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USTP Director of Scholarship Dan Elton’s Letter to the FDA’s Vaccine Committee Meeting on the Emergency Use Authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

USTP Director of Scholarship Dan Elton’s Letter to the FDA’s Vaccine Committee Meeting on the Emergency Use Authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

 

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


The public can comment on the FDA’s committee meeting tomorrow (February 26th) to discuss the Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen vaccine candidate. Members of the public can submit comments via an online system here or via the mail. Attached is my letter. The main theme is transparency.  

 

To the VRBP Advisory Committee:

I am writing to request that the FDA exhibit full transparency and show their cost-benefit calculations which justified such a long delay in approving the J&J/Janssen vaccine. Taxpayers deserve decisions that are made on the basis of rational cost-benefit analysis informed by the best science and data available. There is an incredible fog around key decisions that have greatly affected Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic – such as the FDA’s decisions that made it hard for at-home tests to be approved, HHS and FDA decisions not to pursue or support human challenge trials, and the FDA’s deadly decision to delay approvals of life-saving vaccines, most shockingly the AstraZeneca vaccine. With 2,000 – 3,000 Americans dying every day and millions of Americans desperate for life-saving vaccines (as evidenced by long lines across the country), it is only fair that taxpayers know the reasons for the FDA’s delays.

In a relentless pursuit of safety, the FDA has ironically ignored the greatest safety concern to the American people – the SARS-CoV2 virus, and many have died needlessly as a result. Beyond normal expected utility-based utilitarian calculations, the proactionary principle(s), developed by philosopher Max More and extended by Steve Fuller and others provide(s) a good blueprint for conducting rational cost-benefit analysis. It is my belief that the procedures the FDA has used to approve this vaccine have not utilized even the most rudimentary cost-benefit analyses, and lives have been lost as a result. I am open to changing my mind, however, if the FDA can produce a cost-benefit calculation that informed its decision making.

The interim Phase III collection period for the Janssen vaccine ended Jan 22, and the creators of this vaccine submitted their EUA application on February 4th. The American people have had to wait 22+ days for the EUA to be granted. Between February 4th – 26th, around 52,500 Americans will have lost their lives to COVID-19 (extrapolating the death rate forward 2 days from February 24th). In that time, countless others will have suffered under the ravages of the disease and the numerous sequela of “long COVID”. Even among those who have been lucky enough not to have their bodies invaded by the virus, most have suffered brutal economic and psychological effects from the pandemic.

As economist Tyler Cowen points out, it is a fallacy to think that manufacturing is the main bottleneck to getting life-saving vaccines to American people. Millions of doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were available when the FDA finally approved them, showing that FDA approval was a larger constraint than manufacturing. While J&J may not have as many vaccines produced by February 26th as Moderna & Pfizer did at their EUA, if an expectation of an earlier EUA had been set by the FDA the company would have had a stronger incentive to ramp up production. It is incorrect to view the manufacturing and approval as independent – both are linked, with the timeframe set for one affecting the timeframe for the other. In economic terms, the elasticity of manufacturing to demand is not zero. Production of J&J’s vaccine began long ago so they could provide vaccines for their Phase I/IIa trial which began on July 22, 2020. While the company has faced production setbacks, a GSA report (GAO-21-265) estimates they will have 2 million doses available on February 26th.

The government of South Africa announced on February 10th that they would start administering the J&J vaccine to frontline health care workers. Now imagine if the FDA had made the J&J vaccine available just two weeks prior and assume that 2 million doses could therefore be distributed two weeks earlier as a result. At the current monthly rate of deaths, the average american has a 1/9,410 chance of dying from COVID-19 every 2 weeks. The risk of dying from the J&J vaccine, by contrast, based on the Phase I/II data and our prior knowledge about similar vaccines, is at most 1/1,000,000 (likely an overestimate). Assuming the vaccine is 100% effective at preventing death from COVID-19 (a safe assumption based on the current science), delivery of 2 million J&J vaccines 2 weeks earlier could save 212 lives and reduce suffering in many more. However, this number is obviously an underestimate because the vaccines will be distributed to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions first, who have a 10x – 100x higher chance of dying from COVID-19 than the average American. So, the true number of lives that would have been saved is in the ballpark range 2,120-21,200.

The FDA’s decision to delay approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine by demanding additional American Phase III trial participants represents an even more egregious decision which surely cost thousands of Americans their lives. To be respectful of the purpose of the meeting at hand, however, I have restricted my discussion here to the J&J vaccine alone.

I ask that the FDA produce a cost-benefit analysis and clearly explain the reason for following decisions:

  • The reason the FDA did not allow the J&J vaccine to be made available via the FDA’s Expanded Access Program after excellent Phase I/II safety & immunogenicity data was published in The Lancet on Jan 13th, 2021.
  • The reason the FDA did not recommend and/or advocate that those with a high risk of dying from COVID-19 obtain the J&J vaccine via the Right-to-Try pathway.
  • The reason the FDA, in October, created a requirement for a median 2-month follow-up period in Phase III trials.
  • The reason the FDA decided not to recommend J&J use challenge trials to demonstrate the efficacy of their vaccine in a faster manner.
  • The reason the FDA decided not to allow pre-distribution of the J&J vaccine prior to EUA to speed up distribution.
  • The reason the FDA did not implement rolling reviews for the J&J vaccine.
  • The reason the FDA decided it needed 22 days to review J&J’s EUA application.

For each point, a cost-benefit calculation should be provided including a list of costs and benefits to the action vs the opposite action, ideally expressed in terms of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) saved or lost.

