Please cheer me up

Update: Come to think of it, let’s circle back to the thing about kids under 13 getting banned from taking the SAT, as a ridiculous unintended consequence of some federal regulation. I wonder whether this is a campaign this blog could spearhead that would have an actual chance of making a positive difference in the world (!!), rather than just giving me space to express myself, to vent my impotent rage at the tragic failures of our civilization and the blankfaces who sleep soundly despite knowing that they caused those failures.  What if, like, a whole bunch of us wrote to the College Board, or whatever federal agency enforces the regulation that the College Board is worried about, and we asked them whether a solution might be found in which parents gave permission on the web form for their under-13s to take the SAT, given how memorable this opportunity was for many of us, how it was a nerd rite of passage, and how surely none of us have any wish to deny that opportunity to the next generation, so let’s work together to solve this?

I’m depressed that, all over the world, the values of the Enlightenment are humiliated and in retreat, while the values of the Taliban are triumphant. The literal Taliban of course, but also a thousand mini-Talibans of every flavor, united in their ideological certainty.

I’m depressed that now and for the future, the image of the United States before the world—deservedly so—is one of desperate Afghans plunging to their deaths from the last airplanes out of Kabul. I’m depressed that, while this historic calamity was set in motion by Donald Trump, the president who bears direct, immediate moral responsibility for it is the one I voted for. And knowing what I know now, I’d still have voted for him—but with an ashen face.

I’m depressed that, on social media, the same people who seven years ago floridly denounced me, because, while explaining how as a young person I overcame the urge to suicide and finally achieved some semblance of a normal life, I made a passing reference to a vanished culture of arranged marriages, to which I seemed better-adapted than to the world of today—these very same people are the ones sagely resigned to millions of Afghan women and girls actually forced into unwanted marriages, tortured, and raped, who explain that there’s nothing the US can or should do about this, even that it was folly to imagine we could impose parochial Western values, like women’s rights, on a culture that doesn’t want them. These are the people who saw fit to lecture me on my feminist failings.

I’m depressed that there’s an exceedingly good chance that both of my kids will get covid, as they’ve returned to school and preschool in Austin, TX, where the Delta variant is raging out of control, new reports of cases among the kids’ schoolmates come almost every day, Daniel has been quarantined at home for the past week because of one such case, there’s no vaccination mandate (and a looming battle over mask mandates), and—crucially, tragically, incredibly—the FDA has not only slow-walked approval of covid vaccines for children under 12, but has pushed back the approval even further than it previously planned, ignoring unprecedented public objections from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The FDA blankfaces have done this in spite of the reality, obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain, that they’re thereby consigning thousands of children to their deaths, that whatever ultra-rare risks the vaccine poses to children are infinitesimal compared to the overwhelming benefit.

Since I worry that I wasn’t clear enough, how about this: in a just world, the FDA in its current form would be dismantled, and all those who needlessly delayed the delivery of covid vaccines to children would be tried for manslaughter [while I still think the case for authorizing covid vaccines for kids right now is overwhelmingly clear, I hereby retract this particular remark, which was based on a factor 5-10 overestimate of the covid mortality risk for kids—for more, see this comment]. The blankfaces have already killed more people through pointlessly delaying the approval of covid vaccines than their agency could plausibly have saved through its entire history: do they need to take the children as well? As far as I’m concerned, those who defend the status quo—those who meet the on-the-ground reality of overflowing pediatric hospitals with obfuscatory words about procedures and best practices and the need for yet more data—are no better either morally or intellectually than the anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists, their rightly-reviled cousins.

As icing on the cake, I’m depressed that the College Board is no longer administering the SAT to children under 13, apparently because of federal regulations—-which means that Johns Hopkins CTY’s famed Study of Exceptional Talent, a program that made a big difference in my life three decades ago, has been suspended indefinitely. Imagine being a nerdy 11-year-old in 2021: no more tracking, no more gifted programs, no more magnet schools, no more acceleration, no getting vaccinated against deadly disease (!!), … oh, and if perchance you felt the urge to take the SAT, just to prove that you could outscore the grownups who decided to impose all this on you, then no, you’re no longer allowed to do that either.

The one bright spot in the endlessly bleak picture is that Daniel, my 4-year-old son, now plays a pretty mean chess game, if not quite at the level of Beth Harmon. Having just learned the rules a few months ago, Daniel now gives me and Dana (admittedly, no one would mistake either of us for Magnus Carlsen) extremely competitive matches; just yesterday he beat several adults in a park. Daniel has come to spend much of his free time (and now that he’s quarantined, he has a lot) playing chess against his iPad and watching chess videos. To be clear, he has very little emotional maturity even for a 4-year-old, and unlike me at the same age, he has no overwhelming passion for numbers or counting, but with chess I’ve finally found a winner. Now I just need to hope that they don’t ban chess-playing for children under 13.

So that’s it, it’s off my chest. Commenters: what else have you got that might cheer me up?

172 Responses to “Please cheer me up”

  1. Jon Awbrey Says:

    In the mean time, in the meanest of times, I find myself turning again to Sisyphus …

    Rock On

  2. Jay L Gischer Says:

    I hope this will cheer you up, Scott. I did not have any accelerated classes, tracking or anything like that available to me in my pre-adult days. I still ended up doing quite well. It was a bit painful to me, in that trying to figure out how to engage with people who didn’t process the world in the same way I did was very challenging. AND, I was a smart and resourceful kid, and with the motivation I had, I figured it out, as much as anybody did. I went on to get a PhD in CS from Stanford, so I think I did ok without that accelerated stuff. I also didn’t go to an Ivy League school for undergrad. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of Ivy grads and I like them. A lot.

    I know all the accelerated/tracked/GATE stuff was good for you, but that’s actually kind of an exception. My kids hated it.

    One of the toughest things as a parent is seeing your kids go in a different direction than what you want, but you have to let that happen at some point. Maybe not at 4 years old, though.

  3. Jay L Gischer Says:

    This is a separate topic, so I’m making a separate comment for it.

    We need to fight for those Enlightenment values. They don’t fight for themselves. They seem obvious to us, but to many, they just seem like they are in the way of getting what they want.

    We needed to fight for them at the beginning of this country, during the Civil War, during WWII, and we need to again.

    The fight is probably less violent this time around, and more political, more emotional, more metaphorical. But we still need to fight. It doesn’t take care of itself, and we’ve been neglecting it.

  4. Alan DenAdel Says:

    Not sure if it will cheer you up, but Daniel Naroditsky makes great chess videos that your son may enjoy.

  5. Drake Thomas Says:

    Here’s a logic puzzle of mine you might enjoy; here’s a very different one by a friend. Earlier today I read through this encouraging post on the feasibility of large-scale carbon sequestration via olivine weathering. I also found Would I survive in a universe made of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics? an interesting read, though you’re better-suited to evaluate its accuracy than me.

    On a Scott-specific note, I had a blast seeing Eric Neyman run an Aumannian Conversations event at SPARC (where I was a JC this year), with your talk as introductory reading – participants pair up, and iteratively state their current best guess of some estimation problem, conditioned on all previous estimates. Lots of funky dynamics that can show up, even when played by agents of bounded rationality. (I’d love to see a game played by seasoned experts at this kind of thing!)

    And I started reading through your \(P \stackrel{?}{=} NP\) survey a few weeks ago, which made me very happy when I realized the proof of 3SAT being NP-complete was actually super easy to work through in one’s head, instead of the Big Scary Result I had imagined it to be.

  6. bagel Says:

    In 1938 a tremendous storm ravaged New England. For many years before that the whole of New England had been growing a few species of tree considered “cash crops”, after having been cleared for farming but then the agricultural revolution made that too unprofitable. But when “thirty eight” came through it glutted the limber market since all the trees came down at once and so were worthless.

    The United States, in a moment of shocking foresight, offered to buy all the logs at the pre-storm market rate, on the condition that they were replaced by a distribution pf the native species. And nearly a century later, New England is thickly forested and absolutely gorgeous.

    Bold acts of conservation can work. Today you’d never know that New England was once clear-cut.

  7. fred Says:

    “I’m depressed that, while this historic calamity was set in motion by Donald Trump […]”

    The truth is that the failure has been 20 years in the making…
    it’s not like in the last year we suddenly took back all the aid, weapons, training, or did something new that caused the Taliban to suddenly multiply by orders of magnitude.

    And what’s your solution exactly?
    Pour another trillion dollars into it and keep US troops there another 20 years?
    If so, would you be okay to raise your own son Daniel to be deployed there once he turns 18 and potentially give his life for Afghanistan? Or you’re somehow exempted from this?

    “the FDA in its current form would be dismantled, and all those who needlessly delayed the delivery of covid vaccines to children would be tried for manslaughter. The blankfaces have already killed more people through pointlessly delaying the approval of covid vaccines than their agency could plausibly have saved through its entire history”

    The truth is that any new drug can have serious irreversible side-effects that simply can’t be ruled out within a year.
    For example long term effects on fertility and the next generation.
    You’d need at least 9 months to complete one pregnancy cycle, and possibly another 2-3 years to check the next generation for development issues.
    When it’s about curing stage 4 cancer, it’s a no-brainer to take shortcuts.
    But when it’s about using a new class of vaccine on the entire world population, it doesn’t seem crazy to not rush things too much.

  8. Paul Topping Says:

    I am not sure what to think about the slowness of FDA approvals. On the one hand, it seems likely that when they do a risk assessment on the vaccines, they see no upside to their organization in approving it sooner rather than later. They can drag it out in the name of being careful while making very, very sure they don’t miss some side-effect that gives them a black eye. There must be a better way though, in this political climate, I doubt anything will be done.

    Are those adult chess players in the park really any good? The idea that there are almost-grandmasters, but for their age and/or mental illness, playing everyday at picnic tables in virtually any city is a tv and movie cliché. Not to cast doubt on Daniel’s abilities, mind you. I really am curious.

  9. Eric Neyman Says:

    Here’s a video of Aaron Landesman giving a talk on finite fields using only words that are six letters long. And here’s a blog post of mine some other cool examples of wordplay/constrained writing. Hope things get better 🙂

  10. Leon Says:

    What do you think the covid IFR is for children ineligible to receive the vaccine?

  11. Scott Says:

    Drake Thomas #5:

      And I started reading through your P=?NP survey a few weeks ago, which made me very happy when I realized the proof of 3SAT being NP-complete was actually super easy to work through in one’s head, instead of the Big Scary Result I had imagined it to be.

    Oh man, that makes me happier than almost anything anyone could have written here. Thank you.

  12. Scott Says:

    Alan DenAdel #4:

      Not sure if it will cheer you up, but Daniel Naroditsky makes great chess videos that your son may enjoy.

    Thanks, just watched a couple of them with Daniel (my son)!

  13. Ronald de Wolf Says:

    Listen to this several times in a row, it may shift your mood.

  14. fred Says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s one thing that cheered me up (getting things done is the best mood booster): the tour of Starbase (there are 3 parts).

  15. George Says:

    Almost all you’re issues are about concepts that you think reflect reality but that you haven’t empirically validated. They don’t affect your direct experience. Unless you try really hard, nothing but direct experience ought to affect your mood much.

    So cheer up, the nature on consciousness and experience is still the same, and it’s as always, somewhat pleasant.

  16. charlie Says:

    1. The share of the world’s population living in Democracies has been expanding drastically. In 1950, only 800 million people lived in a democracy, a little under a third of the world’s population. Today, that figure is over 4 billion, well over half of the world’s population. I’m sure that you’re seeing more and more anecdotes about the decline of liberalism, because that’s what drives clicks. But the data flatly contradicts this.

    2. The last plane out of Kabul hasn’t even left yet, nor will it for some time. Yes, you watched a biased media show desperate Afghanis clinging to planes. But that’s all that was, biased media. We’ve ferried over 100,000 American civilians and Afghan allies out of Kabul in the last few weeks, one of the greatest logistical feats in history.

    3. The war in Afghanistan was not started by Donald Trump. It was started by Bush, continued by Obama, continued by Trump, and ended by Biden.

    4. Nobody is saying that we shouldn’t be helping women in Afghanistan. If you’re reading people that are saying that, you’re consuming biased media. Over and over again, it’s been made clear that we will continue to fight for women’s rights. But the fight for those rights should be made via economic and political aims, not by military force.

    “The way to deal with that [women’s rights] is putting economic, diplomatic, and international pressure on them [ruling leaders] to change their behavior.”

    5. Everything about the delay in vaccination approval for children is tragic. Imagine how much more tragic things would have been if COVID-19 had a similar childhood mortality rate to the flu, instead of being hundreds of times less severe.

    6. The vaccines would not have existed in a world without the FDA. The American medical science landscape would not be where it is today if no regulations existed.

    7. There are more magnet schools in America today than there have ever been, and we’ve more than doubled the count of magnet schools in the last 20 years.

    8. Chess is enjoying a renaissance in popularity, especially with younger generations. There has never been a better time to get into Chess.

    I’m sure you’ll disagree with some, if not most, of these. But hopefully at least one of these will make you take stock of your current information diet and evaluate whether it’s giving you a true and accurate picture of the world.

  17. Dragan Okanovic Says:

    I’ve recently discovered solarpunk (“solarpunk is an art movement that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeded in solving major contemporary challenges with an emphasis on sustainability problems such as climate change and pollution”) and it’s given me something new to hope and strive for.

    And while many of the things seem to be getting worse, there’re a lot of things going for the better, like barriers for entry for new startups, which means that our ability to propose new and interesting stuff and implement them has never been better. We face many challenges, but our power for new solutions has grown over time as well, and, overall, we still have reasons to stay optimistic.

  18. David Karger Says:

    You talk of the left being resigned, but I don’t see that. They want action, just not war.

