729 Comments

When governments spend more than they collect in taxes, they do something that everyone refers to as "borrowing", which increases the "debt". But during the Covid pandemic, pretty much every country was "borrowing". But if everyone is borrowing, who is the lender? It seems to me now that those words do not have their ordinary meaning. "Borrowing" turns out to be code for "printing money", and "debt" is "the amount of money we've printed".

Well, not quite. I have the impression that governments nominally "borrow" from private corporations and individuals, but of course the way they "pay back" this money - with interest - is not by intermittently switching between budget deficit and budget surplus. Rather, they simply "borrow" more even money and use the new money to pay off the old debts. Which makes no sense to me: wouldn't it be better to print money to avoid paying interest? (and to avoid the risk of hyperinflation, have some sort of limit on the money-printing?)

I wonder if the whole system is set up in some modestly idiotic way - inefficient and difficult to understand, but not bad enough that the government is forced to change it. I also wonder if all the governments of the world use basically the same system, which would be a surprising "coincidence".

In any case, I've never seen a explanation that I could entirely follow. Aside from things like "fractional reserve" being hard to wrap one's head around, I find that virtually everyone who tries to explain macroeconomics takes for granted that their audience understands concepts like "buying debt" and the distinction between "fiscal", "monetary" and "financial". Does anyone explain this stuff like I'm 5?

Still, I would like to share a flash of insight I've had recently about macroeconomics that no one has ever even attempted to explain to me. It's about the value of money.

I assert that the value of money is (approximately) the total amount of production divided by the total amount of spending. "Amount of production" is real-world goods and services, so it has no particular unit of measurement. "Amount of spending" is the amount of money that changes hands, and it could be measured in dollars.

A key point here is that money which doesn't change hands doesn't enter into the equation. Nor does the world population. Hypothetically, then, suppose Jeff Bezos finds a way to gobble up most of the world's wealth and he becomes a 50-trillionaire. If production stays the same during this time (I guess it's more likely to increase, but let's pretend) and he spends almost none of this money, the effect of this wealth accumulation should be deflationary: the denominator (spending) decreases because Bezos is not spending his earnings (while production is flat or increasing), so the value of money increases. Everyone's money is worth more! Yay! However, those who are in debt effectively find themselves with bigger debts. Wages fall in response to the constricted money supply, so indebted people will have trouble paying off their debts. (I heard somewhere that this was a major problem during the Great Depression.)

But now, suppose that suddenly Bezos decides to spend 6 trillion dollars for a vacation on the moon three years from now, and suppose world production responds mainly by *moving* resources to the moon mission (due to structural limitations that prevent total production from increasing very much). Thanks to the increasing denominator, the effect will be sudden inflation (especially in moon-mission-related industries, i.e. this is where price increases are likely to be concentrated, though there will be inflation everywhere due to the loss of production in other sectors, and also whole supply chains relevant to the moon mission will be impacted, which can also cause price increases to bleed into other areas of the economy).

Getting back to the debt issue, while nominally the U.S. and many other countries have huge public debts and also huge private debts, none of this matters in practice, *as long as it doesn't affect production or spending significantly*. Indeed, perhaps big debts can be good by stimulating production, though I wonder if it can lead to instability (and if so, why).

Also, anyone want to predict the overall stock market trend over the next few years? I am not aware of any mechanism by which a major crash should occur, so I tentatively expect a minor crash at worst. However, US stocks are probably overpriced, so I expect that price increases will level off pretty soon and investor returns will be relatively poor over the next few years. Of course, though, I'm no expert and I don't really understand why the stock market rose so much in the first place. Did a lot of those stimulus dollars somehow get dumped straight into markets? Or was it caused more by regulators using their poorly-explained mechanisms to increase the money supply in a way that increased average stock prices?

Expand full comment

> the impression that governments nominally "borrow" from private corporations and individuals, but of course the way they "pay back" this money - with interest - is not by intermittently switching between budget deficit and budget surplus. Rather, they simply "borrow" more even money and use the new money to pay off the old debts.

:) Everyone's happy until the music stops.

On a more serious note, you ask many good questions and I'd love to see a domain expert answer them.

> I don't really understand why the stock market rose so much in the first place

Between the rising inflation and terrible ROI on safe investments, there is massive pressure for capital to get parked _somewhere_. Hence concurrent stock market and real estate bubbles.

Expand full comment

> there is massive pressure for capital to get parked _somewhere_

While market cap isn't the same thing as money invested, my question is, to the extent more investment did go into the markets, what route the extra money took to get there. For example, maybe there is a story you can tell where the (multiple) stimulus policies worked great by staving off poverty, but *incidentally* profits and stocks rose indirectly via money being spent on products and services, and another story where the stimulus didn't do its job efficiently and the majority of it went straight into pockets of people who didn't need it, and these people of course dumped the extra money into markets.

Expand full comment

So what's up with cognition in schizophrenia?

I have schizoaffective, minimal negative symptoms (zero to my awareness), above-average IQ + some problems in attention in processing speed, but I'm scared of cognitive decline.

Many cross-sectional studies show that cognition is not declined in schizophrenia at age 18-65. But two recent longitudinal studies (Zanelli, Kotov) do show cognitive decline

after 10 and 20 years respectively.

So what should I do? I do not smoke, I'm managing my weight, I'm controlling my blood pressure, I do go on walks. Is this enough? Is this the best that I can do?

I'm aware that there are no drugs or supplements for cognition in schizophrenia (something does exist in the pipeline, but who knows about that).

There is some data on "cognitive training" but Cohen d = 0.4 for this, and some folks do have cognition which is 2SD below normal. Sounds like a joke. Seriously?

Also one of the promising agents in the pipeline " BI 425809" has an effects size of around d = 0.45. Is this even distantly possible to have something with 1 SD effect on cognition?

Right now I'm extremely butthurt that psychiatry for 100 years ignored the obvious symptom of schizophrenia, hinted even by Kraepelin.

Another interesting statistic is that ("Three cognitive trajectories", "Tale of three trajectories") you can find that schizophrenia does not universally

affect cognition. There are probably 3 cognitive trajectories with approximately 30% of people with intact cognitive function. So they should work!

There should be 30% of schizophrenics in the workforce. But the real number for 1st world is 10-15%. So what's up with them? Too lazy? Underdrugged? Overdrugged?

The obvious consequence of this is "no schizophrenics in the workforce" => "no exposure for society" => "weird ideas about schizophrenia" =>

"stigma".

Expand full comment

We all know that [Steven Pinker](https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/gp8wv8/goddamn_it_pinker/) is [directly responsible](https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/6ggwap/steven_pinker_jinxes_the_world/) for all the world's problems over the last decade or so. But the man simply cannot be stopped:

[**Steven Pinker Thinks Your Sense of Imminent Doom Is Wrong**: *“It is irrational to interpret a number of crises occurring at the same time as signs that we're doomed.*](https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/09/06/magazine/steven-pinker-interview.html)

Expand full comment

I've read somewhere ( I think it was old SlateStarCodex ) that fracking is now cleaner than most other energy sources. This doesn't align with conventional wisdom. It also doesn't align super well with Wikipedia's introduction, which I would summarize as something like 'greenhouse effect similar to coal, other effects worse'.

Has Scott ever written about this? If not, any other rationalist-adjacent people? If not that, either, but if you have strong opinions on this (in either direction), where is the best evidence?

Expand full comment

It's common knowledge that compared to coal, natural gas releases about half the CO2 per unit of energy (https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-fuel#coal-oil-gas-cement-where-do-co2-emissions-come-from), and it releases much less pollution as well (see deaths caused per unit of energy: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/death-rates-from-energy-production-per-twh ). Some quarters are worried about CH4 leaks from the natural gas system, but you can see in the AGGI (Figure 3) that greenhouse warming from CH4 is relatively low, and not rising much, compared to CO2, in the last 20ish years since fracking became a big thing: https://gml.noaa.gov/aggi/aggi.html

Now, about the fracking used to access the natural gas... I'm no expert, I know it can cause some tiny earthquakes, and I know that there are local regulations in Canada around how frackwater "flowback" from a well must be dealt with (I recently chatted with a guy at a local oil & gas company who explained how the industry has responded to environmental concerns by cleaning up its water management... I proposed that this wouldn't affect public perception, just as all the extra regulations that were piled on after the Three

Mile Island improved safety, but in the long run, almost no one noticed; instead people just went from treating nuclear as "dangerous" to "dangerous and expensive". He didn't seem to believe me, probably because he didn't like nuclear power.)

Expand full comment

> but you can see in the AGGI (Figure 3) that greenhouse warming from CH4 is relatively low, and not rising much, compared to CO2, in the last 20ish years since fracking became a big thing: https://gml.noaa.gov/aggi/aggi.html

I don't understand how this answers the question of relative damage without also knowing how much energy was won per amount of methane vs. Co2. If I understand this data, it shows that methane increased warming by .114 whereas Co2 increased it by 1.084. That's 9.5 times as much. However, if 95% of our energy comes at the cost of emitting Co2, then methane would only account for 1/20th of the energy gain at 1/10th of the warming cost, and thus be twice as hamrful. These numbers are made up, I'm just trying to illustrate the point that we're missing an additional variable to calculate the relevant quantity.

Or is that also in the report? I haven't looked at it in detail.

Expand full comment

I assume your hypothetical is "5% of energy comes at the cost of emitting CH4", but virtually none of our energy requires emitting CH4; if CH4 reaches the atmosphere, it means we *failed* to use it to produce energy, i.e. it leaked. I'm afraid I don't have a reference handy, but my impression is that the warming effect from leaked natural gas is much smaller than the warming effect we would get from using coal instead.

An important thing to note when analyzing this issue is that CH4 has a short lifetime of only about 12 years before it is destroyed in the methane cycle. That makes the methane problem less serious, as we expect nature will clean up the mess eventually when reduce our methane output.

Methane has 28x the warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year time horizon (https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/pns/current_ghg.html) but I think it's like 80x over a 30-year horizon or something like that. A noteworthy result of this is that if our CH4 output is stable, then CH4 levels won't increase in the long run. By contrast, CO2 accumulates, so in the long run the CO2:CH4 ratio should continue increasing. If we look at the 100-year time horizon, then, natural gas producers would have to leak about 3.7% of all their CH4 in order to produce the same amount of global warming via leaking as they produce via burning (remember, coal produces about 2x the CO2, so a 3.7% leak would put it on par with coal in terms of greenhouse emissions). But a 3.7% loss would be is a significant loss of revenue; producers want to avoid that, and it probably doesn't cost a lot of money to reduce leaks below 1%. Also, there are regulations against leaking.

Expand full comment

I'd be impressed if its other effects managed to be worse than coal (doubly so if you count lignite)

Expand full comment

Initially, when I found out a friend of mine hadn’t been vaccinated (male, ~22 years old), I was worried that:

a) he was prolonging the pandemic

b) his behavior, at scale, is producing variants that could be avoided

c) he risks dying if he gets it

Now, I’m not so sure. From an article I read recently, the widespread nature of Covid seems inevitable. Variants seem to be here to stay. At endemicity, these variants seem rather insignificant. Covid is forecasted to become a permanent, cyclical virus that infects the population in waves for all of future time. (If this is news to you, please consider reading this article before responding: “Why Covid is Here to Stay and Why You Shouldn’t Worry About It” https://cspicenter.org/blog/waronscience/why-covid-19-is-here-to-stay-and-why-you-shouldnt-worry-about-it/)

Further, my friend is unlikely to get it now that a significant percentage of people are vaccinated. His risk of transmitting it to anyone vaccinated, assuming he gets it, is low. And even if he does transmit it, they’re extremely unlikely to have any serious complications. Finally, if he gets it, hospitalization is unlikely. Most probably, at worst he’ll be extremely sick for two weeks, so I can’t even rationally use his own self-preservation as a very compelling argument.

Also, everyone is pointing out that “98% of covid hospitalizations are in unvaccinated people,” but nobody talks much about the base rate of hospitalization being low (around 1-4%, from what I’ve found, sometimes less, at ~500 per 100k cases).

It’s hard for me to build a compelling case for a young person (eg. < 30 years old) to get vaccinated now. I’m pretty sure it’s a smart thing to do, but I can’t confidently say it’s wrong not to.

Expand full comment

> I’m pretty sure it’s a smart thing to do, but I can’t confidently say it’s wrong not to.

The is the strange thing about this whole debate, to me, is the most important part of it that no one seems to deal with.

Let's say you could confidently say it's wrong for someone else to choose not to get vaccinated. We all know that just because you can confidently say something doesn't mean you're actually correct; in fact, most controversial issues are controversial precisely because a reasonable person can confidently take mutually exclusive, contradictory positions.

