Fermi–Dirac Distribution

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V-Dem indicators seem to take into account statements made by powerful politicians, not only their policies or other deeds. For example, I found this in one of their annual reports:

The V-Dem indicator of government attacks on the judiciary, which reveals government rhetoric calling into question the integrity of the judiciary, dropped precipitously in 2010, likely reflecting President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in which he criticized the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. President Donald Trump has sharply increased the pointedness of verbal attacks on the judiciary, referring to one of the judges who blocked his first executive order on immigration as a "so-called judge." Public criticism of the judiciary can be a healthy part of maintaining the balance between judicial independence and judicial accountability. Yet it can also be part of an unraveling of core checks on power. Coupled with the politicization of the judicial nominations process and the dismantling of super-majoritarian rules of appointing all Article Ill judges, supporters of democracy would be wise to pay close attention to executive -judicial relations in the United States.

My guess is that statements made by Trump were extreme outliers in how they betrayed little respect to democratic institutions, compared to statements made by earlier US presidents, and that affected their model.

I think that's reasonable. It might not be fully reflective of lived reality for US citizens at the moment the statements are made, but it sure captures the beliefs and motives of powerful people, which is predictive of their future actions. 

Indeed, one way to see the drop in 2017 is that it was able to predict a major blow to American democracy (Trump refusing to concede an election) 4 years in advance.

It's unclear what your specific disagreements with my comment are. 

Take what I think is the most crucial point I made: that there doesn't seem to be a democratic country in which a major candidate refused to accept defeat in a national election.

Which of these 4 best represents your position?

  • Trump won the 2020 election
  • Trump did not refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election or try to subvert it, that's just a leftist media narrative. If you talk to him, he'll say he accepts that Biden won fair and square.
  • Trump did try to subvert the election or refuse to accept defeat, but it's not a big deal (despite the lack of precedent in democratic countries)
  • Trump did do those things and they are a big deal, but things that similarly powerful Democrats have done are just as bad or worse.

If it's the latter, can you show that those actions from powerful Democrats are unprecedented in democratic countries?

I would urge you to try much harder to develop a less partisan analysis of these issues. This essay comes across (to me, as a libertarian centrist with some traditionalist tendencies) as a very elaborate rationalization for 'Stop Trump at all costs!', based on the commonly-repeated claim that 'Trump is an existential threat to democracy'.

Threats to democracy aren’t always distributed evenly across party lines. It’s unclear why that should be your prior.

Let’s see what Manifold markets think about this.



You can see from this that the two sides aren’t equal.

Purely definitionally, it seems pretty uncontroversial to say that a presidential candidate who’s tried to steal an election is a threat to democracy. Like, it’s unclear what a “threat to democracy” would even mean, if it doesn’t include “president trying to steal an election”.

I’m a libertarian myself and understand the negative reaction towards seemingly hysterical statements. I spent late 2015 and all of 2016 disregarding people who were scared of a Trump presidency.

But, just as a matter of base rates, it’s reasonable to consider that hysteria is justified. Many countries have voted themselves out of a democracy before. It’s not a rare phenomenon. And if a presidential candidate who did not accept defeat, plus a vice presidential candidate who’s openly said he would have stolen an election and defied the Supreme Court, isn’t grounds for worry, it’s unclear what would be.

I asked GPT-4 to list democracies in which a major candidate refused to accept defeat in a national election. GPT-4 was unable to list any democracy other than the US. (Instead, it misunderstood the question and included countries like Kenya, Venezuela and Belarus, which obviously don’t count). So this is a pretty unprecedented situation.

Your comment contains many policies that conservatives dislike because they’re associated with the left — not because they’re authoritarian. You phrase them in a way to make them sound maximally authoritarian, but one could do the same about the opposite policies. For example:

undermining states' autonomy to pass their own laws regarding controversial social and sexual issues, such as abortion

I could equally say that conservatives are authoritarian for limiting women’s autonomy to make decisions that affect their health and reproductive choices. In fact, this is much closer to the central meaning of the term “authoritarian” than your usage in this bullet point.

AOC threatening to impeach SCOTUS justices

The Constitution clearly states that Justices ”shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” It’s perfectly constitutional to remove SCOTUS justices. The allegations against Alito and Thomas seem to make a good case that their behavior hasn’t been “good.” In fact, one of the most common features of authoritarian governments worldwide is corruption. Enforcing a norm against it is good for maintaining the integrity of democratic institutions. Were AOC trying to remove Coney Barret, the situation would be different.

promoting pro-Jihadist, pro-Hamas, anti-semitic protests on college campuses

Suppressing protests is generally considered repressive and antidemocratic.

Other points in your comment sound like standard conservative grievances with liberal policies, with tenuous connections to authoritarianism or with the risk of democratic backsliding. E.g. “promoting racially and sexually divisive identity politics in public K-12 schools and universities.”

This post is timely, given the recent selection of J.D. Vance as Trump’s VP. 

J.D. Vance said that he would not have certified the 2020 election results if he were in Pence’s place.

As Trump’s VP pick, he has about a two-thirds chance of being the President of the Senate when the 2028 election results are certified. If the Democratic candidate wins that presidential election, it doesn’t seem implausible that he’ll refuse to certify the election results.  

