The world is running a disturbing psychometric test

Put aside the people with small (and not so small) children at home, and observe whether the pandemic has boosted or destroyed their productivity.  That is one measure for how they handle stress, and whether you might wish to trust them with a start-up or some other major project requiring quick adaptation and performance under duress.  It may or may not be a measure for their ordinary performance on the job.

Consider the now-cancelled Candidates’ chess tournament in Russia.  Ding Liren was one of the two clear favorites (with Caruana), and he lost three games in the first half of the tournament.  That is evidence he does not play well under an extreme degree of stress.  Yet he still is rated #3 in the world, from a career playing under conditions of “not a pandemic level of stress but still world-class levels of competitive stress.”

Grischuk had been saying the tournament should be called off, even in midstream.  Probably he was right, but if play had continued would you have predicted him to come in first?  Caruana, the American, was worried he may not be able to get home after the tournament.  His play was OK but subpar, at least for a world-ranked number two.  The non-favored but sturdy Nepomniachtchi was up three games, before unwisely playing a Winawer defense with the black pieces, but still he was the clear leader.  How should we now revise our opinions of him?

A friend of mine writes to me:

I have submitted 4 papers in 2 weeks. Two R and Rs [revise and resubmits] done and sent back and two new papers sent out. Very close on 2 more. Then I guess I’ll start freaking out or something. Working is keeping me less stressed and more sane.  You can really see the divide on Twitter between people getting shit done and people spending all their time hyperventilating.

David Brooks (NYT) considers how you have been living your life.

The psychometric stress test is being run, including on our institutions, regions, and nations.  We’ll see how it goes.


We need a new ideology. Anti-Socialism.

That's not a "new" ideology. That's our current system. How's it working?

No more ideologies. People need to think for themselves instead of parroting stupid shit.

Anti-ideologies might actually be worse than ideologies themselves.

After all, you're framing your identity around your imagination of someone else's identity.

There's a name for anti-socialism. It's called neoliberalism. Is that floating your boat?

Ding Liren, not Ling Diren

Last name first in Asia? But opposite in the West, so TC is right?

I found it amusing that somehow TC tied chess into this post, since it didn't quite sound persuasive to me.

Bonus trivia: GM Alekseenko should never have been invited to the Candidates since he's clearly so weak, but, since the Fide organizer is a a Putin favorite, and Russian money is behind it, it's understandable as the organizers themselves said they wanted a Russian wildcard. PH GM So should have been Alekseenko's replacement IMO. No mention of GM Teimour Radjabov's withdrawal from the tournament before it started, on fear of contracting Covid-19, which many internet commentators cited as ironic, but it should be pointed out Radjabov seemed to some observers hesitant to join for some time, perhaps he was not prepared (he's been out of form for years after reaching his peak in 2012), and, more importantly, the Candidates was cancelled not due to fear of contracting Covid-19 directly at the tournament (Radja's concern) but because--tactics not strategy--Russia was about to close their airspace due to Covid-19 and the players had no way to leave Russia after the tournament ended. If chess is 99% tactics not strategy, and if chess is life as Bobby Fischer once said (source?!: the impeccable Bill Wall ) then life is 99% tactics not strategy. Tactics not strategy. Keep your eye on the ball and don't think too many big thoughts in this crisis, as they may never happen!

How good bad music and bad reasons sound when we march against an enemy.
-- Freddy Nietzsche

Do you really think that in a global crisis, the nature of one's work might not matter as much as anything else as far as how well someone performs under stress? It seems to me what you are hoping to test for is not just performance under stress, but also psychopath or sociopath tendencies. Those indeed would make someone better suited to heading a project oriented towards business success over all else.
Ever stop to think that people might perform less well under the stress of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC because they are concerned for the PEOPLE being affected by the pandemic and they know their current job is doing nothing to help those people? That's reasoning and empathy followed by uncertainty or guilt, not hyperventilating. That's called wanting to live your life in response to reality, instead of wanting to live your life to better yourself at all costs.

If one of those people has a shit week at work, kind of sucks at figuring out what to do about it, and then manages to volunteer at a food bank for a day, and donate some of their excess savings, and continues to perform shit at work for the next few weeks, I call that person a fucking win over some psychopath who goes into zen overdrive at his tech startup that does nothing to help the current crisis.

If you looked in the medical field, I would bet you that many people who perform like shit under some big stressors (like being the victim of a violent crime, divorce, mid-life crisis etc) are performing pretty well right now because they know they HAVE to, to save the lives of other humans.

And if you look at people in a tech sector working from home who do things completely unrelated to managing the current crisis directly, work productivity probably varies wildly-- not just because people are better and worse at working under stress, but also because people have greater and smaller moral compasses that tell them they should probably be doing something else to help.