But there's this implication that if you, personally, or you and a large group of people you agree with, are confident about something, that it is *objectively* or *cosmically* true that it's a moral imperative that people behave the way you want them to. Sure, when it's made explicitly, most people would back off and say that no, they don't hold the belief that it's an objective, cosmic imperative that people that disagree with them change their behavior to be in line with what they want it to be. And yet, when it's not made explicit, people still *behave* that way, en masse - people apply all sorts of pressures and manipulations to change the behavior of people they think are wrong.

PERHAPS, before we talk about whether we can confidently say anything about whether other people should or should not inject some drug we would like them to inject, we should settle the question about the precise circumstances under which it's okay to pressure people into injecting a drug that has not been approved by the FDA (which was happening almost everywhere, with great intensity, for months). Or, more recently, the precise circumstances under which it's okay to pressure people into injecting a drug that has *very recently* been approved by the FDA in an incredibly accelerated way, and for which the makers of the drug are specifically and uniquely immunized from any civil or criminal consequences due to harms done by that drug.

Ironically, I can confidently say that your question is premature pending the resolution of the above. I can also confidently say that your question is effectively support a great moral evil. This is NOT a rhetorical device - I can truly confidently say that.

So, then, what does it really mean that someone can confidently say something about an ought?

Expand full comment

>We all know that just because you can confidently say something doesn't mean you're actually correct; in fact, most controversial issues are controversial precisely because a reasonable person can confidently take mutually exclusive, contradictory positions.

I honestly didn't expect my use of the word "confident" to be read in this way, or I would have used a different word. Sorry. I'm using the word as a proxy for certainty, eg. in statistics how people say "we are 95% confident that..." — this isn't just an statement of our emotional state, but is an empirical reflection of certainty in the data by a particular metric. Granted, I haven't run numbers and don't even have the expertise to calculate my conclusion's confidence in a quantifiable way, but this empirical certainty is what I'm alluding to when I talk about "confidence." Even the most unreasonable person can say things confidently, but this isn't what I mean.

>when it's not made explicit, people still *behave* that way, en masse - people apply all sorts of pressures and manipulations to change the behavior of people they think are wrong.

I agree fully. I don't even think people behave that way solely *en masse*, though; Nietsche stated this idea far better than I could: "every great philosophy up till now has consisted of ... the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown." I've often found myself arguing for something which I later, upon reflection, realize says more about my own beliefs than about anything objectively true in the world. It doesn't take a group for this behavior to emerge, just some unexamined unconscious thought and a strong enough motivation to voice it.

>There's this implication that if you, personally, or you and a large group of people you agree with, are confident about something, that it is *objectively* or *cosmically* true that it's a moral imperative that people behave the way you want them to.

Actually, that's exactly where I'm operating from — although, replace the word "confident" with something less subjective and more like "we're as certain as we can be, given the evidence, that this is the correct conclusion and we are on solid ground." If we have overwhelming evidence that the vaccine is only positive, and that the effects of not getting it are all negative, then we would have reasonable grounds to believe that it is a moral imperative for people to get it. Similarly, if we had overwhelming evidence that the vaccine didn't work and only gave people bad reactions, we'd have reasonable grounds to conclude a logical (if not a moral) imperative to steer clear.

>we should settle the question about the precise circumstances under which it's okay to pressure people into injecting a drug that has not been approved by the FDA ... or has been approved by the FDA in an incredibly accelerated way, and for which the makers of the drug are specifically ... immunized from any civil or criminal consequences

That's certainly a valid question. I don't know what the right answer is, but the world seems to have weighed in by its actions: something to the effect of, "it's okay to pressure people [to do this risky thing] when the risks of not doing it far outweigh the risks of doing it." There's a certain amount of paternalism there, to be sure, but it's the same as how if you're in a public square and everyone starts running away from something, you don't wait to see what it is — you run. There are some times where enough sensible people have run the calculation and reached the same conclusion, where it makes sense to follow along and see those who don't as misguided. Social pressures are a valid heuristic tool and indicate some "social proof" that dissent is legitimately misguided.

>Ironically, I can confidently say that your question is premature pending the resolution of the above. I can also confidently say that your question is effectively support a great moral evil.

That's an extremely bold position to take. I suppose I can understand your "confidence" if we're using it how you seem to have been. (ie. You might be confident, but this is just a claim regarding how you feel about your position; that is, it has little to do with whether your claim is actually true.) Anyway, in an academic sense, my question does hinge on the resolution of yours, but in a pragmatic sense, it urges a speedy and potentially errored conclusion to your question. We don't have all the time in the world to figure this out, so we let people vote with their actions, and as I said before, the world has clearly spoken. This isn't to say the world is right, but it does suggest that we actually *can* discuss my question without having resolved yours.

Personally, I don't think that what has occurred with "pressuring" is a "great moral evil," and I might caution you to revisit the Nietzsche quote from above. Your stupendous confidence and highly polarized choice of moral expression makes me wonder if you reasoned your way to your conclusion, or if you had it all along.

Expand full comment

> I'm using the word as a proxy for certainty, eg. in statistics how people say "we are 95% confident that..."

Yes, but you're saying you can be 95% certain of, essentially, an ought. Which is impossible.

You're not *essentially* concerned about the measurable things here, you're concerned about the ought. You collect a bunch of measurable things you have determined in some way fully encapsulate the ought, but that's really an impossible task. You can never measure an ought because it's qualitative, not quantitative. You can't even do it by proxy.

There is ALWAYS a qualitative aspect to the question "Should someone who isn't me behave how I want them to behave based on my judgement, rather than how they want to behave based on their judgement?" because the question itself is qualitative. You cannot be 95% certain that someone ought to do anything, E S P E C I A L L Y change their behavior to suit your judgement, rather than theirs.

> I don't know what the right answer is, but the world seems to have weighed in by its actions: something to the effect of, "it's okay to pressure people [to do this risky thing] when the risks of not doing it far outweigh the risks of doing it."

This exact argument supports the essential moral correctness of American racial slavery and nazi genocide. It is therefore false unless we want to reconsider the moral correctness of those historical moments, and it cannot be correct unless we find, upon reflection, that they were actually net moral goods.

Every sensible person *ought* to reject out-of-hand every argument that one ought to act as the arguer judges rather as he himself judges if that argument cannot be consistently applied.

> Your stupendous confidence and highly polarized choice of moral expression

My confidence and choice of moral expression is exactly the same as yours.

It's trivial to see how bad it is when applied to other people when you're the person it's applied to, isn't it?

Expand full comment

>"You're saying you can be 95% certain of, essentially, an ought. Which is impossible... You collect a bunch of measurable things you have determined in some way fully encapsulate the ought, but that's really an impossible task. You can never measure an ought."

>Earlier: "I can also confidently say that your question is effectively support a great moral evil. This is NOT a rhetorical device - I can truly confidently say that."

If the first claim is true and the collection of measurable things is an impossible task, then your judgement from earlier is irrelevant. How do you know *you* haven't missed the mark on collecting all of the information relevant to your moral judgement? If it's truly an impossible task, then I see little reason to take your moral conclusion seriously.

In any case, I don't think the premise, while technically correct, is relevant to making a judgement. Sure, you can't fully encapsulate the ought, but what would you do otherwise? I'm not claiming to know the objective "ought," and never did. (I referred to "heuristic tools," a "potentially errored solution," "as certain as we can be given the evidence" — all indications that we're doing our best to aim toward the objective ought, but zero claims that we know what it is.) But we have to aim at something, and claiming that it's impossible to know what to do is a non-starter.

Oh, right, the nazi/slavery thing... The usual "obviously those were bad," but also it's a straw-man of my argument. What I said was this: "We don't have all the time in the world to figure this out, so we let people vote with their actions ... the world has clearly spoken. **This isn't to say the world is right**, but it does suggest that we actually *can* discuss my question without having resolved yours."

I said right there that this isn't an indication of what's right. I'm not supporting moral correctness of past atrocities, because I was discussing heuristics, which can be (and have been) incorrect. I think you were trying to give me a repugnant conclusion I wouldn't want to accept, but my claims don't lead to that conclusion anyway. My point still stands.

Expand full comment

As long as the absolute reduced risk of infection, hospitalization, and death are lower than the risk of health complications from the vaccine I'd say there's cause to take the vaccine.

However I'm guessing the fact that 'Covid is here to stay' is because if you have a super-transmissible virus, a vaccine that reduces but does not eliminate transmission rates will still result in everyone getting infected long term.

People who took the jab early in hopes it would ease the hysteria or open things up or allow them to walk around without masks will be disappointed, if not betrayed, when the goal posts get shifted again.

From a consequentialist standpoint you'd imagine most everyone (barring a few people who may be uniquely susceptible to vaccine side effects) getting the vaccine as quickly as possible would be the best case outcome. This is true given an honest assessment of the state of knowledge as it exists now.

*However*, for that very reason I think there's a hesitancy to allow public discourse to touch anything that would make a wishy washy person excuse themselves from getting jabbed (however factually accurate), and this cumulatively generates a dishonest and contradictory narrative:

So you don't want to say that vaccine effectiveness wanes over time or that it doesn't provide full immunity but you do want to say that the vaccinated need to be protected from the unvaccinated (which are basically equivalent statements). You don't go around saying that the severity of the virus on the population will wane over time, you don't talk about the interaction of comorbitities so that healthy people excuse themselves. You don't publicly acknowledge natural immunity in calculations of herd immunity. You assume the worst of treatments for infection because the more treatable the virus is assumed to be the more people will feel they don't need to worry about getting jabbed. etc. etc. etc.

The cynical calculus is that the apathetic will be mobilized in favor more than the paranoid will be hardened against.

Expand full comment

If we expect Covid to stick around and be a perennial nuisance like the flu, then getting vaccinated now is the equivalent of "we inoculate all children against measles". The measles is mostly harmless (I had it myself) but in some cases the complications can be very bad:

"Complications

Common complications from measles include otitis media, bronchopneumonia, laryngotracheobronchitis, and diarrhea.

Even in previously healthy children, measles can cause serious illness requiring hospitalization.

One out of every 1,000 measles cases will develop acute encephalitis, which often results in permanent brain damage.

One to three out of every 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurologic complications.

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE)external icon is a rare, but fatal degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by behavioral and intellectual deterioration and seizures that generally develop 7 to 10 years after measles infection"

So for the sake of prudence, and to maintain herd immunity, we vaccinate babies. Even if the risk of children catching measles is low, and even if they do get the measles they may recover just fine, we consider it more beneficial to have mass vaccination programmes.

Same with your friend: he probably won't get it, and if he does he'll probably get better just fine, but it's more prudent to avoid getting it in the first place by preventative measures. And the problem is less "what about a healthy young man, what risks does he have of bad outcomes?" and more "if he gets sick, he's contagious, and what about the people he passes it on to?"

Expand full comment

I agree with your point about complications, and vaccination being the equivalent to the future innoculation of children. However, I'm not sure that your final point is as persuasive as I'd like. It's certainly correct, but I'm thinking of Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" here: the point of "what about others?" is rooted in a value of care or fairness, which I believe is not held as singularly important in conservatives as it is for liberals. (My friend, and most unvaccinated individuals I know, are conservative.)

Haidt's point is that when we try to reason with other groups, we need to think in terms of their moral foundations/pillars, but we typically end up making points that are rooted in our own. An argument of care & fairness is strongly motivating for me, but I don't think it addresses conservative pain points as much as other arguments (which you or I may not find as motivating). I wonder if an argument based around cleanliness/hygiene might be more motivating, or if there's some connection to loyalty & authority that could be leveraged. (Eg. Donald Trump recently started saying to get the vaccine -- although he's no longer president, so idk if people still view him as an authority. Hm..)

Expand full comment

Re. COVID risks:

Does your friend like being able to taste or smell things?

Does he like being able to become erect?

Does he like having a fully functional brain, and not having post viral syndrome?

These are all things that you can loose with even a mild case of covid where you don't even get close to needing a trip to the ER.

You don't need to die to get damaged by covid, Scott has a post on this very blog re. long covid, and the numbers on that are actually very high (Atleast, to me they are).

Re. Endemic-ness: That is pure assumption, at this point. It is possible it will become endemic, but it is equally likely that it won't. Considering the massive population of virus in the wild, it has had surprisingly slow mutation.

Likewise, it is very likely that it will never become less harmful to catch. There is no reason that covid HAS to decrease in danger to flu/cold level.

You weight this against: Your choice of vaccines, of more or less traditional manufacture, that are free to the user and very efficacious and have been tested on about 1 billion other humans.