  19. Oleg S. Says:

    1. JWST will launch on 31th of October. Hopefully.

    2. The huge majority of the drugs work by inhibiting protein targets. Small molecule inhibitor binds in the active site of the target protein, and prevents natural substrates from binding there. Sometimes this aproach doesn’t work – sometimes binding anything in the active site makes enzyme change its conformation and still do its functions; other times the protein doesn’t have functioning active site, but we still want it to disappear. Now, cells have this garbage disposal system: a specific protein which takes anything that binds to it and puts it into proteasome for recycling. The idea is that you can make a linker molecule that on its one side specifically binds to the target protein you want to shred, and on its other side binds to the garbage disposal system. And with it you can remove essentially any proteins from the cell, even those which don’t have active site and were undruggable before. Imagine what you can do with it! No longer you are confined to make a competitive binding to the active site! No longer you care about selectivity! And the icing on a cake is that there are several garbage disposal mechanisms working under different conditions and different organs – you can target them specifically!

  20. David Karger Says:

    I think that you and I had the luxury of becoming adults in a narrow window of time where a rosy future seemed assured—late 90s early 2000s. I think we’ve returned to the more normal state of affairs where it doesn’t seem assured at all. We need to get used to having less confidence (but still fighting for that future).

  21. Scott Says:

    fred #7: Taking a full year to approve the vaccines for adults, after the vaccines were developed in a matter of days, was one thing. OK, OK, mRNA vaccines hadn’t been used in humans before, the previous record time for a new vaccine was 4 years, yadda yadda … although even then, the time could’ve been cut to 6 months or fewer using human challenge trials (which I advocated on this blog at the time) and a 10x greater investment to ramp up production, which would’ve more than paid for itself. I suppose a year does count as “Warp Speed” by the pathetic standards of the FDA, and pushing for that was one of the only things Trump did right in his whole catastrophe of an administration (his error was not to push even more).

    But taking another full year to approve the vaccines for children, after they’re already in common use all over the world, and obviously have no side effects that begin to compare to the benefit of ending a global pandemic? Rather than testing them in kids concurrently? While simultaneously sending children back to school en masse, in the middle of the fall Delta wave, so they can all infect each other? There’s not the slightest moral or scientific justification for such a travesty. I’m fully confident that history will bear me out here.

    The only theory I’ve heard that makes the slightest sense to me is that the FDA is driven by fear—fear of the wrong thing. They’re fearful that 10 kids will die from some rare side effect, that will get round-the-clock media coverage while the 20,000 kids who the vaccines saved are ignored, the anti-vaxx conspiracists will seize on it, and they’ll hate vaccines even more than they already did (is that possible?).

    What the blankfaces don’t understand, what they’ll never understand, is that all the tiptoeing around, all the theatrical caution, ironically validates the anti-vaxx narrative far more than the rare side effect would. It grants the anti-vaxxers so much more power and legitimacy than they deserve.

    The story of this pandemic has been that every attempt the (now thoroughly discredited) “public health authorities” have made to manage public opinion (“there’s no evidence that masks work, and also medical workers need them more than you do,” “there’s no evidence that the disease is airborne,” etc. etc.) has been beaten, utterly decimated, by the efforts of individual smart people, people who can do math, simply to figure out the truth and then tell everyone as quickly as possible.

    So with vaccines like with everything else, I say: be truthful and be bold. Say, “no, this hasn’t been tested to pre-pandemic FDA standards, no it wouldn’t shock me if there are some weird, ultra-rare side effects we don’t yet know about, but I’m taking it, my kids are taking it, and I strongly recommend that you and your kids take it too if you want to live.”

    Of course, an FDA with the honesty and moral courage to say anything of the kind would no longer be the FDA.

  22. Henry Kautz Says:

    Perhaps oddly, when the news is bad I find it comforting to read novels about how absolutely wretched people and societies have been throughout history. An example is George McDonald Fraiser’s Flashman series which concerns British military history from the mid to late 1800’s. (Before anyone is potentially triggered, let me state that Flashman is a bad, awful, racist, misogynist, truly terrible person, not at all the charming rogue of the film adaptations.). The first in the series is about Britain’s misadventures in Afghanistan.

  23. Scott Says:

    charlie #16 and David Karger #18: So, the better way to help women in Afghanistan is via strongly-worded letters to the Taliban? Would the women agree with that?

    We either should’ve left Afghanistan in 2002, when bin Laden escaped Tora Bora, or if we were going to remake the country as a modern secular democracy, we should have succeeded. Or if we couldn’t have succeeded at any cost acceptable to us, at least we should’ve evacuated every pro-Western person there before turning the place back over to the 12th century.

  24. fred Says:

    Scott #21

    “I suppose a year does count as “Warp Speed” by the pathetic standards of the FDA
    The only theory I’ve heard that makes the slightest sense to me is that the FDA is driven by fear—fear of the wrong thing.”

    Let’s keep in mind that the FDA had to do all this while operating during a global pandemic (something no-one alive ever experienced until now).
    They were subjected to the effects of covid just like every other organization out there, and their employees were faced with the same things as everyone else: deal with a shortage of toilet paper, work from home (or, even worse, being forced to go to work when everyone else was safe at home was under lock-down), deal with their kids being at home, worry about the safety of their older relatives, etc.

    I’m sure they’ve learned a lot.

    Let’s just hope that “gain-of-function” virus labs all over the world have learned a few lessons as well…

  25. Scott Says:

    Paul Topping #8:

      Are those adult chess players in the park really any good?

    Oh not at all! Just some random people. Daniel is still a beginner, who sometimes makes elementary blunders, and all the adults he’s played are beginners as well. Then again, he’s not yet fully toilet-trained.

  26. Bob Jacobs Says:

    Don’t look at the weekly news on the national level, look at longterm trends on the global level.
    Child labor has fallen by more than 57% since 1970, mother dying in childbirth has fallen by more than 38% since 2000, children dying from malaria has fallen by more than 55% since 2000, death from suicide has fallen by more than 35% since 1990, death penalty executions have fallen by 62% since 1990, poverty is down, child mortality is down, malnutrition is down etc etc.
    Meanwhile life expectancy is up 38% since 1960, investment in renewable energy is up 312% since 2005, literacy is up by 25% since 1976, electricity access is up by 25% since 1990, people living in democracies is up by 58% since 1978, life expectancy is up, income is up, gender discrimination is decreasing, civil rights are expanding etc etc.
    The news has an incentive to make you focus on the immediate visual tragedies, don’t let them. Look at the big picture, we’re doing well, in fact, we’re doing good.

  27. billybob Says:

    > all those who needlessly delayed the delivery of covid vaccines to children would be tried for manslaughter

    Are these enlightenment values? Or are those who believe this simply united in your ideological certainty?

  28. fred Says:

    Scott #21

    The only theory I’ve heard that makes the slightest sense to me is that the FDA is driven by fear—fear of the wrong thing. They’re fearful that 10 kids will die from some rare side effect, that will get round-the-clock media coverage while the 20,000 kids who the vaccines saved are ignored”

    As a counter-example, please look up “Thalidomide”, Scott.
    10,000 victims world-wide, all children:

    “Thalidomide was never approved in the United States for morning sickness, mostly due to the efforts of a young physician, Frances Kelsey, who was then serving as an investigator for the FDA. Dr Kelsey was given the thalidomide approval as an “easy start” for her career. The agency thought that since the drug was already approved in almost every European country, it would be an uncomplicated process. Fortunately for many would-be US thalidomide consumers, Kelsey was a physician-pharmacologist with a profound interest in fetal development. She refused to approve the drug until the fetal interactions of the drug were shown to be safe. She fought a several-year a battle against drug approval with the Richardson-Merrell corporation until it was shown in the global community that the drug was dangerous to fetal development, and the application was terminated.”

  29. Rahul Santhanam Says:

    @Scott: Time to teach Daniel quantum chess?

    @Eric Neyman: Fun blog post. Here is the great Australian novelist Gerald Murnane reading a 1600 word palindrome he composed, as part of an album titled, aptly, “Words in Order”:

  30. myst_05 Says:


    Did the Study of Exceptional Talent explain why they can’t use a different test instead? I’ve done research on what “regulations” are preventing them from accepting the SATs and its mind blowingly dumb:

    “Starting with the August 2021 SAT, College Board will no longer allow students under 13 to register for weekend SAT administrations. Federal regulations prevent children under 13 from creating an online account, which is required for SAT registration. However, College Board will still support a set of options for those few young students interested in taking an assessment during the school year.”

    Wow. Just wow.

  31. lin Says:

    The SAT is a boring test with boring questions, and while CTY was not bad, it was the least valuable out of all the many extracurricular academic programs I participated in during K-12. Plenty of new programs appear every year and will continue appearing to fill the gap. This news is mildly irritating, but it’s just not a big deal.

  32. kaminiwa Says:

    Whenever I am depressed at the state of today, I look back on yesterday and realize how far we’ve come. A hundred years ago, a similar pandemic ravaged us. If you compare us to a perfect standard, we have failed utterly. But if you look at what we could do a hundred years ago, you see that we are doing miraculously well – easily an order of magnitude improvement.

    Our species is still but a child compared to the stars, and we have so much more learning and growth to do. But again and again, decade after decade, we DO learn, and we do better, and we save lives – millions of them. Year by year, our reach increases, and someday we will reach our ideals and arrive at the stars.

  33. Nick Drozd Says:

    A war is like a Turing machine: either it runs forever, or it halts.

    There seems to be general agreement that the war in Afghanistan ought to come to an end at some point. But when?

    Everybody has all sorts of opinions about how screwed up the withdrawal has been, how it should have been done differently, how Biden botched it, the stain on America’s honor, the national shame and humiliation, blah blah blah. But in all the analyses I’ve seen about how the withdrawal should have been conducted, nobody has answered the most important question of all: when does it end?

    If the war doesn’t run forever, it halts after some time. When? The withdrawal was a failure? Okay, but when would you have it end? Don’t talk to me about national honor; talk to me about when this ends. One more year? Two more years? Is victory just within reach? Just a few more years?

    People act like ending the war is an easy thing to do. If that’s the case, then why is Biden the fourth president to oversee it? Trump said he would end the war, and indeed it’s pretty much the only good thing he ever talked about. Yet in characteristic fashion, he failed to deliver. Why? Of course he is a notorious liar, so maybe it was just one more lie, but it could also be that he tried and failed.

    That the withdrawal was a failure was inevitable, and there was nothing that Biden or Trump or anybody else could have done about it. The people who bear direct moral responsibility for the war are its architects. Some of them are still alive, and it’s not too late to prosecute them for their crimes. Unfortunately, just a few months ago Donald Rumsfeld managed to escape justice for good.

    Biden didn’t have to be the last president to oversee the war in Afghanistan, but it looks like he will be. If you voted for Biden, then you voted for somebody who ended the war. A “forever war” is coming to an end, and that is something to be happy about.

  34. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #33: The war in Iraq was obviously a choice, and as we all now know, a bad choice justified by lies, but can you imagine any plausible US president, Democrat or Republican, who wouldn’t have invaded Afghanistan in late 2001? I can’t.

    Which means that, conditioned on 9/11 happening, this Turing machine certainly does initialize. (I do agree, if you push back a step further, that George W. Bush deserves eternal shame for ignoring the warnings of 9/11, which surely increased the probability of TM initialization, compared to what it would have been under Gore. Which means, if you push back a step further than that, that when as a 19-year-old I hyperventilated that my personal failure to induce enough Nader supporters in Florida to vote for Gore meant that civilization was doomed, I was indeed correct and well-calibrated with the actual stakes.)

    You do of course raise an excellent question as to whether and how the machine halts. I’ll say this, though: I’d rather either that the machine ran forever, or that the machine halt after only a few steps, than that this particular machine be a Busy Beaver contender.

    (Note for others: Nick Drozd has been collaborating with me on exploring the Busy Beaver function and some of its variants.)

  35. Mike Williams Says:

    Drug regulatory agencies in other countries have not rushed to approve vaccines for children. They’re operating under different conditions to initial pre-Delta trials and have to consider.

    In the meantime, the message from epidemiologists is clear: the responsibility lies with adults to protect children by vaccinating and masking themselves. By immersing children in a high viral load environment, they’re increasing child hospitalizations and risks of long COVID syndrome.

    Seeking to shortcut the prudent strategy is a bit like reaching for the horse wormer miracle cure. The USA needs to learn that it needs to put up safety nets more than six inches above ground level.

  36. Isaac Grosof Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for around eight years now. It’s really helped me on my path to being a PhD student, which has been going really well for me. Hopefully, I’ll be a professor one day. You’re a very good writer. You’ve humanized being a CS professor – made it something I can actually envision myself becoming. Thank you.

  37. Dave Says:

    Things to try to cheer you up (I’m not in CS, so can’t offer to understand any recently posted work, unfortunately):

    Despite it all, global conditions keep improving. Relinquishing Afghanistan to the Taliban looks even worse now than it did when we went to war, because the Enlightement kept proceeding everywhere else; the loss is greater because the world around Afghanistan got even better. Safe, effective vaccines to a global pandemic were created within a matter of literal weeks, and even give the FDA’s unforgivable slow-walk, they were still in people’s arms shockingly quickly. Moreover, previous pandemics went generally worse; today, we at least have Netflix and Zoom (and while I’m as sick as anyone of Zoom, it’s better than the past). Social media is a cesspool, but historical equivalents always were; now we just have better records of the ridiculousness that in previous ages had been lost to history.

    Maybe I’m just an absurd Whig, but the Age of Enlightenment was never the Enlightened Age — it is the age in which Enlightenment brings itself about. It isn’t over, it’s just uneven.

