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Thanks for this article! In my view, it's a really good contribution to the debate, and the issues it raises are under-rated by longtermists.  

I do feel uneasy about being given joint credit with Toby Ord for the model (and since this is now public I want to say so publicly). Though I may have made an expository contribution, the model is definitely the work of Ord. 

In my undergraduate days of 2017, based on Ord's unpublished draft, I wrote this article. I think my contributions were: 

  1. A more explicit (or, depending on your perspective, plodding and equation-laden) exposition of the Ord model
  2. Longer discussion (around 7,000 words vs Ord's 3,000) 
  3. Some extensions of the model

I now view the extensions as far less useful than the exposition of the core model proposed by Ord; the extensions were not worth mathematising. At the time I had a fondness for them -- today I look back upon that as somewhat sophomoric. Indeed, this article uses none of my extensions (at least as of the last time I read a draft). So I don't think it's correct to say the model is even in part due to me.

By the way, Ord's model has now been published as appendix E of The Precipice, but in even more summary form than the unpublished document I looked at in 2017. This shortening might lead someone looking at the published record today to underestimate Ord's contribution and overestimate mine. My article does credit him for everything that is his, and so is a good source for the genealogy of the idea.

I don’t think there’s that’s as much ambiguity here as you’re making out. You can just look up the conditions of the visa. It would be interesting to see a random sample of people who received the visa though.

It says right there on the page it’s for “top scientists”. That’s very different from anyone with a PhD.

I find the title of this post misleading.


The title says "A new media outlet focused on philanthropy". But in the body we learn that Puck is "focused on the inside conversation in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington", which seems more accurate based on their website.

That wasn't my understanding of it:

You can usually only apply for a Global Talent visa if you have successfully applied for an endorsement to prove that you are a leader or potential leader.

You can apply for the visa without an endorsement if you’ve won an eligible award.


Buying back rights

Another idea would be, before the book is published, to propose to the publisher to give them a lump sum in exchange for the rights after ~3 years. My impression is books usually make most of the money right after they are published, so such a deal may be attractive to the publisher. Also if you're an in-demand author you have a lot of leverage at the beginning.

One could also consider a policy to provide to any Russian who has a STEM PhD (or similar work experience) a long-term visa. Such a visa could eventually lead to permanent residency. I don't know if this has a realistic chance of becoming law. Maybe in Canada, a country that's unusually friendly to immigration?

I can confirm this is correct.

By the way, a similar modelling approach (Beta prior, binomial likelihood function) was used in this report.

I just discovered this related and entertaining passage from Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist (2005).

Here I am, going to a panel discussion organized by an environmental charity, and a very earnest young member of staff is grilling me before I even get past the door of the lecture hall.

“How did you travel here today? We need to know for our carbon offset program.”

“What’s a carbon offset program?”

“We want all our meetings to be carbon-neutral. We ask everyone who attends to let us know how far they came and on what mode of transportation, and then we work out how much carbon dioxide was emitted and plant trees to offset the emissions.”

The Undercover Economist is about to blow his cover.

“I see. In that case, I came here in an anthracite powered steamer from Australia.”

“Sorry . . . how do you spell anthracite?”

“It’s just a kind of coal—very dirty, lots of sulfur. OW!”

The Undercover Economist’s wife gives him a sharp dig in the ribs.

“Ignore him. We both cycled here.”


Apart from being a good example of how irritating an Undercover Economist can be, this true story should, I hope, provoke a few questions. Why would an environmental charity organize a carbon neutral meeting? The obvious answer is “so that it can engage in debate without contributing to climate change.” And that is true, but misleading.

The Undercover Economist in me was looking at things from the point of view of efficiency. If planting trees is a good way to deal with climate change, why not forget about the meetings and plant as many as possible? (In which case, everybody should say they came by steamship.) If the awareness-raising debate is the important thing, why not forget about the trees and organize extra debates?

In other words, why be “carbon-neutral” when you can be “carbon-optimal,” especially since the meeting was not benzene-neutral, lead-neutral, particulate-neutral, ozone-neutral, sulfur-neutral, congestion-neutral, noise-neutral, or accident-neutral? Instead of working out whether to improve the environment directly (by planting trees), or indirectly (by promoting discussion), the charity was spending considerable energy keeping itself precisely “neutral”—and not even precisely neutral on all externalities, nor even a modest range of environmental toxins, but preserving its neutrality on a single, high-profile pollutant: carbon dioxide. And it was doing so in a very public way.
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