He is free not to get vaccinated, and I'm free to think that makes him a cretin.

Expand full comment

> His risk of transmitting it to anyone vaccinated, assuming he gets it, is low.

What about risk of transmitting to unvaccinated people, e.g. small kids?

Expand full comment

"Variants are here to stay" is not a compatible belief with both "my friend is unlikely to get it now that a significant percentage of people are vaccinated" and "His risk of transmitting it to anyone vaccinated, assuming he gets it, is low" remaining true in the medium to long term.

For Covid to become endemic requires a continuous supply of people vulnerable to infection. There's three ways for that to happen: immunity can fade with time, the disease can mutate to escape immunity, or it can become a childhood disease relying on population turnover for new hosts.

Fading immunity and mutation escape both undermine the idea that your friends is highly protected by the vaccinated immunity of those around him, since the people around him will become less immune over time.

And the childhood disease option relies on the endemic variants being very, very contagious, like measles, chicken pox, or RSV. Less contagious diseases that produce lasting immunity tend to hit in epidemics decades apart since it takes time to rebuild the vulnerable population. Traditional childhood diseases like chickenpox, measles, and mumps have r0 values in the 10-20 range, meaning that 90-95% of the population needs to be immune at equilibrium. If 60% of the population has vaccinated immunity, then and additional 30-35% of the population must be unvaccinated but naturally immune (infected but recovered) in order to achieve equilibrium. This implies your friend's long term risk of infection would be 75-88% if he remains unvaccinated. Even if the risk of serious illness of death to you friend is negligible, in this scenario he's trading the trivial inconvenience of a vaccine and a moderate risk of feeling kinda cruddy for a day or two vs. a 75+% chance of contracting a live case of Covid.

Delta's estimated no-lockdowns r0 of 6-8 isn't that far from the typical childhood disease range, so that's a fairly plausible scenario.

The article you linked did suggest that Covid is likely to become a mild cold-like disease as it becomes endemic. That's plausible, perhaps even probable, but it hasn't happened yet and there are precedents of diseases that remained potentially deadly to immunologically naive adults in the long term: the aforementioned classic childhood diseases, plus deadly recurring epidemics like smallpox.

Expand full comment

I am pretty certain that this is correct and well-reasoned. However, I've read it multiple times and I think I lack the expertise to understand fully. Hopefully it's not too obtuse to as you to "dumb it down" a bit?

I understand your main point in the first three paragraphs. It's the calculation I'm having trouble with. You mention that diseases with r0 of 10-20 require 90-95% immunity for equilibrium. (I take this to mean that equilibrium meaning people are infected at the same rate as they recover; >10% susceptible allows for transient "spikes" of sudden outbreaks, right?) So it doesn't matter how you get there, whether it's 90% vaccinated, 60% + 30% naturally immune, etc.

But then how do you get to 75-88%? Is there some calculation I'm missing?

Expand full comment

By assumption, 60% of the population is immune due to vaccination and 40% is not. If the herd immunity threshold is 90% immune, then 90% - 60% = 30% of the general population must have immunity due to prior infection for prior-infection immunity + vaccination immunity to total 90%. Since all of that 30% with prior-infection immunity but not vaccination immunity come from the unvaccinated population, they constitute 75% (30 / 40) of the unvaccinated population.

Repeat the calculation with an assumed 95% herd immunity threshold, and you'll get 35% with prior-infection immunity but not vaccinated immunity. 35% / 40% = 87.5% of the unvaccinated population, which I rounded up to 88% to avoid implying too much precision for the result of a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Expand full comment

Ah, that makes sense. Very cool, thank you!

Expand full comment

+1. Note that since vaccines are not as effective on Delta, and since immunity wanes over time, the long term risk of infection for the unvaccinated should be more than 75-88%, and the presence of so many unvaccinated people also raises the risk of infection for the vaccinated.

Saw news that a minor Republican official died of Covid. Checked conservative sources, among which I only found one mention of his death, which left out the part about Covid. So, this it why. They don't get vaccinated because their narrative is "Covid's not dangerous" and "you probably won't catch it anyway". I am guessing the reason they picked that narrative is because it was Trump's narrative. https://twitter.com/DPiepgrass/status/1423703403528663046

Expand full comment

In that that situation, most compeling case is that it will quite literally look bad on his resume. Strictly medical benefits are of course real, but far less significant than that potential employers might notice and not like that.

Expand full comment

Does that not feel like a bad situation, where the only compelling reason to get vaccinated is that someone would not hire you otherwise? If that were the case, then employers should not require a vaccination. It would be like requiring someone be baptized to work at a Catholic hospital. To the employer it makes a lot of sense, but as a society we don't just accept the employer's desires as acceptable just because it exists.

This is in regards to the OP's point. If it does make sense to be vaccinated (and for health care and some other professions it likely does for purely health reasons), then obviously that's a different scenario.

Expand full comment

Well, from the perspective of personal self-interest, it does not matter whether he thinks that it is wrong for employers to discriminate on the basis of vaccination. They might do it anyway, his personal moral objections nothwithstanding, and if it happens, he, as an unvaccinated person, will be a victim of this.

And if he is concerned with moral questions, then he should get vaccinated in order to minimize a risk that he will spread covid to someone else.

Expand full comment

This reminds me that I've never actually done a cost-benefit analysis of getting vaccinated, for covid or for anything else. There are a bunch of fuzzy factors floating around in my head, but explicitly listing them might make it clearer, and also make it clearer where the margins sit.

Expand full comment

One thing I'm hypersensitive to is that these analyses aren't scale-invariant. As far as I can tell, this logic works for an individual not getting vaccinated, but it assumes most other people are. If more than a handful of people draw the same conclusion, though, then it breaks down and there are larger consequences due to interacting individuals.

In fact, that's the only argument I can think of, is, "What would happen if everyone did as you're doing?" But the reality is that everyone **isn't** doing those things. Hypothetical extrapolation is a fun game, but the current data point is the world we inhabit.

Expand full comment

I'm a long time lurker (since 2014 or so) and many years ago used to post on the subreddit. I am thinking of blogging on substack. I've set up a "dummy" page already under this name. If I were to blog I would mostly discuss politics, current events, some pop culture, maybe some religion. I'm not interested in earning money, just want the intellectual stimulation. I have never blogged before, but I've been lurking and posting anonymously on message boards, others' blogs, etc since the late 1990s.

This is the most intelligent and kind community I've encountered in nearly 25 years online. I value all your feedback tremendously and it will have a decisive role in any decision I make about blogging here on Substack. Here are some questions I have that I would greatly appreciate the community's feedback on

1. How likely am I to be doxxed? I am terrified, to put it mildly, of being doxxed. I am especially concerned about the consequences it would have on my employment and on my family (including minor children). FWIW I have no plans to discuss things and people from my day-to-day life on my blog - it just doesn't overlap in many interesting ways with what I'd want to discuss online

2. Would the content of my blog create issues (esp relating to doxxing)? I mostly want to discuss politics. To give you an idea of where I'm at politically, I was the only 14 year old girl in the country who wanted to talk about how awesome Newt Gingrich was, but when I see things like Jack Dorsey's congressional testimony or corporate logos all over BLM stuff, I find myself muttering "workers of the world unite you have nothing left to lose but your chains......." You met me at a very strange time in my life :) I am still working a lot of things out and I have a feeling I'm not the only conservative who's doing the same. I'd like to have a blog spot where that kind of conversation can happen. I'm debating whether to get involved in local GOP politics and thought maybe a blog could overlap/springboard to that. But I don't want to bother if Substack is not the right environment, if it will get banned due to content, or will cause more trouble than it's worth (see 1).

3. While I've been lurking/commenting on blogs for ages I've never blogged before myself. Would it be advisable to start by commenting on other substack blogs for awhile and then starting my own?

Well I've rambled along enough.....many thanks for your feedback!

- Cloud Possum

Expand full comment

I blogged for a long time (on blogspot), but stopped writing since the number of people reading and commenting changed from "few" to "none". Thing is, even if your writing is really good, building an audience is hard. When I want to read something, I don't have good aggregation software so I tend to go straight to a favorite site such as ACX. Substack has the advantage of letting users subscribe and receive new posts via email, so it might well be easier to build an audience there.

Your chance of getting doxxed is proportional to you audience size, so there's nothing to worry about at first, but in addition, the potential doxxer has to figure out who you are, so just don't reveal it. Scott Alexander is a poor example: not only did he originally write under his real name, but when he switched to using a "pseudonym", the pseudonym he picked was... his real first and middle names. Even though I'm a nudist with unusual opinions, I use my real name because the lesson of the last 15 years has been that nobody f**king cares who I am. However if you're a schoolteacher or something then you've probably got a good reason to use a pseudonym.

Expand full comment

For the doxxing thing, it might help to read https://www.gwern.net/Death-Note-Anonymity (Death Note: L, Anonymity & Eluding Entropy) to get a sense for how people can be identified using a surprisingly small amount of information - it doesn't take much to pare down a pool of millions of people to a pool of ~10 people who match your observable hobbies, opinions, age, time zone, occupation, education, et cetera. And once it's down to a pool of ~10 people, it's doable for a determined group of vigilantes to just follow them all around in person to fill in all the remaining details.

To protect against this, you basically need to slip in a few bits of misinformation here and there so any would-be doxxers will get lost on wild goose chases. You're safest when you're not even in the pool of people they're looking at, and you're still pretty safe once they catch on to the deception because they have no idea where you lied and how much you lied to juke them. Once they have to look at all the people who *somewhat* match your observable details, the pool of suspects expands back to hundreds of thousands of people and you're safe once more. Just make sure to have a consistent cover story, so you don't accidentally reveal which of your bits and pieces of information are actually red herrings made up to throw them off the trail.

See also, https://www.gwern.net/Death-Note-Anonymity#security-is-hard-lets-go-shopping & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT19VwBAqKA [Protecting Privacy with MATH (Collab with the Census) - Minute Physics]. You can't be tracked down if the person they're trying to find isn't you.

Expand full comment

That's a really cool read - thanks! Unfortunately in light of today's announcement my concerns about doxxing might become moot at least where employment is concerned. I am not vaxxed and I very much DO NOT WANT to be vaxxed - for several reasons, some I might want to write about on a blog, some way too personal to share online even anonymously. I'm anticipating my employer mandating the vaccine soon and I'm at a loss for what I'm going to do. But I guess if I'm unemployed and unemployable doxxing isn't quite such a threat, and maybe the paid subscriber Substack is worth looking into some day.

Expand full comment

Make and write on your own website. Do not write on Substack or any other platform, because then the platform has you hostage.

1. Unlikely. 5% chance.

2. Absolutely. 100% it will create issues. Politics is a cesspool.

3. Learn how to make your own website, launch it as fast as possible. Start blogging immediately.

Expand full comment

Fwiw I disagree on the make your own website point. I think it's best to just get started. Paying substack isn't so bad if it let's you start when you otherwise wouldn't. Plus, you can export the emails so once you are up and running you can move to a site if you build one.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the feedback!

Expand full comment

If you make your own website btw, read up on how to do it privately. I believe that by default your contact information is public when you buy a domain name.

I also disagree about Substack. You can write on Substack, and then back up all your posts locally so you don't lose anything in the off-chance that Substack deletes you. I think the lower the barrier to entry for your writing, the better. And making a website is a pretty high barrier.

Expand full comment

thanks Alexander. I would have no clue whatsoever how to start a website of my own. What's your take on the likelihood of being doxxed or just the content of the blog causing trouble on Substack?

Expand full comment

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/24/seasteading-a-vanity-project-for-the-rich-or-the-future-of-humanity

I was going to make a snarky remark about not sending a libertarian to do a statist's job, but a more accurate or insightful assessment would be something to the effect that the seasteaders in the article were trying to do something that the existing and mature system doesn't really accommodate for.

It would be like if someone were to introduce a Tesla forty years ago, but without any of the infrastructure in place that is needed to operate a Tesla. There's no stations so an owner can charge it away from home, nobody knows how to fix it, the DOT isn't sure how to crash test a vehicle with none of the internal combustion stuff, the environmental testing people can't test tailpipe emissions on a vehicle with no tailpipe, etc..

Expand full comment

I thought it was a really cool project and was disappointed about its failure, even if there were founders with hokey beliefs.

Expand full comment

Well, I was trying to avoid snark, really, I was.

Expand full comment

Does anyone here have advice for RSI? I recently bought a brand new laptop, and it's really nice with the exception that my hands begin to hurt after using it for more than a few hours. For whatever reason it's only on this new laptop, my old laptop does not have this problem. Obviously it would be super lame to have to just use the old laptop or return the new laptop, so I am wondering if you guys know what could be causing this or how to fix it.