    All that said: I *feel* much the way you do. This is how I try to cheer myself up.

  38. roystgnr Says:

    Would it at be cheering to learn at least that not every nerdy kid’s experiences of the last year have been awful?

    My 9yo had the opposite experience with Covid quarantines and distance learning: although he did miss the (sadly underwhelming) gifted program in our district, he now found himself with enough free time to learn a lot more on his own. Suddenly “school” had become a place where, if you raced through the busywork, you didn’t just have to twiddle your thumbs afterward, you had all your books and your computer right next to you and nobody but mom and dad to tell you what to do next. Khan Academy is a magnificent resource for mathematics up through basic differential equations; he’s finishing up Algebra I now, getting ready for UT’s Credit-By-Exam, and now in a charter school that gives him more time for self-study and will move him up to high school math if he passes the CBE.

    He’s also had time to ask me about what kinds of more advanced math there are, and to discover that I haven’t done much abstract algebra past group theory, and to discover that abstract algebra doesn’t have many prerequisite concept requirements. He’s now going at group theory slowly but steadily, planning to eventually proceed to category theory (because he loves seeing connections between different branches of mathematics) and field theory (because he’s thrilled at the idea of soon learning math *with* daddy instead of *from* daddy).

    He’s also learned to play chess, though he’s still lousy at it. Thanks to Alan above for the Daniel Naroditsky recommendation; I’ll see if my kids like them. Should we be starting with “Beginner to Master Speedrun”?

  39. Gerard Says:


    Some of us have bigger things to worry about than the near-term future of humanity.

    My biggest worry is that if P != NP then true intelligence is an impossibility, only varying degrees of stupidity can actually exist.

    Moreover if that’s a property not only of this particular physical universe but of a logic/mathematics that is common to all possible universes then surely there can be no hope.

  40. Paul Pritchard Says:

    Scott, my go to tonic is Louis Armstrong, especially The Decca Singles 1935-1946. The great man simply radiates love of life. And thanks, of course, for your always interesting blog.

  41. Fnord Says:

    Here’s another defense of the FDA. Perhaps it helps you to try to look at it through eyes of a European, German specifically.

    Here, we recently had a lot of debate rather similar to what you’re discussing: The StIKo (Ständige Impfkommission) is an independent board of scientists who, here in Germany, give widely heard recommendations on vaccinations of all kinds. Their recommendations sometimes even become law.

    Since July, there was a huge demand from politicians here in Germany for them to start recommending vaccination for kids of age 12+. The government already had given the okay for kids to get vaccinated, but the StIKo refused to recommend it (except for special cases).

    What’s the result?

    People here trust the StIKo. No matter how enlightened, nobody can make informed decisions without expert advice on complex topics. Or can you actually read the hundreds of studies on vaccination safety, results from other countries, follow the medical, biological and virological papers and judge whether these or those are likely to be closer to the truth?

    Nobody can but experts in the respective fields.

    About a month later, the StIKo adjusted their recommendation to “vaccinate all 12+ year olds”.

    As a result, demand for vaccination for kids went through the roof. I don’t have current numbers, but they went up hugely after that step.

    If that scientific board had just bowed to political demand and said “eh, data looks good enough already, go ahead” – people would have been a lot more skeptical. Because they would have had less trust that the board did thoroughly research and decide what’s best for their children.

    That trust is low enough already.

    Rushing scientific board decisions just because it seems convenient is a bad idea.

    From my understanding, the US has enough people who are skeptic about vaccination as it is. I don’t mean conspiracy nutcases or any such hardcore idiots, just normal people who want to be certain they do the best for their children. Bending the standards a bit in a pandemic, okay, but the core principles must be kept at – or everyone even slightly doubtful will not be convinced. The end result of that seems far worse.

  42. Alexander Power Says:

    Afghanistan isn’t as bad as you think it is. It looks ugly in the news headlines today because it has been ugly for 20 years. Now the healing can begin.

  43. bertie Says:

    Scott, I imagine things are at least not worse, and probably MUCH better now than for essentially of all human history when taken on a basis of net suffering adjusted for population size.
    Yet, like you, I can’t help being depressed by why I see today.
    In terms of Covid, I expect virtually all humans will be exposed to it in coming years, probably more than once. So the main worry is not the children but the hundreds of millions of elderly in countries which lack the wealth to buy vaccine. Look at Vietnam, which heroically staved off the pandemic for 18mths only to have now lost the battle with an essentially unvaccinated population ????????

  44. Anon93 Says:

    Dear Scott,

    Sorry that you’re feeling down. The withdrawal from Kabul was badly executed and Biden should have waited until November to do it, after the end of Afghan fighting season. He should have evacuated all the civilians before the military. In fact the US should have left Afghanistan in 2002 as you said in Comment #23. Staying in Afghanistan to force a modern secular democracy on them is a fools’ game. Yes we did it in Germany and Japan but those countries were already developed and were very centralized, not factionalized, tribalistic, mountainous, poor, underdeveloped, religious. There was no Emperor or Chancellor in Afghanistan. Anyway, the Afghan withdrawal was still the right policy and I do admire Biden for making that decision because it’s a brave and correct decision, even though the execution was awful.

    The FDA should approve those vaccines faster. Still I don’t know if another year of remote learning is a good idea. Kids aren’t at such a high risk group for COVID and remote learning has all sorts of issues. These issues are worse in low-income neighborhoods. So opening up the schools may well be the right policy. Of course I agree the vaccines should be improved faster.

    As a SET member myself, I’m sad to hear the news about SET. I stopped getting their newsletter some time ago, but I don’t know what happened to it. I’m glad to hear that the reason was government bureaucracy rather than woke anti-gifted propaganda. That makes it a lot easier to reverse. Still the SAT may be on its way out soon which is unfortunate.

    One very important thing to cheer you up is that COVID IS ENDING SOON! My university is opening up in-person in the fall. This is good news. The vaccine works, and we will soon have the third booster shot like in Israel. We will all get to see our friends. COVID is currently killing a lot more people than all of the wars and so on in Afghanistan. That is ending soon. Pfizer, Moderna, and so on are a giant human achievement over nature.

    COVID is awful but maybe it will end up being a net good over the long run. We are very prepared for pandemics now. Also you should be happy that everyone is pledging huge emissions cuts in greenhouse gasses. Climate change will not get rid of civilization.

  45. Paul Beame Says:

    The goals in Afghanistan got pretty mixed. The big question to me is why the US stayed after they had killed Bin Laden in 2011.

    Here’s an aspect that gave me a sense of the futility of the mixed goals: The soil and weather and transportation are bad enough there that opium poppies may be the only reliable cash crop that is easy to transport without spoilage. Growing them also employs considerable numbers of workers. In the government-controlled areas under US influence, opium poppy growing was strongly curtailed or eliminated, but there were no such restrictions in Taliban-controlled areas.

    Here’s something fun (albeit a few months old so you may have already seen it): See “Faster than the wind, downwind”:

    then the follow-on bet witnessed by Neal Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye:

    and then the final video in the series:

  46. Xiang Says:

    Do not worry Scott. China will take care Afghanistan. They will install 5G network there better than the one in Austin. It may not be free, but it will be fast. LOL

  47. Matt M. Says:

    Scott #23:

    Hi Scott. Long-time reader, first time poster, etc.

    The thing is, we actually have access to those women’s thoughts on US intervention! RAWA, a major anti-Taliban women’s group, has consistently opposed US involvement. Why? Because Afghan women’s rights activists largely see the war as a human rights disaster, fated to end badly, and for which any minor feminist gains would be short-lived.

    You can read their statement on the recent Taliban takeover here.

    As for all the nerdy kids who can’t take the SAT anymore—yeah, the new rules are suboptimal, but at least they still have your blog.
    I’m not being facetious; I genuinely mean this! As a former high school nerd who’s currently working on a physics PhD, I think I’d still be roughly where I am if I hadn’t taken an early SAT or begged my parents to enroll me in the local magnet school (though maybe I would’ve had to play catch-up a bit more in undergrad). But if I hadn’t stumbled across your old lecture notes in 8th grade, and then started following your other writing, I’m not sure if I would’ve developed the same passion or drive.

    So yes, things look bleak, but the struggle for secular democracy will continue, under the auspices of women smuggling educational materials under their burqas. One by one, precocious 14-year-olds will have their minds blown by Bell’s theorem. These two things may not be much on a global scale, but for the lives they affect, they’re everything. And at least for now, that’s enough.

  48. Paul Fabel Says:

    This blog has wide reach, and consistently helps others. Whoever saves a life…

  49. Michael Says:

    @Scott#23- Ghani opposed an earlier evacuation because he thought it would lead to the collapse of his government:
    Besides, a massive evacuation of, say, a million people would have been INCREDIBLY difficult.

  50. Scott Says:

    Matt M. #47: And what fraction of Afghan women does RAWA speak for? It’s like, if I were an Afghan woman who thought my life was better when I wasn’t being ruled by the literal Taliban, and if I actively wanted to continue not being ruled by the Taliban, I could easily imagine being afraid to say that too loudly, either to my fellow Afghans or to left-wing NGO types!

  51. Scott Says:

    Isaac Grosof #36: Thanks, that means a tremendous amount to me.

  52. Michael Says:

    Regarding vaccines for kids under 12- part of the problem is figuring out the dose. Children aren’t just little adults:

  53. Ninian Says:

    Just doing my Saturday morning blog reading and found some cheerfulness to match your pessimism:

    How many times have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could … The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

    George Orwell, Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

  54. Sebastien Guerard Says:

    The FDA blankfaces have done this in spite of the reality, obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain, that they’re thereby consigning thousands of children to their deaths, that whatever ultra-rare risks the vaccine poses to children are infinitesimal compared to the overwhelming benefit.

    Isn’t that a bit exagerated? I’m more familiar with Canadian statistics, but here there has been a grand total of 15 COVID deaths for people younger than 20 years old. I can’t find the exact number, but that means we’re probably talking about single digits for children under 12.
    The risk is just very small for children, and it seems a bit unproportionnal to me to worry so much about it. They are still like a dozen other causes of deaths that are objectively more dangerous.

    I’m not saying this to defend the FDA; of course we should vaccinate kids. Still, of all the reasons to dislike the FDA, or to be depressed about the world, or to be worried as a parent, this one wouldn’t be at the top of my list.

  55. Scott Says:

    Michael #52:

      Regarding vaccines for kids under 12- part of the problem is figuring out the dose.

    The hackneyed saying about “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” was rarely more urgent.

  56. Scott Says:

    Sebastien Guerard #54: In the US, a few hundred children under 12 have died from covid. Given 48 million under-12s in the US and an 0.01% death rate, if covid spreads to nearly all the kids in the US before vaccines are approved for them, as it now looks on track to do, I’d estimate a few thousand more dead this winter, as well as a few hundred thousand kids badly enough ill to be hospitalized (I’m assuming, optimistically, that the hospitals will have room for them all). So, if not quite cataclysmic, then also far from trivial — like, picture another 9/11, or all the US dead in Afghanistan, except with every victim under the age of 12. This doesn’t count the unknown fraction of kids who will suffer from long covid, or the adults (including immune-compromised grandparents who raise them, elderly teachers, etc etc) who they’ll infect.

  57. Scott Says:

    Ninian #53:

      How many times have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn…

    Possibly because of development and general environmental degradation, or just because I’m outdoors less, I see so many fewer toads, frogs, snakes, and other wildlife than when I did when I was a kid. Austin does have some though.

  58. mjgeddes Says:

    Computer scientists and enlightenment values win in the end of course, with the eventual emergence of friendly super-intelligence setting in motion the transition to a ‘Transhumanist Polis’

    I’ve been recently fascinated by the explosion of computer art where language models are combined with image models, so innovation in the world is still tremendous in at least some areas.

    What really is the most advanced form of cognition? I think *language*, but I’ve realized that the term ‘language’ can be construed far more broadly than current conceptions. When we generalize the notion of language, we have a unified framework for knowledge representation consisting of 9 ‘types’ of language. This lead me to propose ‘9 languages for mortal men’, as follows:


    Assembly Languages
    Programming Languages
    Modeling Languages

    Natural Languages
    Game Languages
    Artistic Languages

    If we look at the last proposed ‘language block’ above, we see that ‘Games’ are generalized communication, an extension of natural language, and ‘Art’ is, broadly construed, also a form of communication, something like the ‘data models’ of the minds motivational system. In other words, art communicates emotion and this acts as the natural ‘modeling language’ of agency.

    Daniel showing a strong aptitude for Chess could indicate a broader aptitude for this block of social languages more generally?

    Any way, this language framework possibly is the right framework for a crack at the ‘Alignment Problem’ in AI.

    Although some kind of democracy is essential, obviously it still has some serious flaws, as indicated by the implosion of US politics. Probably, ultimately, the solution is that some kind of meritocracy has to be introduced to fix it, as I think you yourself have suggested on this blog?

    The way I think the world is going to end up is that you still have nations with democratic governance handled locally for most issues, but there’ll be something like a ‘Transhumanist Polis’ governing globally for a *few* carefully defined global issues , and the polis will be non-democratic, with entry based solely on merit, however , tests for entry is open to all irrespective of race, religion, sex or age. The Transhumanist Polis sets the global constitution, and runs global policy for science and technology, security, environment and health. That is my guess for how it’s going to end up.

  59. Leon Says:

    Scott #56: How did you calculate a 0.01% death rate for under 12’s? Are you assuming that less than 10% of under-12s have been infected? Fewer than 500 under-18s have died in total.

    How confident are you that the mortality rate associated with the vaccine is less than 1/10^5 for children? This is within the ballpark of known mortality risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine for certain groups.