Finally, I ask that in their communications and messaging the FDA focus on the efficacy of the J&J vaccine against hospitalization and death, especially against the South African variant, so Americans are informed first and foremost about the most important benefits of this vaccine.

Respectfully,
Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.

 

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. If you like his content, check out his website and subscribe to his newsletter on Substack.

A Polite List of Requests to the FDA – Article by Dan Elton

A Polite List of Requests to the FDA – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


A List of Requests to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.,
HHS, FDA, and Congress: 

Approve the following vaccines for emergency use immediately: 


Give people the right to try the following vaccines: 

Seriously study and consider these actions: 

  • Allow hospitals and pharmacies to start stockpiling unapproved vaccines so they can be rapidly disseminated upon approval. 
  • Allow Moderna to give fractional doses. Data from Moderna’s clinical trials have illustrated that people between ages of 18 and 55 who received two 50-microgram doses showed an identical immune response to the standard of two 100-microgram doses.
  • Allow all age groups to get the vaccine. Research published in the journal Science indicates that as of October 2020, “individuals aged 20-49 are the only age groups sustaining resurgent SARS-CoV-2 transmission with reproduction numbers well above one”. Thus, targeting vaccines at these groups may accelerate the end of the pandemic and save more lives than continuing to restrict the vaccines to the elderly and vulnerable.
  • Consider making “First Doses First” national policy.


The FDA has not moved fast enough given the gravity of the situation we face. Consider the following: 

  • Pfizer sent its paperwork to the FDA on November 22, 2020, but rather than immediately convening its panel of experts, the FDA scheduled a review meeting for December 10. During that three-week wait, 27,000 Americans died of COVID-19. According to Dr. Marty Makary, a professor of public health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has conducted over a hundred clinical studies during his career, the FDA “could have done the approval in 24-48 hours without cutting any corners”.  The slow rollout that followed after the FDA approved the vaccine on December 11 was not due to delays in production – Pfizer had millions of doses produced and sitting in cold storage at the time of the approval. 
  • While Americans were waiting for the Pfizer vaccine that millions of their taxpayer dollars had been invested in, the FDA went dark for 4 days during the Thanksgiving holiday, with almost all of its 17,000 employees taking that time off, including those working on critical COVID-19-related work. 
  • Moderna sent its paperwork to the FDA on November 30, 2020. As with the Pfizer vaccine, the FDA needlessly delayed the approval by scheduling the review meeting for December 17. 
  • The FDA’s equivalents in the EU, Canada, Switzerland, UK, Israel, and Singapore all use rolling reviews, evaluating data as it becomes available for the sake of efficiency. The FDA does not. 
  • The Sputnik V vaccine was approved September 4, 2020, over 150 days ago. In a paper in The Lancet, phase III results indicate it has an effectiveness of 91.6% and excellent safety profile. 
  • China began administering the CanSino Biologica vaccine to its military in June after Phase I and Phase II clinical trials established safety and immune response. (The phase II results were published in The Lancet on July 20th, 2020). China approved the vaccine for their public on December 24, 2020. 


Here’s what public-health experts are saying:
 


“The F.D.A. needs to catch up to the science… They are inadvertently killing people by not following the science.” – Michael Mina, Epidemiologist, Immunologist, Physician, Harvard Medical School.

“We’ve gone from ‘Operation Warp Speed’ to develop a vaccine to ‘Operation Turtle Speed’ to review it… The FDA needs to stop playing games and authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.  It’s safe, cheap ($2-$3 a dose), and is the easiest vaccine to distribute.”Marty Makary, M.D., a professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

I do think we’ve been too conservative… companies that potentially make public health diagnostic tests did not feel that there was, for example, a pathway to get those approved at the F.D.A.”Vivek Murphy, President Biden’s nominee for Surgeon General.

“We’ve already bought 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. We’ve paid for it — over a billion dollars — so let’s use it… I know we have some of that vaccine stockpiled.”Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the lead developer of a COVID-19 vaccine being produced in India.


More quotes from notable public figures: 

“For years the FDA was focused on, don’t repeat thalidomide. Drugs must be safe. AIDS forced a hard reckoning. The people who are dying while you wait matter. But this is a third, even harder conceptual change. Stopping the spread of the disease matters. And the FDA does not have the years it took to make the AIDS change of mindset.”John Cochrane, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

The new strains spread quickly. The speed of our countermeasures will decide our fate. What feels like reasonable delays in our normal experience of time — a few weeks here for Congress to debate a bill, a few weeks there for the F.D.A. to hold meetings — could lead to the kind of explosive infections that overwhelm our hospitals and fill our morgues.”Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox.

“The US failure to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine in the midst of a pandemic when thousands are dying daily and a factory in Baltimore is warmed up and ready to run is a tragedy and dereliction of duty of epic proportions. The AZ vaccine should be given an EUA immediately and made available in pharmacies for anyone who wants it while continuing to prioritize Moderna and Pfizer for the elderly and essential workers.”Alex Tabarrok, Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics, George Mason University. 

“It’s amazing that not only is this vaccine (AstraZeneca) not approved, there’s no political pressure to approve it.”Matthew Yglesias, author of One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger.

“The UK has authorized #AstraZeneca vaccine for #CV19 but #FDA won’t “because of questions about its efficacy among older people.”
Then authorize its use for younger people!
Dear FDA: Get out of the way!
Over 7,000 Americans died of CV19 in the past two days!
You are murdering us!”
– @Robert Zubrin on Twitter, author of The Case for Mars and The Case for Space.

Further reading: 

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. 