For context, the new new laptop is a Zephyrus g14, and the old laptop is a 13 inch macbook from 2017.

Expand full comment

Set them side by side, put your hands in normal use positions, and observe. The difference between what you’re doing with one and the other is your issue, obviously, so look for material differences in the way you hold your hands, fingers, arms, and the way you sit and lean forward. Look out for crooked wrists (laterally), bent wrists (vertically): in particular, your hands should be level with your wrists or lower, and your palms should be straight in line with your forearms.

I should note here that Apple is pretty renowned for their obsessive focus on ergo.

My guess, and this is just a guess and I’d need to see you at work to be sure, is this: the MacBook Air is a very thin device, especially at the leading edge which is like a tenth of an inch thick, whose top case (containing the keyboard) cants pretty dramatically towards the user. The G14, while not a brick, is a tenth of an inch thicker at its thickest point, the leading edge appears in pictures (can’t find stats) to be much thicker, and the keyboard certainly does not angle as much. Which probably puts you in the awkward position of having to cross a thick edge and angle your wrists upward to type or hold your entire arm off the desk, exactly the stuff you shouldn’t be doing.

Expand full comment

If possible, use a separate key board.

If you can, go to a physical therapist.

If you game, use a controller instead of M+k.

If it's real bad, I've seen other tech dudes use split keyboards with some success.

Expand full comment

Any time someone complains about this sort of thing at work, the corporate ergonomic assessment is that they should use a wrist rest. Never needed it myself, but some people have found it to work. Lots of options online, along with discussions on whether they're effective.

Admittedly, this is more appropriate for an external keyboard if your laptop has a touch pad where your wrists would go.

Expand full comment

Find a good physical therapist / massage therapist who explicitly talks about posture. I had issues that I kept trying to fix with gear, when it was a posture/muscle tension problem cured by stretching.

It may seem weird, but muscles are connected in odd ways and stretching something a joint or two away can lead to immediate relief of chronic symptoms.

And for me it was caused by a slight change in setup. A slightly different posture has knock on effects.

Expand full comment

I'd recommend an external keyboard and mouse (and raise the laptop to eye level whenever possible). If you keep running into this issue, try an ergonomic keyboard.

Expand full comment

This seems 100% good reason for returning laptop, I would encourage doing this.

Though maybe you simply use it more?

Expand full comment

I use an external vertical mouse when using laptop, what may not be viable in your case.

Expand full comment

What if the Egyptian Pharaohs had devoted less effort into building the Pyramids and more into building canals to bypass all the Nile cataracts?

Expand full comment

I think the First Cataract as Aswan was usually a political boundary. Modern Egypt extends to a bit short of the Second Cataract, but I think that's an artifact of either British or Ottoman rule. As far as I know, the First Cataract was pretty consistently the southern boundary of Egypt from the original kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt until the Marmaluk Sultanate. The only exception I know of is the 25th Dynasty, when the Kings of Kush mounted a successful invasion of Egypt from the traditional Kushite heartland between the Third and Sixth Cataracts and reigned over part of all of the lower Nile valley for about a century (747 BC to 656 BC).

In that light, keeping a natural hydrological barrier at the political boundary makes a degree of sense. Having the canal span two polities complicates the building project, and at any given time at least one of the two polities on opposing sides of the cataract would prefer to keep the cataracts intact as a speed bump for raiders and invading armies.

There are also potential engineering challenges, which might explain why the Kushites and other polities that did span various Nile cataracts didn't build canals. The Canal of the Pharaohs connecting the Nile to the Red Sea was pretty close to being a Sea Level canal project, connecting the Eastmost distributory of the Nile Delta to the Bitter Lakes and the connecting the Bitter Lakes to the Red Sea. Elevation changes over the canal route would probably have been gentle enough that locks wouldn't be required, as the Red Sea is at sea level and the Delta isn't much higher (Cairo, near the upstream point of the delta, is 75' above sea level). Cataracts, on the other hand, imply a steep enough change in altitude as to require locks to be navigable. I think primitive forms of canal locks first appeared in China in the 10th century AD and in Europe in the 14th century. I don't know when the technology became available to Egyptians, but I'm guessing it was too late for Dynastic-period builders to take advantage of it.

Expand full comment

They dug a canal all the way from the Nile to the Red Sea. If they didn't dig canals around the cataracts, I imagine it was because it didn't pass cost-benefit analysis.

I think it also bears mentioning that Egypt had 170 pharaohs and only three of them bothered with really big pyramids.

Expand full comment

How would they have quarried underwater? They quarried on land using spear-chisels.

Expand full comment

dig a small canal around the cataracts while waters are low, dam the cataracts, dig them out, then fill in the little canal. (might now work, given how the Innundation was when you had a lot of farmers with nothing better to do than dig a canal)

Expand full comment

Many quartz at a time.

Expand full comment

Are there any migraine sufferers here who have tried microdosing psilocybin, or any other tryptamines? Did they have any effect on the frequency of your migraines? Have you ever tried to dose as you feel a migraine coming on, and did it have any effect on your symptoms?

Expand full comment

I have experimented with psilocybin microdoses (in the shape of mushrooms, usually dried) in the past, and I get occasional migraines.

I can't really comment on whether the frequency changed. I don't remember getting any migraines during the times I was on a regular dosing schedule (eg every 3rd day), but I get only maybe a dozen or less migraines a year, with slight clustering in time. It's therefore not unusual for me to experience several months without any migraine episodes, let alone the few weeks that were the longest time I tried a regular schedule.

As for the acute use of a psilocybin microdose when a migraine episode is starting, or has already come on fully - I don't usually have very distinctive prodrome symptoms and on have experimented with psilocybin microdoses in the past, and get occasional migraines.

I can't really comment on whether the frequency changed. I don't remember getting any migraines during the times I was on a regular dosing schedule (eg every 3rd day), but I get only maybe a dozen or less migraines a year, with slight clustering in time. It's therefore not unusual for me to experience several months without any migraine episodes, let alone the few weeks that were the longest time I tried a regular schedule.

As for the acute use of a psilocybin microdose when a migraine episode is starting, or has already come on fully (I don't usually have very distinctive prodrome symptoms and only experienced obvious aura with visual disturbances maybe three times, and therefore rarely realise I'm about to get hit before the pain begins):

Yeah, I did that a few times.

After trying it for the first time, I did it every time I had a migraine, available mushrooms, and remembered both *that* I had the mushrooms and *where* I had stored them.

I would say that for me, a microdose (I used generally something around 0.3-0.4g of dried shroom; but I wasn't always super precise in those situations) is probably about as effective as 50mg sumatriptan - which works pretty well for me - at halting, or at least strongly weakening, the development of a starting migraine.

When the headache has already developed, the psilocybin may actually be a bit more effective at reducing the symptoms for me than 50mg sumatriptan, but maybe similar as 100mg sumatriptan.

"Reducing the symptoms" (or halting their development) in this case includes the non-headache symptoms, eg nausea, although I usually keep some light sensitivity even in the best case (talking about psilocybin).

I also seem to feel less tired when I stopped a migraine with psilocybin than I usually do when I stopped it with sumatriptan.

Expand full comment

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/can-progressives-be-convinced-that-genetics-matters

"This fall, Princeton University Press will publish Harden’s book, “The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality,” which attempts to reconcile the findings of her field with her commitments to social justice. As she writes, “Yes, the genetic differences between any two people are tiny when compared to the long stretches of DNA coiled in every human cell. But these differences loom large when trying to understand why, for example, one child has autism and another doesn’t; why one is deaf and another hearing; and—as I will describe in this book—why one child will struggle with school and another will not. Genetic differences between us matter for our lives. They cause differences in things we care about. Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.”

Harden understands herself to be waging a two-front campaign. On her left are those inclined to insist that genes don’t really matter; on her right are those who suspect that genes are, in fact, the only things that matter. The history of behavior genetics is the story of each generation’s attempt to chart a middle course. When the discipline first began to coalesce, in the early nineteen-sixties, the memory of Nazi atrocities rendered the eugenics threat distinctly untheoretical. The reigning model of human development, which seemed to accord with postwar liberal principles, was behaviorism, with its hope that environmental manipulation could produce any desired outcome. It did not take much, however, to notice that there is considerable variance in the distribution of human abilities. The early behavior geneticists started with the premise that our nature is neither perfectly fixed nor perfectly plastic, and that this was a good thing. They conscripted as their intellectual patriarch the Russian émigré Theodosius Dobzhansky, an evolutionary biologist who was committed to anti-racism and to the conviction that “genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.”"

Expand full comment

"On her right are those who suspect that genes are, in fact, the only things that matter"

These people are as real as counterrevolutionary saboteurs in the USSR.

The range of actual opinion has basically between those who estimate heritability of psychological traits at zero or epsilon (sometimes explicitly so and other times not saying it explicitly) and between people who estimate heritability greater than zero, with the high end estimates at 80% and the low end estimates at 30%, depending on the trait. I know that ground-up polygenic scores explain a much smaller portion of the variation.

No one has unironically taken the heritability estimates gained from twin studies to mean that the world needs to start revving up the Auschwitz train cars. This is simply taking one side's account of the nature of the debate at face value.

The problem is that most of what is done to address the kinds of inequalities people care about are... Well empirically attempts to affect the course of someone's' life long term through interventions are usually ineffective. "The alternative hypothesis" provides a neat explanation as to why. (Arguably less that heritability is high but that shared environmentality of traits is low)

Expand full comment

Add in the likelihood of future genetic enhancement through CRISPR technology and this topic has really important implications for social equity

Expand full comment

I would have thought the sine qua non of social justice crusades was building on sand. It's like the surfer dude seeking the perfect wave -- if he ever actually found it, his life would be over, meaningless.

Expand full comment

That is what happens when you strawman your outgroup.

Expand full comment

Yes well I might have given that argument the time of day 45 years ago, when these social parasites and three-card monte hucksters first started promising utopia Real Soon Now, if they were just given umpty $trillions and we agreed to "temporarily" set aside the great principles of color-, sex-, and creed-blindness first written down by Jefferson. As it is, nearly half a century later, after nothing to show, I now lump 'em in with all the snake-handlin' tongue-speakin' religious con-men you find in a free society and who indeed occupy the first rank of my "out" group.

Expand full comment

Jefferson? Like, "Notes on the State of Virginia" Jefferson? Raped his wife's fourteen-year-old one-eighth black sister and enslaved their mutual children Jefferson? Maybe use a different historical figure for color-blindness?

Expand full comment

A better choice: freed his slaves in 1791, and did a meticulous job so they stayed free and prospered.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/05/us/robert-carter-iii-deed-of-gift-slavery-anniversary/index.html

Expand full comment

Social Justice goes back 45 years?

Expand full comment

Most members of the movement trace it back to the civil rights movement, which would be more like 60 or so.

Expand full comment
founding

Most wiccans would trace their movement back to pre-Christian Europe, but that doesn't make it so. An awful lot of Social Justice looks to me like people cosplaying the march from Selma because they think it was the awesomest thing ever (pretty close) and can convince themselves that it's still 1965 (not even close).

Expand full comment

I think Social Justice has some different premises, in particular, that marginalized communities are the only important thing.

Civil rights was focused on policy changes (desegregation, affirmative action) rather than changing background reflexes.

Expand full comment

What's the technical difficulty level of something like this:

I have a strong preference on keeping moving, but I want to get the bus ultimately, but because I don't want to wait for the bus, I want to keep moving until the bus catches up with me.

A plug-in/adaptation for Google Maps/similar that says "Walk this way, walk until this point, and the bus should be there (small amount of time) after you get to that stop".

Expand full comment

One hard part here is that it relies on busses showing up on a fairly tight schedule. In places where I've lived that I've tried using public busses, their schedules have been more aspirational than descriptive. I'm sure this is at least partially a function of mostly being in places with shitty public transit (suburban SF Bay Area, San Luis Obispo, and Orange County). In the Bay Area in particular when I was using busses (~20 years ago), busses were frequently up to 10 minutes early or late relative to their schedules. The worst-case was a bus route that was supposed to have a bus every 10 minutes where I once had to wait almost two hours and then four busses showed up at once; I'm not sure what happened to the other ~8 busses that were supposed to have arrived.

But I expect it's also an inherent problem with a mode of transit that may or may not stop at a given stop due to the presence or absence of would-be riders, where the vehicle needs to be stopped while fares are collected, where occasional need to take on bicycles or wheelchairs can make loading unpredictable in length, and where the vehicle's progress is impeded by varying amounts of car traffic. Even in places I've visited with good public transit (e.g. Montreal), the "good transit" aspects of the busses seems to be more a function of short intervals between busses than of busses sticking tightly to schedule.