    Unfortunately the children most at risk of dying from covid, who have cancer/severe autoimmune disease/organ transplants are unlikely to benefit much from the vaccine, since they’re immunosuppressed.

  60. Aleksei Besogonov Says:

    One way to resist pointless dumbification of schools might be to support private schools and school choice. Yeah, it’s one of the Republican talking points, but they might just be right on this one.

  61. Jjxzprzt Says:

    Kids under 12 can legally get the Pfizer vaccine “off label” (doctors can prescribe but Pfizer can’t market) if you’re convinced the gain is worth the risk and the dose is already known well enough. The American Academy of Pediatrics you praised in your post recommends against this though, so you’d need to find a prescribing doctor who in your opinion doesn’t make follow their advice with a blank face.

  62. Laplace Says:

    Dear Scott,

    It sounds like a lot of the things you are upset about are things you heard about on the news and social media. I know you know this, but it bears repeating: Modern media is a big Molochian machine designed to make people upset. If you find it negatively impacting your mood, I would advice using the machine less. Especially the social media component.

    On the whole, death and suffering are not currently at truly substantially elevated levels for the 21st century. Compared to the beginning of the previous century as well as the distant past, they are way down. Wars and deadly disease outbreaks happen all the time, just how much the news machine covers them varies. Overall, compared to almost any other point in the history of humanity so far, things are pretty great. (*)

    (*) This is neglecting the news about breakthroughs in agi development, which I think are actually historically abnormal and incredibly concerning. But I think I recall that you don’t believe in ai doom scenarios anyway, so that part shouldn’t bother you.

  63. dorothy Says:

    The contrast between your lamenting no vaccines for under 12s and the super cautious attitude the UK is taking for under 16s is pretty stark. You can’t get the vaccine there if you are 15 (at least at the moment). Is it really that obvious why you are right and the English experts are wrong?

    On the topic of programs for gifted children, I am not sure that is the sub population who suffer the most from a sub par education system. Really smart kids have their own internal world which can survive a lack of external help at least for most of their childhood. Those who really suffer are the millions who are not clever enough to invent great ideas themselves but who are smart enough to appreciate the beautiful ideas made by others before them.

  64. Pilgrim of the East Says:

    Hi, I’m occasional reader, usually coming from somewhere related to the other Scott A.

    I think that it’s easier to say than done, but getting fixated on disappointments instead of appreciating what you have is very destructive…

    Afghanistan was bound to fail, because you can’t export democracy to the culture that values blood-relations above all else. You can’t make an army out of nepotistic leaders and men most of whom are permanently high on hash. But you did make lives of lot of people better in the past 20 years. And even though it doesn’t look like it now without direct comparison, even Taliban changed somehow – nobody could imagine having them spokeperson on Twitter and managing relatively good public image there even 10 years ago. And it is surprising that there isn’t far more bloodshed in Afghanistan given how poorly the retreat went.

    your kids may get the covid, but the chance of it being life endangering to them is very small, compare it to the third world countries who don’t have enough vaccines even for most endangered people

    you live in a country, where fasttracking is a thing, in many countries there isn’t anything like that

    and saying that “The blankfaces have already killed more people through pointlessly delaying the approval of covid vaccines than their agency could plausibly have saved through its entire history” is plain wrong – how many kids in this age group died/will die? And compare it to the Frances Oldham Kelsey and her win against Thalidomide, that alone saved much more lives. I agree that people should have more freedom, but it is no tragedy that they are missing and option that would have been impossible at all less than year ago.

    What should cheer you up is that even when hearing bad news, life is still far better now than it ever was for most people who walked this earth.

  65. Leo Says:

    Hi Scott #56,

    I have a 4 year old and since me and my partner and our parents have been vaccinated I’m trying to figure out what is best for our little one. She starts school in a few weeks and the chances of getting covid are very high I would say given that we line in the UK. So I wonder where you you get the 0.01% fatality rate for children. In the UK this study was published in the summer that gives 1 in 50000 chances of requiring intensive care and roughly 2 in a million death rate for under 18: This number is obviously more reassuring than the 1 in 10000 you mention, so I’m very interested to find out the best available information.

    Again from the UK point of view (whose response to the pandemic has been something in between and mixed bag and outright disaster) three reasons against rushing to vaccinate small children stood out for me:
    1. If the risk is indeed so low (as mentioned above) it would make sense to make sure vulnerable people in other parts of the world are vaccinated. I know this has caveats e.g. how to store vaccines at low temperature but surely 2 years in we ought to find a way for that.
    2. Vaccines do not appear to stop transmission and mild disease for vaccinated people. As such the pandemic will not end if we vaccinate nearly everyone it seems.
    3. Young children are different from adults. As a parent hearing that they are trying to figure the doses makes me think is not an obvious thing, so I’d rather they get it right.

  66. Mike Williams Says:

    Scott #56 wrote: The hackneyed saying about “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” was rarely more urgent.

    …or less relevant. It’s not just the relative body size of children, it’s issues of metabolism related to growth and puberty.

    Vaccines are never the sole weapon against emerging viruses. Adults have to take responsibility for the threat environment they put children in. It is fraught in the US in that Sandy Hook (and its hundreds of variants) has never been enough to inspire enough adults to take responsibility.

  67. M Says:

    This may be thin gruel, but — living in such times surely gives us the opportunity for greater courage and more meaningful actions. Don’t get me wrong — anybody should wish to live in the competent, smooth, and easy world we thought we were in (or anyway, could convince ourselves we were in) thirty years ago. But if we’re not — and we’re not — then a bright side can surely be that our lives have capacity for fighting meaningfully. Frodo may not have wanted to live in his time, but we wouldn’t have read of him if he hadn’t [well, fiction aside].

    There’s a Christian approach to theodicy that says that the evil of the world is justified by its soul-building effects. You’re not a theist, so justification is out of the question (and I’m not arguing for that theodicy), but the point perhaps remains that, well, once we’re stuck here, it *does* offer opportunities for soul-building.

    Sorry if this is a bleak attempt at cheer.

  68. ultimaniacy Says:

    Scott #23:

    “We either should’ve left Afghanistan in 2002, when bin Laden escaped Tora Bora,”

    Correct, but given that you can’t change the past, this is not an argument for why you should not be leaving now.

    “or if we were going to remake the country as a modern secular democracy, we should have succeeded.”

    You had 20 years to try that. It cost you trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of human lives, and all you got in return was a house of cards. How many more years were you willing to devote to propping up your delusions of omnipotence before you admit that trying to remake Afghanistan was a bad idea from the start?

    “Or if we couldn’t have succeeded at any cost acceptable to us, at least we should’ve evacuated every pro-Western person there before turning the place back over to the 12th century.”

    American civilians were warned that they should evacuate before the withdrawal, and over 10K chose to stay. How are you going to evacuate every pro-Western person before the state collapses if, empirically, many people will not accept that they should leave until after they’ve seen it happen?

  69. Dave Lewis Says:

    My impression from this thread is that there are still some (awkward) approaches for under-13 years to take the SAT:

  70. Dan Riley Says:

    AIUI, the FDA’s culture and its regulatory process have both been deeply affected by its decades long battle to regulate tobacco products. Part of the tobacco industry’s strategy has been to try to discredit the FDA’s competence to regulate at all (and more recently they have gone after the WHO too).

    In my experience, most people have no idea the extent to which tobacco industry propaganda has influenced not just the FDA but also the broader conservative culture. It is in no small measure responsible for the current reactionary resistance to the vaccines. Sure, in a just world the FDA would be a different agency–but in that world a bunch of tobacco company executives would be in prison and the reach of corporate propaganda to attack legitimate state regulation would be much more strictly limited.

    Maybe taking on tobacco was a mistake, but it has plausibly averted FAR more deaths than COVID-19 has caused in total. Your claim that it has “already killed more people through pointlessly delaying the approval of covid vaccines than their agency could plausibly have saved through its entire history” is just wrong.

    I think your characterization of the FDA as “blankfaces” is not particularly useful in understanding how the FDA became the organization it is (and what would need to be done to make it more effective). I also found it needlessly and thoughtlessly dehumanizing, something I would expect you to be more sensitive about.

  71. Jon Awbrey Says:

    a little bit of history repeated … if we’re lucky …

    George Washington Was First To Mandate Vaccinations

  72. Scott Says:

    Leo #65: I forget where I read the 0.01% fatality rate for children, but I sanity-checked it by reasoning that, if we agree that covid infections among children have room to grow one more order of magnitude, then surely deaths have room to grow one more order of magnitude as well. Looking it up just now, I found this which estimates a lower IFR among kids (more like 0.002%), but then also this which estimates a higher case fatality ratio (more like 0.03%).

  73. dorothy Says:

    We have to be honest that vaccinating young children is not directly for their individual safety. It is to protect adults by reducing the overall infection rate. They benefit indirectly by having fewer schools closed and the economy working.

    To make the case that it is for their safety primarily is a difficult calculation. You need to estimate the risk of their being infected over some time frame and multiply by the risk of serious harm conditional on their being infected. Of course parents can vary the first probability by being more or less cautious so the figure will vary by individual and also will depend on a prediction of the prevalence of covid in a particular area over the chosen time frame. This product then needs to be compared with the risk of harm from the vaccine.

    I have yet to see any figures that clearly make the case in favour of vaccination for children under 12 if you ignore the indirect benefits.

  74. JM Says:

    Can you or anyone else elaborate/link on what the problematic federal regulation is? I want to know what to say in my letter

  75. Scott Says:

    dorothy #63: But I don’t ignore the indirect benefits! Effectively, the fact that kids under 12 are not yet vaccinated means that the 2021-2022 school year will again be hell for them and for their parents, again an almost total loss, with constant quarantines whenever there’s another case in the classroom. Of course this is only partly because we’re trying to protect the kids; it’s also because we’re trying to protect the parents, grandparents, and teachers who they’d infect. It all could’ve been avoided, or at least greatly mitigated, if we’d mass-vaccinated kids over the summer, using supply that we had on hand (in part because the anti-vaxxers were refusing it).

  76. dorothy Says:

    Scott #74

    Not everyone is happy to risk children’s health (from rare vaccine side effects) for the greater good of the adult population.

    It’s also not clear that their schooling has to be ruined even if children are unvaccinated. If all the teachers are vaccinated then only those children who test positive need be sent home. Everyone else can carry on as normal. This is more or less the system France has had since the beginning and it seems to have worked well for them even before widespread vaccination. In the worst case this means your child misses 10 days of in person schooling in the year.

  77. Sandro Says:

    You lament the retreat of Enlightenment values while decrying the exit from Afghanistan, but the American public overwhelmingly favoured leaving. These two positions seem at odds.

    Of course you might say that it’s not about whether to leave, but about how to leave. I think this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the competency of those involved, and how the incentives were stacked against those who had even the slightest hint of an intent to leave. I highly recommend watching this interview with a former marine to open your eyes to the top to bottom corruption at play. Unless you wanted the US to occupy Afghanistan in perpetuity, this outcome seems pretty much inevitable.

    Perhaps you do think we should have occupied Afghanistan forever. After a couple of centuries of colonialism and imperialism, I thought we had thoroughly learned that lesson. It simply never goes how you think. Just look at the unintended side-effects, including the US essentially funding child sex slavery.

    I think you’ll need a lot more information if you want to make a real utilitarian calculation on the ethics of leaving vs. staying.

  78. Scott Says:

    dorothy #76: I can tell you that the practical reality is different in the US, or at least Texas. Here, the surging case numbers, combined with the fact that under-12s are all unvaccinated by FDA diktat, means that schools are still being run in “pandemic mode” (only minor changes compared to last year) rather than “non-pandemic mode.” And given the epidemiological realities, it’s far from clear to me that that’s the wrong decision on the part of the schools. The interesting question at this point is whether just to give up, and resign ourselves to almost all young kids getting covid, the same outcome for them as if we were medieval peasants rather than a civilization that understands how to enclose mRNA in lipid nanoparticles.

  79. FuckYou,Twat Says:

    I see you’re still behaving like an obnoxious twat. I hope you stay depressed, because that means that the rest of the world is on track.

  80. Scott Says:

    FuckYou,Twat #79: Your sentiments speak for themselves. I’ll leave your comment up, just to give others here a small sampling of the sort of thing I regularly leave in my moderation queue.

  81. Bill J Says:

    Could the magnitude of your fear of your children catching COVID be irrational?

    Could the fact that schools in US are in “pandemic mode” be because such fears are held by majority of the population?

    Given your rationalist broad understanding of most issues—I am puzzled why are you so one sided on this one (e.g., the certainty that FDA is unreasonably cautious “FDA diktat”), please don’t become a mini-taliban.

    Do you think that AAP has common sense? (masking 2 year olds? broadly available hormonal therapy for trans gender 12 year olds?)

    Some twitter accounts to see different views: Vinay Prasad, Tracy Hoeg, Stefan Baral, Wes Pegden, Francois Balloux, Emily Oster.

    Some articles:

    The Bizarre Refusal to Apply Cost-Benefit Analysis to COVID Debates (Glenn Greenwald)

    CDC’s All-or-Nothing Approach to Teen COVID Vaccination Is All Wrong (Vinay Prasad, …, Wes Pegden, …)

    (Sorry that you have to endure #79 – like comments.)

  82. Scott Says:

    Bill J #81: I’m a huge fan of cost-benefit analysis. Covid has cost the US probably ~$16 trillion and killed 636,000 Americans, more than the World Wars combined. If we’d vaccinated everyone by summer 2020 — something that only arbitrary bureaucratic rules, made up by humans and therefore changeable by humans, stood in the way of — I take it as obvious that that would’ve been the bargain of the century. How am I wrong?

