maxim-gun   21

[1709.01149] Biotechnology and the lifetime of technical civilizations
The number of people able to end Earth's technical civilization has heretofore been small. Emerging dual-use technologies, such as biotechnology, may give similar power to thousands or millions of individuals. To quantitatively investigate the ramifications of such a marked shift on the survival of both terrestrial and extraterrestrial technical civilizations, this paper presents a two-parameter model for civilizational lifespans, i.e. the quantity L in Drake's equation for the number of communicating extraterrestrial civilizations. One parameter characterizes the population lethality of a civilization's biotechnology and the other characterizes the civilization's psychosociology. L is demonstrated to be less than the inverse of the product of these two parameters. Using empiric data from Pubmed to inform the biotechnology parameter, the model predicts human civilization's median survival time as decades to centuries, even with optimistic psychosociological parameter values, thereby positioning biotechnology as a proximate threat to human civilization. For an ensemble of civilizations having some median calculated survival time, the model predicts that, after 80 times that duration, only one in 1024 civilizations will survive -- a tempo and degree of winnowing compatible with Hanson's "Great Filter." Thus, assuming that civilizations universally develop advanced biotechnology, before they become vigorous interstellar colonizers, the model provides a resolution to the Fermi paradox.
preprint  article  gedanken  threat-modeling  risk  biotech  anthropic  fermi  ratty  hanson  models  xenobio  space  civilization  frontier  hmm  speedometer  society  psychology  social-psych  anthropology  cultural-dynamics  disease  parasites-microbiome  maxim-gun  prepping  science-anxiety  technology  magnitude  scale  data  prediction  speculation  ideas  🌞  org:mat  study  offense-defense  arms  unintended-consequences  spreading  explanans  sociality  cybernetics 
october 2017 by nhaliday
Syphilis in Renaissance Europe: rapid evolution of an introduced sexually transmitted disease?
When syphilis first appeared in Europe in 1495, it was an acute and extremely unpleasant disease. After only a few years it was less severe than it once was, and it changed over the next 50 years into a milder, chronic disease. The severe early symptoms may have been the result of the disease being introduced into a new host population without any resistance mechanisms, but the change in virulence is most likely to have happened because of selection favouring milder strains of the pathogen.
pdf  study  org:nat  bio  sapiens  disease  parasites-microbiome  history  medieval  early-modern  age-of-discovery  sex  spreading  recent-selection  evolution  usa  europe  gwern  maxim-gun  enlightenment-renaissance-restoration-reformation 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Bari, 1943 | West Hunter
There is no really good general way of estimating which facts that another person has floating in his head without personal contact. The same is true for populations – people in general,  people in particular professions, etc. Sometimes,  though, the utter lack of recognition of what ought to be an obvious connection, the dogs that don’t bark,  makes  clear that nobody in the talking  classes has ever heard of a particular event.

They ought to be talking about Bari, 1943.
west-hunter  scitariat  history  mostly-modern  iraq-syria  MENA  war  current-events  biotech  arms  analogy  comparison  commentary  maxim-gun  world-war  questions 
april 2017 by nhaliday
Why Are Chemical Weapons Different?
So what is it about chemical weapons that puts them in the same category? I've never seen anyone explain what it is. Getting killed by mustard gas is surely awful. But so is getting blown up by a bomb. Using one against your enemies gets you branded a war criminal, but using the other doesn't. The Aum Shinrikyo cult conducted a poison gas attack in the Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 13. No one could claim that because they used a chemical weapon, that attack was worse than, say, the 2005 bombings of public transport in London, in which 52 people died.

Tierney argues, "Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms. We want to draw stark lines around acceptable and unacceptable kinds of warfare because the terrain that we carve out is strategically favorable." That may be part of the story, but it's more than just strategic—we want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.
news  org:mag  biotech  arms  technology  hmm  idk  foreign-policy  war  iraq-syria  current-events  politics  maxim-gun 
april 2017 by nhaliday
Evolution of Virulence | West Hunter
Once upon a time, I thought a lot about evolution and pathogens. I still do, on occasion.