Expand full comment

In San Luis Obispo in particular (where the public bus system was aptly named "SLO Transit"), the optimal algorithm in most cases would be to ignore the busses and just give walking directions. The town when I lived there (early 2000s) was relatively small geographically (about a 2-3 mile diameter), the streets had low speed limits and frequent four-way stops, and the bus system favored circuitous routes to minimize transfers, so walking was almost always practical unless you had enough baggage that busses would also be difficult, and walking was usually faster than driving unless you were taking a direct bus route between opposite ends of town (e.g. from the University to the airport).

Expand full comment

Should have written "walking faster than taking the bus". Driving a private car would almost always be faster than driving except for absurdly short trips or when you're fighting particularly bad traffic or pedestrian crowds are frequently stopping traffic to cross the street (e.g. trying to drive through downtown on a Friday evening when half the college students were hitting the bars).

Expand full comment

Ugh, "almost always be faster than walking". Driving is very rarely faster than itself. Curse Substack's lack of an Edit button, and my own impatience in hitting "Post" prior to proofreading comments!

Expand full comment

Making something that works is not arduous.

The tricky part is maintaining compatibility with various fragmented feeds of real time bus data across world.

Given relatively large initial work and ongoing work and people not willing to pay for apps directly (or minimal amount of money) and small user base it seems not viable as a commercial project.

You would either need to code it yourself or hire someone to do this.

Expand full comment

Can you walk up and down the block with the bus stop on it, till you see the bus coming? Or is it important that you are always moving towards your destination?

Expand full comment

Always towards the destination. I live in a compact UK city with bus stops every 3-500m so if the bus is 3 minutes behind you, you can walk to the next one.

Expand full comment

Doesn't sound hard to me, assuming you have real-time data on where the bus is, or the bus is supernaturally (by American standards) on time all the time.

But unless the bus stops are quite close together or the bus is unusually slow (relative to your walking speed), it seems doubtful the answer will often be any different from "walk to the closest bus stop".

Expand full comment

Buses in my city tend to be broadly reliable and stops are generally 3-500m apart in most parts of the city. So if the bus is 10 minutes behind you, you can probably walk 4/5 stops before it catches up to you.

Hmm

Expand full comment

Wait what...? You are going to walk 2000m in 10 min? That's an 8min/mile pace, which while not exactly booking it is rather a brisk jog.

Expand full comment

Well if the bus is 10 minutes behind you, as in, the bus when you get to the first stop isn't due for 10 minutes, you walk along for ten minutes and the bus is still going to be 5 minutes behind you, and then another 5 and the bus is a minute or so behind you.

That's what I meant. But I also very much didn't pay attention to the maths there.

Expand full comment

Isn't the problem here simply that Google Maps assumes you will walk to the nearest applicable bus stop and wait, so the preferences need simply to be changed to prioritise walking to the furthest possible bus stop to catch the fastest bus rather than the closest one?

Expand full comment

"simply" is not simple here, unless poster can decide how Google Maps are working (and in such case they would not ask the question here)

Expand full comment

Correct. But I don't think this is an option in Google? If it is, that's rather exciting as I'd imagine it'd turn into a huge learning problem, hence the question.

Expand full comment

My idiot-level solution to this would be: (1) how fast/far can you walk? (2) what is the schedule of the particular bus you want to get?

If there is a twenty-minute gap between buses on the route, you have not taken the first bus, you know that the bus usually waits two minutes at each stop, and you know that you can walk to the point three stops down by the time the next bus gets to that point, then that's where you go. (Twenty minutes for the next bus to start the route plus six minutes for each stop gives you twenty-six to thirty minutes for you and the bus to sync up at the third stop on the route).

Depending how fast you can walk, what the distance between bus stops is, and what route/time the bus schedule runs on.

Expand full comment

It would work, but I'm looking for something taking into account other factors like additional bus routes, additional stops near your destination you could use, a bus route you could join that is in the direction you're travelling but out of your way enough that you're not going to intersect it accidentally.

Becomes a major travelling salesman type problem I think?

Expand full comment
founding

Not too hard to get a prototype that mostly works, but there's no obvious way (to me at least, after 2 minutes of thinking) to do it provably-optimally. And that's before you take into account bus delays being possible and whatnot.

Expand full comment

I'm thinking live, in a lot of UK cities, mapping services have access to live data on buses. So if it were delayed and so on, and if you're walking from the periphery of the city to the centre and towards the periphery on the other side, bus route density will increase and then decrease.

I imagine it's a really complex problem, at least to scale effectively across cities and countries and so on?

Expand full comment

There isn't just that problem, your effective speed depends on how much traffic lights and traffic get in your way.

Expand full comment

The live times for UK buses which Google uses are pretty accurate. Certainly not more than 3-4 minutes delayed normally, so probably a tolerable error since I'd estimate bus stops in urban environments at 3-5 minutes walking normally (well tolerable unless you're managing the Swiss public transport system but that's another story...).

Expand full comment
founding

(It's easy to do optimally if there's only one bus route that gets you where you want to go, but difficult if there's lots, I think?)

Expand full comment

Yeah, exactly. And if you're walking from one side of a city to the other from the suburban to densely urban/CBD to suburban, you're going to come across additional bus routes that would work for you. So you go from 1/2 that work to 5-8 over the space of 2-3km.

Expand full comment

Can anyone recommend a good intro book to Bayesianism?

Expand full comment

From a machine learning/computer science perspective: http://web4.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/D.Barber/textbook/090310.pdf

Expand full comment

Practical or philosophical? Bayesian statistics is, in some sense, very simple: Model everything using probability; condition on the data. But, that may not be so easy to do. Andrew Gelman's books are probably good, although I haven't looked at them in detail. His blog is good reading: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/. I learned Bayesian statistics long ago: Optimal Statistical Decisions by Morris DeGroot (one of the first books on Bayesian statistics and a classic). The Likelihood Principle by James O. Berger and Robert L. Wolpert (philosophy). Statistical Decision Theory and Bayesian Analysis by James O. Berger (both practical and philosophical). Dennis Lindley's works.

Expand full comment

Someone likely can, based on the priors.

Expand full comment

Probability Theory by E.T. Jaynes

Expand full comment

What do you want to use it for? General reasoning? Estimating hierarchical models? Etc?

For general reasoning, this is a great introduction if you program: https://greenteapress.com/wp/think-bayes/

(...or if you're willing to learn to program, you could first work through his "Think Python" book...)

The goal is to teach Bayes in a discrete setting, with a heavy emphasis on how to bring Bayes to complicated real-world problems. Very clever, very approachable strategy. I'd highly recommend it. It's not a last book on Bayes, but a great first book for building some intuition.

For things like hierarchical models I'd look into Gelman's books.

Expand full comment

There’s a new book called “Bernoulli’s Fallacy” by Aubrey Clayton. It’s a bit polemical and spends a fair amount of time on the history of Statistics, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a very readable overview. (FYI Clayton argues for a particular flavor of Bayesianism, following from the work of E.T. Jaynes. It’s basically a logical interpretation of probability.)

Expand full comment

Hey Scott,

You should write about the effectiveness of condoms against STDs. I haven't found any detailed, condensed articles about whether or not to wear a condom.

This has a great parallel to wearing masks. It would be interesting what contradictions exist between people with different tolerances in either category. The demographics would be interesting to compare.

Expand full comment

Here you go - the Guttmacher Institute:

https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-effectiveness-united-states#

2004 report on condom use and STIs:

https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/ipsrh/2004/09/consistent-use-crucial-efficacy-condoms-prevention-stis

"Comparing the sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevalence rates of condom users and nonusers may not be as relevant as comparing those of consistent and inconsistent users, according to a U.S. study of STI clinic visits.1 Fifty-four percent of clinic visits were by patients who reported having used condoms in the previous four months—38% sometimes and 16% at every intercourse. Risky sexual behaviors, such as having ever had more than 10 sexual partners or recently having had new or multiple partners, were reported at a significantly greater proportion of visits by condom users than of those by nonusers. In analyses comparing condom users with nonusers, any condom use did not offer clear protection against STIs; however, in analyses comparing consistent and inconsistent condom use, consistent use significantly reduced the odds of gonorrheal and chlamydial infections among men and women (odds ratios, 0.7-0.9), of trichomoniasis in women (0.9) and of genital herpes in men (0.7)."

So it is complicated by the behaviour of condom users, that is, they engage in "risky sexual behaviours" (being promiscuous and not too careful about sexual histories of partners). If you're going to be catting around, use condoms *all the time* - only using them sometimes is not much good. Consistent use and not being damn stupid where you stick your dick are what will lower the risk of contracting STIs.

(Don't say I never do anything for you).

Expand full comment

Seconded, especially because both have the proper use / compliance wrinkle.

As I understand it, *proper* condom use is reasonably effective against pregnancy but *typical* condom use is only marginally more effective than pulling out. One would imagine that typical use would likewise be poor protection against most diseases.

Likewise, observing typical face mask use (e.g. surgical mask pulled under nose or chin) it seems highly unlikely to provide much of any protection to oneself or others but supposedly proper mask use with N95s worn properly and changed regularly does provide some protection.

Expand full comment

I find it difficult believe that you haven't been able to find any articles about the efficacy of condoms to prevent STD spread. Did you actually look?

Google these four keywords: condom hiv prophylaxis studies

Or substitute std for hiv if want to reassure that condoms are effective against other stds.

Anyway, you can find a lot with Google.

Expand full comment

Yes, I have looked into various studies. The issue is the problem is complex and requires the synthesis of multiple layers of data. Okay so I know that one study found that the efficacy of condoms against herpes is X. But, do I trust this study? What were the demographics of the study? If someone is having sex within a particular population (lets say people with graduate degrees), do the probabilities of changes? What is the actual long term consequences of herpes?

I think most literature out there is basically condoms good. There's no real cost benefit analysis or application to more specific populations and situations.

Expand full comment

I can't help but feel you're asking for Scott to treat condom use here like his surveys of the efficaciousness of drugs. Which is silly: we know how effective condoms are if used properly, and we know the mechanism by which this works (it's an impermiable barrier). The population surveyed makes no difference here: a population might have varying levels of condom use, proper usage or even latex allergies, but unless we have a certain section of the population more likely to have sharp objects attached to their genitals then none of this changes how effective a condom is if used properly.

Also, I don't think the long-term consequences of any common STI need much investigation. There's not much debate on this front - depending on your carelessly-acquired disease it's some combination of infertility, possible health complications, short or long-term medical intervention and ethically having to be much more cautious sexually. It's hard to see any rational case that could be made that these risks are minimal enough to allow unsafe sex, especially because the exact risk you are taking is always uncertain. Note too that the risk of pregnancy exists (you might have more of a case asking for a survey of the efficacy of the pill...) in hetrosexual relationships.

Expand full comment

Getting HIV/AIDS or HPV related cancers is very expensive. I hear herpes is very annoying, and can be lifelong. Spreading STDs to other people is considered a dick move where I'm from, so if you contract any of them then you'll be stuck wearing condoms for the rest of your casual encounters anyway. Meanwhile the cost of a condom is nearly nil (most cities in the world have somewhere literally giving them away for free), so are you asking if some marginal hedonistic value is worth the cost of increased STD risk? I think at that point it's up to you versus how much you value how good sex feels without a condom.

If you're in a 100% monogamous sexual relationship, then not using a condom is probably fine, otherwise it seems unnecessarily risky

Expand full comment

I'm intrigued by the parallel to masks, since my understanding is the difference in efficacy is in the terms of orders of magnitude. Also condoms protect wearers equally don't they?

Plus coronavirus may be comparable to a STI but I think that entire getting pregnant thing is without parallel here (unless you want to argue long COVID is similarly tiring, which would be amusing if silly).

Expand full comment

Isn't the answer "always yes unless with a monogamous partner"?

I'm not sure if you need much math to arrive at this conclusion.

Expand full comment

If I'm being blunt and crude, this sounds like "give me an excuse not to use condoms because I don't like having sex with a condom on, but women seem to want their casual sex partners to use them so I need a convincing argument to tell my next hook-up I'm not going to give her a dose of the clap".

Expand full comment

A bit uncharitable? You could read the tone as typical rationalist looking for evidence to back a pre-held belief. Either reading seems possible.

Expand full comment

I have now read his second comment and honestly, it just reinforces my impression that what he *really* wants is "condoms don't do much, if you make sure to only have sex with nice people you're safe so you don't need them" ("population with graduate degrees", really? having a PhD is no guarantee the person is not a pox-ridden mess, if they were young, dumb and full of - vigour - during their college years).