  83. Gerard Says:

    Scott #82

    > If we’d vaccinated everyone by summer 2020 — something that only arbitrary bureaucratic rules, made up by humans and therefore changeable by humans, stood in the way of — I take it as obvious that that would’ve been the bargain of the century. How am I wrong?

    I think you’re ignoring the fact that we have information now that we didn’t have in summer 2020, that the vaccine is “safe and effective” (for some definition of those terms). As far as I can recall in summer 2020 it wasn’t yet possible to exclude other possible futures, for example ones in which more people would have died from side effects of the vaccine than would be saved by it or where the imperfect immunity conferred by the vaccine would have made the effects of the virus worse for a significant number of patients, simply because the data from clinical trials wasn’t available at that time.

    There’s also the question of whether production could have been ramped up that quickly for any amount of money. Money isn’t the only limiting factor for most human endeavors and when you’re talking about something that had never been done before it’s typically not the primary limiting factor.

  84. fred Says:

    Scott #82
    ” If we’d vaccinated everyone by summer 2020 — something that only arbitrary bureaucratic rules, made up by humans and therefore changeable by humans, stood in the way of — I take it as obvious that that would’ve been the bargain of the century.”

    Yea! Let’s play the “let me pull yet another counterfactual out of my own a$$” game all day long:
    If we’d kept a closer watch on gain-of-function research labs in 2019, something that only a totalitarian dictatorship would stand in the way of, we’d have saved 4.5 million lives and dozens of trillions of dollars!

  85. Scott Says:

    Gerard #83: To the extent we didn’t know, it was because of bureaucratic choices. We had vaccines in January 2020 that were developed in hours or days (!!), that we had excellent reason to suspect would turn out to be safe and effective (we merely didn’t know how effective), and that indeed turned out to be safe and effective. By February or March, we could’ve set to work building factories to mass-produce those vaccines—they would’ve still been a bargain if we’d spent trillions on them (!), hundreds of times more than the amount we actually spent. Concurrently with building those factories, we could’ve tested the vaccines in human challenge trials on willing volunteers, of whom there were tens of thousands. There wouldn’t be three phases; there’d be one phase, for both safety and effectiveness.

    If we’d done all this, and the rest of the world had done likewise, the pandemic would’ve been over by late 2020, and the Delta variant would’ve never had a chance to evolve. I’ve described the approach that makes sense if you think of this, not as “public health,” but as war—war against a microscopic enemy that will take fast countermeasures, so we’d better be fast ourselves.

    In even describing this, I’m up against a massive status quo bias. People will be infinitely creative in inventing ways it could go wrong, with the unstated assumption being that we should stick with the exact way we do things now. Yet, if the approach I described were the accepted default, the way we do things today would strike people as positively ghoulish. It would look like letting millions of people die, letting billions of people waste away in quarantine, while we simply sat on safe and effective vaccines, paralyzed by our own bureaucracy.

  86. Scott Says:

    fred #84:

      If we’d kept a closer watch on gain-of-function research labs in 2019, something that only a totalitarian dictatorship would stand in the way of, we’d have saved 4.5 million lives and dozens of trillions of dollars!

    I’d say there’s “merely” a ~40% chance of that—I regard the zoonotic and lab-escape hypotheses as both totally live possibilities, and if it was lab-escape, we don’t know whether gain-of-function was involved—whereas there’s almost a 100% chance of what I’m saying, and people able to think quantitatively knew it and were saying so in early 2020.

  87. M Says:

    Leo #65 “Vaccines do not appear to stop transmission and mild disease for vaccinated people.”

    I keep seeing these kinds of statements on the internet, but they’re completely wrong and/or missing the point. Yes, vaccines don’t stop 100% of cases, and if infected you can still transmit even with the vaccine. But the numbers are *way* lower than for those without. Yes, there was some data suggesting that amongst those infected, viral loads were similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. But that’s *conditioned* on being infected in the first place, which is significantly less likely with the vaccine than without. Plus, other data suggests that amongst infected people, vaccinated people are indeed less like to transmit (despite having a similar viral load).

    So in summary, vaccines absolutely will reduce transmission, which in turn means reduced disease (sever or mild) for everyone. While alone maybe not enough to get the pandemic under control, vaccinating the population (including kids) is a crucial step toward getting there.

  88. Bill J Says:

    It would likely be enough to skirt the current rules for people over 50 (95% of deaths). I don’t know how much earlier could the vaccines be mass produced (it seems there were supply chain problems). I don’t know what fraction of older people would get vaccinated (seems ~70% in May’21 for over 65; surprisingly low). I don’t think you are wrong on this one (I also don’t know how realistic the proposal is).

    Where I think the society is wrong? In assessing the risk to kids (I cannot say you are wrong because I don’t know your/your kid’s hidden variables.) I think kids not having school in person was a bad strategy (especially for low income families, with little or no support at home). The 650K dead Americans (probably more if you look at excess deaths) translates 6.5M years of life lost (paper by Quast et al). That’s ~8 days per American (not uniformly distributed across ages, for Americans over 65 it would be ~35 days, not uniformly distributed across income levels). How much did we save in this metric? What is the threshold of depriving kids of social contacts for a year and half? How long are we going to continue doing this? I despair.

    (I think your comparison with WW2, WW1 is not fair. I think that years of life lost is a more rational metric than lives lost. I understand that game theoretically, everybody has 1 vote and hence “lives lost” is going to be the “politics metric”.)

  89. fred Says:


    interestingly, the course of action you suggest was implemented in the past:

    Of course, hindsight is 20/20 (and this wasn’t for some novel vaccine technology either).

  90. Scott Says:

    fred #89: Yes, you should read Michael Lewis’s The Premonition! It explains in detail how, in the 1976 swine flu outbreak, the CDC made exactly the right probabilistic bet with the information it had available (namely, “vaccinate everyone now”). Then, when the swine flu turned out to fizzle, and the vaccine turned out to kill some dozens of people, people drew precisely the wrong lessons, and the backlash is what helped create the bureaucratic, politicized, ineffectual CDC that failed the nation so catastrophically during covid.

  91. gentzen Says:

    Joel David Hamkins answering Daniel Rubin’s questions is incredible.
    For example Daniel asks “How do you explain what it is that you do to a layperson” and Joel’s answer at 9:48 goes “… of course this is connected with set theory, and large cardinals, and forcing, and different universes of set theory …” then Daniel interrupts “you don’t use those terms right of the bat with the layperson” and Joel admits “probably not, no …”

    When Joel talks about infinite chess and positions worth omega, or omega+omega, Daniel interrupts: “We have to go backwards a little bit, I think … I feel like I know what cardinality is, but I never really understood ordinals, what is going on there …” and Joel “… it is really quite easy … we gona set aside any ultrafinitist objections … this is how you count to omega^2 … I can define a linear order like that” and Daniel at 17:50 “I understand what you mean – at least – the way I’m thinking of it is subsets of the real line …”

    Now I wonder: which ordinals can be represented by a subset of the real line? I understand where Daniel is coming from: Cantor invented ordinals during his analysis of the convergence of Fourier series, and here subsets of the real line somehow played an important role (but they occurred in a different role … where you also can ask which ordinals will be relevant).

    Daniel inquired about sets and classes and related paradoxes. At 1:10:36 Joel explains “And this is a picture how the set theoretic universe comes grows. And if you have that picture, then you shouldn’t believe in general comprehension. … But then, the collection of all x such that phi(x), so if those x’es had arrived unboundedly in the hierarchy, there was no stage where you have them all, and so you never got the set. That’s what a proper class is, that’s the picture.”

    The uplifting thing about that conversation is that they really talk with each other, they don’t just repeat standard material (and standard arguments) repeated millions of times.

  92. Zeb Says:

    gentzen #91:

    The ordinals that can be represented by subsets of the real line are exactly the countable ordinals!

    To see that every countable ordinal can be represented by a subset of the real line, we use transfinite induction: consider the first countable ordinal \(\alpha\) which is not representable as a subset of the real line, and write it as a limit of a sequence of smaller ordinals \(\alpha_0, \alpha_1, …\). Equivalently, we can think of \(\alpha\) as a countable sum of smaller ordinals:
    $$\alpha = \alpha_0 + (\alpha_1-\alpha_0) + (\alpha_2 – \alpha_1) + \cdots,$$
    where the subtractions are all “subtractions on the left”. By the inductive hypothesis, each \(\alpha_{i+1}-\alpha_i\) can be represented as a subset of the real line, and since the real-line is order isomorphic with any open interval, we can represent \(\alpha_{i+1}-\alpha_i\) as a subset of the open interval \((i,i+1)\). Then we just stitch these representations together to get a representation of \(\alpha\). In fact, the same argument shows that every countable ordinal can be represented as a subset of the set of rational numbers, and if we are a tiny bit more careful we can even get the topologies to work out, so the limit points are actually limits of the preceding points.

    For the other direction, to see that every well-ordered subset \(S\) of the real line is countable, just use the fact that between any point \(p \in S\) and its immediate successor \(p^+\) within \(S\), there has to be at least one rational number \(q\), and the point \(p\) is the only point in \(S\) with \(q \in (p,p^+)\). (Alternatively, you could use the fact that the sum of any uncountable collection of positive numbers is infinite.)

    The construction used to embed every countable ordinal into the reals (or rationals) is actually a bit non-constructive, since you need to have a particular representation of every countable limit ordinal as a limit of a sequence of smaller ordinals in mind to carry it out. So our ability to actually concretely describe ordinals as well-ordered subsets of the reals seems to fizzle out somewhere around the first uncomputable ordinal.


    One way to cheer up a bit is to think about the fact that the online resources available for free to nerdy kids today are a bit better, and much more numerous, than they used to be! I know that this doesn’t directly help with any of the things you are depressed about, but it’s definitely something that I find uplifting.

  93. Raoul Ohio Says:

    You are alive at the same time as Linda Ronstadt!

  94. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Henry Kautz #22:

    Another piece of good news is that most people can look forward to discovering “Flashman”, which is a vastly better version of “James Bond”, all presented as historical research with lots of footnotes. Ironically, Frazer also wrote the screenplays for some of the best early Bond movies, but the only Flashman book turned into a movie was lame beyond belief.

  95. James Gallagher Says:

    Jon Awbrey #71

    Not sure that’s the best example to highlight, what Washington actually “mandated” was Variolation not Vaccination, and this procedure was actually pretty risky.

    (Edward Jenner popularised the much safer vaccination method with cowpox a few decades later)

    To cheer Scott up, maybe watch this talk (with a long question and answer session afterwards) by Steven Weinberg still in his prime with superb intelligence and energy back in the 1990s (about Dreams of a Final theory book)

  96. Isaac Grosof Says:

    On the subject of SAT testing for kids under 13, based on this page: it looks like the issue is that kids under 13 are not able to set up an online account with college board, due to US laws against storing information about children. Many websites ban children under 13 from creating accounts for this reason. Presumably once college board resumes administering offline tests, this issue will be overcome. In the meantime, college board merely needs to allow the creation of parent/guardian accounts to overcome this.

    I think an organization that recruits kids in this age bracket via the SAT test might be well placed to convince college board to allow such tests. In addition to the organization you mentioned, the other talent searches on the page I linked are probably worth getting in touch with, as is the Davidson Institute, where I went at such an age based on an SAT test.

    I’m probably not best suited to get in touch with these organizations to put pressure on college board, as I am neither a gifted kid nor the parent of a gifted kid, but I would recommend that interested parents get in touch with these groups. Scott, if you think more voices would help, I’d be happy to reach out to these organizations as well.

  97. Sniffnoy Says:

    A lot of people here seem to be more arguing that the FDA’s decisions were plausibly correct than that they were actually correct. Giving a way that something could be true, does not mean it is true! Yes, obviously being more careful about approving things could be the right thing to do. But is it? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

    But yeah, Scott maybe you can find someone to prescribe it off-label? :-/ Of course the most likely path to that would be to, like, find a doctor you personally know and trust (who can trust you won’t sue them or anything!) who is in private practice and doesn’t answer to any boss. Unfortunately small private practices are getting rarer these days…

    I, uh, don’t think anyone should be charged with manslaughter here though. I, uh, don’t exactly think that’s in keeping with Enlightenment values, either…

  98. Sniffnoy Says:

    Anyway, Scott, you want some good news, there’s plenty of it! 🙂

    The orbit and characteristics of Planet Nine, if it exists, have now been narrowed down quite a bit.

    The antidepressent fluvoxamine could be an effective covid treatment.

    There’s a new drug candidate for treating malaria, and there’s likely an effective vaccine on the way. Also, the Lyme disease vaccine may finally be coming back in a few years.

    Here’s a promising new cancer drug candidate with a new mechanism, and here’s a crazy discovery that could boost cropy yields up to 50%.

    The James Webb space telescope is going to finally launch in October! Also coming in October, the fourth Terra Ignota book. 🙂 And in September, this year’s version of Unicode, including more of the world’s scripts! 🙂

    Also in trials, a lozenge that would rebuild tooth enamel.

    Also, uh, probably not your thing, but in the world of Super Mario 64 TASing, it’s finally been discovered how to pick up Ukiki without pressing B, and the any% time has also been improved significantly. 🙂

  99. OhMyGoodness Says:

    The universe doesn’t like happiness. To seek otherwise is to invite a harsher fate. 🙂

    If you are under 18 in the US then you are around 5 times more likely to die in a traffic accident then from Covid. As best I can tell at 4 years of age or less the risks are more nearly equal. I looked at relative risks a few years ago to calm someone who was afraid of lightning strikes and found in Texas you were far more likely to die in the electric chair in prison than from a lightning strike. I know that the electric chair is no longer in use but you get the idea.