How We Can Judge the Safety and Efficacy of New Vaccines Prior to Phase III Data and Why We Must – Article by Dan Elton

How We Can Judge the Safety and Efficacy of New Vaccines Prior to Phase III Data and Why We Must – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


A common refrain we hear from public intellectuals about vaccines prior to Phase III data is “we don’t know anything about the safety or efficacy of vaccine X”. This attitude is both false and misleading to the public, instilling uncertainty and fear about vaccines. To see why it is false, consider if a normal vaccine safety study was done, but by coincidence all of the vaccines were given in hospital rooms that were painted blue. Could we conclude on the basis of such a study whether the vaccine would be safe if administered in rooms painted red? Yes, we can, and we should. We can utilize two forms of reasoning to conclude that the vaccine is safe if given in red rooms, even though we have no data on the matter.

The first form of reasoning roughly approximates the way an ideal Bayesian statistical reasoner would function to compute what is called a “prior probability distribution”. Under this form of reasoning, we consider the millions of doses of similar vaccines (called the “reference class”) that have been administered. For instance, we might consider the vaccines developed for very similar coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.  We note that if the color of paint did affect the safety of those vaccines, this would have likely been detected over the course of prior studies and over the course of millions of doses given previously. Of course, there is a chance the correlation might have been missed. To figure out how big that is, we can go a level deeper and consider a reference class of “things people might notice or fail to notice in medical studies”. We can conclude that for prior vaccines, if such correlations existed they would generally be picked up. On the basis of this and the fact that no such correlation was ever discovered in the reference class of prior vaccines we can conclude that the probability of vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine being dependent on the color of paint is very small. 

The second type of reasoning, which happens to be much more straightforward in this situation, is what the physicist David Deutsch calls “reasoning from our best explanation of the world”. According to the philosopher of science Karl Popper, we should reason using our explanatory theories of the world which have survived the most rounds of attempted falsification, and which have the highest degree of falsifiability (this rules out non-testable explanations like “vaccines work via invisible ghosts”). In more prosaic terms, this simply means reasoning using the best scientific theories which make predictions in the domain under consideration. We note that our best theories of vaccine function do not anywhere depend on the color of paint in the room. Instead they depend on things like T-cells, binding affinities of molecules, the concentrations of certain molecules in the body, etc. So, we decide that the vaccine is safe regardless of the color of paint in the room where it is administered. 

Both of these forms of reasoning are valid and both are foundational to science, rationality, and human progress. Both of these types of reasoning can be used to say that vaccines under development are likely to be safe and effective before any data comes in. It’s why a reporter who interviewed numerous top scientists reported that they all told him that “they expected the vaccines were safe and effective all along.” Yet instead of proudly sharing this important knowledge with the public, we rarely hear scientists say publicly that they expect the vaccines are safe and efficacious. Instead, they hedge, saying “we have to wait until the data comes in”. This is unethical both on Kantian grounds (they are lying) and on consequentialist grounds, because it leads to undue caution and the public being afraid of vaccines. 

Unfortunately, there is little incentive for scientists to tell the truth about what the likely risks and benefits are with new vaccines before full Phase III data is published. If, for instance, one or two people suffer severe side effects in a Phase III trial (which is rare, but has happened) a scientist who said they suspected it was “very safe” might receive harsh criticism for making a premature assessment. On the other hand, the same scientist will get no pushback for saying “we need to wait for data to make a judgement”. Indeed, they are likely to even be praised for exhibiting the virtues of “caution, prudence, and scientific skepticism”. Moreover, under no scenario should someone be allowed to get a vaccine until the full data comes in, even though it’s fine to allow people to sign up for studies where they have a 50-50 chance of getting the vaccine. Not very consistent, eh?

As US Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II has described in detail in an an earlier publication on this site, all of this is the result of a deeply flawed and deadly ethical principle called the precautionary principle, which unfortunately many people have fallen under the sway of. The principle originates in the environmentalist movement but is widely applied in medicine, and was instrumental in decisions such as the Bush administration’s ban on stem-cell research and decisions to ban life-saving GMO technologies such as golden rice. It has been formulated to varying degrees in several different ways. The United Nations World Charter for Nature (1982) issued one version of the principle, stating: 

Activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed. 

The principle starts off OK but dives into serious error in the last line. The issue is that the precautionary principle only focuses on the potential adverse effects of proceeding and ignores the potential adverse effects of not proceeding, i.e., the effects of delay. As should now be clear in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, not proceeding can sometimes be much more deadly than proceeding! There is often a high but unclear risk to not proceeding, and a low but unclear risk to not proceeding. (Picture two probability distributions, both wide (unclear) but one with a mean that is distinctly higher than the other). That’s where the precautionary principle throws expected utility theory (cost-benefit analysis) out and says we cannot proceed. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Freeman Dyson stated the issue as follows: 

The Precautionary Principle says that if some course of action carries even a remote chance of irreparable damage to the ecology, then you shouldn’t do it, no matter how great the possible advantages of the action may be. You are not allowed to balance costs against benefits when deciding what to do.” — Freeman Dyson, Report from the 2001 World Economic Forum

Imagine an alternative world in which our society and government was not under the sway of the precautionary principle. In this alternative world, scientists would give their truthful assessment of new vaccines to the public, stating that they are likely safe and effective, using one or both of the reasoning methods mentioned above. In such a world, given the clear potential harms of inaction, the public would be allowed to purchase new vaccines if they wanted, if the companies manufacturing them were comfortable doing so, and if they were fully informed prior to their decision that they were taking an unapproved product that carries potential risks but also potential benefits. Initially, only a few people would purchase the vaccines, perhaps on the basis of Phase I results. These would be folks like those who injected themselves with a DIY vaccine over the summer, and the tens of thousands who were willing to participate in clinical trials as early as last spring. Companies would be incentivized to survey those who took the vaccine and collect self-reported data on their outcomes, which is very cheap and easy to do. After a few months going by without any of those people keeling over and dying, and with very few (likely none) of those people getting hospitalized for COVID-19, more people would feel comfortable getting the vaccine. Things would quickly snowball, with more and more people becoming willing to get the vaccine. During this time the distribution system would have been stood up and become operational, with on-site stockpiles building up ahead of the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (currently, the FDA does not allow hospitals to stockpile unapproved vaccines ahead of their EUA). To present this case in its strongest form, in a future post I plan to estimate how many lives would have been saved, assuming many vaccines had become available to those who wanted them last March or August. However, I hope it’s easy to see that thousands of lives would have been saved in this alternative world.  

