Pseudonymity as a trivial concession to genius

Update (6/24): For further thoughts and context about this unfolding saga, see this excellent piece by Tom Chivers (author of The AI Does Not Hate You, so far the only book about the rationalist community, one that I reviewed here).


This morning, like many others, I woke up to the terrible news that Scott Alexander—the man I call “the greatest Scott A. of the Internet”—has deleted SlateStarCodex in its entirety. The reason, Scott explains, is that the New York Times was planning to run an article about SSC. Even though the article was going to be positive, NYT decided that by policy, it would need to include Scott’s real surname (Alexander is his middle name). Scott felt that revealing his name to the world would endanger himself and his psychiatry patients. Taking down his entire blog was the only recourse that he saw.

The NYT writer, Cade Metz, was someone who I’d previously known and trusted from his reporting on Google’s quantum supremacy experiment. So in recent weeks, I’d spent a couple hours on the phone with Cade, answering his questions about the rationality community, the history of my interactions with it, and why I thought SlateStarCodex spoke to so many readers. Alas, when word got around the rationality community that Cade was writing a story, a huge panic arose that he was planning on some sort of Gawker-style hit piece or takedown. Trying to tamp down the fire, I told Scott Alexander and others that I knew Cade, his intentions were good, he was only trying to understand the community, and everyone should help him by talking to him openly.

In a year of historic ironies, here’s another one: that it was the decent, reasonable, and well-meaning Cade Metz, rather than any of the SneerClubbers or Twitter-gangsters who despised Scott Alexander for sharing his honest thoughts on hot-button issues, who finally achieved the latter’s dark dream of exiling Scott from the public sphere.

The recent news had already been bad enough: Trump’s “temporary suspension” of J1 and H1B visas (which will deal a body blow to American universities this year, and to all the foreign scientists who planned to work at them), on top of the civil unrest, on top of the economic collapse, on top of the now-resurgent coronavirus. But with no more SlateStarCodex, now I really feel like my world is coming to an end.

I’ve considered SSC to be the best blog on the Internet since not long after discovering it five years ago.  Of course my judgment is colored by one of the most notorious posts in SSC’s history (“Untitled”) being a ferocious defense of me, when thousands were attacking me and it felt like my life was finished.  But that’s merely what brought me there in the first place. I stayed because of Scott’s insights about everything else, and because of the humor and humanity and craftsmanship of his prose.  Since then I had the privilege to become friends with Scott, not only virtually but in real life, and to meet dozens of others in the SSC community, in its Bay Area epicenter and elsewhere.

In my view, for SSC to be permanently deleted would be an intellectual loss on the scale of, let’s say, John Stuart Mill or Mark Twain burning their collected works.  That might sound like hyperbole, but not (I don’t think) to the tens of thousands who read Scott’s essays and fiction, particularly during their 2013-2016 heyday, and who went from casual enjoyment to growing admiration to the gradual recognition that they were experiencing, “live,” the works that future generations of teachers will assign their students when they cover the early twenty-first century.  The one thing that mitigates this tragedy is the hope that it will yet be reversed (and, of course, the fact that backups still exist in the bowels of the Internet).

When I discovered Scott Alexander in early 2015, the one issue that gave me pause was his strange insistence on maintaining pseudonymity, even as he was already then becoming more and more of a public figure. In effect, Scott was trying to erect a firewall between his Internet persona and his personal and professional identities, and was relying on the entire world’s goodwill not to breach that firewall.  I thought to myself, “this can’t possibly last!  Scott simply writes too well to evade mainstream notice forever—and once he’s on the world’s radar, he’ll need to make a choice, about who he is and whether he’s ready to own his gifts to posterity under his real name.”  In retrospect, what astonishes me is that Scott has been able to maintain the “double life” for as long as he has!

In his takedown notice, Scott writes that it’s considered vitally important in psychiatry for patients to know almost nothing about their doctors, beyond their names and their areas of expertise. That caused me to wonder: OK, but doesn’t the world already have enough psychiatrists who are ciphers to their patients?  Would it be so terrible to have one psychiatrist with a clear public persona—possibly even one who patients sought out because of his public persona, because his writings gave evidence that he’d have sympathy or insight about their conditions?  To become a psychiatrist, does one really need to take a lifelong vow of boringness—a vow never to do or say anything notable enough that one would be “outed” to one’s patients?  What would Freud, or Jung, or any of the other famous therapist-intellectuals of times past have thought about such a vow?

Scott also mentions that he’s gotten death threats, and harassing calls to his workplace, from people who hate him because of his blog (and who found his real name by sleuthing). I wish I knew a solution to that. For what it’s worth, my blogging has also earned me a death threat, and threats to sue me, and accusatory letters to the president of my university—although in my case, the worst threats came neither from Jew-hating neo-Nazis nor from nerd-bashing SJWs, but from crackpots enraged that I wouldn’t use my blog to credit their proof of P≠NP or their refutation of quantum mechanics.

When I started Shtetl-Optimized back in 2005, I remember thinking: this is it.  From now on, the only secrets I’ll have in life will be ephemeral and inconsequential ones.  From this day on, every student in my class, every prospective employer, every woman who I ask on a date (I wasn’t married yet), can know whatever they want to know about my political sympathies, my deepest fears and insecurities, any of it, with a five-second Google search.  Am I ready for that?  I decided that I was—partly just because I‘ve never had the mental space to maintain multiple partitioned identities anyway, to remember what each one is or isn’t allowed to know and say!  I won’t pretend that this is the right decision for everyone, but it was my decision, and I stuck with it, and it wasn’t always easy but I’m still here and so evidently are you.

I’d be overjoyed if Scott Alexander were someday to reach a place in his life where he felt comfortable deciding similarly.  That way, not only could he enjoy the full acclaim that he’s earned for what he’s given to the world, but (much more importantly) his tens of thousands of fans would be able to continue benefitting from his insights.

For now, though, the brute fact is that Scott is obviously not comfortable making that choice.  That being so, it seems to me that, if the NYT was able to respect the pseudonymity of Banksy and many others who it’s reported on in the past, when revealing their real names would serve no public interest, then it should also be able to respect Scott Alexander’s pseudonymity.  Especially now that Scott has sent the most credible signal imaginable of how much he values that pseudonymity, a signal that astonished even me.  The world does not exist only to serve its rare geniuses, but surely it can make such trivial concessions to them.

170 Responses to “Pseudonymity as a trivial concession to genius”

  1. Jay L Gischer Says:

    Yeah, I’m not as much a fan of SSC as you are, but I find it interesting, and worthwhile. I see no good reason for doxing Scott. I have enough engagement with psychiatry to understand why the field, and Scott, thinks this is necessary. If anyone has a good reason to choose pseudonymity, it’s Scott.

    He felt that as long as you couldn’t Google his real name and come up with SSC on the first page, that was probably good enough. But the NYT will break this now, and for no good reason.

  2. Garrett Says:

    Given, as you mentioned, the NYT’s previous agreements to keep the subjects of its articles anonymous (Banksy, but who can forget the countless anonymous political sources such as the “resistance inside the Trump administration”), it’s difficult not to see its decision to unmask Alexander as a simple tactic to get more clicks because it can.

  3. Arkton Says:

    That was beautifully written. As giant fan of S.Alexander I can only nod in agreement. Given that you already met the NYTimes writer in question, do you think you might be able to help to somehow defuse the situation and convince them to back off from doxing Scott?

  4. I Says:

    Its a source of good natured amusement that you and the other Scott seem to sing the highest praises of the other whilst downplaying yourselves in comparison. Though the other Scott seems superior to Freud and, perhaps, Jung. Presumably he knows what he’s doing when it comes to psychiatry and his own patients.

    Anyway, maybe he’ll go back to posting on LessWrong. In the meanwhile, if you’re reading the comments here the other Scott, please try and enjoy your unintentional vacation.

    P.S.
    Does saying “the other Scott” seem sinister?

  5. Scott Says:

    Arkton #3: I’m trying.

  6. Michael Says:

    ” Scott writes that it’s considered vitally important in psychiatry for patients to know almost nothing about their doctors, beyond their names and their areas of expertise”
    Part of the issue is that Scott mentioned his childhood struggles with OCD on the blog. Psychiatrists don’t want their patients to know that they suffer from mental illness because it might affect the patients’ trust in their judgement. Suppose that a patient learns Scott has OCD, googles OCD and learns that one symptom is being overly cautious when it comes to others’ safety. The next time Scott tells the patient not to do something, the patient might conclude that Scott’s just telling him not to do that because his OCD is making him overly cautious EVEN IF Scott has never had a symptom like that in his life.

  7. Sniffnoy Says:

    Concrete things to do and people to contact:

    1. Cancel your subscription if you have one. Be explicit about why. (Note: They make cancelling difficult, but you can apparently do it easily via the donotpay phone app or website. I don’t know if they let you specify a reason if you use them but I imagine they likely do?)
    2. Refuse to talk to any NYT reporters. Be explicit about why.
    3. Contact Pui-Wing Tam (NYT technology editor), email address pui-wing.tam@nytimes.com, or on Twitter at @puiwingtam. Be civil please.
    4. Contact Philip B. Corbett (NYT standards editor); unfortunately I can’t find an email address for him. He’s on Twitter at @CorbettNYT. Again, be civil.

    Worth noting: It may be useful to refer to this as “outing” Scott Alexander, rather than “doxxing” him (or not using any short term) in order to engage the correct journalist intuition (or so claims some guy on Twitter, anyway).

    It may also be worth reminding the editors that they have maintained pseudonymity for people in many other cases.

  8. John Michael Says:

    [B]ut doesn’t the world already have enough psychiatrists who are ciphers to their patients? Would it be so terrible to have one psychiatrist with a clear public persona[…]?

    I think Other Scott’s explanation of the situation gives a straightoforward response to that. Sounds like he already has lots and lots of patients, running the political gamut. He’s worried that the loss of his pseudonymity will damage his relationship with those patients.

    And if I may extrapolate/speculate a bit, I’m guessing Other Scott doesn’t like the idea that if he had been outed earlier, he may have never met those patients in the first place—and as such, I’m guessing he doesn’t like the thought of there in the future being whole groups of people he’ll never be able to fully connect with because of some stupid political difference.

  9. Douglas Knight Says:

    NYT decided that by policy

    Why do you say NYT has a policy? You contradict it at the end of the article. Is this some kind of Straussian deniability? I thought that your policy was to avoid lying when you could just be silent.

  10. Ayberk Says:

    As a big fan of SSC, I would like to first thank you for your support.

    I thought it might be a good idea to clarify that Scott Alexander did not doxx Cade Metz in his takedown notice—he explicitly refrained from doing this. I fully support your decision to refer to him by his name in your post, but I hope this does not give others the impression that it was Scott Alexander who revealed his name; he was kind enough to not do this.

  11. Metanonymous Says:

    Hi Scott

    Based on your interactions with Cade Metz how likely is it that he was already in the process of researching the SSC piece prior to June 4th when SSC published an article about the evils of paywalls on news sites ? I’d like to believe that neither he nor NYT would stoop to such petty retaliation but we live in very insecure times.

  12. Dan T. Says:

    I believe I talked to Cade Metz once (or maybe exchanged emails; it’s a long time ago and my memories are fuzzy). It was around 2007 when I was in the middle of a flap at Wikipedia where some were insisting it was “harassment” to even link to certain Wikipedia-critical sites, proposing a controversial policy called “BADSITES” and even enforcing it when it wasn’t actually enacted. I opposed all of this on the grounds of free speech and free inquiry. (See my essay: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dtobias/Why_BADSITES_is_bad_policy ) In hindsight, this seems to be one of the early skirmishes in what eventually became the big Culture War that’s engulfed the entire world, an early instance of cancel culture / deplatforming / unpersoning. Anyway, Cade Metz wrote a few articles on this flap for the British-based tech news site he wrote for at the time (maybe there’s a link somewhere in my essay) and I think he asked me for comments on it at some point. Opinions on those articles varied mostly by which side you were on; I generally liked them for calling attention to the repressive attitudes on the other side, but people on the other side accused him of sensation-mongering for clicks.

  13. Scott Says:

    Douglas Knight #9: They do of course have a policy. As often, the questions are about how they interpret and apply their policy, and how broadly they construe the exceptions to it, and whether they’re consistent in that.

  14. asdf Says:

    Metz is a malicious troll who spent years mongering drama about Wikipedia on The Register for cheap sensationalism points. It was still pretty dumb for TOSA (the other Scott A.) to not get a pseudonymity agreement up front as a condition of talking to Metz. “Senior Administration Official” somehow always manages to do that, even when interviewed at “undisclosed location”.

  15. Scott Says:

    Ayberk #10: OK. My reasoning was that

    (1) Cade Metz’s name was already easy to find on the SSC subreddit, and

    (2) Cade was about to publish a New York Times article (and it may still be published…) with the byline “Cade Metz,” to go along with the many other NYT articles he’s published under his byline.

    In any case, I hope my post made it extremely clear that Cade’s intentions were and are good ones, that he’s not to blame for this, and that any invective sent his way would be wrong and counterproductive.

  16. Sniffnoy Says:

    Another relevant figure may be Danielle Rhoades Ha (Danielle.Rhoades-Ha@nytimes.com, @daniellerha).

  17. Kevin Henderson Says:

    That was very well written. Hopefully all will work out. The world needs voices like yours and SSC.

  18. Anon93 Says:

    @Metanonymous #11: I was worried about a similar thing too. On June 16th Bari Weiss retweeted SSC’s defense of Steve Hsu on twitter. Given that Bair has a lot of haters among the NYT staff, I was wondering if this was a political assassination attempt. But anyway Jacob Falkovich says he was interviewed for the piece on June 1, so indeed before June 4 and certainly before June 16. I do not think there is any foul play, although given the current political climate it’s certainly understandable that people were suspicious.

  19. Darij Grinberg Says:

    Pardon my pedantry, but… the NYT actually did report on Banksy’s real name for no real reason ( https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/arts/design/banksy-identified-by-scientists-maybe.html ). To be fully fair, that report can be defended due to the interest in the methods used, and probably because Banksy was never at any danger of more than nuisance lawsuits. As to Scott Alexander, I take him at his word that he risks seeing all patient relationships destroyed as well as harrassment by an unknown number of haters and adoring fans.

    That said, it’s not like we don’t have better examples of pseudonyms the NYT has decided not to breach. These include a Chapo Trap House host, a Trump administration whistleblower and “a cranky blogger” who “crusades to preserve the ordinary in New York” (I guess I don’t speak New York if I have no clue what this means). (First two examples from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/new-york-times-threatens-to-out-science-blogger-after-protecting-identities-of-white-house-turncoats-and-chapo-trap-house-podcasters , third form https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/nyregion/a-cranky-blogger-crusades-to-preserve-the-ordinary-in-new-york.html .) I’m not saying the different policy regarding Scott Alexander is necessarily targeted malice; my bet is more on structural fuckery (such as the journo reporting on him not having enough clout in the office to exempt his sources from the real-name policy), but I’m not sure if the latter is actually better in any way.

    A year ago or so I still have been recommending NYT for factual coverage, particularly with really good journalists like Rukmini Callimachi and Zeynep Tufekci around. No longer.

  20. myst_05 Says:

    Sorry if its a stupid question, but… why did the Other Scott reveal his real name to the journalist, if he didn’t want it to be public? Or did the journalist track it down on their own and decide to publish it?

  21. Lew Quip Says:

    Is this a joke? It takes less than 60 seconds to find out his last name (I just tried). And if you google his real name you immediately find his blog. Is this about narcissm or what?

  22. anon Says:

    My next T-shirt will proudly read: Of course I backed it up! I’m not a monster! -SA

  23. Mike Says:

    Please remove the part where you mention that Alexander is Scott’s middle name. I (and likely many others) used to think it was a made-up name. Identifying it as Scott’s middle name would make it easier to others to identify him, going against his wishes of pseudonymity.

    Feel free to delete this comment.

  24. Scott Says:

    myst_05 #20 and Lew Quip #21: Indeed, other Scott’s real surname is not hard to find by googling, and I assume that Cade (being a journalist) found it. It’s just that—as Scott explained in his takedown post—he does not want his real surname to be published in the New York Times. One can sympathize or not, but whatever the reasons, you could say that he’s made his preference extraordinarily clear.

  25. Scott Says:

    Mike #23: Other Scott says right at the beginning of his takedown post that Alexander is his middle name.

  26. Daniel Reeves Says:

    Lew Quip #21: That’s not the case (I just tried). So, no, no joke!

    Mike #23: It makes sense to not aid and abet doxxers so I agree about not repeating that. But Scott Alexander himself states that partially identifying fact in the takedown notice. Still, I think you’re right: If the New York Times comes to their senses on this then hopefully Scott Alexander will take down the takedown notice and after that happens it would be better to minimize the proliferation of that partially identifying information!

  27. CC Says:

    Pragmatically speaking, once NYT publishes an article, there will be enough people who will unearth the real name and put it on Twitter or some other forum. My 2 cents.

  28. Leon Redway Says:

    To quote the NYT’s own former Journalist Judith Miller (Famous due to being imprisoned for refusing to reveal her source!):

    “If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press”

  29. Pseudonymity as a Trivial Concession to Genius | Hacker News Says:

    […] Pseudonymity as a Trivial Concession to Genius (scottaaronson.com) […]

  30. Pseudonymity as a Trivial Concession to Genius – Hacker News Robot Says:

    […] https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=4870 […]

  31. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott,

    What do you mean by “They do of course have a policy”? Why are you so sure? Do you mean in some tautological sense? I can produce lots of situation where I think the concept of policy breaks down. For example, read this and then tell me whether the MBTA has a shoes policy. MBTA isn’t a coherent agent. I think it is very difficult to make sense of the question of whether it has a policy.

    If we’re just talking about one reporter and one editor, then there is much less of an issue of coherence. But then, why talk about “policy”? Why not just say that the reporter claimed to be “just following orders”?

  32. Tanya Says:

    Quip #21: Most regular patients will not search for the (firstname) (middlename) (lastname). They are more likely to search for (firstname) (lastname), or Dr (firstname) (lastname) and if you do this, you will notice fewer entries come up that instantaneously establish the connection to a person who has no idea about the existence of the blog.

  33. uhoh Says:

    I think this can all be solved with a hack: Scott Alexander changes his legal name to Scott Alexander and uses his current legal name as his professional name. Plenty of precedence for this in women changing their legal names when they get married.

  34. RationalMan Says:

    Sorry but, as people mentioned, Scott himself didn’t exercise proper caution by any means. It’s unbelievably trivial to find his real name even for benevolent actors who don’t snoop around, it comes to you on its own at some point. He obviously wanted people to know who the real genius behind the pseudonym is, his narcissism wouldn’t allow him otherwise, just not get any attention from the mainstream for his less PC takes he always tries to couch under ten layers. You can’t have it both ways.

    Am I “blaming the victim”? Yes but that’s because I’m not an emotional SJW and I will blame you if you leave your door completely unlocked. In that regard, I also can’t help but feel that this is an outcome Scott was aiming for. He gets more exposure, more sympathy for himself and more hatred for the “blue tribe” he dislikes even if the piece were going to be sympathetic.

    It’s not a surprise that the SneerClubbers, as much as you hate them, didn’t do that but the NYT did. Those guys are also non-normies of a different kind, as such most respect the common norms even if all sides violate them sometimes.

  35. Paul Says:

    Thanks, Scott – great piece.

    Note: from what I can tell, Cade Metz isn’t the one making the call on this. This from Tom Shivers at UnHerd today:

    “But then I had an email from the reporter saying that the NYT editors wouldn’t let him write the piece without giving Scott Alexander’s real name.”

    Fingers crossed the editors see reason.

  36. Albert Einstein's Zombie Reincarnation Says:

    Pseudonymity is the refuge of cowards and other idiots on the internet.

    Your regular promotion of “sneerclub” twats as being even relevant to the discussion(s) is quite annoying, stop it

  37. Scott Says:

    AEZR #36: This is a warning. Further comments that consist of name-calling will be left in moderation.

  38. Anon93 Says:

    @Paul #35: I was looking around unherd, and it seems that Maajid Nawaz believes that BQP contains EXP, see https://unherd.com/2020/06/we-will-have-to-take-a-side-in-cold-war-ii/ “To put this into context, a quantum computer with ‘only’ 500 qubits would be able to encode more bits of information than there are atoms in the observable universe.” Scott, I fear that more people will start believing this now that you have changed the blog’s tagline! You should explain a bit of the basics of quantum computing to Maajid!

    Anyway, the unherd article is at https://unherd.com/2020/06/slate-star-codex-must-remain-anonymous/ where indeed there is “But then I had an email from the reporter saying that the NYT editors wouldn’t let him write the piece without giving Scott Alexander’s real name”. This seems potentially politically motivated. Also if this decision (i.e. the name reveal) was made after Bari retweeted Scott’s defense of Steve Hsu, now it looks again very very sketchy.

  39. marxbro Says:

    It is interesting how much of the Rationalist community turns against their “free speech” principles, in this case turning against a newspaper _potentially_ printing someone’s name (they haven’t even done it yet!). I guess some thing are too taboo to talk about in newspapers. Myself, I was never too into freedom of speech in the first place, so I’m ok with it.

  40. Arboster Kipling Says:

    While I’m not nearly as impressed with Scott Alexander as you are, I’d say you have the better Scott A. blog (when its focused on QC or your experiences at the Philadelphia airport), and while I agree it’s unfortunate that he’s decided to retire SSC for now, maybe this will make some feel the sting felt by those in the dissident community. A comment and a question; Comment: Trump’s temporary cancellation of H1-B visas will not be a “body blow” to American universities. I’ve worked with and regrettably hired H1-Bs and they will not be missing anything. The cheap labor lobby might suffer a bit during the worst unemployment crisis in decades-how sad. Genuine geniuses can apply for the O class of visas. We can let Paul McCartney tour without granting work permits to every Liverpudlian garage band, we have plenty of decent garage bands of our own. I would think given how serious you take the covid threat you‘d be against international travel especially that which is for the sole purpose of working in physical proximity as opposed to collaborating online. Question: Before all cached versions disappear and make SSC entries harder to find do you know if the other Scott ever grappled with Karl Popper’s or David Miller’s devastating criticisms of Bayesian epistemology?

  41. Doug S. Says:

    @marxbro #39: The New York Times certainly has the right to publish Scott Alexander’s last name, and I don’t think most members of the Rationalist community would dispute that. We just think that actually doing it makes them assholes and wish that they wouldn’t.

  42. Alexandre Zani Says:

    #39 This is not a free speech issue. Rationalists are arguing it is wrong to publicize Scott Alexander’s full name. Not that it needs to be banned.

    Also, given how prominently info-hazards feature in rationalists discourse, I would say they are not free speech absolutists at all.

  43. Scott Says:

    Arboster Kipling #40: As someone who’s recruited students and postdocs for over a decade, I can tell you exactly why your view about visas is catastrophically wrong. It’s because you can’t actually know who the “superstars” are—i.e., the sorts of people who might qualify for “O” visas—until it’s already too late to bring them over as postdocs. If you want to be a world leader in a given area of research—which, do you want American universities to continue being that, or not?—then you have to accept the most promising young people who apply to you, period. And those will generally come on J1 visas (if they’re postdocs). Where on earth they currently are is immaterial, and essentially none of them have “Beatles”-like accomplishments, because those accomplishments are still in the future. What you’re trying to do is maximize the chance that at least a few of your recruits, with the benefit of the environment that you provide them, will produce the spectacular accomplishments later.

    I should add: a huge percentage of the superstars will then remain in the US, continuing to add massive value here, provided we don’t make it too onerous for them (as, alas, we now are). Being a nation of immigrants is the fundamental structural advantage that we have over countries like China, and we’re now in the process of throwing it away.

    More immediately, there are thousands of researchers already admitted to postdoctoral programs in the US, who will now be unable to get J1 visas and come. It’s hard to overstate how much damage this is going to do—in the short term, obviously, but also for American universities’ credibility when they try to recruit in the future.

    As for covid, need I remind you that most of the world is doing much better than the US right now? China and the EU countries, for example, should be vastly more afraid of our visitors than we should be of theirs! We could have had covid as relatively under control as the rest of the industrialized world now does, but that would’ve required (among other things) a functioning Executive Branch.

  44. marxbro Says:

    “@marxbro #39: The New York Times certainly has the right to publish Scott Alexander’s last name, and I don’t think most members of the Rationalist community would dispute that. We just think that actually doing it makes them assholes and wish that they wouldn’t.”

    It seems like the Rationalists are essentially behaving as an outrage mob here and are trying to ‘cancel’ a reporter and an editor for using their Right to Free Speech. Calling them ‘assholes’ is part of this partisan split, pushing Rationalists to more and more extreme rhetoric. Scott Aaronson has written many articles against this exact dynamic, including one as recent as just a few days ago.

    Surely it would be more fitting if Scott Alexander published an article making a logical case in favor of keeping his name pseudonymous? Then the New York Times writers could simply read his case and change their minds if he makes a convincing enough argument. Deleting his blog basically seems like an admission that he is not interested in a dialogue.

  45. gkx Says:

    As far as I know the majority of SneerClubbers are ex-rationalists who grew disillusioned that rationalist/SSCers were talking way too much about the IQ of black people. The reason they got disillusioned is often because they started an actual scientific career and got dismayed to find out most evopsych is bunk, most rationalists have little understanding of evolutionary biology or population genetics and no one in the genetics community supports (or indeed has ever heard of) HBD. There are like dozens of posts that go like “hey guys I like SSC but what’s with all the racists larping as scientists in the comment section? I’m a grad student in popgen and would like to recommend the blog to my colleagues but can’t because they’d be grossed out by all the pseudoscience about the IQ of black people :(”

    Anyway, the point I’m trying to make Scott is that I have no idea why you think SneerClub is a conspiratorial nest of nerd-bashers, doxxers and other irrational and evil people when most of them *are* nerds who used to enjoy SA’s writing. Perhaps there’s no greater foe than a former friend.

  46. Scott Says:

    marxbro #44: But Scott did make logical arguments in favor of remaining pseudonymous—both privately to the NYT, and publicly on what used to be his blog. Alas, he also deleted his blog; I might wish he hadn’t but that’s obviously his right.

    As for angry mobs, carrying (verbal) torches and pitchforks to the NYT headquarters: well, Scott explicitly asked his fans to be polite and not do that! Like him, I’m quite worried about the possibility that some fans might ignore that request. That’s part of why I spent much of today (when I wasn’t with my kids) talking to both sides, doing what little I could to try and help broker a friendly resolution.

  47. marxbro Says:

    “But Scott did make logical arguments in favor of remaining pseudonymous—both privately to the NYT, and publicly on what used to be his blog. Alas, he also deleted his blog; I might wish he hadn’t but that’s obviously his right.”

    I don’t think those were particularly convincing points and I highly doubt they will be convincing to a journalist, a person who publishes information in exchange for money.

    Were you really being polite Scott Aaronson? You’ve called people who disagree with you politically everything from ‘Red Guard’ to ‘nerd-bashers’. I certainly hope you’re treating people with more respect these days, I think you’ll find that the average SneerClubber is just as nerdy as you, if not more so.

  48. Scott Says:

    gkx #45: Could you point me to anything by Scott where he even talks about the “IQ of black people”? (Since his blog is now down, using the wayback machine or whatever?) I’ve been reading SSC for years and I honestly don’t recall that.

    (I do remember a post where he threw out lots of different hypothetical examples of beliefs and behaviors, and asked the reader for a criterion to demarcate which ones were and weren’t racist. Is such a discussion itself racist? If so, then it would seem like moral philosophy itself is impossible, at least if the answers aren’t predetermined.)

    At risk of stating the obvious, Scott is not responsible for everything posted in his comment section, any more than I’m responsible for everything posted in mine. He does have a strong norm, it’s true, that terrible arguments should be answered rather than deleted when it’s feasible, but I’m not convinced that that’s a bad thing.