The Electoral Count Act was overhauled after January 6 to give the VP a less ambiguous and discretionary role in the certification process. But there’s reason to think Vance could maximally adversarially exploit any remaining discretion or ambiguity. Or worse, he may not even respect the law. After all, Vance has previously said that there are cases in which the president should defy the Supreme Court[1]

Vance has once “called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into a Washington Post columnist who penned a critical piece about Trump.” It could be reasonable to conclude from this that the freedom of the press might be at risk. 

To make matters worse, Vance is young. He’s not even 40 yet. He graduated from Yale Law School, so he’s extremely smart. He has a lot of time, and a lot of competence, to achieve his antidemocratic aims. 

Trump is approaching his 80s. Optimistically, Vance may have made his antidemocratic statements to (successfully) get Trump’s attention and advance his career, and those ideas will retreat after Trump’s death, taking the Republican Party back to the ideals of people like Mitt Romney and Nikki Haley. But it’s not obvious that this will happen. Trump’s example may instead empower more politicians domestically and abroad to challenge democratic institutions and accumulate power, as we already started seeing with Bolsonaro in Brazil. 

Many countries have voted themselves out of a real democracy. Turkey, Hungary, Russia and Venezuela have all done so in recent decades. The base rate isn’t that low. 

  1. ^

    For non-Americans: this claim is legally incorrect, and very worrying coming from a likely future VP. It directly counteracts Marbury v. Madison, regarded as “the single most important decision in American constitutional law,” which asserts that the Supreme Court has the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution. If the President and the Supreme Court disagree on something, the Supreme Court’s opinion is the only legal one.

This list includes many people that, despite being well-known as very smart people in the EA/rationalist community, are not really “publicly-legible intellectual powerhouses.”

Taylor, Garrabrant and Demski publish articles on topics related to AI primarily, but as far as I could tell, none of them have NeurIPS or ICML papers. In comparison, the number of unique authors with papers featured on NeurIPS is more than 10,000 each year. Taylor and Demski have fewer than 4,000 Twitter followers, and Garrabrant does not seem to use Twitter. The three researchers have a few hundred academic citations each.

I find it hard to justify describing them as “publicly-legible intellectual powerhouses” when they seem, at a glance, not much more professionally impressive than great graduate students at top math or CS graduate programs (though such students are very impressive).

A better example of an EA-adjacent publicly-legible intellectual powerhouse in the ML area is Dan Hendrycks, who had a NeurIPS paper published in college and has at least 60 times more citations than those MIRI or former MIRI researchers you mentioned.

Most special guests did not receive housing or travel assistance; I think we provided this to 10-15 of them.

Was Hanania among that group?

It's just a symbolic gesture of "we think this person is cool, and we think that you should choose whether to go to our event partly based on whether you also think this person is cool".

My guess is that "special guest" status meant more than that. Special guests likely received a free ticket, worth $500.

It's also possible that special guests might have gotten travel or lodging subsidies in one form or another (e.g. free lodging at Lightcone). This is a guess, I don't know how common it is in general for billed guests at conferences to fund their own lodging and travel fully, but it seems possible. 

If that's the case, it strengthens your point. It's very reasonable to not pay for someone who is rude and unnecessarily seeks out controversy to attend your conference. 

when you dig into it it seems clear that people incur costs that would be better spent on donations, and so I don't think it's good reasoning.

I’ve thought a lot about this, because I’m serious about budgeting and try to spend as little money as possible to make more room for investments and donations. I also have a stressful job and don’t like to spend time cooking. I did not find it hard to switch to being vegan while keeping my food budget the same and maintaining a high-protein diet. 

Pea protein is comparable in cost per gram protein to the cheapest animal products where I live, and it requires no cooking. Canned beans are a bit more expensive but still very cheap and also require no cooking. Grains, ramen and cereal are very cheap sources of calories. Plant milks are more expensive than cow's milk, but still fit in my very low food budget. Necessary supplements like B12 are very cheap.

On a day-to-day basis, the only real cooking I do is things like pasta, which don’t take much time at all. I often go several weeks without doing any real cooking. I’d bet that I both spend substantially less money on food and substantially less time cooking than the vast majority of omnivores, while eating more protein.

As a vegan it's also easy to avoid spending money in frivolous ways, like on expensive ready-to-eat snacks and e.g. DoorDash orders. 

I haven't had any health effects either, or any differences in how I feel day-to-day, after more than 1 year. Being vegan may have helped me maintain a lower weight after I dropped several pounds last year, but it's hard to know the counterfactual.

I didn't know coming in that being vegan would be easy; I decided to try it out for 1 month and then stuck with it when I "learned" how to do it. There's definitely a learning curve, but I'd say that for some people who get the hang of it, reason (1) in Michael's comment genuinely applies.

a brazenly made-up number

I said a specific number for two reasons: to express my personal opinion and to ask if the author disagrees. I thought that was clear. Without saying a number, I would not be able to check if there is any disagreement.

what kind of evidence would change her mind

My comment was not about presenting evidence or changing minds about veganism. I agree with the sentences I quoted and with what you wrote in your second and third paragraphs. But, even true statements can be misapplied. Would you object to a vegetarian saying "a single bite of meat can kill you"? I would in most contexts.

> "Some cultures don't eat meat" does not in fact prove that nobody has nutritional deficiencies from not eating meat
Where did I say that nobody has nutritional deficiencies from not eating meat?

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