It used to be the case [and still is] that many biologists thought that natural selection would inevitably tend towards a situation in which pathogens did infinitesimal harm to their host. This despite the epidemics all around them. I remember reading a book on parasitology in which the gormless author mentioned a certain species of parasitic copepod that routinely blinded the fish they attached to. He said that many a naive grad student would think that that these parasitic copepods were bad for the fish, but sophisticated evolutionists like himself knew (and would explain to the newbies) that of course the fish didn’t suffer any reduction in fitness by going blind – theory said so ! Clearly, that man had a Ph.D.

If a pathogen can gain increased reproduction by tapping host resources, or by doing any damn thing that helps itself and hurts the host, that tactic may pay, and be selected for. It depends on the balance between the advantages and costs – almost entirely those to the pathogen, since the pathogen evolves much more rapidly than the host. In some cases, as much as a million times faster – because of generations that may be 20 minutes long rather than 20 years, because pathogens often have very large populations, which favors Fisherian acceleration, and in many cases, a relatively high mutation rate. Pathogen evolution is, at least some cases, so rapid that you see significant evolutionary change within a single host. Along the same lines, we have seen very significant evolutionary changes in antibiotic resistance among pathogenic bacteria over the past few decades, but I’m pretty sure that there hasn’t been much evolutionary change in mankind since I was a kid.

So when analyzing virulence, people mostly consider evolutionary pressures on the pathogens, rather than the host. Something like the Born-Oppenheimer approximation.
west-hunter  bio  disease  parasites-microbiome  red-queen  thinking  incentives  evolution  🌞  deep-materialism  discussion  mutation  selection  time  immune  scitariat  maxim-gun  cooperate-defect  ideas  anthropic  is-ought  gender  gender-diff  scale  magnitude  stylized-facts  approximation  analogy  comparison  pro-rata 
april 2017 by nhaliday
A New Germ Theory:
The dictates of evolution virtually demand that the causes of some of humanity's chronic and most baffling "noninfectious" illnesses will turn out to be pathogens -- that is the radical view of a prominent evolutionary biologist

A LATE-SEPTEMBER heat wave enveloped Amherst College, and young people milled about in shorts or sleeveless summer frocks, or read books on the grass. Inside the red-brick buildings framing the leafy quadrangle students listened to lectures on Ellison and Emerson, on Paul Verlaine and the Holy Roman Empire. Few suspected that strains of the organism that causes cholera were growing nearby, in the Life Sciences Building. If they had known, they would probably not have grasped the implications. But these particular strains of cholera make Paul Ewald smile; they are strong evidence that he is on the right track. Knowing the rules of evolutionary biology, he believes, can change the course of infectious disease.
I HAVE a motto," Gregory Cochran told me recently. "'Big old diseases are infectious.' If it's common, higher than one in a thousand, I get suspicious. And if it's old, if it has been around for a while, I get suspicious."
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february 2017 by nhaliday
The Effectiveness of Political Assassinations - Schneier on Security
The data presented in this paper show that decapitation is not an effective counterterrorism strategy. While decapitation is effective in 17 percent of all cases, when compared to the overall rate of organizational decline, decapitated groups have a lower rate of decline than groups that have not had their leaders removed.
security  government  polisci  power  study  summary  evidence-based  realpolitik  terrorism  foreign-policy  intel  wonkish  descriptive  meta:war  tactics  coordination  leadership  intervention  null-result  stylized-facts  tradecraft  defense  maxim-gun  techtariat 
december 2016 by nhaliday
Last Ditch | West Hunter
Various responses have led me to think about what nations are willing to do in the last extremity, when they see doom impending. Over the Cold War, now apparently forgotten, major nations seemed willing to take the enemy down with them, more or less completely. Thousands of nuclear weapons can do that.


I suspect that the Soviets used tularemia at Stalingrad in 1942, but many seem to think that the natural default hypothesis is that Stalin would never have done such a thing. Churchill was ready with anthrax if the Germany ever managed to cross the channel.

didn't know that about Churchill

motives for the Civil War and WW2 (later on down the thread):
For the North, more about preserving union than destroying slavery. For the South, mostly about protecting slavery, but also about a growing nationalism based on a different way of life – one based on slavery. Slavery Slavery Slavery.