Look, it's not complicated: all the old mores around sex are mostly due to (as the saying has it) "fuck around and find out". Fucking around means finding out that unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections do, in fact, happen to you more than the Nice Girl or Good Boy who got married and only has sex with their spouse (well, the STIs at least, whatever about pregnancy). Casual, unprotected, and frequent sex with high-risk populations (like prostitutes, because this is a hazard of the work) means greater chance of picking up a little bonus.

You don't want to get infections. Then (1) either be chaste before marriage and continent within it or (2) don't fuck a ton of partners, don't fuck a ton of new partners at the same time, don't engage in risky behaviour, and use some form of protection. Right now, if you don't want to pick up STIs, condoms are your only way to go.

So, your choice.

Expand full comment

It does doesn't it? This is one of the open threads, though. This guy may be a troll, but maybe he was sleeping during his high school health classes.

Expand full comment

Fun fact, my Mormon guardians did not allow me to attend sex ed and the school punished me with incredibly boring non-sexual homework.

Expand full comment

But you're on a rationalist discussion group. I think if you're attracted to these sorts of discussions that you'd know how to use Google.

Expand full comment

No need to move the goalpost just to keep discussion going. Anyway, rationalists are a small minority of SSC survey-takers, and OP said "I haven't found any detailed, condensed articles about whether or not to wear a condom" which doesn't make it sound like Google helped, not that one is required to use Google before asking a question here anyway.

Expand full comment

Dr. Scott Alexander,

Could you please write about the booster? Clarifying the science and how to think about it? If it has been 6 months since dose 2, what's the MEDICAL advice for various people, in different circumstances (immunocompromised, NOT immunocompromised but high risk of serious problems with covid, healthy low risk people, etc)? Same mRNA you got before, be it Moderna or Pfizer, again? Is Moderna not approved for this yet?

Expand full comment

Oh, thank you for doing this for Long Covid. Btw, I read a nytimes article that came out after your article on Long Covid, saying that even mild covid led to kidney problems. How often?!

Expand full comment

What is the etiquette regarding when to reply to a Tweet? Is there any etiquette (other than "don't reply to people who block you" and similar software limitations)?

Expand full comment

Who in the world could possibly care about this?! Reply if you want; no one has to read or respond to you.

Expand full comment

I have found there is an epidemic on Twitter of people screeching about "you are unfairly requiring women to engage in emotional labor" in response to an on-topic reply to a tweet that Twitter promotes to me. I would prefer to cite a reliable source on etiquette to prove they are wrong, rather than simply claiming it myself.

Expand full comment
founding

there is no such thing as a reliable source on etiquette about this. It's a new phenomenon and there is no consensus.

think for yourself and if someone disagrees, own the disagreement.

Expand full comment

Okay, I take it back — you're right, I do care.

At the same time, I feel like if pointing out "that's not a cogent reply to this relevant and reasonable argument" doesn't work, saying "by the way, this is considered rude" won't either. Probably they'll just screech something about tone policing or male tears or something.

Expand full comment

Etiquette? It's the internet lol ;)

Expand full comment

So what's, like, the verdict on Iraq after the Iraq War and the surge and then Islamic State and the next surge etc. etc. etc. What kind of shape did Iraq end up in, as a country? I don't think I'll ever stop being fascinated by how short the American attention span is, and even in the middle of The World Discussing Afghanistan To Death- has anyone even mentioned Iraq?

My vague impression is that they're a quasi-functional democracy, and basically about as competent and with as much state capacity as they did during the Saddam era/pre-Iraq war. Does that sound correct? Like, they're roughly at the same level as other 2nd world countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but now they have elections that are at least kind of legitimate. Did they successfully drive Islamic State out? The American media I guess decided to stop covering that particular issue at some point. They're still in an awkward federalist structure with the Kurds?

I guess my point is that, even with wall-to-wall wailing about how we 'lost' in Afghanistan, I just haven't heard any summaries or lessons learned from Iraq. Aside from the WMD issue, I suppose we could say the left was wrong in that democracy apparently *can* be forcibly imported to a developing Muslim country, but also that the left was right in that it probably wasn't worth the cost (a couple trillion $)- yes? I mean Iraq is not even a particularly important or strategic ally to the US in the Middle East, if I'm not mistaken.

Does inspire some reflection that we were able to make Germany & Japan stable democracies, it sort of worked in Iraq, and yet the Arab Spring seems to have done absolutely nothing in the end. State capacity something something, culture & institutions something something

Expand full comment

I've been reading about Afghanistan recently, and based on that, my bet is that the lessons we should learn from Iraq are very similar to the lessons we should learn from Afghanistan, i.e. it's likely that the U.S. made the same huge mistakes in both. But in the case of Iraq I have a sense there are extra lessons like "be suspicious about the justification given for a war" and "don't remove rank-and-file staff who know how basic infrastructure and systems work (remove only the leaders.)"

I greatly recommend these sources on Afghanistan with choice quotes:

1. New Yorker: "On average…each family lost ten to twelve civilians in what locals call the American War…By 2010, many households…had sons in the Taliban, most of whom had joined simply to protect themselves or to take revenge" ... "Mohammad’s brother traveled to Kandahar to report the massacres to the United Nations and to the Afghan government. When no justice was forthcoming, he joined the Taliban. On the strength of a seemingly endless supply of recruits, the Taliban had no difficulty outlasting the coalition."

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/the-other-afghan-women

I was sad about the Syrian civil war, but was glad the US didn't get too involved because there was no group of "good guys" to back in the fight. In Afghanistan, it appears there were horrible warlords that the Taliban replaced by being slightly not-as-bad, but, if we can extrapolate from the central example in the New Yorker article of Amir Dado, when the Americans swooped in, they returned power to such warlords because they were "allies" against the enemy Taliban. I guess this was understandable in the short term since the U.S. rushed so quickly into war, but incomprehensible in the longer term.

Here's a survey that gathered a ton of information, and maybe the best way to read it is to look at the bottom for nationwide 2019 survey results (and Appendix 1 on methodology; notably "34% of women and 23% of men were inaccessible to random walk interviewing")

"If formal peace negotiations begin, who do you believe must be most trusted to defend your needs and interests at the negotiating table? (Allow two)": of 15 options, the bottom four were America, Taliban, Russia and NATO. The top two were National Unity Government and President Ashraf Ghani." (Too bad the US went with "just let it collapse" instead.)

Around 40% of Afghans would leave Afghanistan if "given the opportunity" (and that was before the collapse).

Questions about women suggest Afghans are mostly on board with educating girls and letting women work "outside the home", and strongly against "baad", meaning giving away daughters to settle disputes. I wonder if "outside the home", for some, just meant farming. The Burka was considered the most appropriate attire for women (32%) but other head coverings had the majority (no head covering: 1%)

https://asiafoundation.org/publication/afghanistan-in-2019-a-survey-of-the-afghan-people/

There's also a data viewer for getting more details, but it weirdly cuts off the meat of the text of many of the questions, as if they didn't care about making a usable tool.

There's a disconnect between the New Yorker article (where the Taliban and Americans are both portrayed as bad, while the Afghan government is mostly ignored) and the Asia Fundation survey (in which people seem to like the US-backed government and dislike the Taliban, but the Americans are mostly ignored). The survey largely doesn't ask questions about the US military or Americans, but I found one relevant question: "Please tell me how you would respond to the following activities or groups. Would you respond with no fear, some fear or a lot of fear?"

Encountering ANA (National Army): 61% no fear ... 11% a lot of fear

Encountering Western Military: 20% no fear ... 35% a lot of fear

Encountering Taliban: 6% no fear ... 35% a lot of fear

So Western military was perceived as less scary than the Taliban, but not by a wide margin.

"Afghanistan might well be the single most “subsidized” state in the world" - and while Afghan income was rising over the last 15 years, it looks like much of that income came from U.S. sources and was just cut off. It's also not hard to see that money spent in Afghanistan could have been used *ridiculously* more efficiently than it was (even if it was all still spent on Afghanistan.) https://www.unz.com/akarlin/where-are-the-afghanis/

Expand full comment

1. I would be very leery of any survey results coming from Afghanistan, just as I would of any survey sponsored by the HR Department.

In both cases, the subjects are likely to tell the survey-taker what they think the taker wants to hear. Regardless of any guarantee of anonymity, there is no real upside for doing otherwise, and telling unwanted truths has the potential for a whole lot of downside, such as a night raid by an American or American-backed death squad*, or even just attracting a whole lot of unwanted heat upon your district.

2. Notwithstanding any survey results, no guerilla army can survive without popular support. Most Taliban weren't paid so much as a single Afghani to fight, and the Taliban held on and fought for twenty years. By contrast, few ANA and police were willing to fight, and most surrendered, fled or joined the Taliban the first chance they got.

3. Further along those lines, the United States has had a continuing problem in recent years with its proxies, most of whom are thugs (ANA or any one of several Latin American police or militaries), cranks (MEK in Iran or various Ukrainian neonazi paramilitaries, although they also are pretty thuggish) or opportunists (the "Iraqi National Congress"). They aren't people who share our values and are willing to fight for them.

4. Considering our track record in recent decades, human rights and democracy are but a pretext to make war on countries we don't like. The carnage is as much a feature as it is a bug, or at least we are indifferent to it. All empires do this; ours is no worse than any other empire in this regard.

* I used the term "death squad advisedly. For are we not rationalists? Should we not call things by their proper names, regardless of country, team or tribe?

https://www.google.com/search?q=us+death+squads+afghanistan&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS886US887&oq=american+death+squad+afghan&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0i22i30.5720j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Expand full comment

A friend of mine who did a couple year-long stints in Iraq tells me that Iraq is pretty much a failed state, that, other than a few collaborators, nobody is better off now than they were under the Baathists. My friend reserves some choice words for them and for the Iraqi military.

And we have to hold Iraq's oil revenues hostage to ensure that the government does not disobey.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-warns-iraq-it-risks-losing-access-to-key-bank-account-if-troops-told-to-leave-11578759629

Expand full comment

I think it's a mistake to see either Afghanistan or Iraq as wars of democratisation. They were realpolitik wars, which were deliberately muddled together with the liberal neo-Wilsonian notion of 'humanitarian intervention' largely to help sell them to the Western public.

The foreign policy advisors and decision-makers surrounding George W. Bush in the early 2000s were not Kouchner- and Bettati-inspired liberals. Their aims for Afghanistan were to apprehend or kill Osama bin Laden, dismantle al-Qaeda, create a sense that 9/11 was avenged, and demonstrate American might to deter other regimes from 'harbouring' terrorists. The war in Iraq was an opportunistic power play on the back of the 'something big must be done' momentum of 9/11, to dismantle a regime that has long been a regional thorn in the side of the United States and Israel.

(Leaving aside the vexed question of Iraqi WMD, the stated doctrine of pre-emptive war to stop hostile states from giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists did not stand up to basic scrutiny on its own terms. With the exception of some biological agents, it's notoriously hard to do, even harder to maintain deniability, and not particularly more effective than, say, coordinating a few suicide trucks.)

The main problem of with the democratic angle of American interventions in Middle East and Central Asia is that American governments don't like democracy very much when it doesn't lead to 'American-compliant' or 'non-Islamist' outcomes. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true for American interests in South America. And lest we are being too hard on Americans, the same is true for the EU establishment - see e.g. Syriza and Podemos.

Take the celebrated 2004 presidential election in Afghanistan - those smiling girls holding up purple fingers and all. It had a certain spark. Granted, there had scarcely been much of a campaign and was a lot of diddling about and horse-trading on the council side of things, but the turnout was quite respectable, about 70%.

Unfortunately, Americans kept bombing weddings, and the 'democratically' elected leadership could do nothing about it. The second election, in 2009, had a turnout of ca. 30% and ended in a fraudulent muddle which legally ought to have produced a run-off election but didn't, for reasons. Addressing the main national issue - you know, the ruinous ongoing guerrilla war - was not within the power of the re-elected president, anyway. The US and NATO declared that their troops are staying no matter what and (somewhat unhelpfully) tried to foist an unelected 'shadow liaison' with broad executive powers on the elected government, relenting only when their chosen candidate for that position, Ghani, refused.

During his second term, President Karzai, who had little to lose because he couldn't run again, tried to negotiate with the talibs (a position supported by the vast majority of Afghans), and refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US unless certain limits were included, like giving up the Americans' immunity from prosecution. For a brief moment, it actually looked like NATO would have to leave Afghanistan, and indeed there was some planning for that 'zero option'. But then the 2014 election rolled around, inspiring a dismal turnout (particularly outside Kabul). Ghani won, John Kerry negotiated a power-sharing agreement with Ghani's runner-up rival, and they immediately signed the BSA, allowing upwards of ten thousand US and NATO troops to stay in-country with impunity.

