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. There’s an online SSC “meetup” happening next Sunday, April 26, at 10:30 PDT. See here for more details.
2. Berkeley’s rationalist community center, REACH, has also gone online, so their meetings and talks and so on are now open to anyone who’s interested. Learn more at their Facebook page here.
3. You may previously have seen the sidebar ad for Altruisto, a browser app that automatically donates a portion of your online shopping spending to effective charity at no cost to you. They want me to let you know that there’s an updated version available.
4. Thanks to everyone who sent me comments about “A Failure, But Not Of Prediction” (though as always I prefer you post the comments on the blog so other people can see them). An especially common concern was that my dichotomy between “official sources” (wrong) and “random smart people online” (right) was unfair in a few ways. First, because some official sources (like independent expert epidemiologists) got things right early. Second, because many of the smart people online I mentioned didn’t get things right until late February/early March, by which time some of the media was also starting to get things right (see Anonymous Bosch’s complaint here, Scott Aaronson’s response here, and Sarah Constantin’s comment here). I’m sorry I’m not up for the amount of work it would take to respond to these concerns fairly and correct all my inconsistencies here, but there’s some good discussion at the linked comments.
Another frequent topic was nominations of worthy people who deserved public praise for getting things right early. I was trying to avoid having this be a “hall of shame, hall of fame” post, because there are so many people who deserve mention in both that it would inevitably be unfair. I tried to sidestep this entire issue by quoting a previous list someone else had made. But two names that came up a lot were Steve Hsu (see eg January post here, check also the comments) and Curtis Yarvin (February 1st article here). I’m sure I’m still forgetting many great people who deserve recognition.
A third frequent topic was people who said the pandemic was actually easy to predict; some of these people backed this up with proof that they in fact predicted it, and an explanation of the (completely logical) thought processes they used to do that. Again, these people are great and deserve praise. But I don’t consider a few people getting it right proof that it was “easy to predict” in a meaningful way. If predictions regarding some event follow a standard distribution from overly denialist to overly alarmist, then every event that turns out to be alarming will necessarily have some people who correctly predicted it (eg were the right level of alarmed) before the fact. But to do anything useful, we need to be able to identify those people beforehand. So for me, the interesting question is whether there’s some consistent way for a bird’s-eye Outside View observer to predict something before the fact, eg by using certain prediction aggregators or known reliable experts. If you can’t do that, I think it’s fair to call an event “hard to predict” from a social standpoint, even if it was easy for some people, and even if it should have been easy for everyone based on how logical it was.
5. Some people have brought up that my thrive vs. survive theory of the political spectrum does an unusually bad job predicting current events, especially the thing where Democrats mostly want to maintain lockdown and Republicans mostly want to take their chances. I don’t have much to say about this, but I acknowledge it’s true, and you should update your models accordingly.