    It seems to me that it should be increasingly apparent to a reasonable person that vaccination is a losing strategy to combat this virus (maybe better to view it as a van Neumann machine infestation). You have various actively mutating strains, and vaccines not very effective against some of those strains, that are replicating quadrillions of times per day and circulating in a population of several billion. To believe eradication is possible in those circumstances seems unreasonable to me. A more reasonable approach would be to focus on post infection treatment important to those who are seriously sickened by the virus.

  100. Leo Says:

    Hi M #87,

    Thanks for pointing it out I should have been more careful with my wording. Of course I concur that vaccines significantly reduce transmission compared to unvaccinated population, however my point was that vaccines do not appear to reduce the cases and get us it a situation of really low cases. The two pieces of evidence that I found is the increase of cases in Israel and the covid zoe study in the UK: These two countries have vaccinated the vast majority of the adults so they maybe better tests compared to the US where the the fraction of vaccinated people is smaller.

    “While alone maybe not enough to get the pandemic under control, vaccinating the population (including kids) is a crucial step toward getting there.” This sentence summarises my concerns: For if vaccines are not enough and future lockdowns are out of the question, barring a new deadlier or vaccine resistant variant, what are our other options? And if we don’t have any other realistic options and given that the large majority of children are not affected severely (something I don’t know for sure, hence trying to find more information) then why would people risk those rare side effects for their children? It seems to me that the conversation needs to move to what the endgame would look like. We need to understand our realistic endgame options and the paths to get there.

  101. Ungrateful_Person Says:


    I have been a faithful reader of the blog for a very long time (like 12/13 years and counting). Like a previous commenter, Isaac Grosof said (in Comment #36), your blog was one of the major sources of inspiration for me to take up a PhD in CS Theory (which I finished last year, hurray!). You have been a positive force in lives of many students. I sincerely hope you stop feeling depressed.

    Truly grateful

  102. mr_squiggle Says:

    fred #7

    I know this was some way up the conversation, but people seem to say this sort of thing a lot:
    “The truth is that any new drug can have serious irreversible side-effects that simply can’t be ruled out within a year.
    For example long term effects on fertility and the next generation.”

    This is distinct from rare immediate side-effects, which do happen and are generally weighted appropriately by the authorities and badly by the general public.
    This is instead a concern of very common, long-term side-effects, essentially forming an existential threat for the human race.
    It always seems to be a concern over fertility in the future, as in, beyond the scope of the trials which have been performed.

    So this is … kind of true, in theory.
    Sure, side-effects. Okay, possibly long-term. Affecting everyone who is vaccinated- well, for the sake of argument. Fertility effects, well, perhaps… but all together it’s not /likely/.

    But look at this in context, and it should be much less of a worry.

    So, what does the vaccine actually contain?
    Well, :
    depending on which one, either part of the virus, something which looks like the virus or something which encodes part of the virus.
    Stuff to keep the above stable.
    Something to rile up the immune system, maybe.

    Everything except the first item is stuff which has been heavily tested over many years, and we’re reasonably confident are pretty safe.

    So what you’re concerned about is effectively part of the virus, administered in a minimal, controlled manner.
    In this case, the only thing in common between the different vaccines is the covid-19 spike protein.

    Realistically, which is more likely to have any deleterious effect in the future – that, or a completely uncontrolled viral infection?

    Clearly, if you’re worried about long-term vaccination side-effects, you should be much more worried about any pandemic virus, because everyone will eventually get exposed and it’s not been safety tested at all.

  103. Richard Gaylord Says:

    leon #59 – you need to know (as does MSNBC which repeats this false information) that individuals with autoimmune disease are NOT immunosuppressed. in fact, they (including all the members of my family in which autoimmune diseases run rampant) may well be the very opposite of immunosuppressed since their immune systems mistakes part of the body as foreign and releases autoantibodies that attack healthy cells. What will make make such an individual immunosuppressed is if they are given immunosuppressive agents such as intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg), plasma exchange (PE), corticosteroids, azathioprine, methotrexate, mycophenolate, cyclosporine, and cyclophosphamide to treat their autoimmune disease.

    note: individuals who undergo IVIG treatment for ANY illness absolutely need to check (with a simple blood test) that they do not have an IgA deficiency (most physicians fail to check this out) since IVIG infusion may cause them to go into anaphylactic shock and possibly suffer a cardiac attack.

  104. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #99: If most of the children who hadn’t yet been infected got Delta this fall and winter, wouldn’t the risk to them from covid become entirely comparable to the risk from traffic accidents? And I do worry a lot about the risk of traffic accidents. That’s why I stopped driving four years ago (Dana is a much better driver than I am).

    Vaccination could easily end a pandemic like this one if only it were deployed rapidly enough—before the virus had a chance to mutate into its next iteration. And it’s well within our scientific capability to deploy vaccines that rapidly. It’s just not within our bureaucratic capability — much like it was within our military and logistical capability, but not our bureaucratic capability, to evacuate the tens of thousands of Afghans who’d helped us while there was still time. That’s what this post was expressing despair about.

  105. fred Says:

    I recently learned a few interest points.
    The mRNA vaccines only trigger a protection in deep tissues, not at the level of the mucosa (body/air interface). So the immune system can’t really prevent the virus from penetrating into the body, and the body only fights the virus once it has somewhat already spread within (the effectiveness varies from person to person).
    The delta virus has a mutation that allows it to produce duplicated copies that can bind more easily to cells, therefore triggering a much much high viral load (even if asymptomatic).
    As a result, when vaccinated people get infected, although they’re more protected against serious side-effects, they’re about as contagious as non-vaccinated people.
    Therefore high rates of vaccination alone can’t really bring down the rho factor of the virus, and other measures are still needed to bring down the rho factor. As a result, there’s no longer any real hope to ever actually extinguish the virus by herd immunity.
    Note also that viral mutation can’t be avoided either, it can only be delayed (the appearance of delta was only a matter of time, not matter what).
    So, going forward, covid will be very much like the flu: it’s gonna stick around forever, and once a while new mutations will emerge.

  106. fred Says:

    Btw, all this isn’t really surprising since the point of “gain-of-function” research is to produce this type of “balanced/efficient” viral profile, i.e. they’re evolved at an accelerated rate (using human tissue) to be perfectly tuned with high rho and high resistance in humans, unlike natural viruses which would require a much more unlikely chain of mutations in the wild to hope to reach that state (SARS1 never exploded because it wasn’t that well fine-tuned, it killed too easily and didn’t spread easily enough).

  107. OhMyGoodness Says:

    I think I understand the subtleties your question and will answer based on my understanding. But first-the studies that the CDC has conducted indicate that transmission is rare in school settings. I can provide a link if you like. Sweden didn’t close public education (below university) and seemingly didn’t suffer as a result. Their population fatality rate is significantly lower than the US thus far and they are not experiencing an uptick now as in many other countries. All data that I have seen (maybe best from Israel) indicate, thus far, that natural immunity from a prior infection provides much superior protection across strains than do the vaccines.

    To answer your question-I do agree that your son could have received the vaccine if the FDA provided approval for those under 12. I don’t agree that globally it was practical to destroy all reservoirs of this virus with speed of vaccination. Even now WHO is requesting that 3rd round not start since still insufficient vaccines two vaccinations for much of the world.

    Since there is practically a long gap between vaccination of populations, and the vaccines are showing less protective effect after 3 months (UK), I don’t consider the vaccine program at this point to be an effective approach. In the case of smallpox it is a DNA virus, with stable genome, that doesn’t generate variants of concern. In the case of Polio it is an RNA virus that mutates rapidly but the vaccine is effective against variants. In the case of this vaccine you have mutated strains almost immediately that are able to bypass the protection provided by the vaccine. In that case with intermixing between those with active virus

  108. OhMyGoodness Says:


    and those vaccinated, the vaccinated only serve to filter strains that are able to bypass the protection afforded by vaccination.

    With the particulars of this virus and this vaccine it seems to me much simpler to focus on treating serious disease in those who are infected.

    Thanks for letting me post again by the way and lad to hear your son likes Chess.

  109. Anon55 Says:

    I’m grateful my tax dollars go to the public health bureaucrats at HHS (parent of CDC, FDA, and NIH) for having largely invented the Moderna vaccine through the lab of Dr. Barney Graham, who reports to Dr. Fauci. 99.999% of academics, by contrast, tweeted and did nothing remotely comparable toward the response while charging students 50k a year for Zoom seminars between their time working on diversity statements. If you want to destroy ineffective bureaucracy and rebuild institutions from the ground up it’s time to look to our worthless expensive universities that are incapable of reform and whose tenured professors rarely actually contribute anything useful, especially during crises.

  110. Flix Says:

    I think I can easily cheer you up on one of the issues listed in your posting.

    Values of Enlightenment: Agreed.
    Image of US: Agreed.
    Fate of Afghan women and girls: Agreed.
    SAT for young children: Agreed.

    Your kids getting Covid:

    As far as I know, your children are 4 and 8 and not severely ill. According to the data available, there’s no need to be worried at all. I write this as a rational and loving father of two similarly aged children who fully believes in the benefit of vaccinations for adults. During the entire pandemic, I was never ever worried about the health of my children.

    It’s not only an FDA issue. In Germany, the STIKO, a highly respected organization whose only job it is to develop national recommendations for the use of vaccines, only very recently recommended vaccinations for children between 12 and 17. There’s not even a discussion about vaccinating children under the age of 12 since the European equivalent of the FDA, the EMA, has not yet approved a vaccine. The SITKO was not reluctant because of bureaucratic hurdles, but because their experts believed that—according to the currently available data—the potential risk outweighs the benefit.

    Almost all children who died from Corona were severely sick (and many unfortunately would have likely died from other causes). In Germany (pop: 83M), 11 people under 20 died from Covid, 8 of which had serious preexisting conditions. For 4 of them the main cause of death was Covid. Estimated death rate: 0.00002% (For comparison, about 55 children in Germany died from traffic accidents and 9 from the flu in roughly the same period;
    In England (pop: 55M, much higher infection rate), 25 persons under 18 died from Covid, 15 of which had severe life-limiting conditions. Estimated death rate: 0.0002% (

    So, in a nutshell, I think that as a rational father who cherishes the values of enlightenment, you don’t need to be worried. (And no FDA official needs to be tried for manslaughter.)

  111. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Sniffnoy #98:

    1. Not an expert, but I am under the impression that the evidence for Planet 9 is rather suspect.

    2. I will be waiting until the Telescope is up and running (up at L2, that is) before celebrating — lot of complications to go.

    Hopefully it will be renamed. How it got named in the first place for a bureaucrat rather than, you know, someone like Hubble or Fermi, is a good question.

  112. Name J. Required Says:

    > What if, like, a whole bunch of us wrote to the College Board, or whatever federal agency enforces the regulation that the College Board is worried about, and we asked them whether a solution might be found in which parents gave permission on the web form for their under-13s to take the SAT, given how memorable this opportunity was for many of us, hoe **you have a typo here btw** it was a nerd rite of passage, and how surely none of us have any wish to deny that opportunity to the next generation, so let’s work together to solve this?

    I’m sorry since this is not very cheering up, but I just have to point out that Curtis Yarvin is right about the fact that you don’t live in a democracy, you don’t have any democratic means to unelect these blankfaces or make them implement policies you’d prefer.

    Petitioning a hypothetical king about it would be much more effective and, you know, much less undignified? They don’t want to work together with you and they shit on your preferences anonymously, with a king you at least know where you stand and you get a proper answer.

    Maybe it is a sort of cheering up though, realizing that there are things that you currently have no control of, at all, and so you’re not supposed to feel good or bad about them because it’s inconsequential either way, is very liberating. Some call it blackpill but for functional humans it’s a suggestion to tend to our personal gardens so to speak, and it’s so much more rewarding!

  113. JimV Says:

    As I see it, everything progresses by trial and error; lots of trials and lots of errors.

    Our civilization has come a long way, and has a long way yet to go.

    The USA, with all its many faults, is the best example I know of a melting-pot culture. Given humanity’s tribal nature, that is something of an accomplishment. I think we need to work on maintaining it and improving it, to show more insular, tribal countries the power and the ultimate glory of diversity.

    I read on a different blog today many instances of Americans welcoming and hosting Afghan refugees. I believe President Biden is providing leadership and support for those efforts. He and the other government people who are working on the evacuation no doubt have made and will make mistakes. That is what always happens when a complex undertaking is attempted for the first time. That is how design and intelligence work: trial and error.

    Pointing out where and how things went wrong and how they could be improved is great. Punishing people for making mistakes, even verbally, is counter-productive. Without people willing to make mistakes there would be no progress.

    (That said describing Trump as an evil SOB seems okay to me as it is the plain truth. That’s not punishing him for making mistakes, it is punishing him for not knowing the difference between right and wrong.)

    Final point and I’ll shut up: with going on 8 billion people and many of them traveling all around the world, pandemics are inevitable–as the Obama administration realized. We need to analyse our mistakes and start preparing for the next one. I may wear a mask in public for the rest of my life. I hope it is a better one than the surgical masks I use now. Some sort of clear material that is easier to breath through if possible and effective.

  114. Aladin Says:


    “Pour another trillion dollars into it and keep US troops there another 20 years?”

    Someone please explain to me, what exactly is the issue with that solution? Sure it isnt ideal, but literally every major foreign policy issue of the past 70 years has been solved by just freezing the issue in place. See: Cyprus, Israel, Korea, Nigeria, Egypt, … not to mention, the US cold war strategy was explicitly “containment”, where we just waited for the Soviet Empire to collapse while minimizing rhe damage. It worked!

    No one things that is a great way of doing things, but it has been something the foreign policy establishment has been quite adept at doing.