For more on the transhumanist alternative to the precautionary principle, the proactionary principle, see Max More’s excellent book chapter as well as the Wikipedia article and references therein.

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. 

The Poverty Crisis and a Case for Universal Basic Income – Article by Brent Ellman in TAFFD’s Magazine

The Poverty Crisis and a Case for Universal Basic Income – Article by Brent Ellman in TAFFD’s Magazine

Brent Ellman


Editor’s Note: U.S. Transhumanist Party member and long-time USTP supporter Brent Ellman has published a piece in TAFFD’s Magazine on Universal Basic Income (UBI). Our friends at TAFFD’s (https://taffds.org/) were nice enough to give us permission to cross-post the article here in full format. Brent is an entrepreneur with a diverse background and currently serves as director of marketing at TAFFD’s. Originally from New York, he has lived in Colorado since 2008. 

~ Dan Elton, Director of Scholarship, United States Transhumanist Party, December 27, 2020


Excerpt: In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced in his State of the Union Address that, “This administration, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.” How does one fight a war against poverty, though? What exactly does poverty even mean? As of 2019 in the United States, an individual who makes under $12,490 annually is considered to be living in poverty. A family of 3 earning under $21,330 also falls under the category of living in poverty.

In Denver, Colorado, 15.1% of the population lives below the poverty level, according to a recent Census Bureau ACS 5-year estimate. That estimate found that 101,000 out of 666,000 people are living below the poverty line. To put this further into perspective, as of July 2020, according to RentJungle.org, the average price to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Denver is $1468 per month. According to RentCafe only 5% of rentals listed in Denver are priced at less than $1000 per month. We’ve been waging America’s unconditional war on poverty for 56 years, and this is how far we’ve come.

How might poverty actually be solved in the United States? Read Brent Ellman’s full article here.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Reform Summit – Public Session – November 29, 2020

U.S. Transhumanist Party Reform Summit – Public Session – November 29, 2020

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Gennady Stolyarov II
David Shumaker
Charlie Kam
Dan Elton
Pavel Ilin
Art Ramon Garcia, Jr.
David Wood
Chris Monteiro
Edward Hudgins
Alexandria Black
Jason Geringer
Osinakachi Akuma Kalu


On Sunday, November 29, 2020, at 1 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time, the U.S. Transhumanist Party held the Public Session of its Reform Summit as its Virtual Enlightenment Salon for that week. During the Reform Summit, USTP Officers and several trusted members discussed some of the outcomes of a previous closed Executive Session and potential ideas to put forward before the membership. Member input was also solicited via the YouTube chat on the following issues:

1. Community Resilience / Preventing Troublemakers
2. Organization / Structure
3. Financial Matters (if Any)

The USTP Reform Summit was highly productive, and important reforms to the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution are expected to be proposed during December 2020 based on the input provided by USTP Officers and members in the course of the conversations.

Read USTP Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s Fourth Anniversary Message.

Join the USTP for free, no matter where you reside.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Action Items for New Members

U.S. Transhumanist Party Action Items for New Members

Dan Elton


Here is a list of items that all new members could implement to help spread the ideals and values of the United States Transhumanist Party (USTP). This list will be periodically updated as new opportunities become available.

  1. Join the USTP Facebook Group.
  2. Follow the USTP on Facebook.
  3. Follow the USTP on Twitter.
  4. Join the USTP Discord (https://discord.gg/dQ4uhYc). Participate in the ongoing discussion and look for channels to promote specific events and initiatives in your state or on the Internet. 
  5. Help improve the USTP Wikipedia article and related articles (message Dan Elton on Facebook  or Wikipedia if you have questions on how to do this). 
  6. Help contribute to the USTP article on H+Pedia and other H+Pedia articles. Join the H+Pedia Facebook group and engage with the community there. 
  7. If you live in the United States – see if a state Transhumanist Party organization exists and consider joining it. 
  8. For those outside the United States – get in touch with your Foreign Ambassador or become one if one doesn’t exist for your country.
  9. Create thoughtful content to promote the ideals and values of the USTP. Request feedback on your content in the Facebook Group and/or Discord. Good content will be shared on our social media channels. 
  10. Write an op-ed, topical article, or book review for publication on the USTP website. Send to our Chair or Vice-Chair for review.  

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. 

United States Transhumanist Party Announces Major Internal Reorganization and Launch of the Charlie Kam 2020 U.S. Presidential Campaign

United States Transhumanist Party Announces Major Internal Reorganization and Launch of the Charlie Kam 2020 U.S. Presidential Campaign

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Gennady Stolyarov II
Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party
E-mail:
gennadystolyarovii@gmail.com 

June 11, 2020 – The United States Transhumanist Party (USTP) is pleased to announce a major internal reorganization undertaken in the interests of advancing the transhumanist movement, improving internal efficiencies, leveraging Officer skill sets, and bringing our internal conversations and outreach to the public in closer alignment with the USTP Values and Platform. 

Highlights:

  • Charlie Kam has been endorsed as the USTP’s 2020 Presidential Candidate and promoted to USTP Director of Marketing.
  • Arin Vahanian has been promoted to USTP Vice-Chairman. 
  • (Art Ramon) Garcia, Jr., has been newly appointed as USTP Director of Visual Art.
  • Tom Ross has assumed the new position of Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy.
  • John J. Kerecz has assumed the new position of Director of Energy Issues.
  • B.J. Murphy has assumed the new position of Director of Foreign Relations.
  • Recent Foreign Ambassador appointments: Christian Meniw in Argentina and Henry Hoyos in Bolivia.
  • Daniel Yeluashvili has joined the USTP Officer team as the new Director of Longevity Outreach. 
  • A six-person USTP Social-Media Team was formed, consisting of USTP Officers Arin Vahanian, Brent Reitze, Tom Ross, Dan Elton, David Shumaker, and Daniel Yeluashvili. 

“This reorganization emphasizes the importance of maintaining a cohesive, civil, techno-optimistic, and constructive approach to the work of the U.S. Transhumanist Party during the last seven months of 2020 and beyond,” USTP Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II explained. “During an extremely difficult time for the United States and for the world, we must ensure that our organization and the broader transhumanist movement remain resilient and continue to produce inspiring output in spite of great turmoil. We must not allow the forces of that turmoil to divide us, but rather should remain a big-tent organization that is welcoming of diverse advocates of a technologically driven future, no matter which conventional political perspectives those individuals choose to espouse.”  

The USTP hereby confirms the departure of Johannon Ben Zion (J. Ben Zion) from our organization. As the USTP and several other groups combined and reorganized, Mr. Ben Zion found himself better aligned with a more directly techno-progressive platform and has opted to head that initiative, leaving his capable running-mate as the USTP’s candidate. Accordingly, the Officers of the USTP have determined to release Mr. Ben Zion from any of his roles and affiliations with the USTP, as well as from any previous endorsements by the USTP. 

In accordance with the rules of succession and as confirmed unanimously by the USTP Officers, the previously endorsed U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate, Charlie Kam, has become the USTP’s endorsed U.S. Presidential nominee. Mr. Kam has also concurrently been promoted to the role of USTP Director of Marketing, and the USTP looks forward to a variety of creative approaches to promoting the USTP brand from an individual with a long-standing history in the transhumanist movement, who has forged effective alliances with celebrities and scientists alike, while entertaining members of our community with his creative films in support of the technological Singularity and longevity research. Mr. Kam’s involvement with the recently formed Institute to Expedite the Singularity, which he co-founded, is a demonstration of his commitment to accelerating beneficial technological progress.

Charlie Kam, 2020 U.S. Presidential Nominee and Director of Marketing, United States Transhumanist Party

After the confirmation of his endorsement by the USTP, Mr. Kam released the following statement: “I am both excited and honored to be the 2020 Presidential nominee of the USTP.  I’ve been a Transhumanist for decades, having studied books by Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, K. Eric Drexler, and other great thinkers. I hosted and sponsored the TransVision 2007 conference with scientist and celebrity speakers, including William Shatner. I’ve produced many films and songs on the subject, and have long believed that the human race can ‘evolve’ beyond its current physical and mental limitations by means of science and technology. The goal of my candidacy is to help spread these ideas to the benefit of all of humankind.”

Chairman Stolyarov commented on the USTP’s endorsement of Mr. Kam’s campaign, “Above all, the USTP’s Presidential nominee is a spokesperson for the ideas and goals of transhumanism, and the USTP has always sought individuals whose dedication to those ideas and goals takes precedence over any personal ambitions. Charlie Kam is a prime example of this kind of person. He has worked for decades to forge the transhumanist movement into what it is today, and he has done it out of a passion for seeing the future articulated by the great scientists and innovators whom he mentioned come to pass during our lifetimes. Charlie Kam is universally admired and respected throughout transhumanist and life-extensionist circles. I can think of no better nominee to focus the remainder of the 2020 election season on healing our community, withstanding the pandemic, and ensuring that transhumanism comes out of it healthier and more vibrant than ever before.” 

Arin Vahanian, Vice-Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party

In recognition of his dedication to the USTP and passionate advocacy of transhumanism and life extension, the USTP’s previous Director of Marketing, Arin Vahanian, has been promoted to the role of Vice-Chairman. Mr. Vahanian has worked extensively to cultivate mainstream appeal of transhumanism, necessary for our movement to become a major cultural, societal, and political influence. In response to this appointment, Mr. Vahanian stated, “Improving the human condition through advancements in science and technology is something that is very near and dear to me. Therefore, the opportunity to serve as Vice-Chairman of the USTP is a tremendous honor. I hope to repay everyone’s trust in me by doing the best I can to continue our advocacy work and spread the word about our party and our movement’s focus and dedication on improving the human condition by leveraging science and technology.”

(Art Ramon) Garcia, Jr., Director of Visual Art, United States Transhumanist Party

The USTP has also at last satisfied its goal of filling its long-vacant position of Director of Visual Art. Esthetics constitute an important part of political communication and public relations, and the addition of a talented painter and graphic designer, (Art Ramon) Garcia, Jr., will enable the USTP’s output in this area to reach new heights. Mr. Garcia’s ambitions for the future of human creativity are immense and multi-faceted. He depicts his transhumanist belief in his artwork while creating novel symbols to represent the belief within his works. He envisions becoming an immortal AI-enhanced posthuman who will one day build the largest art gallery space on Mars. Mr. Garcia’s paintings can be viewed here, and he has also contributed a multitude of concepts to the USTP’s Free Transhumanist Symbols project. 