  49. Steve Sailer Says:

    Another writing psychiatrist, “Theodore Dalrymple,” writes under a pseudonym. But he also writes under his real name Anthony Daniels, as well as at least two other pseudonyms: “Edward Theberton” and “Thursday Msigwa.”

  50. gkx Says:

    #48 Scott: You’re right, Alexander has never explicitly stated that he believed blacks were genetically dumber. He did flirt with the idea, however, with a litany of adjacent statements, such as ‘IQ tests are unbiased’, ‘IQ is the best science we have on psychology’, ‘Most traits are heritable’, ‘People who claim the gap is due to racism are biased’, etc. All of this while being as educated in genetics as the rest of the HBD crowd, i.e. not at all, so the argument of ‘I’m just following the mainstream science here’ falls flat. But whether Alexander is racist is not the point.

    The point is that he kept entertaining the discussion with and tolerating HBDers for many years, and the few qualified people who did venture in the discussion and said ‘hey I actually publish in genetics and that’s not how it works at all, eminent genetics professors agree with me also wtf is with all the racism’ got dismissed as outgroup interlopers. Maybe he’s not a racist, but listening to the racists over the experts because the racists have been part of the ingroup for longer isn’t a good look.

    You’re also right that a discussion can’t be racist by itself, but there are such things as patterns. When you are unqualified *and* dealing with a touchy subject, the least you can do is listen to people with credentials before you use your huge platform to ‘discuss’. Just like we saw with covid, debate can be useless or downright harmful when any idiot just interjects and gives their opinion about chloroquine. Also, just like we saw with covid, field experts are a tiny, overworked and (as a former postdoc you probably know it too well) underpaid minority whose time is scarce and they probably don’t want to spend it debunking bad-faith actlrs on the internet. Therefore, the choice to maintain and nurture such discussions among laymen, many of them arguing in bad faith, *is* a conscious choice with consequences.

    So the people who can’t stand that ‘discussion’ anymore leave and join the sneerclub so they can vent. That’s all there is to it and I wish you’d realize it’s not a nexus of evil nerd-bashers.

  51. Simon Says:

    Regarding “In his takedown notice, Scott writes that it’s considered vitally important in psychiatry for patients to know almost nothing about their doctors, beyond their names and their areas of expertise. That caused me to wonder: OK, but doesn’t the world already have enough psychiatrists who are ciphers to their patients?”

    Speaking as a parent, I find the tendency of child mental health professionals (child psychologists, child psychiatrists, paediatricians) etc to not reveal much about themselves infuriating. I’m not talking about their personal life – I really couldn’t care less about their hobbies or religious beliefs or who they vote for. I’m talking about their professional views. For example, there are lots of debates about whether various mental health conditions (especially ADHD, ASD and bipolar) are overdiagnosed in children and adolescents. A minority of professionals speak out publicly on these debates (whether in the popular media or in journals), and so I can work out where they stand. But the majority of professionals don’t, so as a parent I am just left guessing. And, the ones who do speak out tend to either (1) practice nowhere near us, making them logistically infeasible; or (2) have a huge waiting list (a year or more). By contrast, the majority are just ciphers. Of course, one can always make an appointment and talk to them, but still one is sometimes waiting weeks for a costly appointment only to find someone whose approach doesn’t appeal.

  52. I Says:

    Scott #45:
    The perception other Scott believes in black-white IQ differences comes from a few posts and the priors people have on what kind of person would make those posts/claims. For many people,
    P(makes those kinds of posts| believes blacks are less intelligent than whites) >>
    P(makes those kinds of posts| doesn’t believe blacks are less intelligent than whites).
    Those posts are the ones concering Ashkenazi Jews have a very different IQ distribution than other peoples due to the high prevalence of genetic illnesses which happen to boost IQ.

    There’s also the post wondering why conservatives tend to say “the bitter truth” is that some people are just less intelligent and liberals tend to say there’s a blank slate and its just a matter of hard work and unfair bias when on other issues its reversed. Like liberals tended to say some people are just naturally overweight and we should help them because its not their fault. Conservatives tend to say they’re just lazy. Scott pointed this out and noted that even if you were a liberal and accepted some people are less intelligent, the need to be compassionate and supportive still holds. Either way, people should be helped so the debate is meaningless.

    Then there’s that one time he noted a small ethnic group in central asia, maybe Uzbekhis, just produce absurdly many outliers, blowing past the Ashkenazi.

    And finally, there are a large number of far right people on Scott’s blog who believe in this sort of thing and other Scott doesn’t say anything to them. Funnily enough, a lot of them think Scott is quite left-wing and believe they’re persecuted. Plenty of lefties have felt the analogous, mind you.

    In short, the kind of things Scott takes seriously and the restraint he shows in allowing unusual views a place in his garden raises fire people’s alarm bells. Presumably it because they just haven’t seen someone actually doing this stuff in good faith.

  53. I Says:

    #49
    Ah crud, that was meant to say Scott#48. Anyway, the reaction of many in the community is quite disappointing. And if this was a rightwing journalist, the reaction would probably be the same. At least its bi-partisan.

    Its good to see you keeping a level head Scott and attempting to smooth things over.

  54. Vanessa Kosoy Says:

    Lew Quip #21, RationalMan #34

    The point is not that it’s hard to find Scott Alexander’s legal name by searching for “Scott Alexander”, the point is that it’s hard to accidentally stumble into SSC by searching for the legal name. If the NYT piece goes through that might no longer be the case.

    Albert Einstein’s Zombie Reincarnation #36: I guess that “Albert Einstein’s Zombie Reincarnation” is your legal name?

  55. Paul Says:

    @Marxbro

    I can’t speak for others, but my “free speech” principles make me uncomfortable with someone losing their job for (say) having the wrong opinion on BLM protests. I’m confident that’s consistent with thinking that an NYT journalist should leave a pseudonymous blogger’s pseudonymity intact if they’re going to write a piece on that blogger.

  56. Mike Loukides Says:

    Just want to mention a historical parallel: _why (why the lucky stiff) was an incredibly weird and creative programmer in the Ruby community who insisted on pseudonymity. (_why was author of Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, among other things.) When his name was outed by a reporter (you can look it up on Wikipedia), he immediately took down all his web sites and removed himself from the community–we literally didn’t know whether he was alive or dead (and suicide wasn’t out of the question). Several years later, another reporter managed to locate him, and published an article saying “I’ve found him, he’s alive, he’s OK, don’t try to contact him.” That invasion of _why’s privacy was itself controversial, though it was comforting to know that he was still alive.

    I’m not sure what to make of this, except that Scott Alexander isn’t unique.

  57. Bunsen Burner Says:

    Scott #48

    “Is such a discussion itself racist?”

    Yes. That’s the world we live in now. Public discourse has become so shallow, with discussion taken over by signaling behaviour that simply allowing certain thoughts to enter your head is now evidence of racism. It’s the logical conclusion of a particular strand of left-wing thought started by Herbert Marcuse, one that has increased in efficacy due to the rise of immediate-response, no-think platforms like social media.

  58. David D Says:

    It’s worth mentioning that Scott Alexander has his entire website backed up, and can reinstate Slate Star Codex at any time. Surely he will reinstate SSC if the NY Times concedes to his demands.

    But let’s suppose the NY Times does not concede. Well, then they will be running a story about a blog with exactly one post, that complains about the poor journalistic practices of the New York Times.

    I don’t see many people discussing Scott Alexander’s brilliant, 5-D chess move here. Amidst discussion about freedom of speech, levels of anonymity, doctor-patient relationships, double-standards w.r.t. anonymity in the NY Times, and other repetitive talking points of this saga, I don’t see too much discussion about how an anonymous blogger has played a move that can force a major newspaper to bend the knee.

  59. Sam Says:

    @Michael #6: It’s not the case that Scott Alexander is worried about his OCD becoming known to his patients. I stumbled across his provider profile a little while back while looking for a psychiatrist, and he mentions it himself as a reason he joined the field.

  60. fred Says:

    “my patients – who run the gamut from far-left anarchists to far-right gun nuts”

    I’m actually very surprised that a professional psychiatrist would label and pigeonhole his “patients” in this way.
    I would think that a psychiatrist would consider the term “nut” the way a gynecologist would consider the “c-word”.
    Also, a burning passion for gun has really nothing to do with political leaning (correlation vs causation).
    Very weird…

  61. Gerard Says:

    gkx #45

    > most evopsych is bunk, most rationalists have little understanding of evolutionary biology or population genetics and no one in the genetics community supports (or indeed has ever heard of) HBD.

    I’ve seen a lot of comments on recent posts taking some very definitive positions, for example that the concept of race itself and/or that the possibility of measuring intelligence are inherently unscientific. Given my layman’s understanding of the current state of genetics and psychology it’s difficult for me to understand how anyone could take such positions, let alone hold them with such certainty. Could you help me to understand what/why evolutionary psychology is bunk and/or what irrational views are hiding behind this three letter abbreviation (with which I am unfamiliar): HBD ?

  62. Bunsen Burner Says:

    David D #58

    Thankfully the internet has a short attention span. I expect SSC to be back in a month or so.

  63. Bunsen Burner Says:

    fred #60

    That’s part of his problem with being outed. He wants a space outside of his professional life, where he can talk like an ordinary person, and not worry about being held to account for some slight professional misdemeanour. He is allowed to find some people to be “gun nuts” you know.

  64. Scott Says:

    David D #58:

      I don’t see many people discussing Scott Alexander’s brilliant, 5-D chess move here.

    Well, let’s first see whether it actually works!

  65. fred Says:

    Bunsen Burner #63

    Right, doctors are also regular people, often just as flawed, and everyone just agrees to pretend they’re above the fray (they act professionally and we call them “Doctor”), but not all of them carry their ethics outside of their practice, which can be sometimes quite shocking for someone who’s not part of the health care apparatus. 😛

  66. Eltargrim Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I just wanted to chime in on the J visa discussion. I’ve been paying attention to this, as I’m a J status postdoc.

    The good news is that the J categories that a postdoc would fit into are not affected by the new executive order, so the specific concern for that isn’t founded.

    The bad news is that the situation could change at the stroke of a pen, and even J visa holders who aren’t affected will likely face more friction at the border.

    Fingers crossed things don’t get worse, but it’s not quite as bad as you fear yet. All of the H1b professors who are affected have my sympathy.

  67. Scott Says:

    Eltargrim #66: OK, thanks so much for those clarifications! I’m glad it’s not quite as terrible as I thought, even if still terrible. Best wishes to you and everyone else affected by this stuff.

  68. fred Says:

    Has anyone read the actual article yet? Did Scott A. read it? Is the article positive?

    Without this input, and given the current climate and what has happened recently at the NYT, we really can’t tell whether the intent here isn’t to simply get Scott A. canceled and get him into even more trouble by revealing his name.

    What’s suspicious is the NYT claiming they have to reveal his name.
    What’s the deal with this?!
    I get that the writer of the article would want to confirm that the person(s) he’s talking to are related with the blog, and even meet him/her/them (who’s to say the blog is run by just one person)… but there’s zero ethical reasons for saying they have to reveal his name.
    Why would the readers even care to know his name?
    Do the readers need to be reminded what’s Lady Gaga’s real name, do they care?
    The NYT never reviews books unless they’re sure they aren’t published under a pseudonym and always out the true author? They sure have written plenty of articles about Bitcoin and Satoshi Nakamoto without first uncovering his true identity.

  69. Christopher Chang Says:

    Gerard #61: don’t hold your breath. David Reich is about as central a figure as they come in genetics, and from his work alone you can determine that, while there may be some reality where gkx’s statements are approximately true, it isn’t ours.

  70. Filip Says:

    1. When you give an inteview usually you are given complete freedom over the text and the photos. It’s not investigative journalism nor a crime report. And I don’t think a single person is going to click (i.e. increase ad revenue) because of SSC’s name reveal – it’s not Kim Kardashian gossip, so I believe this is either a mistake or some stupid internal rule NYT have.

    2. SSC’s name is now autocompleted on Google (you may have to guess the first surname letter in some regions) and Twitter trolls are ‘exposing’ him, so I don’t know how successful this move was 🙁

    3. Doxxing and swatting are terrible and I don’t see how free speech has anything to do with it. People can call SWAT teams on your address or call your employer with no consequence. And unlike TV celebrities, most bloggers and YouTubers don’t have mansions protected with barbed wire, 24/7 security and legal teams ready to set up a restraining order.

  71. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott,

    How often do you estimate that NYT publishes pseudonyms?

    I estimate they write about someone with a professional pseudonym every day. I estimate that 99% of the time they treat it as a real name. Only 1% of the time do they even say “not his real name.” For some people, like Virgil Texas and Elena Ferrante, sometimes they choose to point that out and sometimes they choose not to. Less than 1/1000 of the time do they publish the real name. The reporter claimed that it was relevant that it was easy to find Scott’s real name, but most people with professional names have real names on wikipedia, and yet NYT does not consider that already outed.

    I would say that they do have a policy on professional names: respect them. Why are they making exception for Scott? Why reprint their lie that they are following the standard?

  72. fred Says:

    From my side of things (Fintech industry) I can definitely say that the visa restrictions are for example targeted at companies that relocate engineers from their office in India to the USA (it’s not just Indians, but they’re the vast majority), so they can pay them less than an equivalent local engineer with citizenship, also workers with such visas have no choice but stay with their company once they’re in the USA, waiting for years for permanent residency (their visa is attached to the sponsoring company).

  73. Anonymous again Says:

    Another NYT reporter started harassing a YouTuber I knew. I followed someone who made quite impressive investigative videos on YouTube, as he started making videos about the Johnny Depp / Amber Heard case which I followed with interest because I am interested in the preservation of the metoo movement for its original cause, and not yielded as a weapon against men willy-nilly with no regard to facts or evidence. Basically – the same kind of rational feminism that you and Scott Alexander have written of. After making one claim, she became a spokesperson for the UN and a darling of the movement. Because there is a lot of evidence that AH was actually the abusive one, and there is witness testimony that she faked injuries for financial gain in the divorce proceedings. It seems as though the NYT was planning a hit piece on this YouTuber, insinuating that he was tied to JD’s lawyer. He claims that he started getting multiple calls from this reporter to his family and employer, even after indicating that he had no interest in talking to her. This NYT reporter even followed *me* just because I followed him! I was shocked by the level of sleuthing.

    These kinds of tactics are making me lose trust completely in the New York Times.

    I studied physics where you teach, and I did face some disgusting comments from professors and students, and a depressing environment where sometimes I was treated as less-than. I also had wonderful encouragement from excellent people like Michael Marder and Sacha Kopp who I know from experience show concern about women and minorities in physics in both public and private. But I would never want that suffering to be turned into a weapon against people that I admire and think are overall good people, like you. Since it IS, we have to protect privacy of those who wish to remain private.

  74. JMG Says:

    Should one consider that the Manichaean attitudes often expressed on this blog may be contributing, in some small degree, to an atmosphere in which someone so mildly deviationist as Scott Alexander is in fear for his life?

  75. Jim Says:

    I think an important correction here is that Scott Alexander didn’t delete “… SlateStarCodex in its entirety.” He only took down the public copy at slatestarcodex.com. Because he (as any good netizen would) doesn’t block Internet Archive from copying his site, thousands of versions are continuously available with the latest copy here:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20200621140022/https://slatestarcodex.com/

  76. lewikee Says:

    I don’t even really understand the purpose of the Times including his legal name. I suppose I could maybe think of potential 2 reasons:

    1) “It is standard practice”.
    Tradition has never been a good intrinsic reason to do anything.

    2) “So that the reader can trust that we spoke to/identified the correct owner of the blog”.
    Including someone’s real name doesn’t mean the person that was spoken to was the right person. There is no marginal amount of trust-in-reporting earned by going from printing a pseudonym to printing someone’s legal name. I automatically assume the journalist did his due diligence in contacting the right person regardless of what name is printed.

    The purpose of the piece is supposedly to provide insight into the relationship between the rationality community and silicon valley. What additional insight into that relationship is provided by this specific factoid?

  77. Josh Says:

    This should bring forth an important thing to worry about in the future:
    how do we separate our professional endeavors from our personal lives?

    People expect that ideas developed by an individual must be associated with a public persona. This is a very bad thing, and social media makes this happen more and more often.

    Say that I am a great mathematician, but in my personal life I am a depraved a**hole with views that don’t align with the “norm”. Does that make my math invalid? I am very worried that it might.

  78. jonathan Says:

    Is anyone else concerned about the Streisand effect for Scott here? That by making a big public deal out of this, he’s attracting attention, which will lead to his being clearly outed, and maybe getting a lot more (negative) attention than the original article would have generated?

    Also, there’s a big risk that people on the right will cast his case as an example of NYT / media persecution of a right-wing figure (which isn’t really an accurate characterization of him), and he will be brought to the attention of a wider audience in this way.

  79. fred Says:

    This thing reminds me of what happened to youtube tech/maker celebrity Naomi Wu (she lives in Shenzhen, China).
    Vice wrote an article about her, all was friendly until she realized that Vice was including details about her personal life which could put her in deep trouble with the Chinese government.
    Vice refused to remove those details from the article, so, in retaliation, she doxxed Vice’s editor-in-chief… and as a result she was kicked out of Patreon (one of her main sources of revenue).

    What a complicated world we live in…

  80. gabriel alberton Says:

    In my view, for SSC to be permanently deleted would be an intellectual loss on the scale of, let’s say, John Stuart Mill or Mark Twain burning their collected works.

    No, it would not. You know it would not. I presume that’s sarcasm, oddly placed sarcasm, but still sarcasm, and that the joke’s on me (joke’s above my troglodyte level). I understand very much liking Mr. Alexander’s (so not to write “Mr. Last-Name-Unknown’s”) writing and thinking it’s very insightful and worthy and that its loss will be significant, but that comparsion is ridiculous.

    That might sound like hyperbole,

    Which it is, and grossly so, if it’s not meant to be sardonic. Hyperbole cubed. Overexaggeration^3.

    but not (I don’t think) to the tens of thousands who read Scott’s essays and fiction

    If that’s actually the case, so much worse for them. At best they’re ignorant, at worse they’re delusional.

  81. eliokim Says:

    Thank you for writing this.

    I don’t think your assessment of Slate Star Codex is an exaggeration, I agree with every word. When i was a kid, may be 7 or 8, my dream was to become a Great Russian Writer. But when i grew a bit older i thought: “am i prepared to put my family in danger, to live in poverty, be sent to Gulag, or at the very least to constantly live at the whims of political and social winds? because why should my generation be so different?”. And so I decided to do science, immigrated, became a mathematician. I am quite happy, but I also feel mute. 

    I’ve been constantly looking for someone from my generation who took a different road, who was braver and more talented than I was and who can find the words (whether in my first or second language) for me, relieve me of my muteness. Scott Alexander is one of the very few people I could find who did exactly that. When I read SSC I felt that this is what I would’ve written if I could. And that made me very happy and grateful. 

  82. Scott Says:

    I’m happy about the coincidence that the comments of gabriel alberton #80 and eliokim #81 appeared one after the other. They’re quite something when read in sequence.

  83. I Says:

    gabriel alberton #80:
    Scott holds other Scott in the highest regard. He admits there may be some personal bias in there due to other Scott writing a passionate defence on him when virtual bullies were trying to drag him through the dirt.

    Overexaggeration^3? Who’s being hyperbolic now? 😉 Overexaggeration^1.5 would be pushing it a bit. Other Scott is quite impressive, but he’s a level below John Stuart Mill. Which is still better than most intellectuals.

    Its a bit harsh to call people delusional or ignorant. Who is to say for them that Scott’s works do not hold the key to their misery? The internets a big place, and it seems plausible a few thousand value his insights more than they value Mills.

  84. gabriel alberton Says:

    I’m happy about the coincidence that the comments of gabriel alberton #80 and eliokim #81 appeared one after the other. They’re quite something when read in sequence.

    I agree that they are, but not for the reasons you might think.

    There are no John Stuart Mills or Mark Twains in the 21st century. There are no thinkers or writers today that might be appropriately compared to them. That there are not, and that it’s likely there will not ever be again, is a tragedy, it’s something that should be lamented, perhaps deeply, but it’s a fact we have to live with. If Mr. Alexander is as intelligent as noted by you and others, he possibly wrote, at least once, about this very subject, even if he disagreed (he’d be dead wrong, but still).

  85. Scott Says:

    gabriel #84: The thing is, if we lived in Twain’s time, it would’ve seemed equally obvious that there was no contemporary writer who could be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Cervantes or Montaigne, and that that was a tragedy. Sure, there’s that Twain guy, but he’s just some hack who writes coarse and simplistic boys’ adventure stories for money. That the stories speak to so many readers just proves how ignorant and uneducated those readers really are.

    Likewise Shakespeare, in his own time, was an entertaining court jester, but obviously not someone who you’d ever mention in the same breath as Sophocles or Aeschylus.

  86. Daniel Reeves Says:

    Ha, wow, that juxtaposition (#80 & #81) is delightful. I think it’s very hard to assess whether something is a classic without some distance. (Which of course is one definition of “classic”: something we still think is amazing after decades or centuries.) So it’s going to sound inherently silly to some people to compare Scott Alexander to Mark Twain.

    But in my humble opinion Scott Alexander is at the same level as, if not better than, Mark Twain. (And I’ve read plenty of both!)

  87. Gerard Says:

    gabriel alberton #84

    > There are no John Stuart Mills or Mark Twains in the 21st century

    I certainly respect your opinion but I wonder if you could be prevailed upon to provide some justification for it.

    In particular what about John Stuart Mills work (with which I am quite unfamiliar but which appears to agree in many ways with my own beliefs) sets him so far apart from others who preceded or followed him ? Aren’t many of his ideas ones that any intelligent and well-intentioned person could come to on their own and haven’t many done so both before and after Mills’ time, including in the present day ?

  88. gabriel alberton Says:

    Aren’t many of his ideas ones that any intelligent and well-intentioned person could come to on their own and haven’t many done so both before and after Mills’ time, including in the present day ?

    Not the ones he’s known for. In Mill’s time, there was slavery in the richest country across the Atlantic, while on his side of the pond the Industrial Revolution coexisted with actual material poverty (as well as famine right across the Irish Sea). Women could not vote, and it was agreed upon by most, including bigwigs, that they should not. (Why did they think so might be worthy of consideration, but today it’s unfashionable to talk about that, the past is bigoted and bad and stuff)

    Being a liberal utilitarian in that world was not the same as being one today. It took some guts to be one in mid-19th century England. Maybe some craziness too. It takes next to none (courage, that is) to be one today, except perhaps in Somalia or Kashmir. As to why I firmly believe it is nearly certain there will not ever be another John Stuart Mill (or Mark Twain, or Charles Dickens, or Charles Darwin…), if it’s still not clear, see the comment by “eliokim” in this thread. Part of the anwser lies there: he already spelled it out. Rhetorical questions: do you believe thoughts like those of that commenter went through the minds of those men? If they did, would they deal with such thoughts in the same way the commenter did?

    As to Mr. Aaronson’s reply:

    The thing is, if we lived in Twain’s time, it would’ve seemed equally obvious that there was no contemporary writer who could be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Cervantes or Montaigne, and that that was a tragedy. Sure, there’s that Twain guy, but he’s just some hack who writes coarse and simplistic boys’ adventure stories for money. That the stories speak to so many readers just proves how ignorant and uneducated those readers really are.

    Likewise Shakespeare, in his own time, was an entertaining court jester, but obviously not someone who you’d ever mention in the same breath as Sophocles or Aeschylus.

    Note I did not say Mr. Alexander was just some present-day hack, or an entertaining court jester of our time, or something similar. I said that comparing the loss of his writings, interesting and insightful as they might be (if they were in fact lost, which they aren’t — today, they can’t really be, and this is one of the things that makes the past another world) to the loss of Mill or Twain’s writings is ridiculous, which it is, and that those who do so are either ignorant or delusional. It’s not a personal offense hurled at the ones holding those odd beliefs. Ignorance and delusion are part of the human condition. (Those who say they were never ignorant or deluded are almost invariably liars, but there we have another thing that is not okay to bring up)

    Finally, it is likely true that Shakespeare was thought to be obviously not comparable to Aeschylus while he (Shakespeare) lived. I argue it is in part because of that, not despite that, that today they are considered to be comparable. Our present time does not favor understatement and subtle praise.

  89. Arboster Kipling Says:

    Scott #43

    You have (correctly) supported keeping exams like the SAT and the ACT in place because they allow us to identify people before they become superstars, surely there are additional mechanisms that would be useful to identify such people early on and if there is a significant percentage of late bloomers that would undercut your arguments in favor of keeping aptitude tests. For our disciplines we also have the International Math Olympiad and other indicators. If you want a special visa for promising students, push for it, and decouple it from the H1-B program that has been a disaster for the American STEM sector.

    I don’t by into JFK’s “Nation of Immigrants” romanticism. Not only is it not true- The first generations of Americans were colonists or slaves – the Pilgrims didn’t arrive and join the Wampanoag. The generations after 1776 grew mostly by natural increase with most of the immigrants becoming pioneers heading out West, again not to join the Navajo Nation or the Dakota peoples.

    Once our current boundaries were reached and non-Western European immigrants started to settle into well-established cities in large numbers there was a dramatic and successful push to halt almost all immigration. The generations born after that pause built the atomic bomb and landed us on the moon. We will be fine if we focus on our citizens for a while.

    Since 1965 when we opened the floodgates we’ve had stagnant wages and increasing numbers of immigrants on welfare (> 50%) and we now have a greater percentage of foreign born citizens than we did before Johnson-Reed while demographically monolithic Han China is about to overtake us in scientific (certainly technological) achievement, mostly because of the intelligence and industriousness of the Chinese people but in no small part thanks to all the IP theft much of which was done by Chinese students and workers in the US on visas.

    Two predictions: If Trump loses, he will wine and tweet about fake news, the deep state, maybe a conspiracy (and why not Hilary did), a stolen election etc. but he will go more or less uneventfully. And the US will be fine from a scientific standpoint with a temporary pause in H1-B and J1 visas (I suppose I should quantify that but I’m tired).

  90. Bruce Smith Says:

    Recently I read a Heinlein novel (I think it was this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Us,_the_Living:_A_Comedy_of_Customs ) which featured the following privacy convention or law: anyone being recorded by a reporter in public could state that the present circumstance was “private sphere” (as opposed to “public sphere”), and then the reporter would have to not publish that recording or report the facts learnable only by watching then. (Perhaps there was a “within reason” clause, which the novel didn’t mention — the cases depicted were all reasonable, IMO, such as the subject of reporting meeting someone in a public place for a private date.)

    It seems to me that if something like that could be added to our present society, it would be completely compatible with the spirit of “free speech”, whose important point is to protect debate about ideas or policies or important facts, not to permit publication of facts whose only significant purpose is harassment.

    A policy like that (generalized to automatically cover some things, and with suitable reasonable limits) would prohibit “doxxing” and some other harmful practices. I can’t think of any bad effect it would have, unless of course it was excessively broadly interpreted (but that’s a problem for any policy).

  91. marxbro Says:

    @Paul #55

    “I can’t speak for others, but my “free speech” principles make me uncomfortable with someone losing their job for (say) having the wrong opinion on BLM protests. I’m confident that’s consistent with thinking that an NYT journalist should leave a pseudonymous blogger’s pseudonymity intact if they’re going to write a piece on that blogger.”

    That seems like an issue between Scott and his employer, not really something the NYT should worry about.

  92. Gerard Says:

    Arboster Kipling #43

    Your facts on US immigration are wrong.

    Americans of German, Irish, Italian and Polish origin make up over 30% of the total population.

    Very few of those would be descended from colonial settlers.

    Those who claim English or “American” origin account for less than 15%.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Americans#Ancestral_origins

    If that isn’t enough to convince you that America is indeed a “nation of immigrants” consider that the current president’s mother was born in Scotland and both his paternal grandparents were born in Germany, so he is himself a 2nd generation immigrant. As for Kennedy, the President who originated the quote to which you object, all four of his grandparents were 2nd generation immigrants.

    > The generations born after that pause built the atomic bomb and landed us on the moon.

    A prerequisite for the atomic bomb was to build a nuclear reactor. That was first achieved by Enrico Fermi in 1942. Fermi was born in Italy and only immigrated four years earlier, in 1938. Hans Bethe led the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project. He was born in Germany (actually Strasbourg, now and historically part of France) and came to the US in 1935. Oppenheimer was a 2nd generation immigrant.

    The moon landing would never have happened when it did without Wernher von Braun and his team members from Germany.

  93. Steve Sailer Says:

    There was a 1991 movie about what can happen when a psychiatrist opens up to his patient: “What About Bob?” starring Richard Dreyfuss as the doctor and Bill Murray as the patient:

  94. A. Says:

    @gabriel alberton #84:

    If Mr. Alexander is as intelligent as noted by you and others, he possibly wrote, at least once, about this very subject, even if he disagreed

    Indeed he did: https://archive.fo/acBNU

  95. The Big Red Scary Says:

    When seeking to defend victims or potential victims of the mob– such as Stephen Hsu or Scott Alexander– it is very important to form as large a coalition as possible and not get distracted by other unrelated causes. In particular, the host is wrong to bring up his position on immigration policy in the present post. (For what it’s worth, I myself have had a complicated life due to the immigration policies of various countries, but this is not the appropriate context in which to discuss that.)

  96. gkx Says:

    #69 Christopher Chang: lots of people like to distort what David Reich has said. How about Graham Coop, Ewan Birney or in fact literally any other evolutionary biology or population genetics professor? Can you name a popgen professor who isn’t active on social media at all, and quote their opinion on HBD, Christopher Chang? Have you ever attended a popgen conference, spoken to prominent population geneticists who are more active on ncbi than social media? Have you ever presented a talk or poster on HBD at such a conference? What are your credentials, Christopher Chang? Why aren’t there any evopsych or HBD papers in CNS journals? Hell, the people who invented STRUCTURE plots themselves explicitly said they were unfit for classifying humans into race (if only because the nimber of clusters has to be specified in advance).

    It’s rich to be told you live in an alternative reality by someone with literally no field experience who gets their sources from blogposts and grifter journals with an impact factor < 3. This is what covid researchers must have felt like when chloroquine was touted as the miracle cure.

  97. Gerard Says:

    gkx #96

    > the people who invented STRUCTURE plots themselves explicitly said they were unfit for classifying humans into race (if only because the nimber of clusters has to be specified in advance).

    I don’t know a lot about modern genetics and I am not familiar with this specific clustering algorithm, but I do have a fair amount of experience with the general problem of clustering high dimensional data and while determining the optimal number of clusters is often problematic that alone is not a sufficient argument that no well separated clusters exist at all.

    Could you answer this one very simple question: Is it not basically trivial to determine with high probability from a DNA sample alone whether a person’s ancestry is primarily from Sub Saharan Africa, from East Asia or from a third group that used to be called Caucasian and includes most people from Europe, West Asia, South Asia and North Africa ? If this is the case then what basis is there for denying at least a certain biological reality to the concept commonly referred to as “race” ?

  98. Name Says:

    Gerard #97, from a pure ML point of view, the problem with this argument is that we can add some random labels, constructed from kernels with a few non zeros for some random dna sequences, and then we can predict some of these labels as well as race or any random caracteristic. In other words, the ability to predict some label is not by itself proof that it is a « true » caracteristic (e.g. a caracteristic that has a causal impact on some biological process). However I full agree with your main point that clustering analysis is what should decide whether or not a specific label constitute a good clustering.

  99. Scott Says:

    gkx, Gerard, Name: Isn’t it fairly obvious that the same arguments that prove that “races don’t exist,” also prove that “colors don’t exist”? Like, what are red, blue, etc. but arbitrary labels attached to blobs of electromagnetic spectrum? And yet 100% of the people persuaded by these arguments will go back in another half hour to using the concepts anyway.

  100. Michael O'Donnell Says:

    Dear Scott, this is a heart felt and personal thank you from me to you. It’s not intended as a comment for your blog, although I leave it up to you to publish it, or leave it in moderation. You know better than I what is useful to your readers and what isn’t.

    I love to learn about science, computers and technology. But I’m not an expert of any kind, just an ordinary person who likes to learn, as a hobby. Therefore most of what you write on technical topics goes over my head. And yet, I love your blog and return to it often. That’s a hard thing to explain when I try to introduce your writings to someone who has never heard of quantum computing. They invariably read something technical, and return to me absolutely mystified as to what I get from you.

    What I get, to be painfully honest, is a lesson in how to be a good human being, how to live life in an intellectually honest way, how to pursue one’s narrow academic interest while bearing in mind that the ultimate goal of that interest is the betterment of humanity, how to be humble, how to be kind, in short how to be a better person than I currently am. It isn’t your technical expertise, it isn’t the beauty of your prose, it is YOU as a human being that makes me want to keep reading.

    You reveal yourself through your writing, and thanks so much for that. Never was this more true than in the painful episode that prompted Scott Alexander to come to your defense. And now you are coming to his defense. It seems ridiculous to say that I am proud of you, when of course I am a stranger to you. And yet, it isn’t accurate to day WE are strangers to each other. That is a one sided equation. I do know about you. And what I know actually does make me proud. You and Scott Alexander both.

    When an individual does something noble, I believe that it ennobles all of us. So my advice to the aliens who want to learn about us might be (among other things) listen to the Beatles, watch some Monty Python, and read some of the 2 Scotts. Thank you for your contribution to making this ugly world a little bit better.

  101. STEM Caveman Says:

    > “Hell, the people who invented STRUCTURE plots themselves explicitly said they were unfit for classifying humans into race”

    They said nothing of the sort, if you mean the Rosenberg et al rejoinder article. They made careful lawyered statements that walked a tightrope, avoiding outright lies (such as saying that race is meaningless biologically, the results falsify race classification, and other well worn tropes) but not taking a clear position as to what their results did show. In no way shape or form did they disavow folk conceptions of race based on their results, and were evasive as to whether those conceptions were supported by their clusterings.

    > (if only because the nimber of clusters has to be specified in advance).

    The clusterings are always consistent with each other at different N. In other words, it is a *hierarchical* clustering being revealed at different resolution (the choice of N). All that happens when you successively increase N is to keep splitting the clusters you already found into subclusters. That the algorithm doesn’t work by recursive splitting but finds the same result is a strong sign there is a unique underlying structure being found, which happens to line up well with the supposedly obsolete race vocabulary of a hundred years ago.

  102. publicschoolgrad Says:

    Scott #99,

    Your argument can be used to prove the “reality” of any mental category about the world as long as people use those categories consistently.

  103. G Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I was taught that races don’t exist with some argument that I can’t recall exactly but based on “intra” variations being greater than “inter” variations. It’s possibly outdated science though.

    Still, your answer using colors is a bit disingenuous. Or rather, colors indeed are labels arbitrarily attached to blobs. If races are also arbitrary labels for blobs, what utility do you see for them?

  104. Nick Says:

    fred #60:

    > Also, a burning passion for gun has really nothing to do with political leaning (correlation vs causation).

    A “burning passion for guns” is an obsession with violence, and an obsession with violence has a great deal to do with one’s political leanings. I am not surprised that you would deny that, since you’ve previously expressed sympathies with cops who were filmed killing an unarmed prisoner in cold blood [1]. By the way, you never clarified what point you were trying to make by invoking the murder of Tony Timpa in that thread. I am still awaiting an answer.

    (Sorry to everyone else for dragging old thread business into this thread.)

    [1] https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=4845#comment-1844518

  105. Scott Says:

    G #103:

      If races are also arbitrary labels for blobs, what utility do you see for them?

    I mean, the libertarian types would be only too happy to abandon the use of racial categories entirely, or rather, to use them only in medical contexts (assessing someone’s risk for skin cancer, sickle cell, Tay-Sachs, etc.) where they have undisputed value. But no longer classifying people by these categories would mean no more consideration of race in university admissions or hiring, no more concepts like “white fragility,” etc. Thus, it’s for leftist, progressive reasons that these categories need to be retained.

  106. STEM Caveman Says:

    @publicschoolgrad 102

    Does every word of the argument need to be spelled out to avoid the literalist Gotcha pounce?

    Color is clearly analogous to race in that although it has its fuzzy edges (no two people perceive it exactly alike, some are colorblind) it has a quantifiable biological underpinning that isn’t nearly as subjective or debatable. Red, green and blue are not arbitrary, they are vertices of the chromaticity diagram that is approximately a triangle. How to divide the rest of the diagram into “colors” is extremely similar to the question of how to organize genomes into clusters. In both cases there is consistency between the different classification schemes, reflecting a hard underlying structure not really amenable to verbal deconstruction. People were about as confused talking about “purple” as they were talking about “blacks” and “whites” for people.

  107. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Scott #99: Given this reality, would you be surprised to know that the concepts for certain colours did not exist in certain cultures? The most famous example, of course, is Homer’s “wine-dark seas” (the seas of ancient Greece were not dark purple), but there exists a general hierarchy of “colours known” that begins with red and ends with blue, matching roughly some combination of their biological significance (red, the colour of blood and agression, being the most prominent example), how rare the colours are, and how hard to synthesise that colour is. And, you may be surprised to find, there are certain Amazonian cultures with no concept of colour at all.

    You are (accidentally) correct, inasmuch as in attempting to prove how people generally adopt technically untrue concepts you cite a technically untrue concept that has not been generally adopted.

    As for the business with the races, as such conversations seem to always devolve to: I have yet to find a convincing explanation why African, European, and Asian are viable “races”, given the following facts:

    – Africa can swallow Europe, China, and the USA with room to spare and features incredibly varied geography, climate, and environment, but is still somehow one race (thus suggesting that neither distance nor environment are good indicators for what separates a “race” from another, despite their evolutionary significance)
    – The boundaries between Europe and Asia are historical rather than geological boundaries, and finding a meaningful one seems impossible
    – The map of genetic variation between humans across geological distance is both gradual (not well-delineated, hence the difficulty separating Asia and Europe) and flat (that is to say, relatively minor compared to other animals with races hence why the quibbling must come from IQ tests and isn’t obvious at all)

  108. publicschoolgrad Says:

    STEM Caveman #102,

    The chromaticity diagram was invented as one way of explaining color. It does not define color in the mathematical sense you seem to imply.

    Nobody is denying that there is a construct called “race” that can be used to classify human beings with a reasonably high level of accuracy based on a few parameters like skin color, hair etc, particularly if the categories are very broad: white, black etc … all that would do is formalize the popular conception of race with statistical tools. Not sure what that would tell you about human beings, though.

    Scott #105,

    Using race to assess medical risk is painting with a very broad brush. As to your examples, assessing for skin cancer by looking at the person’s color is probably more effective than doing a genomic analysis to see what “race” they are. It kills thousands of people in Africa and India. Sickle cell is common in Sicily and Tay-Sachs is relatively high among Irish. So while, the genomically defined race might have some predictive value, the socially defined race might be more valuable. It would tell you, for example, if a person would be more likely to be murdered by a police officer in the United States.

  109. Gerard Says:

    Name:

    > from a pure ML point of view, the problem with this argument is that we can add some random labels, constructed from kernels with a few non zeros for some random dna sequences, and then we can predict some of these labels as well as race or any random caracteristic. In other words, the ability to predict some label is not by itself proof that it is a « true » caracteristic

    I don’t completely follow what you are trying to say here but let me say this.

    Suppose you take some dataset with labels that are “real” in the sense that they correlate with some actual features of the underlying data. Then you train a supervised ML model on this dataset, obtaining an error rate: ε₁. Finally you randomize the labels and retrain the same model obtaining error rate: ε₂. You will generally find that ε₁ << ε₂.

    I therefore do not agree that the existence of a model giving good prediction accuracy for a certain set of labels associated with some dataset is not evidence in favor of there being an actual characteristic of the data that correlates with those labels.

  110. STEM Caveman Says:

    > the concepts for certain colours did not exist in certain cultures?

    That’s not surprising at all, and is directly akin to differences in the number N of genetic clusters. As functional relevance or ability to manufacture appeared, the “no current name” cluster (or other clusters) of colors kept getting split, but the pre-existing color scheme was not suddenly disrupted, only refined. The Amazonians apparently had N=1. Their system wasn’t incommensurable with any others, just less informative, and it’s possible they had color distinctions (poisonous frog yellow, safe frog green) in their language without color as an abstraction.

    What would be surprising is colors that are discontinuous (form multiple connected components) with respect to the chromaticity diagram. If *that* ever existed anywhere you would have an example of color as a social construct.

  111. Arboster Kipling Says:

    Gerard #92
    I never argued individual immigrants haven’t contributed mightily to our country (assuming you’re from the US), but its telling all 3 examples you cite: Von Braun, Fermi, and Bethe arrived when our immigration controls were tightest. I told Scott there are still O visas and those men surely would have qualified. In short: we’ll be fine.

    You mentioned the Presidents; well 100% of our Presidents have at least some ancestry from among the founding stock at least in terms of the donor populations (mostly English, Dutch and some Germans). If you consider Ireland one of the British Isles than 100% of our Presidents (including Obama) have British ancestry.

    All our Presidents except Kennedy were at least avowedly Protestants (I know some like Jefferson and probably other more recent Presidents would best be classified as agnostics or atheists). And Kennedy was simply another strain of Christian. The number of living Americans that claim British ancestry is widely known to be a huge undercount. And again that’s talking about British people, the Dutch and of course Black people were part of America’s founding too.

    When I was born in the late 70s about half of Americans could trace about half their roots back to the original White and Black population of 1790. The Majority of Americans could trace the majority of their ancestry to the Pioneering age. From 1600 to 1970 almost the entire White population could trace their roots to a single geographical region significantly smaller than Alaska and the Black population to an area smaller than Florida.
    We had a burst of immigration in the decade or two on either side of 1900 when the cheap labor racket, upset at its recent loss of slaves, needed people to work in sweatshops for peanuts and when the foreign born population reached the levels we are at now we shut the door. With great popular support too, something like 323 to 71 in the House and 69-9 in the Senate. That’s how popular immigrants and immigration was once the US had a nice big taste of it.