The Ghani government (reelected in 2019 with <20% turnout!) was famously, hideously corrupt. That Pentagon joke about 'vertically integrated criminal enterprise' just about said it all. While the incoming Taliban government will be in dire economic straits (perhaps heroin will help) they will certainly be able to claim they're draining the Kabul swamp. But Ghani was pliant, and that's what mattered most to Americans. Only, in the end, no one bothered dying for him.

You mentioned the Arab Spring. It's instructive to contrast the events in Tunisia (the model outcome) with those in Egypt. In both cases, following popular uprisings, fairly moderate Islamist parties with Muslim Brotherhood roots became major players (Ennahda in Tunisia, FJP in Egypt). However, because Tunisia wasn't strategically important to the US and Israel, basic politics were allowed to play themselves out without foreign interference. The secularists pushed back against the Islamists and a political equilibrium emerged. In Egypt, however, Mohammed Morsi's democratically-elected FJP government was removed in a classic tanks-surrounding-palace coup d'etat (which, hilariously, the Obama admin refused to call a coup for legal reasons - "We’re just not taking a position," said Jen Psaki) and military dictatorship was restored. Egypt was deemed too important to leave to democracy with potentially inconvenient populist outcomes.

Libya is a not dissimilar story. Same goes for the Palestinians whenever they have the temerity to democratically elect Hamas to something.

To finally get around to Iraq: it's tough to render a verdict because the system is currently in rapid flux, with electoral reforms passed recently and a parliamentary election to be held in October. Until now, the crippling feature of Iraq's American-imposed 'democracy' have been sectarian quotas. The president is a Kurd, the prime minister is a Shi'ite, the parliamentary Speaker is a Sunni, and other posts are similarly distributed via a points system. The quotas were actually a well-meaning idea, aimed at preventing the domination of any of Iraq's three main ethnoreligious groups over the others. But in striving for balance, they formalised division and gave rise to extremely corrupt systems of patronage. Elections in Iraq are technically decent, especially considering the two civil wars and ISIL. They've just never meant very much in practice, as the same power blocs remained in place, doling out jobs and contracts. Following the last two years of protests and the fall of one barely legitimate government, this muhasasa system might actually be going away, although, notably, Iran finds it useful and doesn't want it to.

Meanwhile the Kurds just want to secede and have near-unanimously voted in a referendum saying so, to which the central government responded militarily in 2018. The various militias enlisted to fight ISIL have now entrenched themselves as political actors with local power bases. Iraq exports tons of oil, but the country's basic infrastructure is a ruin.

So before we start evaluating the relative success of 'installations of democracy', we have to get into the weeds of whether that's what's actually being done. At the heart of it, the US wants stability that favours its interests and those of allied regimes, just as it always has. Those priorities poison any democracy installation scheme in places where large segments of the population have (or perceive) a reason to be aggrieved against Americans.

Expand full comment

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/the-other-afghan-women

One of the better articles I have seen on the subject. It's not that Shakira and other Afghan women so relished life under Taliban rule, it's that what temporarily replaced it brought them little good, and much that was worse, certainly more corrupt, more arbitrary, more spiteful, more pointlessly brutal.

Expand full comment

I don't know if I exactly have any formed thoughts around this, but I've been sort of thinking about soft power, especially in its cultural manifestation, and how this ties in with debates over "Is the West/America a declining force? Is China going to be the new global superpower?"

Now, this is usually in terms of economic and military power, but the interesting thing is the huge, huge, huge influence American culture has had. People talk about Coca-colonisation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocacolonization but I don't know if the knowledge of the appeal of American culture is really recognised.

And of course, what leads on from that is when there is an attempt to co-opt this and replace it with your own cultural influence. Again, China is the one here; the Belt and Road Initiative and the influence within African nations are often discussed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_and_Road_Initiative

But what about the influence of American culture on the youth of China? I think the CCP is becoming somewhat concerned about this, or at least trying to co-opt it as a propaganda opportunity. I started thinking about this due to two things:

(1) The really horribly translated potential crackdown on "sissy pants males" - that is to say, what would probably be called "metrosexual" here, at least when that was the fashion a while back. Young, attractive, well-groomed men who are actors and models and pop idols and have a huge fan base following (mostly if not solely women). It sounds vaguely silly to Western ears, but there's something more at the base of it than "we don't want our young men to be nancy boys!" It's precisely because of the huge fanbase, and the economic importance (these idols have all kinds of endorsements from a range of Chinese and Western companies selling everything from makeup to instant ready meals to watches and fashions) and more concerning to the CCP, influence on how the fans think of them - there's a minor scandal over one actor whose career has been pretty much totalled by the government, it kicked off because of jealousy of one set of fans who set out to cancel him by digging up "oh shit" moments from his social media history, and because a set of his fans defended him, this was seen as Bad Influence: instead of falling into line with the CCP judgement, they were holding out. This is not the job of media celebrities as the CCP views it; they are supposed to be Positive Role Models for the Youth, which includes being (at least publicly, whatever the views in private) 100% in line with the government and leading their fans the same way.

https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002883/xinhua-mocks-sissy-pants-male-idols

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Zhehan#Controversy

(2) I am currently watching online something called "Street Dance of China". It's the fourth season of a dance competition. This year they have international dancers as well as Chinese dancers. The theme is "the battle for peace and love".

Now, I never imagined I'd end up watching hip-hop etc. dance (it's a long story) but I am, and I'm enjoying it. However it is (a) an example of how hugely influential American culture, from rap and hip-hop, are globally and (b) there's a subtle but definite angle about showcasing Chinese culture, how Chinese dancers are interpreting these styles of dance, and showing how China is catching up with and indeed surpassing international stars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3wcZkmbB1w

It's attracted an international audience as well, building on from success of last season, such that the TV channel is providing a range of subtitles:

"The first drafts of & English & Vietnamese & Thai & Spanish & Arabic & Indonesian & Japanese & Korean captions are up."

So, yeah. Huge and unknown(?) influence of American popular culture on modern Chinese youth, and possibly an attempt by China to leverage that popularity into cultural influence within its own geographic sphere - Chinese hip-hop dancers instead of American ones as the role models for Asian youth?

(Or I could be talking out of my hat. The dancing is great entertainment, though).

Expand full comment

There are American schools all over the world, and elites everywhere like having their children educated at American Universities, even if they pretend to dislike America. But if English wasn't the global Lingua Franca then our influence would be less. But the Chinese might have a big advantage in that it is less easy for foreign powers to target their populations with specific propaganda since we don't have enough Chinese language speakers to crank out a lot of news media. Plus they have the great firewall. The supposed Russian meddling in US elections would not happen in China. As super capitalists we have built a good industry for creating art, music, film etc that appeals to people everywhere. Maybe this is because our culture is more an individualistic melting pot, and Chinese culture is a bit more steeped in traditions and things we don't understand and will not appeal to us. Bland culture can appeal to everyone.

Expand full comment

Cultural influence lags behind other forms of power. Whatever the next big power is, their culture will eventually become the dominant one.

Expand full comment

Counterpoint: Latin culture survived the fall of Rome pretty well for 1000 years and arguably (although the dominant language has changed to a weird Germanic dialect with Romance features) is still pretty important.

Yet the Huns and Mongols didn't produce anything similar. I'd suggest there's more to soft power than just following hard power.

Expand full comment

You would, at least, need to consider the longevity of the power as well as the cultural markers produced during the time in power. I imagine a fully illiterate group of people who produce no art, music, writings, etc. (not to say the Mongols fit this, but they definitely produced less) would have a much smaller effect on culture than a power who produces all of those things. That's likely why the Chinese have been creating their own movie and pop culture industries, and why they've pushed Western producers to bend to meet Chinese demands before their materials can be released there.

A power in place for 5 years will likely have little to no lasting influence, no matter how strong they were militarily. Similarly, a power that lasts 1,000 years would likely be a large influence far into the future even if relatively weak. A country that has both, like the UK for a while and the US now, can project their culture across the whole world.

Expand full comment

A counter-possibilty is that powerful memes spread regardless of their origin.

Thai food is available in every city in the world now, not because Thailand is a rich and powerful country but because Thai food is delicious.

American music is everywhere, it's true, but it's not the music of rich and powerful Americans, but music that originated in the poorest and least powerful parts of American society.

Rome conquered a lot of places, but in cultural terms wound up getting conquered by its provinces; Romans spent a lot of time trying to imitate the more cultured Greeks, and eventually Rome wound up speaking Greek, worshipping an Israeli religion and moving its capital to Asia Minor to be where all the cool people are.

The Chinese government will spend a lot of time and money trying to promote Chinese cultural memes overseas, but I doubt they'll have much success (beyond the few things that instantly appeal to the rest of the world like certain food items and martial arts movies).

Expand full comment

Educated Romans spoke Greek and worshipped Levantine cults in the Republic, even after they had established dominance over the Hellenistic states. So it might not be the provinces conquering Rome so much as earlier soft power winning out.

Expand full comment

"and eventually Rome wound up speaking Greek"

Primarily after the death of Theodosius I. Before, the Greek language died out in Italy and Latin was spreading in Tunisia and the Balkans. Your point on Christianity is completely correct, though, and it's true the City of Rome under the Late Republic and Early Empire was inundated by Greeks and Syrians, and native Italians were a minority of emperors after Commodus.

Expand full comment

I would add that, as America's relative power & wealth have declined over the last 20 years, its cultural influence over the rest of the world seems to have actually increased. Some of that is about the Internet, which is very American-centric, and some of that is just vague cultural appeal. Look at how the BLM protests spread globally last summer, even in places that, uh..... don't really have black people? Soft power seems to hang around for a while, look at all of the world-changing British bands post-war.

One thing I think about a lot is how much 'American' culture is really just the product of fairly small groups within the US. The main example here is African American culture, which has just dramatically shaped global music, dance and entertainment culture in the 20th century, from like 13% of the US population (which is like 4% of global population). From jazz through rock to hip-hop, plus *so many* words & phrases we take for granted today. The other main group are Irish Americans, who seem to have had pretty outsized influence for probably being much smaller in numbers than African Americans

Expand full comment

Also, the sheer amount of advertising and sponsorship, and the range of products on display, show that the Chinese marketplace has enthusiastically embraced capitalism.

Maybe *too* enthusiastically, to quote from this article:

https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002861/cctv-apologizes-for-bombarding-student-show-with-ads-#

"China’s state broadcaster has publicly apologized for flooding its annual back-to-school television show with back-to-back commercials, after outrage from parents.

Jointly produced by China Central Television (CCTV) and the Ministry of Education (MOE), “First Class for New Semester” has become a mandatory viewing activity for parents and students on the first day of the fall semester. But on Saturday, millions of parents watching the show disapproved of the “endless” ads delaying the show by 12 minutes.

“We have broadcast too many ads before ‘First Class,’ which has prevented the parents and students from watching it on time,” CCTV said in an apology statement Sunday. “We will strive to provide better service for our audience.”

Expand full comment

(I WANT AN EDIT BUTTON SO BADLY GAAHHHH) For the median citizen of these places, do you think quality of life will become better or worse by 2040, as compared to 2021? How confident are you of these beliefs? Places: Your country, USA, China, France, currently developed world as a whole, currently developing world as a whole.

"Quality of life" is of course subjective, so use whatever metrics seem reasonable, but lean toward measurable ones like life expectancy, median income vs. affordability of basic goods and services, homicide rates, suicide rates, etc.

Expand full comment

Hmm, U.S. politics are still horribly bonkers, but "slightly better" is my best guess (low confidence). My country of Canada (America's hat) should be "modestly better" but will be dragged up or down by whatever the U.S. does. The risks posed by China are clearly greater under Xi Jinping, but it seems they don't want a war with the U.S... the world order seems stable. In which case, global development / industrialization should continue, and quality of life should increase at a variety of rates in the third world, while the first world makes smaller gains. If UBIs in the $600-$900/mo range become popular in the first world, I'm fairly convinced they will work well at reducing homelessness and poverty without harming the economy.

Expand full comment

F--- knows, slightly worse, slightly better, about the same, ditto, a lot better

Expand full comment

Better, better, better, better, better. Each has a confidence level of about 90%. They're not independent (if the US tanks somehow, the odds that France, for instance tanks as well goes up. Same for China and basically everyone else on the list.)

However pretending they are independent, that comes out to a 40% chance that one of those categories will be worse in 2040. Which sounds about right to me as well.