“Has mankind no experience of somewhat hostile countries living side by side without killing 5% of their population?” Not much, no. I find myself at a disadvantage in this kind of argument, since my head is filling up with all the bloody noise of history, far faster than I can type. There are a few hundred books you should read that might give you more perspective on this, but why not start with Thucydides?
In 1914, the great majority of the world’s productive capacity was in Europe. Any country that dominated the continent would been the number one world power. If you value your national independence, you don’t want that. So: when somebody threatens to take over Europe, you oppose them. The same reason that England, and other nations, opposed Imperial Spain at its height – it threatened to dominate Europe. For the same reason that England and others opposed France for a couple of hundred years: the same reason that people resisted Germany, the same reason nations resisted the Soviet Union. Why did Sparta oppose Athens? It’s still the same old story.

Here I thought that all of my audience read the Cambridge Modern History while waiting in the dentists’s office. Boy was I wrong!
west-hunter  history  war  nuclear  risk  realpolitik  parasites-microbiome  mostly-modern  tactics  arms  russia  britain  iron-age  usa  medieval  meta:war  scitariat  disease  defense  communism  biotech  maxim-gun  old-anglo  world-war  early-modern  revolution  the-south  questions  peace-violence  statesmen  big-peeps  allodium  frontier  discipline  martial  nietzschean  courage  multi  poast  thucydides  ideology  politics  exit-voice  impetus  aphorism  stylized-facts  roots  alt-inst  institutions  broad-econ  vitality  axioms  flux-stasis  flexibility  short-circuit  strategy  prudence  intel  organizing  interests 
november 2016 by nhaliday
weaponizing smallpox | West Hunter
As I have said before, it seems likely to me that the Soviet Union put so much effort into treaty-violating biological warfare because the guys at the top believed in it – because they had seen it work, the same reason that they were such tank enthusiasts. One more point on the likely use of tularemia at Stalingrad: in the summer of ’42 the Germans had occupied regions holding 40% of the Soviet Union’s population. The Soviets had a tularemia program: if not then [“Not One Step Back!”], when would they have used it? When would Stalin have used it? Imagine that someone intent on the destruction of the American republic and the extermination of its people [remember the Hunger Plan?] had taken over everything west of the Mississippi: would be that too early to pull out all the stops? Reminds me of of an old Mr Boffo cartoon: you see a monster, taller than skyscrapers, stomping his way through the city. That’s trouble. But then you notice that he’s a hand puppet: that’s serious trouble. Perhaps Stalin was waiting for serious trouble, for example if the Norse Gods had come in on the side of the Nazis.

Anyhow, the Soviets had a big smallpox program. In some ways smallpox is almost the ultimate biological weapon – very contagious, while some strains are highly lethal. And it’s controllable – you can easily shield your own guys via vaccination. Of course back in the 1970s, almost everyone was vaccinated, so it was also completely useless.

We kept vaccinating people as long as smallpox was still running around in the Third World. But when it was eradicated in 1978, people stopped. There seemed to be no reason – and so, as new unvaccinated generations arose, the military efficacy of smallpox has gone up and up and up. It got to the point where the World Health organization threw away its stockpile of vaccine, a couple hundred million units, just to save on the electric bill for the refrigerators.

Consider that the Soviet Union was always the strongest proponent of worldwide eradication of smallpox, dating back to the 1950s. Successful eradication would eventually make smallpox a superweapon: does it seem possible that the people running the Soviet Union had this in mind as a long term-goal ? Potentiation through ‘eradication’? Did the left hand know what the strangling hand had in mind, and shape policies accordingly? Of course.

D.A. Henderson, the man that led the eradication campaign, died just a few days ago. He was aware of this possibility.
Dr. Henderson strenuously argued that the samples should be destroyed because, in his view, any amount of smallpox was too dangerous to tolerate. A side effect of the eradication program — and one of the “horrendous ironies of history,” said “Hot Zone” author Preston — is that since no one in generations has been exposed to the virus, most of the world’s population would be vulnerable to it in the event of an outbreak.