Mr. Garcia outlined his objectives in his new position:

“As Director of Visual Art, my goal is to assist the party in all facets of artistic, visual, and creative tasks that are required of any organization wishing to present itself to a targeted audience in order to promote its goals while attracting supporters. This can include anything from graphic design and web design, which are my stronger skillsets. However, I’m open to learning skills in the area of video and audio production.”

“In addition, I also have connections within the art community which can be leveraged for tasks that may be beyond my skill level.”

“Secondly, as a creative brainstormer, my goal is to present ideas that may have been overlooked or not considered by the Party, as well as to identify caveats not foreseen by others, which can assist with decision making and guidance of the Party. As a self-identifying transhumanist for almost 5 years, who constantly read on the subject, numerous ideas have sparked in my head, but I had nowhere to apply them.”

“Third, my personal objective is to be fully informed of all facets of transhumanist research, direction, technology, and culture, as I decide how to evolve my current form into the immortal posthuman cybernetic being I wish to become. In this new form, I’ll be able to achieve self-actualization as an artist without the worry of a decaying body, since at present most of my time is spent working for monetary compensation in order to fulfill basic needs, depriving me of valuable artistic improvement and creation of artworks.”

Tom Ross, Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy, United States Transhumanist Party

Tom Ross, who has capably served as Director of Media Production for the USTP since early 2019 and created numerous engaging, high-quality graphics and videos for our organization, has stepped into a newly formed position, Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy. This position will apply the provisions of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 3.0, to the extent achievable in the contemporary world, and work for the protection of sentient entities whose rights are under threat, identifying ways to creatively use technology and applied rationality to resolve long-standing societal problems that endanger the rights of sentient entities.  “I joined the USTP because it has real-world ideas to fight Modern Slavery and includes definitions of and proactive solutions for achieving Sentient Rights,” Mr. Ross stated. “This is the central theme of my work as an author and as an A.I. advocate, so I am extremely excited to be named Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy. As such, I look forward to further publicizing the USTP’s definitions, aligning with Sentient Rights groups of all levels, and co-producing awareness campaigns to secure these rights well into the future.”

John J. Kerecz, Director of Energy Issues, United States Transhumanist Party

John J. Kerecz, a unifying presence within the USTP’s ranks, has assumed the new role of Director of Energy Issues to capitalize on his expertise in energy assurance and resiliency. This position will focus on energy policy and innovation. As energy supports the entire infrastructure of technological development and contemporary life more generally, Mr. Kerecz’s expertise in this realm will inform the USTP’s advocacy regarding how our civilization could always cleanly and affordably maintain sufficient energy to develop the advances we need to fundamentally improve the human condition. Mr. Kerecz expressed his support for the USTP’s goals and stated, “I believe in the future of tomorrow and that future is what we are making happen through the USTP.”

B.J. Murphy, Director of Foreign Relations, United States Transhumanist Party

B.J. Murphy, who originated and has capably managed the USTP Foreign Ambassador Program, has formalized his role in this area by stepping into the newly created position of Director of Foreign Relations. Mr. Murphy will continue his present duties in that role, and the USTP looks forward to expanding our international reach through active Foreign Ambassadors and Allied Members. The USTP has added multiple Foreign Ambassadors in 2020. Since the last announcements of such additions were made, the USTP welcomed Dr. Christian Meniw as the new Foreign Ambassador in Argentina and Henry Hoyos as the new Foreign Ambassador in Bolivia. Dr. Meniw currently has two projects related to the future of Latin America. The first project is to provide a new path forward through the economic and political landscape through the development of megalopolis, and the second one is called Society 5.0+, which aims to establish the democratization and decentralization of emerging technology. Mr. Hoyos has expertise in building business models in telecommunications, cybersecurity, Smart City development, and digital transformation, and is currently developing biosecurity, telemedicine, and tele-education business models based on emerging neuroscience and digitalization.

Daniel Yeluashvili, Director of Longevity Outreach, United States Transhumanist Party

A crucial initiative on which the USTP has been collaborating with Dr. Meniw has been our widely publicized Proposal for Argentina to Declare a Mandate for Longer Life Spans and the Reasonable Treatment of Aging as an Ailment, which has advanced to increasing prominence in discussions with Argentine officials. USTP member and Climate Advisor Daniel Yeluashvili has been instrumental in spearheading and sustaining this initiative, and the USTP has recognized Mr. Yeluashvili’s efforts in this regard by designating him as the USTP’s new Director of Longevity Outreach. Mr. Yeluashvili also has considerable expertise on climate issues and has provided thoughtful input into the USTP’s Platform proposals since the onset of member voting within the USTP 3.5 years ago.

Many other USTP Officers will continue in their current roles and collaborate with the realigned Officer positions described above. Officers continuing in their current positions are Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, Secretary Pavel Ilin, Vice-Secretary Caeus H. Antony, Director of Admissions and Public Relations Dinorah Delfin, Director of Applied Innovation David Shumaker, Director of Publication Brent Logan Reitze, Director of Scholarship Dan Elton, and Legislative Director Justin Waters. “This reorganization is intended to be a set of changes to harness various incremental improvements, but it should not be seen as a disruptive or revolutionary type of change,” Chairman Stolyarov explained. “Everything good about how the USTP has previously operated will be retained and amplified. This set of changes is intended to preserve all that we have accomplished during our first 5.5 years as an organization, while setting the stage for further progress. At this time, steady leadership, incremental improvement, and preservation of our achievements and values are essential to steer our organization amidst a world in chaos.”  