Expand full comment

It will better in every mentioned place, with 80 % confidence. You might laught at me after 2040

Expand full comment

Nineteen years isn't a long time. It's hard for me to see whether things have got better or worse, overall, over the past nineteen years even in my own country. Whatever has happened, it's been within the error bars.

So in 2040 I think that things will either be basically the same (90% confidence) or noticeably worse (10%).

Expand full comment

However, in most of the developing world, the past 19 years has produced a very easy to notice improvement in quality of life, well outside error bars...

Expand full comment

Better, Worse, Worse, worse, worse. I expect a hot conflict between now and then and I expect us to win

Expand full comment

What kind of hot conflict? A limited war over Taiwan is unlikely to affect living standards in the PRC much, let alone the entire developing world. An unlimited war including nuclear exchanges is unlikely to leave us better off, even in victory. The window of conflicts that leads to your projected outcomes is incredibly narrow, possibly infinitesimally so.

Expand full comment

Quality of life in developing countries has been increasing remarkably rapidly. I'd be surprised if a hot conflict was enough to reverse that trend.

Expand full comment

Similar, Worse, Similar, Similar, Worse.

This is assuming that current trends re. climate, drought, and food insecurity continue, but don't get worse; and that China hits the top of the exponential curve and drops back into line with their demographics.

Expand full comment

For the developing world (and China) you are forecasting the reversal of a secular trend that has held for the past century, and has been arguably the most significant human story of the post WW2 era. That's bold, and would seem to require more justification than just some mumbling about climate, drought and food insecurity (notwithstanding which, the median citizen in both China and the developing world has seen transformational improvements in quality of life over the past century).

Expand full comment

I think I answered the wrong question.

What I actually answered was: Will things be getting better at the same rate as they are now.

AS for the actual question then:

Better, Better, Better, Better, Better, Better; unless climate change modes are WAY the hell off, in which case,

Better, Better, Better, Better, Better, Worse.

Expand full comment

better, better, worse, unclear, better.

Expand full comment

Are we discounting the fact that 2021 was a plague year? Because things like "being able to send your kids to school" and "being able to socialize in person regularly" would seem like a major improvement in QoL for most people...

Expand full comment

Good point. Yes, I meant to discount that, so maybe I should have used 2019 as a baseline year instead.

Expand full comment

Do you guys know what were the fastest declining major languages of the 20th century? I can think of Yiddish, Occitan, and Plattdeutsch, but I wonder what you guys can come up with.

Expand full comment

What do you consider to be a major language? I assume you'd define it by the numbers of speakers? — i.e. one million speakers? 100,000 speakers?

Yiddish lost the majority of its speakers during the Holocaust. There are arguments going on right now whether it's still continuing to decline or whether its's holding its own.

Iceland is worried about Icelandic, because the majority of Icelanders already speak English, but the authorities are blaming the social media for young preferentially speaking English over Icelandic. I don't know if this is a real problem, or it's just a bunch of nationalists who are fretting about their mother tongue.

The authorities in China have been pushing Putonghua (i.e. "Common Speech" aka "Mandarin") on Guangdonghua (Yue, aka Cantonese) speakers as well as the other seven or eight major language groups in China. The government refers to these languages as "dialects" to downplay this program — but most of these "dialects" are mutually unintelligible. Cantonese and Mandarin as similar as English and German. So, there are about nine different languages that are under threat in China.

Despite the efforts of the Irish government, Irish Gaelic has been in decline through the 20th Century. However, its numbers of speakers as a primary language may have stabilized.

And Scots may be making a comeback after three centuries of slow decline.

Expand full comment

"I assume you'd define it by the numbers of speakers? — i.e. one million speakers?"

Ten million.

Expand full comment

I suggest non-prestige Chinese languages (Min, Gan, Hakka). Mainland China standardized on Putonghua in the 20th century to dramatic effect, the other languages (especially ones other than Cantonese) must have suffered.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I was surprised to learn that actors in dramas get dubbed over by voice actors who speak the "standard" language, in order that there is one version understood by everyone viewing the show, and the actors in question might speak a regional dialect/have an 'accent' because of that.

https://www.quora.com/Why-do-some-Chinese-dramas-appear-to-be-re-dubbed-in-Chinese

Expand full comment

I think this will definitely be the case for the 21st century, but China's population probably grew fast enough to counteract most of the dialectical leveling during the 20th century.

Expand full comment

I would guess that there are some languages of Indonesia that got swept away with the invention of Bahasa Indonesia in the middle of the century, but Wikipedia mentions that Bahasa Indonesia is mainly a second language still, so perhaps not: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Indonesia

Expand full comment

I would guess that other candidates are regional languages of China or India, and perhaps major indigenous language of South America like Quechua and Aymara. European regional languages mostly got swept away with the rise of print media in the 18th and 19th century, and standardized education systems, and these things (along with broadcast media) came to Asia, Africa, and Latin America in the 20th century. Southern India has had a large resistance movement against Hindi, but I expect there are large regions of northern India where the local language was similar enough to Hindi that it could have gotten replaced without as much of a fight.

Expand full comment

"and perhaps major indigenous language of South America like Quechua and Aymara"

Definitely not them; Peru grew in population fast enough to counteract any decline in speakers of those languages.

" I expect there are large regions of northern India where the local language was similar enough to Hindi that it could have gotten replaced without as much of a fight"

Maybe; idk.

Expand full comment

I don't think you're correct about Quechua. My stepmother who is a linguist was involved in Quechua language preservation project. Now she's working on Mayan language preservation project. It does look like Quechua is declining (below). Definitely the different Mayan languages are in decline.

https://www.quechua.org.uk/Eng/Main/i_DANGER.HTM#:~:text=For%20Cajamarca%20Quechua%2C%20the%20total,167).

Expand full comment

It didn't decline in absolute numbers over the 20th century.

Expand full comment

I will admit that I've never researched this question. And I may have made a mistake by taking my step-mother's linguistic word for it. Could you back up your statement up with a link that shows the percentage of Quechua speakers over time?

Expand full comment

If you mean by percentage instead of by absolute number of speakers, it would be any of the languages that went extinct in the 20th century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_time_of_extinction#20th_century

Expand full comment

I meant by number of absolute speakers.

Expand full comment

Albion's seed had a section at the end about diasporas other than the 4 main English groups. One of them was a group of Scottish settlers (not Borderers, another group) who lived in coastal North and South Carolina. They apparently still requested ministers be sent from Scotland who spoke Gaelic in the late 1800s.

I wonder if there are any Native American languages which were spoken in 1900 but have since vanished.

Expand full comment

Another book I'd recommend on the spread of languages over time is Nicholas Ostler's "Empires of the Word".

Expand full comment

Could people fill me in on Sinovac? I gather it's not a very good vaccine, but better than nothing.

Any thoughts about why China bet on an inferior vaccine? Bad luck? Cheaper to develop and make?

Does China seem to be getting some good out of it in terms of foreign relations?

Expand full comment

Excellent comments form Eric and Neal! China also has an mRNA vaccine coming out soon called ARCov (aka Walvax). I think they've completed some or all of their Phase III trials for ARCov. They also have a recombinant protein vaccine in the works, called VO-1, which is in Phase III trials. And there are a couple of others in development whose ETA is further out. China has now surpassed India as the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world. Both those country's production numbers leave the US and the EU in the dust. ;-)

Expand full comment

My understanding is that Sinovac was an easy, fairly safe, relatively low-tech vaccine candidate that was mass-produced and distributed as quickly as possible with only basic testing, with the expectation that it would at least be better than nothing.

It's an inactivated whole-virus vaccine, which is the second or third oldest vaccine technology, after deliberate live infection with a related virus that produces cross-immunity (i.e. innoculation with variola minor or cowpox to guard against variola major). Inactivated whole-virus vaccines are a well-understood and we've got a pretty good handle on how to predict and mitigate risks, so it's a defensible candidate for rushing into production with minimal testing. At worst, it's going to be ineffective.

I can see both practical and political arguments for rushing a low-risk vaccine. Pragmatically, even a marginally effective vaccine will slow the spread of the epidemic and the benefits of rolling it out ASAP arguably outweigh the risks of waiting for phase III trial data. And political, rolling out a vaccine quickly will make it look like you're doing something promptly to deal with the crisis, especially in an authoritarian state that can suppress bad news about effectiveness and side effects.

As it happens, it turns out Sinovac was indeed much better than nothing in terms of effectiveness, although it seems to be much less effective than Adenovirus or mRNA based vaccines. I haven't seen good data about side effects, but qualitatively it seems similar to other Covid vaccine types (i.e. moderate risk of injection site pain and minor illness symptoms shortly after the dose, but extremely low risk of serious side effects).

As for sticking with Sinovac instead of switching to an Adenovirus or mRNA vaccine, that's also probably a combination of pragmatic and political concerns. Pragmatically, they've already build out the infrastructure to produce and distribute Sinovac, so they can make money and/or diplomatic capital by selling or giving to other countries, and consuming domestic production of Sinovac and Sinopharm is probably a faster and lower-marginal-cost strategy for finishing fully vaccinating the domestic population than importing Pfizer, Modern a, AstraZeneca, or Sputnik-V. And politically, admitting the domestic vaccine is less effective than foreign alternatives would be a massive loss of face domestically and would also embarrass the governments of other countries that also adopted Sinovac.

Expand full comment

> At worst, it's going to be ineffective.

There have been vaccine-candidates that ended up making the disease worse. Was this not a possibility with Sinovac?

Expand full comment

I don't know. My guess is that is was a potential issue, but they did enough testing to rule it out as a major problem before rolling out the vaccine.

I was actually coming back to amend my comment about "rushing into production with minimal testing" when I saw your response. I double-checked and found I'd misremembered the degree to which Sinovac was rushed out: the vaccine manufacturers did publish Phase I and II trial results and Phase III trials were underway before the Chinese government authorized the vaccine domestically, and several other countries did their own Phase III trials of Sinovac. Emergency approval for high risk groups in China was granted in August 2020, and full approval for general use was granted in Feb 2021.

That's several months faster than US approval of the mRNA vaccines (emergency approval in Dec 2020 for both, and full approval in July 2021 for Pfizer with full approval for Moderna still pending), but not the near-immediate rollout I thought I'd remembered.

Expand full comment

Sinopharm is much better than Sinovac and is the "flagship" of Chinese vaccine diplomacy. I think there's a lot of focus on Sinovac in Western media because of anti-China bias and/or general bias towards reporting bad news or putting a bad spin on things in order to fuel doomscrolling.

Hate to cite my least favorite academic here but Steven Pinker correctly points out that there seems to be significant media bias against reporting good news. For example, none of my usual news sources told me when China and the UAE started offering Sinopharm to children ages 3 and up - I had to find out in one of my semi-regular googling sprees. I'd think the UAE (which licensed Sinopharm from China and manufactures its own version, I believe) running trials on a cohort of kids 3-18 - including members of the royal family - would be the kind of great global covid news media outlets would want people to know. I'd think it would be relevant that kids in Abu Dhabi can be safe at school while kids in Texas and Florida can't, and maybe the American public would want to pressure the US to get a move on with testing our vaccines in that age cohort if they knew we were falling so far behind other countries.

In my country of residence, Georgia, Sinopharm is quite popular - in so much demand that supplies had to be restricted and the government is negotiating a new round of purchases from China - while at the same time, the government just rejected a gift of 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Lithuania because no one in the country wants AZ and the government thought the doses would just expire. This makes sense because from what I understand AZ is less effective than Sinopharm and with a much higher rate of side effects.

I'm not sure why China is exporting both vaccines when one is clearly better than the other - it might be something to do with production facilities or supplies; I have no idea - but at least here in Georgia few people are paying Sinovac any mind, and many people - myself included - are quite happy with China because of Sinopharm.

Expand full comment

Thank you, and also to @Eric Rall and @broblawsky. I'm biased against China, and I try to compensate for it.

I've formatted my reply this way because I don't want to clutter the feed with three identical replies, but all three of the comments were good. I have no idea whether the @'s will help replies to get to people.

Expand full comment

My pleasure.

Expand full comment

I'm curious, what makes Pinker your least favorite?

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

But you're OK with Lyme Connecticut releasing Lyme disease to the world, and Zaire releasing Ebola to the world? Or Europeans releasing Measles to the New World? And why would China be happy with it? It killed their own people and impacted their own economy.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I can imagine that I hear you sputtering in indignation. Lol!

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I suspect that releasing the virus was an accident, possibly the sort of accident any advanced country might make. Also, the lab leak hypothesis is plausible, but not the only possibility.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment