. And then there are those who don’t care.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Here big chain stores were pretty fast to adapt. There are queues outside most of them, but they put markers on the ground every 5 feet, and people seem to respect them. Same for the queue before paying. Not sure how mom and pop stores are doing, because most of them closed down years ago. Yey for globalization, I guess.

      • Del Cotter says:

        Only 1.5 metres? In this neighbourhood the stores are marking every 2 metres (6.5 feet).

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Deaths are scaling up which may concentrate minds a bit. But the psychological phenomenon is probably there in most Western countries. Police in Ireland and the UK have been having to clamp down a bit, especially people going to parks etc.

    • Viliam says:

      End result is that people will be crowded in long queues on the sidewalks while a couple clients go inside to do their business.

      Staying on fresh air, even close to many people, seems safer than being in a closed space with the same amount of people. Think about the concentration of viruses per cubic meter (outside, the wind can blow them far away and up in the sky), and the places where they can land (who cares if the tree leaves are covered with COVID-19).

      • albatross11 says:


        It sure seems to me like being outside in a not-crowded place is better in every way for avoiding spread than being inside at the same density of people. The air circulation is better, there’s likely sunlight to eventually inactivate viruses and a breeze to avoid high concentrations of virus in air, etc.

  48. Murphy says:

    the UK’s ICNARC have released data on demographics of covid cases in UK hospitals comparing COVID to influenza cases in the last few years.

    Some of it may be skewed by the locations with the most cases but if it really is hitting people of asian and african descent harder in the UK then it’s not good news for a bunch of countries.

    There’s a non-trivial chance that it’s related to the different haplotypes of the genes coding for the ACE2 receptor.

    The East Asian populations have much higher AFs in the eQTL variants associated with higher ACE2 expression in tissues (Fig. 1c), which may suggest different susceptibility or response to 2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2 from different populations under the similar conditions.

    • J Mann says:

      My wife was looking at a story on the number of African-Americans hit in Michigan. I assume the effect was likely that Detroit’s urban areas got hit harder and earlier than the suburbs, or maybe health cofounders related to wealth disparities, but if there’s a genetic component, we’re going to get conspiracy theories for years longer than currently predicted.

    • EchoChaos says:

      This could also explain the data in Germany. It’s not that Germany did way, way better, just that Germans are less susceptible.

      Someone had a differential data in Switzerland by canton based on native language and Germanic Switzerland is doing the best of all the Swiss cantons.

      If true then we should expect the American West to do quite well, the American south to do well among whites and very poorly among blacks.

      • Murphy says:

        I’d be cautious about making strong predictions like that. The haplotypes likely involved seem to be super-common in all populations so the difference would be more similar to some populations having 2/3rds as many serious cases so hospitals would struggle anywhere.

        If hospitals have 10X as many serious cases as they can handle it’s not much better if in some regions it’s 6X

        • EchoChaos says:

          That was random rambling hypothesizing, not any sort of serious epidemiology.

          Please do not alter policy based on said random internet post.

          But given where we are seeing spread now and where is getting hit VERY hard versus relatively hard, this seems at least plausible.

          If Southern American whites (a notoriously physically unfit and relatively old subpopulation) do surprisingly well and the American West continues to have basically flat curves, then this will be confirmed.

          This doesn’t mean that Germans, German-Americans and their related subpopulations shouldn’t continue to socially distance or anything.

          • Joshua Hedlund says:

            It’s still very early, but the higher death count of the less-populated yet more-white Palm Beach county compared to the higher-populated yet less- white Miami-Dade county in Florida would not seem to support that hypothesis. (My hunch is Age is a simple factor swamping others, but haven’t looked into details, caveats of sample sizes anyway, etc)

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Joshua Hedlund

            Still early enough to not be sure, and isn’t Palm Beach mostly Northeasterners with a winter home? In that case, they would be substantially less Germanic than the rest of the South (Borderers) and West (Borderers and Puritans).

            Remember that it’s specifically Germanness, not whiteness that we’re talking about here. The Northeast is heavily Italian/Irish/Polish/etc.

            If WASPs are getting hit less hard (e.g. Rhode Island doing better than neighboring Connecticut), that would argue for this.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            EchoChaos: Two things,

            1. Please, for the love of God, do not take categories from Albion’s Seed as a genuine guide to the genetic background of different populations in different areas. The whole thesis of the work is that founding cultures survive ethnic change, anyway, but even then founding cultural categories are very broad-brushes that are not going to easily map onto any kind of population genetics.

            2. To the extent they are a guide to anything, the Borderers are not significantly more Germanic than their later immigrating Irish cousins. They’re heavily Celtic enough to make the distinction fairly worthless. Both the England/Scotland border area and the island of Ireland have seen enough admixture over the millennia that I find it hard to believe that both populations aren’t very mixed. Especially those of Irish heritage who have lived in New England for more than a century and are thoroughly mixed with local Yankee lineages.