    You are not saving American lives. We had set things to the point where not that many Americans were dying in Afganistan, more people are dying in the fallout of the chaotic evacuation, and … its a volunteer army (I am curious though what Scotts view of the IDF draft is). People knew the risks.

    And frankly, with the severe level of graft in the military as is, I dont think paying $3000 per life per year to save people from the taliban is necessarily a bad investment.

  115. A different Leo Says:

    Pull your kids out of school. Preferably today.

    I’m not good at phrasing things diplomatically at the best of times, and it’s 2 AM so I’m not even going to try. I’ll just state the obvious. The email address I’ve provided for this comment is my main one, just in case you want to answer privately.

    It means massive inconvenience and possibly career sacrifice for one or both of you. Homeschooling is difficult and a huge chore (though your kids sound like the type it works well for). It may be illegal or hard to make legal. It will definitely mark you both as weirdos.

    On the other hand, they are currently being exposed to a highly contagious disease that can cause severe pain, slow recovery, and long-term sequelae including loss of intelligence, and which they can then transmit to other kids and to adults.

    It seems to me that parents have some sort of duty to protect their children even when that involve personal sacrifice. If I were in your shoes, I don’t know if I’d have the balls to actually make that sacrifice, but I’d definitely feel a duty to.

  116. Scott and Covid Says:

    Scott do you think schools would close again? Delta seems to become epsilon and so on. What if one or two mid aged faculty die on an average per school?

  117. James Gallagher Says:

    Scott, (maybe fred too):

    Serious question, please don’t get annoyed.

    Is “fred” actually a real person?

    I mean, he seems to constantly appear in discussions so that you can argue with your apparent nemesis…

  118. James Gallagher Says:

    Also, to cheer you up, after fred highlighted a not so successful vaccine rollout in 1976 – it needs to be well-known that there was a previous pandemic halted by an ultra fast vaccine deployment in 1958, which no one seems to remember:

  119. William Gasarch Says:

    1) Several people who I presume are younger than you commented that your blog helped them in a big way get into CS/PHY/MATH. I will join that chorus—sort of—I was a tenured professor before you began college, yet your blog still inspired me (1) to write my own blog book, (2) to work on research I care about, and (3) to one day learn Quantum Computing.

    2) blankfaces were not the only reason we were not and are not fully vaccinated- its also the fault of the anti-vaxers. One turning point was when Trump first announced that the CDC recommends masks but said he wouldn’t wear one. If he had been pro-mask and pro-vax from the outset then we might not even need mask mandates and vax-mandates.

    3) (Topic for a blog post I might do but I’ll briefly say it here) Programs for gifted and talented youth are of course great, but I wonder if with the web having so much good information and videos on it, if gifted and talented youth could learn from those. I agree its not as good as an in person program that is guided by a mature adult, but it is something to think about. (And of course, the web also has garbage.)

  120. Connor Says:

    Two questions:
    One – did you support the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations?
    Did you do it even when the Nice Liberal Zeitgeist was all about slamming everyone involved with the war on terror?
    When Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert made a living making fun of all those desolate, toothless hicks who signed up to fight. “oh ha ha, imagine giving a shit”. Or did you keep your mouth shut, and now that it’s a done deal try to push the blame on Trump because you can’t handle that it wasn’t Trump, it was the Nice Liberals that made not liking the war on terror the popular, elite thing to do?

  121. Dfeldmann Says:

    Hi, Scott ; this incredible result of indecidability (, coming, of all places, from this classical rope-burning puzzle ( did illuminate my week ; if you hadn’t already heard of it, I hope it will cheer you up the same way.

  122. Tristan Says:

    Iterating on your Busy Beaver work with A. Yedidia as well as your (great) article “The Busy Beaver Frontier”, D. Woods and I showed that knowing the value of BB(15) is at least as hard as solving this Collatz-related conjecture by Erdős: “For all n > 8, there is at one digit 2 in the base 3 representation of 2^n”.

    What might cheer you up is that this work would not have seen the light of day if we had not come across all what you wrote about the mysterious BB beast 🙂

  123. Jr Says:

    Scott #57,

    Are you familiar with the argument that less wildlife is a good thing? Basically, if you like Dawkins think life in nature involves a lot of suffering we should be happy if fewer wild animals are. (Obviously it is unclear what animals are actually capable of suffering, but even if we just think that includes mammals and birds the reasoning probably holds.)

  124. Anonymous Says:

    How’s the Continuum Hypothesis series going?

  125. Scott Says:

    Connor #120: Wtf are you talking about? I watched Stewart and Colbert at the time. While of course they were scathing about Bush — who indeed made many of the original fateful errors (ignoring the warnings of 9/11, diluting resources with the Iraq invasion, trusting thoroughly corrupt contractors and Afghan “allies,” lying to the public about how things were going…) — they were always super-duper-positive about the actual US troops (Colbert, at one point, broadcasted the whole show from a US base in Iraq; they also expressed frequent outrage about veterans’ issues). Disagree with them all you like, they never talked about American soldiers as “toothless hicks.”

    To answer your questions, I certainly supported the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, after it became obvious that the Taliban would not cooperate with the US against bin Laden. In the 20 years afterward, my attention, like most of ours, wasn’t often on the US occupation there — I’m a quantum complexity theorist — but if you’d told me that the options were to (1) keep a few thousand troops there, maybe even send a few thousand more or (2) let the Taliban take complete control again, I certainly would’ve opted for (1). Which indeed seems to have been the decision of Obama, my favorite US president of my lifetime, and was not the decision of either Trump or Biden.

    I was ambivalent about the invasion of Iraq — on the one hand, it clearly had nothing to do with 9/11; on the other hand, Saddam was clearly a horrible despot, and if he had a nuclear weapons program back in the 80s and Colin Powell assured the world that he was reviving it now, maybe it was true. I hope that, if I’d taken time to investigate the matter myself—for example, if doing so was part of my job—I would’ve figured out that the rationale for the invasion was a complete lie, and opposed it for that reason alone.

  126. Scott Says:

    Jr #123:

      Are you familiar with the argument that less wildlife is a good thing?

    Err, familiar yes, but not a huge fan. It would seem to generalize to an evil mastermind’s rationale for blowing up the entire earth, and thereby eliminating all suffering, human and non-human, whose amount seems to outweigh joy almost everywhere. Maybe it’s a good illustration of why the thing utilitarians should try to maximize is not happiness per se (or happiness minus unhappiness or whatever), but some harder-to-define “flourishing.”

  127. fred Says:

    Aladin #114

    The root of the problem is that the middle East is in a constant state of civil war because of the never-ending internal hatred/power-grabs between the various factions and religious groups.
    You got the various conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites, with the big players Saudis vs Iran, and various proxy wars (Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan,..). And civil wars always foster more fundamentalism/radicalism… so it’s all spilling over in North Africa, Central Africa, Indonesia, Israel, Turkey, etc.
    It’s really not our job to sort this mess with troops on the ground, which is not only stupidly arrogant but actually counter-productive in practice in the long run.
    In the end it’s up to the Muslim world to sort this out, any real robust “solution” has to come from them, not imposed by an outsider. And if they can never reach a solution in a thousand years, we sure as shit won’t be able to either.
    The big players in the region have plenty of money to sort it all out, they’re just lacking the will to put their differences aside for their greater good.
    In the end it’s more efficient for us to help from a distance the few places that are making genuine progress in the right direction on their own.
    And besides all this, we have so many urgent issues to solve here at home than worry about who’s governing an ungovernable country.

  128. Gerard Says:

    Scott #126

    > Maybe it’s a good illustration of why the thing utilitarians should try to maximize is not happiness per se, but some harder-to-define “flourishing.”

    That’s a very interesting point that I often wonder about.

    It’s clear that happiness is preferable to unhappiness but it’s far from clear that mere happiness has any intrinsic value of it’s own. On the other hand this thing that you call “flourishing” involves a strong bias in favor of some form of activity and I’m skeptical of that bias because it seems to be exactly the sort of thing that evolution inevitably drives one toward, suggesting that it could very likely just be a trick of evolution to get individuals to “do stuff” despite there perhaps not being any goal that is both attainable (notably in light of the point I brought up in comment #39) and inherently preferable to a state of blissful inactivity.

  129. Scott Says:

    Dfeldmann #121: Yes, I saw that paper about burning ropes and independence from PA and was a huge fan! I’ve actually corresponded a bit with Bob Swartz (father of the famous Aaron Swartz), who’s been thinking about whether the ideas in that paper could lead to smaller Turing machines whose behavior is independent of PA.

  130. Scott Says:

    Tristan #122: That’s awesome—I’m delighted to hear it—and yes, it does indeed cheer me up! I guess you’ve now set the record for the smallest n such that determining BB(n) is provably at least as hard as solving a well-known math problem of independent interest.

  131. fred Says:

    About things that lifted my mood.

    This is probably super obvious to readers of this blog, but I was trying to come up with a particular example that shows the power of randomness (in a way I never thought about before), and that really made my day.

    Imagine that it’s Ancient Rome, and you’re the guy in charge of the Colosseum and you know that about 200,000 people want to attend every event, but there are only 50,000 seats.
    And you hold one big event a day, but you don’t want too many people to show up (like if 100,000 ppl show up, there isn’t enough room and they may be pissed off they can’t get in, and start a riot), or too few ppl to show up (if 10,000 show up, you have a lot of empty seats and you lose money)…
    so you want to find a way to make sure only a quarter of the potential crowd shows up on a given day (50,000 is a quarter of 200,000).
    You want to find a relatively cheap way to accomplish that.

    One way to do this is to tell everyone of the 200,000 attendees (through the distribution of tracts) that, on a given day, they should flip two coins, and only if they get two heads in a row (1 chance out of 4) they should head out for the stadium.

    Of course, in reality people would probably ignore the method. And, in advanced societies where people get a unique identification assigned by the state, you can accomplish this more effectively by saying “on such days we will only accept people who’s id ends with a 2 or a 4, etc” (just like alternating parking rules).

    I think that this example illustrates the fact that randomness has some sort of magical power: it allows for coordination between agents that don’t have means of direct communication.

    But isn’t it the case that there’s no proof that randomness in algorithms give any special extra power (compared to non-random algorithms)?

  132. Scott Says:

    fred #131:

      But isn’t it the case that there’s no proof that randomness in algorithms give any special extra power (compared to non-random algorithms)?

    No, you need to be more careful. There’s no proof that randomness enlarges the set of decision problems that are solvable in polynomial time (i.e., that P≠BPP), and this is even believed to be false.

    But in many other settings in CS theory—distributed protocols, query and communication complexity, cryptography—it’s easy to give unconditional proof that randomness does help, or is even essential for many tasks.

  133. Scott Says:

    James Gallagher #117:

      Serious question, please don’t get annoyed.

      Is “fred” actually a real person?


    I can assure you that whoever he (or she?) is, it’s not I. Like with John Sidles years ago, there’s probably a selection effect here: while there are presumably many readers who don’t constantly stake out positions that maximally tempt me to rebut them, by their nature those readers are less likely to comment here! 😀

  134. fred Says:

    Scott #133, James Gallagher #117

    LOL, I’ve wondered the same thing about some other poster (I forgot his name, that person hasn’t posted in a long while), because Scott would always agree with him.

    When it comes to Scott being me: unless Scott has some undiagnosed dissociative personality disorder, he would never waste his time trolling himself on super-determinism, or come up with half-baked arguments as to why Quantum Computers can’t possibly work!

    But I’ve been meaning to limit my rate of posting in Scott’s blog, and I guess it’s time I get serious about it!

  135. no one special Says:

    What if, like, a whole bunch of us wrote to the College Board, or whatever federal agency enforces the regulation that the College Board is worried about, and we asked them whether a solution might be found in which parents gave permission on the web form for their under-13s to take the SAT,

    The 13+ “requirement” smells like COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The good news is that COPPA does allow for children under 13 to make an account with their parents’ permission. Unfortunately, the rules around that make it not worth doing for anyone who primarily serves adults to bother with, which is why most sites (including Google*) just ask your age and tell you to GFY if you’re under 13. I’d bet $100 the only thing standing in the way of this is lack of desire to prioritize the feature.

    * Google actually got sued by the government for advertising YouTube to kids, and in their consent decree, they still didn’t implement COPPA-compliant signup.

  136. DR Says:

    On dealing with blankfaces, one way is to ofcourse support limited govt. This idea seems forgotten effectively, even on the right.

    Another, is to binge watch Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister and the more recent Twenty-Twelve. All of these, brilliant BBC satires. I recommend them highly.

    Here is an episode of Yes, Prime Minister, on Education. This helps me see my sadness about the (gifted) education situation through a lens of humor.

  137. fred Says:

  138. Tristan Says:

    Scott #130: ahah thank you! I definitely got the BB virus from reading your blog and your papers… (btw, in my comment, I forgot the most important word in Erdős’ conjecture on powers of two: “… there is at LEAST one digit 2 …”, we got to know the conjecture from Terrence’s Tao blog)

  139. scientist Says:

    Scott, here is something to cheer you up about kids, maybe in the above comments somewhere. Contra the much higher numbers you used in your back of the envelop calculation above, infection fatality rate for kids is actually around 0.001% (yep, in percentage units). Kids are amazingly robust to Covid, including “long covid”. Here is a nice primary source:

  140. Jr Says:

    Scott #126,

    From a not fully utilitarian perspective one can certainly condemn actively destroying all life, while not hoping for its continuation. If human activity happens to enroach on nature I probably would view that as positive. So a cheering thought is that humanity may have reduced wildlife suffering a lot, completely inadvertenely.