Largely agree with this comment. I'm getting more done due to not spending time commuting, but I'd say it's a conscious effort to keep myself sane rather than evidence of my sanity or some other underlying virtue/strength. And a big source of stress for me is the fact that my job isn't directly helping fight the pandemic, and wondering whether there might be opportunities to help (e.g. being drafted in as a hospital orderly or something).

That said, I don't think that someone becoming more productive under these circumstances is necessarily evidence that they are a psychopath, either. Denial and escapism-via-work are both real things.

But like Keegan O'Rourke, I disagree with Tyler's idea that productivity during the crisis indicates someone's ability to cope with work stress.

"Can/does, for some psychological reason, perform better when a huge external stressor means that they have more time to work" may be a separate and different trait to "Performs well when the pressure is directly on and related to the rapid and accurate performance of their work task" (and may even be opposed -- as in the former example, the person's performance increases when time pressure is reduced).

Indeed, and I should be fair to the original post. There was less judgement contained in it than in the quote from Tyler's friend, which was really what set me off. I feel there is a lot to untangle in the exceptionalism, extreme individuality, and the relentless valuing of 'productivity' that suffuses so much of the modern workplace's culture that needs interogation. I probably should not have used the more extreme cases of sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors as an example. We are all somewhere on a large spectrum. I think the key differentiator about this 'stressor' is that it is a massive event in which everyone's cooperation and action to help matters quite a lot, above and beyond the influence of many industries people work in.

Yes, the quote is quite nauseating -- surely some of those "hyperventilating" are unoccupied because they have been stood down from their jobs.

For some stupid reason I was thinking about this again last night, and having already given Tyler the benefit of the doubt for the somewhat silly conclusion of this post, I started to worry about his friend. Of course denial (and escapism via work) can be a response to grief. But the combination of references to frenetic work patterns, and an exaggerated sense of their own superiority, make me wonder whether this person might be suffering or entering a manic episode.

precisely. there activities i am good at or devoted energy to in the past that seem frivolous or wasteful of my energy at the moment.

i have lost interest in trying to be good at them

i could easily see how an intense ultra high level competition would leave some of its participants asking themselves why the hell they are there, and having difficulty devoting 110% effort to a non essential task

Um, dealing with small kids at home is not just a baseline hum of vaguely defined stress. It means somebody who cannot be ignored is screaming for you every 3 minutes.

I suppose the highest professional performers in these circumstances may be those who get their kids to quietly amuse themselves (but no tv; that’d be cheating). But that’s a measure of parenting skill, not professional skill.

Or maybe Cowen’s first sentence is about non-parents? If so it was poorly phrased, but if that’s the case I apologize and withdraw my comment (though my points remain true!).

Yeah... I think his first sentence is meant to exclude workers with kids, but when he says "boosted or destroyed their productivity" the only referent for "their" is "people with small children". I think he means to exclude parents and focus on workers without kids. But it is poorly worded.

I did it when my wife was away. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Is there a problem here?

This entire pandemic episode, ongoing, is absolutely fascinating through a social science lens. Not just the psychometric experiment, how about the economic one. There has never been a time when the whole country (and a lot of the world) decided to stop their economies on purpose. Literally an economic thought experiment, but for reals.

Yes, just as Milton Friedman's helicopter drop was a (hypothetical) test of monetary theory, an exogenous change in the money supply, we now have a test of an exogenous change in the real goods market. It's a real business cycle, with a vengeance.

"Covid-19 shutdown as an economic thought experiment"

Yeah, it would be too risky to try as an experiment. But since the reality is here . . . take notes.

Productivity isn't what kills startups. Being good under pressure doesn't guarantee strong business either. Great performances under pressure tends to produce ....... great performances under pressure.

Bingo. Startups are a search process looking for a customer, and a positive margin business model for serving that customer. Ideas with no hope of finding those things will blow out regardless of how good under pressure the staff is.

I think I am finally starting to emerge from my long running, chronic condition of there not being a world wide pandemic.

If the first sentence is supposed to read 'Look at people with no children at home. Observe whether the panic has boosted or destroyed their productivity.' then this makes sense. It seems that is the intention, given the discussion of chess - I doubt Ling Diren had any kids to look after during the tournament.

But if the intention is to say that you learn something about parents by taking away 30+ hours a week from their time budget: yes, you learn something about how much less can be achieved when you have 30+ hours less time to achieve it with.

Well, there's a lesson about how the total productivity of the economy is affected by outsourcing some part of child care.

There are also lessons about the reassurance and decision control that informal processes (hall meetings) do more efficiently than remote work. (Why has MSFT so long believed in developers sitting together? Why did Yahoo bring everybody in house? Why did IBM undo it's remote work structure? Issues related to *informal* processes that keep things on the rails and moving forward more efficiently than any meeting or report schedule ever could.