            Oh, also: The West isn’t particularly ‘Puritan’, except the Mormons themselves. If anything, it’s more straight German or, in areas, Scandinavian.

          • EchoChaos says:


            1. Please, for the love of God, do not take categories from Albion’s Seed as a genuine guide to the genetic background of different populations in different areas.

            I am not, and as I said, this is WILDLY armchair-ish.

            However, I will push back and say that the Scots-Irish are substantially less Celtic and more Germanic than are the Scottish or the Irish. They are mostly genetically an English strain. This can be seen by 23 and Me tests from the South.

            There are notable genetic differences between the English and the rest of the British Isles that persist to this day. 1500 years just isn’t that long in human population terms when there isn’t mass-scale migration.

            The West isn’t particularly ‘Puritan’, except the Mormons themselves. If anything, it’s more straight German or, in areas, Scandinavian.

            Yeah, which is why I said the American West would do so well in my original post. I should’ve included “German” in my previous post, you’re right.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            However, I will push back and say that the Scots-Irish are substantially less Celtic and more Germanic than are the Scottish or the Irish.

            Which Scottish? Scots is a Germanic language, while the Highlanders are Gaelic. Culturally the former were stereotyped as stolid, boring Presbyterians when the latter were still rising up for the Stuarts.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Which Scottish? Scots is a Germanic language, while the Highlanders are Gaelic. Culturally the former were stereotyped as stolid, boring Presbyterians when the latter were still rising up for the Stuarts.

            I assumed @m.alex.matt was talking about Highland Scots, because he compared them to the Irish, which are indeed a more Celtic populace.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          What you say is not untrue and there are other confounders (maybe the climate will have a big effect on some countries; population density and social behaviour certainly will.)

          But the ratio differences between covid and viral pneumonia (2017) in that imgur were quite large. (Could still have tangential effects built into them too, of course.)

      • Lurker says:

        This could also explain the data in Germany. It’s not that Germany did way, way better, just that Germans are less susceptible.

        Shouldn’t the regions bordering on Germany be doing quite well in this case? One of the hardest hit parts (Edit: maybe the worst, actually) of France borders on Germany and if you go back in history far enough actually was part of Germany once. There are a lot of people “living across the border” in that area (meaning that they socialize across the border, have relationships, children, work, etc), so I’d expect a random sample on the French side of the border to be genetically indistinct from a random sample on the German side of things.
        I really don’t think this theory stands up to a common sense check, but maybe I missed something.

        [Disclaimer: I’m German, so I’d actually really, really wouldn’t mind this being true, since most of the people I’m worried about are German to, but I just don’t think it fits. I think we’ve got better numbers through a mixture of methods and luck (which still might run out), not genetics]

        • EchoChaos says:

          Shouldn’t the regions bordering on Germany be doing quite well in this case?

          They are in Switzerland, which is why I brought this up.

          One of the hardest hit parts (Edit: maybe the worst, actually) of France borders on Germany and if you go back in history far enough actually was part of Germany once.

          This is the sort of on the ground info that I am interested in, thanks! That does indeed punch a pretty hard hole in it. Is that region of Germany also hit hard?

          I’m German, so I’d actually really, really wouldn’t mind this being true, since most of the people I’m worried about are German to, but I just don’t think it fits. I think we’ve got better numbers through a mixture of methods and luck (which still might run out), not genetics

          I’m old-blood Anglo-American, so it would maybe help me, but since I have African-American family (and AAs are by far the worst hit so far), I’m definitely not doing this out of any sort of “gotcha”, I am genuinely curious.

          • Lurker says:

            They are in Switzerland, which is why I brought this up.

            I suspect that’s due to geography/the shape of the Alps – in some parts it’s definitely easier to reach/cross the borders than to go to another part of Switzerland, but I don’t know how pervasive that is. Anybody Swiss/living in Switzerland here who can chime in?

            Is that region of Germany also hit hard?

            Sort of? The states with the most cases (in absolute numbers) are also the ones with the highest population and one of them borders on France.
            Here are some maps: (I hope the link goes through…)
            It’s all in German, but it’s mostly maps/pictures, so I hope it’s ok.
            The upper map is cases per 100 000 people, the lower map is colored in in absolute number of cases.
            If you look at the lower map, you basically also get a rough map of population numbers.
            The parts of Germany that have the darkest color on those maps, are doing well enough to accept critical cases from the overloaded French hospitals (currently, at least), so:
            hit hard? yes. But a lot of the early cases came from people coming back from (ski-)vacations, who’re usually fairly young and fit and a lot of the community spread came from carnival(Fasching) and church events – all of which are more likely in the southern (and western) part of Germany. East Germany has pretty low population density (aside from a couple big cities) and tends to be poorer and less religious. Add to that the longer distance to the ski resorts that caused a lot of the early cases, and it makes a lot of sense for them to have fewer cases in absolute numbers as well as per capita.

            I’m definitely not doing this out of any sort of “gotcha”, I am genuinely curious.

            Oh, no! I didn’t think you were. I