    I’m not pretending we never had immigration. My comments are meant to push back on the silly ideas people have that Emma Lazarus’s maudlin poem is part of the Constitution or that ‘E Pluribus Unum’ refers to immigrants (it doesn’t). America is (really was) more than an idea it was a people, a nation in the original sense of the word.

    We have a massive unemployment crisis right now and it’s scandalous that two-thirds of Silicon Valley is foreign born. Halting H1-Bs is a great idea and something Trump promised on the campaign trail. It’s unfortunate if well-meaning bright young academics who would have made great Americans have to wait, the ones who would have made great contributions to science will still be able to do that and if you want to assist them in coming here push for another class of visas, we’ve already gone beyond the alphabet, what’s one more?

    “Sixty-seven percent of the new tech talent in the core working age group (25-44) are Asian, the majority of whom are from India and China. More than half of Silicon Valley’s residents now speak languages other than English at home.”
    https://jointventure.org/images/stories/pdf/index2020.pdf

  112. publicschoolgrad Says:

    STEM Caveman #110,

    I don’t think anybody is arguing that you cannot find an algorithm that can produce as its output clusters that roughly translate to what people call “race” given some genomic data as input. The problem is that what is called race is used make inferences about the characteristics of human beings beyond those that were used to determine the clusters. It is the fallacy of mistaking the map for the territory.

  113. Gerard Says:

    publicschoolgrad:

    > Nobody is denying that there is a construct called “race” that can be used to classify human beings with a reasonably high level of accuracy based on a few parameters like skin color, hair etc, particularly if the categories are very broad: white, black etc … all that would do is formalize the popular conception of race with statistical tools. Not sure what that would tell you about human beings, though.

    If it were true that the only genetic differences between human populations were in such superficial features as skin color or hair then I would agree that they are unlikely to be very informative. However while I think that view may have been tenable in say the 90’s, I don’t think it remains so in light of all that has been learned since about human genetics.

    We now know that essentially all humans except Sub -Saharan Africans have a small but non-negligeable amount of DNA inherited from the Neanderthals, a separate pre-modern human human species (or at least sub-species). In addition East Asians have a small amount of Denisovan DNA, which is absent from both of the other two main groups. Differences like those don’t sound trivial and it appears that there is some evidence that some modern human diseases may be related to Neanderthal DNA (in those who have it).

    Even more striking, according to this study led by David Reich: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/07/new-territory/

    it appears that many people of African origin have a version of the molecular machinery underlying recombination that is different from that found in other populations.

  114. Deepa Says:

    Michael #100 :
    I agree a 100%. I tell youngsters in my family to read this blog not for the technical content alone, but to how to communicate with people, how to be kind (yet firm), and how to discuss difficult issues with an open mind, how to be humble and just all round how to be a good person. You turned my thoughts on this blog into beautiful words.

  115. Scott Says:

    Michael O’Donnell #100: Thank you so much—your comment made my day. I’ll be tempted to reread it, or even (with your permission) make it into its own post, the next time I’m under attack. Thanks again.

  116. Gerard Says:

    Arboster Kipling #111

    > You mentioned the Presidents; well 100% of our Presidents have at least some ancestry from among the founding stock at least in terms of the donor populations

    You’ve conveniently shifted the conversation from one about immigration per se to one about the ethnic origins of immigrants. That’s an entirely different subject.

    > If you consider Ireland one of the British Isles than 100% of our Presidents (including Obama) have British ancestry.

    Another slippery use of language. Ireland is geographically one of the British Isles but it is definitely not and in fact never has been considered British in the political sense. (If I were a millenial I probably would have found your statement triggering 🌝)

    > When I was born in the late 70s about half of Americans could trace about half their roots back to the original White and Black population of 1790.

    Honestly, I find that claim very hard to believe. It may have been true in your region and/or social circles but it certainly wasn’t in mine (I was born in the late 60’s). In fact I doubt that most Americans then could have said anything about their ancestors beyond about 3 generations, though that may have changed in recent years with genealogical websites and genetic ancestry tests.

    Just as an example one of my grandparents was born in Canada and was of Irish origin. Another was a 2nd generation immigrant whose parents came from France and Germany in the late 1800’s. My other two grandparents were of Irish origin but I don’t know when their ancestors immigrated.

    In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to think there was nothing unusual about my ancestry compared to most of the people I went to school with, and it certainly agrees with what information is available about the ethnic origins of most of the American population, both nationally and in the Northeast where I was born.

  117. Michael O'Donnell Says:

    Deepa #114 :
    Thank you for the compliment. I don’t know if my post was beautiful, but I meant every word of it. As a group we math teachers are not exactly renowned as wordsmiths, so it will have to suffice.

    Scott #115 :
    You are most sincerely welcome! And you absolutely have my permission to do whatever you would like with my post. This was a sad and emotional day for me due to the pain I feel for Scott Alexander (who I also hold in very high regard, for similar reasons to those I expressed about you). I fear that no matter what the Times decides to do, the genie is out of the bottle a bit, and I don’t feel optimistic this will end comfortably for him. If it comes to pass that he must choose between his career as a doctor and continuing SSC, I don’t know what will happen but perhaps we have seen the last of SSC. If that is the case, and if you do come under attack again and SSC isn’t around to come to your defense, the thought that my words might lend you a measure of support or comfort, wow. That is quite something. I feel honored.

  118. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Stem caveman #110:

    So where do we draw the line? If N=1, N=2 etc all produce viable groupings for the “races”, why must we stop at N=5? It seems that, given you can have just about any level of granularity (i.e. with N=135 making just as much statistical sense as N=5), the interest in creating races from these groups seems more about fulfilling old anchor bias-induced canards about races rather than any inherent statistical significance that comes from N=3 or N=5 or N=7. (See my own point about the map of human diversity being gradual and flat)

  119. Metanonymous Says:

    Anon93 18

    Thanks, this tells us that the piece did not originate in bad intent over that particular matter, though it could still have contributed to NYTs insistence on doxxing SSC.

  120. Rahul Says:

    With all the discussion about the construct called race what about “nationality”?

    When there’s unemployment in the silicon valley is it ok to fire foreigners, like someone upstream on the thread seems to suggest?

    On another topic related to covid I find these repatriation flights quite repulsive. So Europe or the US can accept indians or Chinese as workers and tourists and guest workers but when disaster falls we need to organize massive efforts to send people back?

    When in fact, a nation like India is already reeling under a crisis and the last thing it needs is more covid seeding which it cannot handle? Why cannot nations maintain status quo during such events and take care of whoever is within their borders citizen or not.

    Not that India is any better in terms of policy but I just feel there needs to be more criticism of the problems that come associated with nationality itself….

  121. gkx Says:

    Gerard #113: Africans *also* have Neanderthal DNA. https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)30059-3 There’s much we don’t know about early humans so attempting to vindicate our modern race classifications according to a little amount of knowledge that can and will change drastically with more discoveries is misguided at best.

    STEM Caveman #101: It’s very curious how you, a complete layman, seem to know more about the intentions of the people who created popgen tools than the people themselves. Do you know how STRUCTURE plots even work? Do you know other popgen tools at all? What will it take to convince you that race as a construct is unanimously disregarded by population geneticists and evolutio@nary biologists? Do we need to invite Graham Coop in the thread or will you accuse him of walking similar tightropes?

    >The clusterings are always consistent with each other at different N. In other words, it is a *hierarchical* clustering being revealed at different resolution (the choice of N). All that happens when you successively increase N is to keep splitting the clusters you already found into subclusters.

    Wrong. That depends on the clustering algorithm, the number and type of markers as well as the parameters of the algorithm (including but not limited to the number of clusters, hence the ‘if only’) but they are far from being so neatly hierarchical. You’d know this if you actually ran the algorithms in question.

    Oh, but I see in #110 you’re also an expert in linguistics. Can’t wait for your treatise that explains how people qualify as black in a country and white in another, or why some people who didn’t qualify as white in the past do now.

  122. G Says:

    Scott,
    Thank you for the answer. I wanted to say as always, but I think I only posted a comment on your blog once or twice before, so it’s not significant. 🙂 In any case I appreciate you taking the time to answer.
    I could concede keeping these categories for progressive goals. I’m still not sure what can be done with them for science, for example if one is interested in IQ measures. What can you learn making statistics about arbitrarily defined blobs?

  123. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Stem Caveman #106,

    You are confusing color with a cartoon representation of color.

    Color is the result of processing various input signals in the brain. Most of the input signal comes from “cones”, which most people have three types of. I don’t know if it is known how consistent the wavelength response of each type of cone is from person to person, probably not too close. Also, it is unclear if the “rods” also play a role in color perception or not. And, does everyone use the same algorithm to process the input into “color” output?

    Like anything with a primary signal of three inputs, a “color triangle” is obviously a useful rough guide to what is going on. But it is far too simple to capture what is really going on.

    A good analogy is the three phosphors making up a pixel on most monitors, such as the one you are probably reading this on. Each phosphor can be turned on at values 0 – 255 with any programming language with the RGB system. Thus you can get (2^8)^3 = 2^24, about 16 million colors. Studies usually indicate that people can distinguish about a million colors. So one might think all seeable colors can be rendered on a computer screen. One would be wrong. An easy example is an early summer visit to a wild place with a lot of different kinds of plants, and sunlight and shade. Check out all the nuances of green you see. Then take a picture and put it on your best monitor. Looks pretty good, but nothing like being there.

    Finally, no one has any idea if different people see colors the same or not. It is hard to concieve how this could even be studied.

  124. fred Says:

    Nick #104

    “A “burning passion for guns” is an obsession with violence, and an obsession with violence has a great deal to do with one’s political leanings. I am not surprised that you would deny that, since you’ve previously expressed sympathies with cops who were filmed killing an unarmed prisoner in cold blood.”

    A passion for firearms (or any type of weapon) does not equate an obsession with violence.
    One can be really interested in the historical significance of weapons, and/or their engineering, and yet have a deep personal aversion for violence.
    I personally never owned a single firearm, yet I like reading and watching videos about them.
    And I’m also interested in target/precision shooting, with I can do with gun-like replicas that “shoot” totally safe laser bursts as you pull the trigger (with targets that records the hits and tally up a score).
    The art of target shooting, with guns or bows, has to do with concentration and self-control, and nothing to do with violence (I doubt that winter Olympics biathlon champions are all potential mass shooters).
    Similarly I never flew any military plane, or dropped any bomb on anyone, yet I find their history very interesting, and I love flying them in flight simulators, in VR.

    And, for what it’s worth, I intend to vote for Bidden in the next election.

    I personally was very shocked by the Tony Timpa video, that was my first reaction, based on emotion.
    But my summary of it was Sam Harris’ interpretation of it, based on logic, that the cops had no clue Tony Timpa was dying.
    Either I believe that the cops were aware he was dying, in which case their joking and laughing makes them some of the worst psychopaths ever caught on tape (esp since they knew they were being recorded), or I believe they just weren’t aware of his distress, because they’ve done it dozens of times and nothing bad ever happened.

  125. Gerard Says:

    gkx:

    > Africans *also* have Neanderthal DNA.

    But still significantly less than other populations (by nearly a factor of 4) according to the very recent paper you site.

    > There’s much we don’t know about early humans so attempting to vindicate our modern race classifications according to a little amount of knowledge that can and will change drastically with more discoveries is misguided at best.

    I definitely agree that one must be very cautious about overestimating our confidence in the current state of knowledge. Indeed intellectual honesty requires nothing less…

    > race as a construct is unanimously disregarded by population geneticists and evolutio@nary biologists?

    …which is precisely why I find absolutist statements like this so disturbing.

    Do you consider David Reich to be a legitimate population biologist ? If so and if he disregards “race as a construct” then how do you explain that he has carried out studies into the genetic characteristics of African Americans, a group defined by the “construct” of “race” as surely as any group could be ?

  126. Gerard Says:

    Scott and all:

    I hate to say it but I think your color analogy is like trying to light a room with a lamp covered with soot 🌝.

    Color is itself an extremely complex subject that iis likely to be viewed in very different ways by different people depending on their background. Are we talking about color as a way of subdividing part of the EM spectrum, color as human sense organs perceive it, as human technology generates it or as humans describe it in language ? Those all lead to quite different concepts with complex relationships between them. Moreover, as Raoul points out, many of those concepts are far from perfectly understood.

  127. Vaarsuvius Says:

    gkx #121: As an example, see how Obama is “black” even though he should by all standards be “mixed”, and the fact that “pure” white and “pure” black are basically impossible given the amount of travel and mixing that humans have been engaging in since the ancient times (notice how all the ancestry websites give a big pie chart with slices instead of single-origin “ancestries”).

  128. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Raoul Ohio #123: The classic example of “brown” as a colour comes to mind, as a neurological function of orange placed in contrast with its background demonstrated in images like these: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown#/media/File:Optical_grey_squares_orange_brown.svg

  129. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Gerard #125:

    “African American” is not a race. It describes American citizens who self identify as being primarily of African ancestry, a group that is sociologically notable because of their historical status as primarily descendants of imported slaves and the long and still ongoing existence of segregation between their populations and the general population (i.e. “whites”). Like any sociological category, its boundaries are fuzzy and a large degree of in-group reproduction and cohabitation in similar environs has occured as a result of the aforementioned segregation (miscegenation being until relatively recently a crime punishable by mob torture and death), making a genetic examination of value. It does not require the existence of a black race to be viable as a group both for the purposes of study and sociological classification.

  130. Gerard Says:

    Vaarsuvius

    > “African American” is not a race.

    Then I guess we’ll just need to invent some other word to describe a group with distinct genetic characteristics as a result of having a distinct ancestral history, since as far as I can tell you accept the concept but only reject the word.

    Also the fact that admixture between populations obviously exists, and has always existed to some degree, in no way invalidates the potential existence of notable genetic differences in a probabilistic sense between identifiable populations.