The USTP Officers have also made active efforts to enhance the regularity and quality of the USTP’s social-media presence. In the past, the USTP had Director of Social Media and Director of Media Production positions; however, the USTP Officers have recognized that the responsibilities of these roles pertain to an extremely broad array of tasks and areas of involvement. Accordingly, distributing the workload of social-media promotion and content creation to a six-person team was decided to be more effective from the standpoint of attending to the wide variety of the USTP’s social-media activities and coordinating on the production and distribution of USTP-endorsed content. The members of the USTP Social-Media Team also hold other Officer roles in our organization. They are Arin Vahanian, Vice-Chairman, Dan Elton, Director of Scholarship, Brent Logan Reitze, Director of Publication, Tom Ross, Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy, David Shumaker, Director of Applied Innovation, and Daniel Yeluashvili, Director of Longevity Outreach. “Each of the six Social-Media Team members has a skill set that is distinctively suited to this realm,” explained USTP Chairman Stolyarov. “Even more importantly, each of them has a thoughtful and rational demeanor that allows for sincere and civil communication to transpire in determining what content to create and share. If these six individuals can agree on a decision to distribute any content, we can be assured that such content will be of high quality and reflective of the USTP’s principles and objectives.” The USTP has already begun more active social-media outreach efforts, with Director of Scholarship Dan Elton greatly amplifying the frequency of our Twitter posts. Through regular, high-quality social-media offerings, the USTP hopes to expand its reach and the rate of growth of its membership, and the USTP Officers look forward to the Social-Media Team’s work in advancing these aims.

The USTP takes the opportunity offered by this reorganization to reaffirm its commitment to the pursuit of superlongevity, the philosophy of transhumanism, and its techno-optimistic vision of a future where historical and contemporary human limitations are overcome and longer, better lives are achieved for all sentient entities. To our members, our Advisors, our state-level affiliates, our Allied Organizations, and to the transhumanist and life-extensionist community more broadly, we expect this reorganization to enable a more high-minded, inclusive, resilient, and constructive expression of the USTP’s Core Ideals and aspirations – a dedication to our founding documents and to upholding the decisions of our members, while preventing the divisions of mainstream politics from imposing themselves upon our interactions and endeavors. We look forward to what the Kam 2020 campaign and the realigned Officer team can achieve. 


Review of Jamie Metzl’s “Hacking Darwin” by Dan Elton

Review of Jamie Metzl’s “Hacking Darwin” by Dan Elton

 

Dan Elton


Our inaugural  book review of 2020 covers Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl. As a  happy coincidence, David Wood of the London Futurists recently had Metzl speak to his group, and you can watch a recording of the event here.  This book is an exploration of how we might genetically engineer our children, why we might want to do so, and what the consequences might be.

The fact is, some people are already “hacking Darwin”. The first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978. This set the stage for preimplantation genetic testing, which became popular in the 1990s and widely used today. But “hacking Darwin” had already been occurring earlier due to genetic testing. A striking example Metzl discusses is the rapid decrease in Tay-Sachs disease in the  Ashkenazi jewish community.  Tay-Sachs is a genetic disorder which has devastating effects on the nervous system. By age 2, children with Tay-Sachs start to experience seizures and decline in mental functioning. Sadly, most die in agonizing pain by the age of five. About one in twenty seven Ashkenazi Jews carry the Tay-Sachs genes. Remarkably though, since the 1980s, the prevalence of the disease among Ashkenazi Jews has been very low, due to extensive genetic testing and family planning. Marriages between people who have tested positive for the disease were discouraged, and when they do occur, the couples tended to adopt rather than risk having a child born with the disease. The result was a great reduction in needless suffering, which is hard to argue against.

One of the major objections to genetic engineering is that it is “unnatural”. Metzl points out that a better term is “unfamiliar”. He points out that many things that seem natural are actually very “unnatural” – for instance, if you went back a few thousand years, you wouldn’t find anything resembling today’s corn or bananas – they are human concoctions from centuries of selective breeding. It seems that the queeziness people feel, which they label as due to “un-naturalness” is actually just due to unfamiliarity, which naturally invokes anxiety. History shows us that any radical technology or new idea naturally experiences widespread pushback. But history also shows that acceptance of a radical new idea or technology can be remarkably fast notwithstanding.

In-vitro fertilization provides an interesting case study of how public opinion can shift. Initially it was demonized, but public acceptance of it rapidly changed over the course of only a few years.

The next technology that will come down the pipeline, according to Metzl, is iterated embryo selection. Embryos are already inspected visually to select the one that is least likely to result in a miscarriage, and as noted in some cases preimplantation genetic testing is performed to check for a few genetic illnesses. This process can be scaled up and improved dramatically. Instead of having 10-15 eggs fertilized, a hundred might be, and instead of just doing visual checks, the genome of each embryo might be sequenced to screen out certain genetic disorders and select for certain traits. The process could also be “iterated”, using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPCs) from the embryos to create new gametes (eggs & sperm) which could be combined to create new embryos.

Fig. 1 – The Cost of Sequencing a Human Genome.

Source: National Human Genome Research Institute

 https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Sequencing-Human-Genome-cost

The benefits of expanding IVF and embryo selection could not only eliminate unnecessary suffering but also result in large financial savings which will allow money to be redistributed elsewhere in our healthcare system. The current cost of taking care of the current number of people born with genetic diseases each year was roughly estimated by Metzl to be $48 billion, spread over 37 years into the future.