“I feel very — what should we say? — dispirited,” Dr. Henderson told the Times in 2002. “Here we are, regressing to defend against something we thought was permanently defeated. We shouldn’t have to be doing this.”
Ken Alibek believes that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, unemployed or badly-paid scientists are likely to have sold samples of smallpox clandestinely and gone to work in rogue states engaged in illicit biological weapons development. DA Henderson agrees that this is a plausible scenario and is upset by the legacy it leaves. 'If the [Russian bio-weapons] programme had not taken place we would not I think be worrying about smallpox in the same way. One can feel extremely bitter and extremely angry about this because I think they've subjected the entire world to a risk which was totally unnecessary.'

War in the East:
The books generally say that biological warfare is ineffective, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? There is reason to think it has worked, and it may have made a difference.


We know of course that this offensive eventually turned into a disaster in which the German Sixth Army was lost. But nobody knew that then. The Germans were moving forward with little to stop them: they were scary SOBs. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Soviet leadership was frightened, enough so that they sent out a general backs-to-the-wall, no-retreat order that told the real scale of losses. That was the Soviet mood in the summer of 42.

That’s the historical background. Now for the clues. First, Ken Alibek was a bioweapons scientist back in the USSR. In his book, Biohazard, he tells how, as a student, he was given the assignment of explaining a mysterious pattern of tularemia epidemics back in the war. To him, it looked artificial, whereupon his instructor said something to the effect of “you never thought that, you never said that. Do you want a job?” Second, Antony Beevor mentions the mysteriously poor health of German troops at Stalingrad – well before being surrounded (p210-211). Third, the fact that there were large tularemia epidemics in the Soviet Union during the war – particularly in the ‘oblasts temporarily occupied by the Fascist invaders’, described in History and Incidence of Tularemia in the Soviet Union, by Robert Pollitzer.

Fourth, personal communications from a friend who once worked at Los Alamos. Back in the 90’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a time when you could hire a whole team of decent ex-Soviet physicists for the price of a single American. My friend was having a drink with one of his Russian contractors, son of a famous ace, who started talking about how his dad had dropped tularemia here, here, and here near Leningrad (sketching it out on a napkin) during the Great Patriotic War. Not that many people spontaneously bring up stories like that in dinner conversation…

Fifth, the huge Soviet investment in biowarfare throughout the Cold War is a hint: they really, truly, believed in it, and what better reason could there be than decisive past successes? In much the same way, our lavish funding of the NSA strongly suggested that cryptanalysis and sigint must have paid off handsomely for the Allies in WWII – far more so than publicly acknowledged, until the revelations about Enigma in the 1970s and later.

We know that tularemia is an effective biological agent: many countries have worked with it, including the Soviet Union. If the Russians had had this capability in the summer of ’42 (and they had sufficient technology: basically just fermentation) , it is hard to imagine them not using it. I mean, we’re talking about Stalin. You think he had moral qualms? But we too would have used germ warfare if our situation had been desperate.
Sean, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Anybody exposed to an aerosol form of tularemia is likely to get it: 10-50 bacteria are enough to give a 50% probability of infection. You do not need to be sickly, starved, or immunosuppressed in order to contract it, although those factors probably influence its lethality. The same is true of anthrax: if it starts growing in your lungs, you get sick. You’re not born immune. There are in fact some diseases that you _are_ born immune to (most strains of sleeping sickness, for example), or at least have built-in defenses against (Epstein-Barr, cf TLRs).

A few other facts I’ve just found: First, the Soviets had a tularemia vaccine, which was used to an unclear extent at Stalingrad. At the time nobody else did.

Next, as far as I can tell, the Stalingrad epidemic is the only large-scale pneumonic tularemia epidemic that has ever occurred.

Next cool fact: during the Cold War, the Soviets were somewhat more interested in tularemia than other powers. At the height of the US biowarfare program, we produced less than two tons per year. The Soviets produced over one thousand tons of F. tularensis per year in that period.

Next question, one which deserves a serious, extended treatment. Why are so many people so very very good at coming up with wrong answers? Why do they apply Occam’s razor backwards? This is particularly common in biology. I’m not talking about Croddy in Military Medicine: he probably had orders to lie, and you can see hints of that if you read carefully.
Joining the Army might work. In general not available to private individuals, for reasons that are largely bullshit.
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september 2016 by nhaliday

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