    It’s certainly possible that a day will come when all human populations will be so thoroughly mixed that the concept of racial differences will indeed no longer be meaningful, but I think that day is still quite far off.

  131. Gerard Says:

    Vaarsuvius:

    Also people don’t just arbitrarily self-identify as African American. In the rare cases I’ve heard of where someone has done that without strong evidence of actually possessing African ancestry they have been treated very harshly by society, to the extent of losing their jobs.

  132. Brown-lol Says:

    “ Wrong. That depends on the clustering algorithm, the number and type of markers as well as the parameters of the algorithm (including but not limited to the number of clusters, hence the ‘if only’) but they are far from being so neatly hierarchical. You’d know this if you actually ran the algorithms in question.”

    It’s an obvious point that you’re making, and isn’t a refutation of any kind (honestly would be obvious to any average student who attended a 90 minute lecture on clustering). It’s also obvious what STEM caveman is saying; your refutation is tangential to the point he’s making.

    Separately, Chris Chang has likely worked on more genomics data than most commenters on this blog, and is an IMO gold medalist, so likely has more raw math chops than most commenters on the blog.

  133. publicschoolgrad Says:

    Gerard #130,

    > Also the fact that admixture between populations obviously exists, and has always existed to some >degree, in no way invalidates the potential existence of notable genetic differences in a probabilistic >sense between identifiable populations.
    Obviously, because they are “identifiable”, there must be some differences (genetic or not) that allow you to identify them. That is almost a tautology. The question is, are those characteristics that allow you to identify them relevant to other characteristics that go with being human?

    Gerard #131,
    The reason that people did not falsely claim to be African Americans in large numbers was because there was and still is no advantage in doing that. There is no material advantage to claiming to be a member of a marginalized group. There were, however, people who had recent African ancestry as well as recent European ancestry who, by the twisted racial logic of the US should be counted as Black, but who were nevertheless able to “pass” themselves as white due to their appearance.

  134. Atlantica Says:

    > nerd-bashing SJWs

    I think you should know better than use lingo that comes straight out of the alt-right dictionary, Scott. It devalues your writing.

    > I mean, the libertarian types would be only too happy to abandon the use of racial categories entirely, or rather, to use them only in medical contexts (assessing someone’s risk for skin cancer, sickle cell, Tay-Sachs, etc.) where they have undisputed value. But no longer classifying people by these categories would mean no more consideration of race in university admissions or hiring, no more concepts like “white fragility,” etc. Thus, it’s for leftist, progressive reasons that these categories need to be retained.

    This is a bad faith argument, because the US libertarian types are happy to abandon the use of racial categories because racial justice is simply not something that the average libertarian is interested in.
    US leftists may shudder to abandon such categories because this is one of the few tools they have to fight the abysmal systemic racism that takes place in the US. Other countries have chosen different approaches: in many European countries, things like racial-based admissions quotas are in fact illegal. (In France, the collection of ethnicity related statistics is *strictly controlled*, to give another example.)

  135. Scott Says:

    Atlantica #134:

      I think you should know better than use lingo that comes straight out of the alt-right dictionary, Scott. It devalues your writing.

    What term would you prefer that I use for the people who tried to destroy my life five years ago, and who will almost certainly try again? (Or did the alt-right implant into my brain a false memory of what happened to me? 🙂 )

      This is a bad faith argument, because the US libertarian types are happy to abandon the use of racial categories because racial justice is simply not something that the average libertarian is interested in.

    If you want to accuse me of bad faith, then probably you shouldn’t describe libertarians (of which I’m not one, by the way) in a blatantly bad-faith manner later in the same sentence!

  136. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Gerard #130: I don’t think you understand what “black” means in the US (Hint: the One-drop rule still applies). Obama, being born to mixed-race parents, is still called “black”. “African American” is really a sociological category for these reasons, and only worthy of genetic study because the rest of the country worked very hard to turn these sociological fictions into reality- it didn’t matter that they started from distinct countries and had a variety of genetic ancestries, “black was black” and if you didn’t “mate with your kind”, it would be a mob for you.

    If “African American” qualifies as a race even though it has only existed for some 200 years at most simply because of their “shared heritage”, the same could be said for “African Etritrean”, “African North Sudanese”, “African Congolese”, “African British” etc. Heck, China would have twenty-plus to fifty “Races” alone, given the population distributions and amount of heavily-insular, semi-isolated groups only recently broken up by modernisation.

  137. Gerard Says:

    Vaarsuvius:

    I don’t know if African American qualifies as a race per se, any more than I know if European American qualifies as a race per se, but nonetheless both groups are defined on the basis of race or of national origins closely correlated with race. The only reason I brought up that category is because it was the focus of what seems to be to be a quite significant study I referenced earlier in this thread. My guess is that if the same study had been performed on people currently living in Sub Saharan Africa the results would have been similar, though quite possibly not identical.

    Whether and to what extent there are significant genetic differences between immigrant populations in America and the ancestral populations in Europe or Africa from which they originated is an empirical question that I don’t currently have any data on.

    Your statement that one can always focus on smaller and smaller racial groups, while not inaccurate in and of itself, shows that you are still missing the key point that explains why differences between the 3 traditionally understood main races are likely to be more significant than those within those groups. That is simply because as far as we know both from archaeological and genetic evidence those groups initially diverged tens of thousands of years ago and remained relatively isolated from each other throughout much of human history. Most likely that is in large part due to the fact that the boundary regions between those populations, such as the Sahara Desert, Himalayas and Gobi Desert represent some of the most inhospitable and sparsely populated areas in the world.

    Again the claim is certainly not that there was never any admixture between those populations but rather that the amount of admixture was (at least historically) much lower and much less recent than that between, for example, most European populations.

    I have heard the following claim which, though am I not completely convinced of it’s entire accuracy, I suspect is more or less accurate and which I think can shed some light on this question. The claim is that if one defined the set A to contain all people living in Europe 1000 years ago who have descendants alive in the present day and the set B of all people alive today who have some European ancestry then every member of set A would be an ancestor of every member of set B. A similar argument can be made that encompasses the world as a whole but in that case the timeframe you would need to use in defining set A would be much older, perhaps by an order of magnitude or even more.

  138. The Abbot of Nalanda Says:

    @Vaarsuvius #107:

    Scott #99: Given this reality, would you be surprised to know that the concepts for certain colours did not exist in certain cultures? The most famous example, of course, is Homer’s “wine-dark seas”

    I have come upon this a few times before but have never found any evidence commensurate to such an extraordinary claim. This is after all quite a bit different from saying there used to be no word for ‘blue’.

    First, why is Homer’s descriptor being taken literally here? To quote Caroline Alexander, a modern translator of The Iliad:

    So what color is the sea? Silver-pewter at dawn; gray, gray-blue, green-blue, or blue depending on the particular day; yellow or red at sunset; silver-black at dusk; black at night. In other words, no color at all, but rather a phenomenon of reflected light. The phrase “winelike,” then, had little to do with color but must have evoked some attribute of dark wine that would resonate with an audience familiar with the sea—with the póntos, the high sea, that perilous path to distant shores—such as the glint of surface light on impenetrable darkness, like wine in a terracotta vessel.

    But let us suppose for argument’s sake we take it as it is, we still have to establish the colour of wine that Homer was thinking about here wasn’t blue in the first place (blue wine can be made by adding naturally occurring anthocyanin) *even though* the overwhelming majority of wines when described at all in Homeric epics are red. This may seem like the sort of nitpick you learn in analytic philosophy, but my point is that textual oddity would still be far more plausible than the radical picture of the world entailed by Greeks not having the ‘concept of blue’.

    This is simply a particular case of a more general point. It is pretty common to find extraordinary claims being broadcast directly or indirectly from certain humanities departments that aim to demonstrate some sort of social constructivism, however in the rare occasion they are accompanied by some sort of evidence, they are almost always incommensurate (this holds true even for someone like Ian Hacking).

    Maybe I am mistaken and this particular topic pertaining to colour is different?

  139. Tim Says:

    @Gerard #116

    > Another slippery use of language. Ireland is geographically one of the British Isles but it is definitely not and in fact never has been considered British in the political sense. (If I were a millenial I probably would have found your statement triggering 🌝)

    While we’re talking about slippery language, it’s worth pointing out that this is just wrong. Ireland was politically a part of the UK from 1801 until 1922 (and had been controlled by the English since the 1600s; and settled by the Scots even earlier, etc). The six counties of Northern Ireland still are considered politically British, as per the Good Friday Agreement (and the GFA was endorsed by Irish voters in a referendum).

    Besides which: if Ireland has never been considered “British in the political sense” then what was the point of going to all that trouble to establish the Free State and later the Republic in the first place?

    Anyway, to say something on topic: the news article still hasn’t appeared, it seems. I guess removing the blog has left things at an impasse. It would look weird to publish a long piece on a blog that no longer exists, after all.

  140. jonathan Says:

    @Vaarsuvius 136:

    “I don’t think you understand what “black” means in the US (Hint: the One-drop rule still applies). Obama, being born to mixed-race parents, is still called “black”.

    This might be true for how people claim to define themselves and others, but it isn’t really true from a social science perspective. On just about any measurable social outcome, you will find mixed race people intermediate between blacks and whites. Obama is an example of this.

  141. Gerard Says:

    Tim:

    I never said that Ireland was never a part of the UK. From 1801 to 1922 the official name of the UK was “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” (it is currently “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”). That name clearly indicates that Ireland was not and is not considered part of Great Britain. In the political sense “British” has always referred to the 3 nations of the island of Great Britain: England, Scotland and Wales, not to all countries or colonies subject to the English monarchy and/or to the British Parliament.

    When Paul Revere said “the British are coming”, he wasn’t talking about himself.

  142. publicschoolgrad Says:

    Scott #135,

    I don’t think that Atlantica was off the mark about libertarian attitudes, at least in the US. While “libertarian” is a term that has changed meaning over the years, if we are to go by the platform of the Libertarian party, I t believe Atlantica was on the mark: https://www.lp.org/platform/

  143. Armando di Matteo Says:

    @Gerard, Tim:

    For almost all possibly relevant purposes, Irish Unionists/Protestants should be considered British but Irish Nationalists/Catholics shouldn’t. I dunno what faction Obama’s mother’s Irish ancestors were, but most of her ancestry was English so this is moot anyway.

    (But given the natural-born-citizen clause, the ancestry of American presidents doesn’t tell us much about Americans in general, and even then you had at least one president (MVB) who wasn’t even a native English speaker. Honestly “The US isn’t a nation of immigrants, the median American has only half of their ancestry who arrived here after 1776” sounds pretty silly to me — I’d guess the median Italian or Chinese has waaaaay less foreign ancestry than that.)

  144. Scott Says:

    publicschoolgrad #142: The point is that, if you’re a hardcore libertarian, then making sure no government entity ever discriminates by race is racial justice. Better yet if one ends government intrusions on liberty that disproportionately affect communities of color, like civil asset forfeiture and the criminalization of marijuana. Admittedly, this is extremely different from the progressive conception of racial justice, according to which one of the central roles of government is to counteract the systemic racism inherent in our society. My own views probably fall somewhere between the two extremes. But in any case, I reject the view that says that the first conception can never be held in good faith, that it’s always only a cover for racism, and that therefore dialogue is impossible.

  145. publicschoolgrad Says:

    Scott #144,

    I agree that it is possible to hold the libertarian view (as espoused above) in good faith, although an examination of that view along with a consideration of human nature would quickly prove that it is in reality incompatible with the ideal of treating marginalized groups fairly.

    As an example, the platform of the Libertarian party linked above has as item 3.5 the following:
    “Members of private organizations retain their rights to set whatever standards of association they deem appropriate, and individuals are free to respond with ostracism, boycotts, and other free market solutions.”
    I take it to mean that, for instance, the officers of a private university like your former employer would be free to openly discriminate against any group they please and the only recourse the public would have is a marketplace solution. I don’t see how that is not a prescription for a society run by the powerful, with the rest of us having no collective way to enforce standards of justice or fairness other than those we can purchase in the market.

  146. Scott Says:

    publicschoolgrad #145: I agree, which is why I strongly support (e.g.) the provisions dealing with private businesses in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as a thoroughgoing libertarian couldn’t. But even there I think there are empirical questions that people could argue about in good faith. For example: granted that social ostracism was not enough to destroy Jim Crow, after it’s been gone for a few generations, could social ostracism be enough to prevent its reemergence?

  147. Atlantica Says:

    > What term would you prefer that I use for the people who tried to destroy my life five years ago, and who will almost certainly try again? (Or did the alt-right implant into my brain a false memory of what happened to me? 🙂 )

    Don’t put words into my mouth that I didn’t say. I never said that you were brainwashed by the alt-right or anything like that. I said you were using a word straight out of their vocabulary, and you are giving credence to the idea of “SJWs” as a monolithic bloc that exists. (In the real world, however, people whose political and ideological views err more on the side of social justice are much more diverse than this term describes — some of them even defended you in the 2015 comment affair — but for the person who _sincerely_ use SJW as a word to designate a category of people, they are all indistinguishable.)

    To hammer my point: would you use the words “cuck”, “feminazi”, “snowflake” or “libtard”? You don’t strike me as someone who would. Well, I hope that you will at least consider that “SJW” belongs to the same arsenal of words.

    If you have to designate a group of people who you feel are opposed to you, well then, consider simply saying that.

    > The point is that, if you’re a hardcore libertarian, then making sure no government entity ever discriminates by race is racial justice. Better yet if one ends government intrusions on liberty that disproportionately affect communities of color, like civil asset forfeiture and the criminalization of marijuana. Admittedly, this is extremely different from the progressive conception of racial justice

    I will give that to you: it is possible for the libertarian to believe that they support racial justice and be consistent with other libertarian views.
    However, I posit — and militants of the racial and social justice sides do as well — that while consistent, this view does little to *actually* move the needle towards actually justice. This is a common saying among sometimes well-meaning moderates: “I’m not racist, I don’t see color”. The “I don’t see color” argument has been discussed a lot and well debunked all over the internet. Google it. (Perhaps the ur-rebuke of this argument is MLK’s Letter from Birmigham Jail on “white moderates”.) While the idea of a society where the color of the skin does not matter is appealing to both the racial justice activists and the well-meaning libertarians, the disagreement comes from the problem of “how do we get there”. The progressive activists’ point of view is that fighting racism requires actively anti-racist measures. And I would argue that if you look in particular at the African-American condition in the US (of which we have gotten yet another stark reminder just recently), history has proven the progressives side right.