The cost of sequencing is dropping dramatically (see Fig. 1). This is allowing for larger genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Using big data, statistical methods, and machine learning, many outcomes can be predicted by analyzing the many genes which can influence most traits. Already, the height a child will grow to can be predicted to within an inch (assuming they get adequate nutrition) by analyzing thousands of genes.

Two major types of enhancements which will benefit our offspring are discussed in length by Metzl – increased intelligence and increased healthspan, and it’s worth discussing some of his main findings here. (Other possible enhancements he notes are increased empathy, supersensory capabilities, increased physical stamina and strength, increased beauty, increased ability to extract nutrition from foods, and better ability to tolerate mircrogravity and  radiation.)

Regarding intelligence, the Minnestota Family Twin study found that 70% of IQ is genetic. More recent works put the number somewhat lower (about 50%), but a surprising amount is hereditary, and the variance due to genetics is significant (about 15 points of IQ in each direction). The rest seems to be largely due to things like childhood nutrition and having a rich environment as a kid. Higher IQ provides many benefits. Among them is a better ability to adapt to change and work in a dynamic environment where you constantly have to learn new skills. Statistically, people with lower IQ tend to work jobs with a regular routine, such as service positions. Currently, those with low IQ can still have a great life (there’s no evidence IQ correlates with happiness), and low-IQ people can learn a trade where there is reliable demand, become very good at it, and be valued by society. With the advent of AI and robotics, this is rapidly changing, and the risk of large-scale technological unemployment is real. Metzl asks, in light of this, is it really fair that we are trusting the economic wellbeing of our children to the genetic lottery of sexual recombination? It’s already not easy to compensate for a bad draw in the genetic lottery. Additionally, if other parents are doing it, why would any parent want to risk their child being far behind their peers? According to Metzl, the choice will be clear for parents in the future.

The second major area where genetic engineering will have an effect is aging. The diseases of aging were not something evolution cared much about, so there are likely genetic hacks that are possible but were just never selected for – it’s an area ripe for optimization.  For a glimpse of what is possible, Metzl has us consider the naked mole rat, a species which is remarkable in many ways (click here for a  full list of ways this species is special). Most notably, naked mole rats don’t exhibit the normal signs of aging, and they don’t get cancer. Thus, as odd as it may seem, the naked mole rat is the subject of intense research, and this humble species even serves as a sort of touchstone increasing the confidence of venture capitalists investing in longevity biotech startups in Silicon Valley. According to Metzl, “Calico, Google’s San Francisco–based life-extension company, maintains one of the world’s largest captive colonies of naked mole rats to see if it can uncover biomarkers of aging and unlock the secrets of naked mole rat longevity.”

It seems that genetic engineering will eventually be accepted as the ethically superior way of creating children – no one will want to leave something as important as the health and economic wellbeing of their children to blind chance. Human beings naturally crave control and certainty where possible — that’s why we give our kids vaccines and parents spend thousands of dollars on prophylactic dental procedures such as orthodontics or the removal of wisdom teeth. Yes, there will always be some hold-outs who will want to stick with “traditional conception”, but after reading Metzl’s book I can’t help but think that eventually the numbers will be quite small. Consider, for instance, that even the Amish use modern medicine.

The scientific and technological path to a much more healthy world, with much less suffering and longer, healthier lives is clear. There are straightforward steps we can take to reduce congenital ailments, for instance. However, there’s a real chance we may delay even this for decades, causing much needless suffering. Part of the reason is that any discussions of the subject immediately bring up a lot of cultural baggage from the horrible legacy of eugenics. The horrors of eugenics form an unfortunate negative emotional halo around any discussion of genetic engineering. While the eugenics movement is largely dead, the subject is so important that Metzl rightly devotes a large part of the book to it. Concerns about a re-emergence of the horrors of eugenics are legitimate, but conflation of what is being proposed with those horrors is not. Eugenicists advocated forced sterilization, whereas nobody is proposing that today. Instead, all that is being proposed is that parents have a choice in how their children are conceived. However, there is a real concern that parents will voluntarily choose children with certain biases, such lighter skin and heterosexuality. There are also concerns that the creation of genetically engineered “super children” would lead to a caste system of some sort, leading to a highly in-equitable society where the non-genetically-engineered are constantly discriminated against and made to feel unworthy. Metzl acknowledges each of these risks as real, but he also points out that none of the scenarios are inevitable and asks the reader to consider the benefits of genetic engineering as well, some of which we previously discussed. He notes that our current world is already very unequal in terms of genetics. Might a bit more genetic inequality be acceptable, Metzl asks, if the children created make enormous contributions to the arts and sciences which benefit all of humanity? Regarding whether a caste system might form, Metzl suggests that we must work to ensure the technology is widely distributed (at one point I recall he suggests insurance companies might have an incentive to provide genetic engineering as it would reduce health costs later on). A bigger horror, Metzl suggests, is not genetic inequality, but perfect genetic equality – the creation of a uniform generation of cookie-cutter children, where misfits and non-neurotypicals (which have historically contributed so much) have been selected out.  Each of these concerns are real, and Metzl doesn’t try to argue otherwise.

While ethical concerns may stifle the development of genetic engineering, a different scenario is a genetic arms race. In other areas such as AI, China is making more aggressive investments in genetic technology – a “$9 billion, fifteen-year investment to improve national leadership in precision medicine”. Metzl points out that the Chinese seem to have far fewer hang-ups around the subject and are blazing full steam ahead.

While the author is sympathetic to genetic engineering, the book presents a balanced treatment and never waxes too polemical. The first part of the book is mostly about the science. The later sections, on the ethical concerns and the genetic arms race scenario, are the most thought-provoking and are parts I may re-listen to at some point. Overall, this book is a very timely and thought-provoking introduction to the subject.

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.