  141. Scott Says:

    scientist #139: Thanks. Someone on the SlateStarCodex reddit said it’s 0.002%. In any case, yes, it looks like I overstated the mortality risk for kids by a factor of 5-10. I don’t even remember where I got the 0.01% figure from, so I’m not sure how I made that error. I still think the case is overwhelmingly clear for authorizing the vaccines right now for kids—for many reasons including protecting the kids’ teachers and caregivers, allowing a relatively normal school year, and protecting against the unknown risks of long covid—but I hereby retract my statement that the FDA blankfaces causing this delay should be tried for manslaughter.

  142. DR Says:

    roystgnr #38 :

    Have you looked into Art of Problem solving (AOPS) for math for your 9 yo? They have
    beautiful textbooks, beautiful “challenge problems”, and now begin at age 7 yo.

    My son went through this starting at age ~10 with Algebra 1. We heard about it from friends. They have online classes with weekly homework too, if you want a class. No tests. The challenge problems assigned as homework make kids think, sometimes for hours per problem.

    AOPS helped him learn to enjoy struggling through hard problems of types he had never seen before. We treated it as the most important part of his education. It is extremely time consuming though, and he has to be willing to devote weekends to it. Summer might be the ideal time to do these classes. He did both.

    You can progress as fast as you like.

    He also did their computer programming classes, which are also excellent. This place is mostly about math though.

    AOPS helps you prepare for competitive math either directly or as a side-effect, but that is not the only reason to do it. It is a lot of fun if you love math.

    Some cities like Fremont, Raleigh and New Jersey even have brick and mortar schools for AOPS (lucky kids!).

  143. R$ichard Gatylord Says:

    scott #125 –

    ” I hope that, if I’d taken time to investigate the matter myself—for example, if doing so was part of my job—I would’ve figured out that the rationale for the invasion was a complete lie, and opposed it for that reason alone.”

    taking the time to understand American policy IS part of your job – as a citizen. it should even, imo, take precedent over your vocation as a theoretical computer scientist. especially if you have children since how this country acts today will have a major effect on their lives tomorrow.

  144. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #124:

      How’s the Continuum Hypothesis series going?

    Was that question supposed to cheer me up? 😀

  145. John Says:

    @ Scott

    You’re for vaccinating children against the wishes of parents, all the while sure that there will be no negative health impact on these children, despite a lack of data on this aspect. That makes you arrogant at the very least, by my lights. Maybe your kids should go first, many of the rest of us are happy to wait for more data.

  146. Scott Says:

    John #145: I’d obviously be thrilled for my kids to go first. But no, I don’t think covid vaccines should be mandatory — just mandatory for people who want to go to schools, airports, restaurants, or other public indoor places. If, however, the vaccines had been made available on the ultra-rushed, pandemic-ending schedule that I advocate — e.g., 2-3 months from development to first availability — then I wouldn’t want to mandate them at first; maybe that could wait another half year or so for more data.

  147. Hasan Says:

    An escapist’s joy: Foundation TV series is coming up (24th of this September). 🙂 Good luck to Daniel.

  148. Scott Says:

    Hasan #147: I heard about that, but thanks for reminding me! I’ll put it on my calendar, not only to watch but to try to get Lily into. (For context, she’s loved Star Wars, Ender’s Game, Narnia, Avatar, and Harry Potter. But my attempt to interest her in Asimov’s robot stories, which made a massive impression on me when I was a couple years older than her, was a dud.)

  149. marc Says:

    It’s interesting that it’s v hard to get a covid IFR for young kids because (luckily) so few have died and as mentioned by another commentor, almost all who have have had other nasty medical problems.

    Here in the UK the rate for kids without medical problems is 0.0001% (double that if with problems).

    As you will understand, with such tiny % even with millions of kids there is a big error term here.

    So against that, I wonder what % chance of negative complications you see as acceptable. It’s even harder to get that data. You want to risk your kid short / longer term health against a 0.0001% risk? I wonder what other risks are of that magnitude that you worry about.

    BTW, love the blog.


  150. John Says:

    @ Scott 146

    ” But no, I don’t think covid vaccines should be mandatory — just mandatory for people who want to go to schools, airports, restaurants, or other public indoor places.”

    Oh, wonderful, so only mandatory for participating in society…

    As others have already pointed out, the risk to children is negligible. We have near-zero data on long-term effects of these new vaccines on children. And you’re fine with 6-9 months worth of data before mandating and forcing your standards on everyone else’s kids. I’m glad you’re nowhere near the levers of power.

  151. Sniffnoy Says:

    Raoul Ohio #111: I mean, narrowing down the possible locations for Planet Nine is good news one way or another (unless it both actually exists and is outside of the predicted range).

  152. Sniffnoy Says:

    Dfeldmann #121:

    Oh whoa, the problem of the order type of the fusible numbers has been solved! And yeah there’s also the provability statements about PA, but I’d lead, as they do, with the fact that the order type has finally been pinned down as exactly ε0

    I’m too tired to read that proof right now, but what’s surprising is how short it is… I’ll have to go back and read this later…

  153. Souciance Says:

    You want depression..
    Texas passes law banning abortion after six weeks

  154. Souciance Eqdam Rashti Says:

    How is that Texas has great universities but then Greg Abbot is in charge?

  155. Laurence Cox Says:

    Expanding on what DR #136 writes. There is a sequel to Twenty-Twelve with several of the same characters called W1A

    For Americans, W1A is the first part of the postcode (like your zip code) for the BBC, where the series is set. It is just as funny as Twenty-Twelve, particularly if you know how the BBC operates.

    In ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ there are a number of incidents that actually occurred (Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay were ‘insiders’ who had picked up the stories from people who had actually witnessed them and wove them into their fictional narrative). As such, they are better described as fictionalised documentaries on how British Government operates (or at least operated in the 1960s and 1970s).

  156. fred Says:

    A good take on Afghanistan

  157. Scott Says:

    Souciance Eqdam Rashti #154:

      How is that Texas has great universities but then Greg Abbot is in charge?

    You could just as well have asked, how is it that the US has Harvard, Stanford, and Caltech and yet Trump was in charge?

  158. Peter Gacs Says:


    this is not about cheering you up, but noting the following. Interestingly whenever you or others write defending or attacking meritocracy, it is mostly about talent. But encouraging versus discouraging students to work (spend time on studying) is at least as important, and it is something that maybe more people can relate to, and maybe you can give it more emphasis in your posts on the subject.


  159. Souciance Eqdam Rashti Says:

    You could but don’t most of Texans live in urban areas like the major cities and where most of the educated people reside? Then again lots of people with Harvard Law degrees do crazy things and have crazy opinions.

    Scott Says:
    Comment #157 September 1st, 2021 at 8:12 am
    Souciance Eqdam Rashti #154:

    How is that Texas has great universities but then Greg Abbot is in charge?
    You could just as well have asked, how is it that the US has Harvard, Stanford, and Caltech and yet Trump was in charge?

  160. Scott Says:

    Souciance #159: Not just Texas! To a first approximation, the entire US is divided between densely-populated urban (and suburban) areas that mostly vote Democrat, and sparsely-populated everywhere else that mostly votes Republican, with the two factions now in a state of cold civil war. “Blue states” and “red states” are simply the states where one or the other is right now numerically predominant. Texas is a red state—by far the biggest red state—but the explosive growth of its urban areas is such that it could plausibly turn blue in a few more election cycles (then again, people have been predicting that for a while, and alas, it still went 53% Trump in 2020…).

  161. Anonymous Says:

    I like David Deutsch’s take on optimism. We are only in control to the extent that we can apply knowledge about situations.

    As far as global warming, I can’t take politicians seriously as long as we have things like this that are under-funded and un-explored: These people are right down the hall from you at UT. when I was an undergrad, I went to talk to them and asked why politicians aren’t paying more attention to this, and they were just as dumbfounded on that question as I was (and kind enough to spend 2 hours explaining how it worked). I don’t understand why scientists don’t band together and ask politicians why they aren’t actually solving problems, just pretending to while galavanting around campaigning and giving lip service to concerned 12 year olds but not DOING anything about those concerns except taxing (which just makes those able to afford the taxes pay a bit more while doing the same things). Real solutions ARE possible, we’re just not DOING anything towards them. A little extra tax is not going to change technology on a fundamental level.

  162. fred Says:

    As often, it’s a matter of priorities, mostly driven by the MSM telling us what’s important at the moment.

    Like, being up in arms about women’s rights in Afghanistan while ignoring women’s rights in one’s own state being trampled on.

  163. Scott Says:

    fred #162: Who’s ignoring the abortion ban in Texas? It’s front-page news all over the country. If I haven’t blogged about it, it’s only because anything I might have to say is obvious and is being said by millions of outraged others. I also didn’t blog about the tragedy of Afghanistan until a couple weeks after it happened. As I keep reminding people, Shtetl-Optimized is not a 24-hour news service.

  164. Gadi Says:

    Scott, have you started considering that Biden might have dementia?

    I always get a blankface response from liberals when I mention that, but it really seems bad. My grandfather recently died after 12 years of Alzheimer’s and Biden really is showing some of the very disturbing signs.

    There’s all the countless times he lost his train of thought, that’s what everyone sees and ignores. But there are more signs.

    The “Biden kept checking his watch” issue isn’t just a matter of disrespect. It’s early sign of dementia to keep checking the watch. When dementia starts, one of the very first things they forget is what was the time. They’ll keep asking and looking at the clock, and they won’t remember asking it. The way I remember it is that he would repeatedly ask for the time. Maybe there’s also more to it, because they also get more obsessed about the time than people usually are.

  165. Scott Says:

    Gadi #164: Yes, I suppose it’s possible. Note that I would’ve voted for a rutabaga if its opponent was Trump, so probably a good strategy for retaining my optimism is to regard any beyond-rutabaga behavior on Biden’s part as a pure bonus.

  166. Anonymous Says:

    Was that question supposed to cheer me up? ????

    On its own, probably not, but explaining the continuum hypothesis may be as good a distractor from lamenting all the ills of the world you’re not capable of solving as anything else… and a more productive one, I think.

    I was looking forward to the next installment, since I can’t say I have ever understood forcing on a level deeper than a crude comparison to the General Theory of Dragons from The Cyberiad.

  167. fred Says:

    Scott #163

    I wasn’t talking about you or your blog, Scott, just a general observation about various commentators in the media.

    My general point is – let’s fix things under our own roof first (women’s rights, state of the infrastructure), before wasting trillions into fails attempts at rebuilding foreign nations.

  168. Zen Cheruveettil Says:

    I made a passing reference to a vanished culture of arranged marriages, to which I seemed better-adapted than to the world of today—these very same people are the ones sagely resigned to millions of Afghan women and girls actually forced into unwanted marriages, tortured, and raped, who explain that there’s nothing the US can or should do about this, even that it was folly to imagine we could impose parochial Western values, like women’s rights, on a culture that doesn’t want them. These are the people who saw fit to lecture me on my feminist failings.

    This is the line of thinking which leads some westerners to sink trillions of dollars and risk thousands of lives on both sides by going for war in ME. Arranged marriage has its flaws, but it has nothing to do with Taliban or even with Islam. Unlike western cultures — where individualism is seen as a religion of its own — in many other parts of the world, marriage is still seen as an alliance between two families. Full disclosure: I was raised in a Muslim culture (though not in Afghanistan) where arranged marriage is the norm, but it is not “forced” in any sense. It is just that dating ritual is decimated to one or two meetings with strict taboos surrounding physical intimacy :-D. So, yeah, “kennenlernen” is a joke as this is a bit like marriage after speeddating, but to be honest if it is going to be a disaster, both genders suffer equally.

    As for the war debacle, what reminds me is a BBC talk show which I watched somewhere around 2004 or so where a wise British political pundit commented that Afghanistan is practically an un-rulable territory for outsiders, by citing British humiliation in 1850s.

    Now the cheering part – when compared to pre-internet era, talented kids nowadays have infinitely more opportunities, both to learn and to get noticed by peers or mentors. In a more enlightened educational system, they might be able to choose their optimal pace and track I guess. What I am worried is that for every Scott, there might be several kids whose parents are pushing them to enter these special programs.

  169. Incredibly awesome, but with overlength | Gentzen translated Says:

    […] answered that those are exactly the countable ordinals. And this is true for both roles, because Cantor […]

  170. Jeff Says:

    Hey Scott,
    I read your P ?= NP paper in a philosophy and computation class in university in Singapore some time ago. I also gain little snippets of insights as I trawl through your blog, reading posts that come up in discussions on HackerNews.

    In this small but appreciable way, your careful insights bear fruit across the world. I sympathise with the lousy circumstances you find yourself in, but you and other people do good work to stem the tide of apathy and ignorance we find ourselves in.

    Tolkien has Gandalf say these lines:

    “Yet it is not our part to master all tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
    “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    I hope you'll find some comfort in these words, and genuine rest and relief from your worries. Thank you for all that you do.

  171. roystgnr Says:

    DR #142

    Thanks! I’d seen ads for those, but wasn’t sure about them. I’ll give one a try!

  172. Sruthi Says:

    Nice post! How did you really teach a 4- year- old chess? That’s a remarkable achievement. My 4-year-old could use any tips :).

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  3. This comment section is not a free speech zone. It's my, Scott Aaronson's, virtual living room. Commenters are expected not to say anything they wouldn't say in my actual living room. This means: No trolling. No ad-hominems against me or others. No presumptuous requests (e.g. to respond to a long paper or article). No conspiracy theories. No patronizing me. Comments violating these policies may be left in moderation with no explanation or apology.
  4. Whenever I'm in doubt, I'll forward comments to Shtetl-Optimized Committee of Guardians, and respect SOCG's judgments on whether those comments should appear.
  5. I sometimes accidentally miss perfectly reasonable comments in the moderation queue, or they get caught in the spam filter. If you feel this may have been the case with your comment, shoot me an email.