    That is what I mean when I say that libertarians don’t care about racial justice; it’s very easy to be self-consistent but completely wrong about how things work in practice. (Not to mention the fact that, very often, in libertarian circles, the biggest criticism about affirmative action is that it’s “racist against whites / asians”, which is not a particularly anti-racist stance for many commonly accepted definitions of racism…)

  148. Arboster Kipling Says:

    Gerard #116
    Slippery use of language you say? The narrower the constraints you put around a definition the more nonsensical the “Nation of Immigrants” canard becomes. Currently the foreign born population is at about the highest it has ever been at just shy of 15% and a healthy slice of that includes illegal aliens and resident aliens, some of whom may return home. Thus the vast majority of Americans are native born, not immigrants. Talk of “second generation immigrants” is talk of unicorns.

    You state Ireland was never politically British. All of Ireland was part of the UK until 1923 and Northern Ireland still is. Ireland had been ruled by the British for hundreds of years by the time Kennedy’s ancestors left for America. Many famous “Irishmen” like Swift and Yeats were really British or mostly British.

    The figures about descendants of the 1790 population come from Sam Huntington’s ‘Who Are We’, and while some have challenged a few claims he made in that book his genealogical analysis is sound. I too am from the North East, I live in PA near Lancaster and the most recent branch of my family tree goes back to the 19th century with most of my family here at or before the founding. Colonizers are not immigrants, slaves are not immigrants, Native Americans are not immigrants. I think it rather dishonest to call the great waves of 19th century settlers that expanded our territory and created brand new states ‘immigrants’, in the way the Ellis Island immigrants were (which by the way in its 62 year existence took in about 12 million people).

  149. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Atlantica 147

    SJW was a long-needed term that filled a conceptual gap in the lexicon. There is no succinct substitute term (including no term and case by case improvisation) that better describes reality. This is why it is effective, and the effectiveness is probably why it bothers you so much that you speak to our host in a series of commands presuming to police his speech.

    Language policing is itself a classic SJW behavior that helps differentiate the supposedly stereotypical SJW (i.e., 90+ percent of what is observed) from the genuine article.

    One reason SJW has caught on is precisely that it is *not* particularly politics-dependent classification any more than earlier lexicon extensions like “PC”, “hipster”, “virtue signaling”, or “preference falsification”. People of any political stripe can easily observe the phenomenon, and suddenly they have a memorable name for it. This is quite different from “cuck”, “soyboy” and other exonyms of the kind you listed where placement in the category is mostly a function of one’s ideology (e.g., is the behavior wimpy and emasculated, or masculine). SJW is also, through generalization and humor, a diffuse replacement for more pointed and negative terms such as “Feminazi” and “race hustler”. This catch-all aspect not only reduces conversational hostility, it (counterintuitively) improves accuracy: there is only one Left. Certainly the SJWs think so, as your posts demonstrate. You won’t allow Scott to use unapproved language because he can only be for them or against them.

  150. Michael Says:

    @Atlantica#147- But people who are called “SJWs” often use terms like “Nice Guy TM” and “white fragility” even though the subjects of those terms object to those terms.
    (And some of them might have defended Scott but almost NONE of them were honest about the drawbacks of an “if you’re not sure, don’t do it rule” with respect to consent. People with OCD find that they turn into a mess of guilt and anxiety when they try to follow an “if you’re not sure if it will hurt anyone, don’t do it” rule with respect to anything that their OCD focuses on- be it sex, or parenting, or driving. And OCD often manifests in teenagers but isn’t diagnosed until adulthood. I don’t know, maybe you did mention this. But when a group spends years pushing a policy and “forgets” to mention the drawbacks, they don’t get to complain that people who were harmed by it see them as a monolith.)

  151. Scott Says:

    Atlantica #147: I’ve never once used epithets like “cuck” or “libtard,” nor have I ever used the analogous epithets favored by the other side (“bitter incel,” “sexist asshat,” “mansplainer,” etc). I never intend to use them.

    With SJW, by contrast, I really do need some term for the cohesive ideology that believes that one should battle racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. by calling out and shaming private individuals on the Internet and seeking to have them cancelled, and by aggressively policing what others might see as small deviations of thought and language, even by people who are “politically on the same side.” Would “social justice activist” have less of a derogatory connotation than SJW?

    As for “I don’t see color,” I always thought that what grates about it is the potential dishonesty—like, how do you know that you don’t see it? What about “of course I see color, along with fatness and baldness and wheelchair-ness and all sorts of other attributes of a person, but I try hard to judge people by the deeper aspects of their character like MLK would have wanted me to, and I’m always working to improve”? Have we reached the stage in society’s evolution where that’s also a racist thing to say?

  152. Mark Bahner Says:

    “Sorry but, as people mentioned, Scott himself didn’t exercise proper caution by any means.”

    He has acknowledged that he screwed up, but as he correctly put it, at least he hasn’t published his full name in the NY Times. And why does the NY Times even need to publish his full name?

    To me this is very similar to the (excellent!) movie, “Absence of Malice”, starring Paul Newman and Sally Fields…and with excellent supporting actors and actresses like Melinda Dillon. In the movie, the reporter (played by Sally Fields) is simply oblivious to the potential adverse impacts of revealing the identity of the character played by Melinda Dillon.

  153. Christopher Blanchard Says:

    There is a thing about Scott Alexander which (on a skim) doesn’t seem to have been raised. He is a psychiatrist, and that is a job with its’ own special dangers. I don’t, obviously, know his speciality but one of the things some psychiatrists do is spend long hours talking with mad people. i had better make it clear, before I go on, that I do know the incidence of violent or otherwise harmful behaviour from mad people isn’t any different to the population at large, but that isn’t the point. What he does is enter and sustain a long relationship with people, and some of them are dangerous. This isn’t random interaction (unlike mine or most people’s), so these dangerous people can, and sometimes do, focus on their psychiatrist in a way which doesn’t happen with the rest of us. That is why no-one in this part of health care ever, ever, gives out personal information about these medics. What happens when this fails, and I have worked with psychiatrists and known about this happening, is murder attempts. So doxing a psychiatrist is much worse than doxing, say, me.

  154. Christopher Blanchard Says:

    And, the thing with discussion about ‘race’ has two parts. First, with Vaarsuvius, it is stupid: classic is that we can do a principle components analysis on a a purely (“”) random array and still get ‘significant’ results – if we are rubbish or dishonest statisticians. But never mind that. Scott has a good point, that we have to pay attention to ‘race’. That is not because there is any truth in it, but because we have to deal with how a lot of our contemporaries see the world. ‘Race’ is a contemporary reality and I know my contempt for its’ intellectual pretentions doesn’t change that. I don’t properly know how to deal with it. I can be, and will be, hostile to racism, but I have friends who will tell me things like ‘every black man is an African’, or ‘I am black and proud of it’. They are also wrong, but I am damned it I am going to argue back. Racism is a disease, but it doesn’t just infect evil people.

  155. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Gerard #137: The Sahara desert divides Africa and Africa. The Gobi desert divides Asia and Asia. In both cases states existed around those inhospitable areas, and they could hardly be said to bisect their own continent, much less two continents. Show me the boundaries between Europe, Africa and Asia, in a way that prevents the admixture you say is minimal between the “three classical races”. (There aren’t any, all three are connected by human populations of significaant size, most notably in the middle east)

    You also seem to be forgetting Indian in your analysis (one if the most significant states bridging Europe and Asia). Is it “Asian”? A race of its own? What about Chinese?

  156. Bob Strauss Says:

    I think it’s hilarious how a post devoted to defending the other Scott A. (which I fully support) has devolved into an endless discussion about the genetics of race. This just goes to show how ridiculous it is to hold a person accountable for the remarks posted on his website.

  157. publicschoolgrad Says:

    The Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the history of race might shed some light on the origin of the “three traditional races”:
    https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human/Scientific-classifications-of-race

  158. fred Says:

    Scott #151
    “As for “I don’t see color,” I always thought that what grates about it is the potential dishonesty”

    Just like it would be impossible for anyone to claim they don’t have some sort of bias in their sexual preferences (i.e. how attracted we are to some random person vs another).

    Given the current rate of progress in brain science, it won’t be long before any sort of bias can be actually measured. Will we have an official “racism” score?

    Is one’s denial of bias an actual dishonesty or the evidence that maybe they’re working hard on suppressing such things? Self-deception/suppression is a thing.
    How deep do we have to dig?
    Do we pass the purity test as long as there’s evidence that our frontal cortex is trying hard to suppress some bias that’s being fired by our primitive reptile brain?

    Of course, in the end, no brain is responsible for its own wiring…

  159. Gerard Says:

    Vaarsuvius:

    I have no clue how you got the idea that the 3 traditional “races” were based on continents, if people refer to them as European, Asian and African that’s only used as a shorthand (because humans are lazy and often use imprecise language). I stated very clearly in one of my first comments on this thread how I understood them to be defined.

    I see no point in trying to continue a discussion with people who haven’t even bothered to read my previous comments so I will have nothing further to say here (this applies to Kipling as well).

  160. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Gerard #159: My apologies. I have been dealing with far too many alt-righters as of late (this is not implying that you are one). My points still stand. Both the Gobi and the Sahara are surrounded by an unbroken chain of states, the most significant of which are the states that comprise the Middle East and India. These regions have been occupied since the beginning of human history (in particular, India is one of the four cradles of civilisation) and must be explained for the three racial groups to make sense.

    Furthermore, human nations and kingdoms in these “inhospitable” areas have a long tradition of existing, most notable of which are Mali and the Mongolian tribes native to the Gobi desert.

    With populations both around and between these natural barriers and clear paths of trade by land and sea since ancient times (the bronze age collapse was a thing because of frequent and interconnected travel between these regions), I can hardly see how this would allow for the separate development of three human races. Remember, humans spread out from Africa in the first place.

  161. Vaarsuvius Says:

    As an aside, if you are unconvinced that large groups of people could traverse these regions, both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan created empires that spanned Europe and Asia. Ibn Battuta recorded travels along the muslim nations branching between Africa, Europe and Asia (from Mali to Jerusalem to Hungary to Delhi to China), and the mixture of cultures in “boundary” nations such as India make clear that the populatioms were mobile and did mix a whole lot (war and disease and famine make for highly convincing population movement incentives), making it highly unlikely that some sort of clean gene pool has developed in even relative isolation. Humans get around.

  162. G$ Says:

    Anybody hear of any updates?

  163. Armin Chosnama Says:

    “The recent news had already been bad enough: Trump’s “temporary suspension” of J1 and H1B visas (which will deal a body blow to American universities this year, and to all the foreign scientists who planned to work at them), on top of the civil unrest, on top of the economic collapse, on top of the now-resurgent coronavirus.”

    It’s really a sad sign of how afraid honest people like the current Scott A are of the progressive media that when they defend someone from its transgressions, they have to first signal their allegiance to its core values: Trump bad, immigration good (never mind that scholars are likely to be excluded from the ban), civil unrest sad, coronavirus existential threat.

  164. Scott Says:

    Armin #163: But what if I actually do agree with those values? If you want your more “mainstream” friends to listen to when you say stuff that they might not like, then what could possibly be the downside to pointing put prominently where you do in fact agree with them?

  165. Darij Grinberg Says:

    @Armin #163: As a single data point: If the H-1B visa freeze had happened one year ago, it would have derailed my career in the US (possibly permanently, as I have been applying to European jobs as well and would have kept doing so with greater force if the US kept blocking me out). Others are less lucky. (The ban so far has no carve-out for academics apart from ones working on COVID.) Whether or not this is good for the US depends on what you think about the value of research and free flow of researchers; but I hope you can understand why American scientists are pissed off when a postdoc they invited is suddenly prevented from coming because Trump wanted to make a point about immigration.

    I’m not even fully in the “immigration good” camp; I think Canada’s points system is a good idea that countries may well want to copy if they are actually interested in their prosperity. And “coronavirus existential threat” is not a reasonable restatement of what Scott said about it, nor what I believe about it. What I’m saying here is that you should not think “allegiance signal” when someone opposes Trump’s usually inane policies.

  166. a reader Says:

    G$ #162

    “Anybody hear of any updates?”

    Yes. There is a petition against Scott’s doxxing, signed by 5681 signatures from 56 countries, among them Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt:

    dontdoxscottalexander.com/

    According to The Daily Beast, there is some support for Scott Alexander even among New York Times staff:

    thedailybeast.com/the-slate-star-codex-doxxing-is-the-latest-squabble-inside-new-york-times

    Scott Alexander asked in a Reddit thread people who talked to that journalist to send him proof that the guy claimed to write a favorable article:

    reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/hgnisg/request_for_screenshotstext/

    (sorry if some of those things were already mentioned – I didn’t read all the comments)

  167. potato Says:

    Gkx #121 this is hair splitting at best, misleading at worst.

    Modern Africans only have Neanderthal DNA because they got it from ancestral Europeans through back-migration from Europe.

  168. Tobin Baker Says:

    Given what’s happened to others[0], I see no reason to believe that Scott wouldn’t eventually be fired from his job if his identity were widely known. Unlike you, he doesn’t have tenure.

    [0] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/case-for-liberalism-tom-cotton-new-york-times-james-bennet.html

  169. G$ Says:

    A reader #166: thanks. Saw those and had already signed and cancelled my NYT subscription. Wondered if the situation has since changed.

  170. Armin Says:

    One possible resolution that I have not seen mentioned yet might be that if the NYT is unwilling to make an exception, the reporter, if he is willing, could ask them permission to take his story to another publication which is allows him to keep SA anonymous.
    With their stance, the NYT is sitting on a story on a blog which is no longer available and has therefore a lot less value, so taking it elsewhere is not taking much from them.

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