Cube walls were high, then lowered, then raised again. People in charge need to look like they're doing something.

The U.S. has just become the world leader in coronavirus cases, and the issue is chess performance and stress?

mebbe chess is supposed to be a metaphor or a allegory or a microcosm of the macrocosm? its one of em, we forget which one

Well, there was the Bergman post a few days ago, though it forgot to mention the passing of Max Von Sydow.

Is this a situation of extreme stress for most people?

See what Keegan O'Rourke and I said above -- I don't think that there is much parallel between a situation in which you suddenly have a ton of time, but with an external stressor that may or may not be directly affecting you; and a situation in which you are actually working under time pressure. May even be negatively correlated -- i.e. someone whose performance increases due to not having to commute/attend meetings, literally because they have more time, would perhaps be expected to perform worse when time pressure is applied to their task.

Apparently for those who discover they aren't as rich as they thought, because the reality they were actually living hand to mouth has been perfectly inescapable in about a week - with more weeks in the offing more to drive that lesson home.

Finishing 6 papers in 2 weeks should not be allowed

On a related note: This pandemic is also a sobering test of which experts (mostly from academia) can exert political influence and which cannot—no matter the quality of their ideas and recommendations.

I gather that many economists used to envy Larry Summers for his ability to capture the ears of politicians. Maybe it was simply because he was smarter than other economists, but I don't think politicians can tell the difference between the smartest economist and the tenth smartest economist. Skills of political persuasion are proving to be underrated.

+1. Excellent is implicit in everything going on, but I wonder how many people will consciously think about this.

"It may or may not be a measure for their ordinary performance on the job."

Well, which?

If it's not, then that rather invalidates the rest of this article, no?

I am reminded of the movie The Postman. Where the sociopathic warlord confides to Kevin Costner that he used to be a copier salesman

What about current business owners that are seeking new opportunities vs. owners that are completely closing up?

I guess your super productive friend was not teaching classes this semester or had a very easy transition to online teaching. Everyone at my university has had a very busy couple pf weeks learning about the online teaching world, we are nudged to do synchronous delivery. Once the semester ends, I can see that research productivity will rise significantly. Got a couple of R and R's waiting, but have had no time recently.

There are so many different circumstances in this crisis. A retired (nearly) empty nester may have a pretty easy time. Someone living in a tight apartment, laid off from their job, may have it the worst. As bills arrive in the mail.

In that light, the "median" experienceof working from home and trying to be productive doesn't look so bad.

In fact it may not be median, it may be relatively privileged.

Speaking of counting our blessings,

"A 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who became the first teen believed to have died from complications with covid-19 in the U.S. was denied treatment at an urgent care clinic because he didn’t have health insurance."

(I'm pretty sure at least ten of you guys told me that never happens in America.)

Is this not well-known for urgent care clinics? That they aren't required to treat? Show me an emergency room that denies care and that's a story.

Sad about the kid though. As someone who rarely consumes medical services, I would definitely be confused between clinics/hospitals/etc. and where was the correct place to go.

What I think it shows is that we tolerate that the American Medical "System" isn't really a system. It's a market.

And if you want every child to have walk-in care, you need a system.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the boy was treated in hospital but was released without being tested for coronavirus. He was then admitted to a second hospital where he died from septic shock, a reaction to a widespread infection that can cause dangerously low blood pressure and organ failure.

This is why you don’t cite Gizmodo, and why it hasn’t been picked up in the media.

If I am honest with myself, it is affecting my productivity. Or... I realize that I have a tiny mouth piece and can only comment on blog posts in an effort to provide what little impact I can. Initially in February it was to get the message out that millions of lives were at stake if we didn’t take this serious.

Now, I should probably leave it to the people with big mega phones and work on being as productive as I can in what I do. I am finding it slightly harder to concentrate as I adjust to the new normal.

I just don’t like being isolated from family and friends tho. It is affecting my mental state a bit even tho I realize it and am trying to figure out how to deal with it rationally.

So far, I am not doing as well as I know I need to. I wish I was naturally better at not caring about knowing about the slow motion car wreck I am watching happen before my very eyes.

I know we will eventually win, it’s just going to be as miserable getting there I as knew it would be. Ignorance is bliss. I wish I were more ignorant in this case.

"people spending all their time hyperventilating......... David Brookings"

Nice segue.

Doesn't matter who wins the Challengers. Still going to lose to Carlsen anyway. Who wants to be first loser? Maybe that's more stressful since they're more likely to remembered only for losing to Carlsen as opposed to fading into obscurity.

The Winawer is bad now? What changed the eval of it?

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