A grand anticlimax: the New York Times on Scott Alexander

Updates (Feb. 14, 2021): Scott Alexander Siskind responds here.

Last night, it occurred to me that despite how disjointed it feels, the New York Times piece does have a central thesis: namely, that rationalism is a “gateway drug” to dangerous beliefs. And that thesis is 100% correct—insofar as once you teach people that they can think for themselves about issues of consequence, some of them might think bad things. It’s just that many of us judge the benefit worth the risk!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!


Back in June, New York Times technology reporter Cade Metz, who I’d previously known from his reporting on quantum computing, told me that he was writing a story about Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex, and the rationalist community. Given my position as someone who knew the rationalist community without ever really being part of it, Cade wondered whether I’d talk with him. I said I’d be delighted to.

I spent many hours with Cade, taking his calls and emails morning or night, at the playground with my kids or wherever else I was, answering his questions, giving context for his other interviews, suggesting people in the rationalist community for him to talk to, in exactly the same way I might suggest colleagues for a quantum computing story. And then I spent just as much time urging those people to talk to Cade. (“How could you possibly not want to talk? It’s the New York Times!”) Some of the people I suggested agreed to talk; others refused; a few were livid at me for giving a New York Times reporter their email addresses without asking them. (I apologized; lesson learned.)

What happened next is already the stuff of Internet history: the NYT’s threat to publish Scott’s real surname; Scott deleting his blog as a way to preempt that ‘doxing’; 8,000 people, including me, signing a petition urging the NYT to respect Scott’s wish to keep his professional and blog identities separate; Scott resigning from his psychiatry clinic and starting his own low-cost practice, Lorien Psychiatry; his moving his blog, like so many other writers this year, to Substack; then, a few weeks ago, his triumphant return to blogging under his real name of Scott Siskind. All this against the backdrop of an 8-month period that was world-changingly historic in so many other ways: the failed violent insurrection against the United States and the ouster, by democratic means, of the president who incited it; the tragedy of covid and the long-delayed start of the vaccination campaign; the BLM protests; the well-publicized upheavals at the NYT itself, including firings for ideological lapses that would’ve made little sense to our remote ancestors of ~2010.

And now, as an awkward coda, the New York Times article itself is finally out (non-paywalled version here).

It could’ve been worse. I doubt it will do lasting harm. Of the many choices I disagreed with, I don’t know which were Cade’s and which his editors’. But no, I was not happy with it. If you want a feature-length, pop condensation of the rationalist community and its ideas, I preferred this summer’s New Yorker article (but much better still is the book by Tom Chivers).

The trouble with the NYT piece is not that it makes any false statements, but just that it constantly insinuates nefarious beliefs and motives, via strategic word choices and omission of relevant facts that change the emotional coloration of the facts that it does present. I repeatedly muttered to myself, as I read: “dude, you could make anything sound shady with this exact same rhetorical toolkit!”

Without further ado, here’s a partial list of my issues:

  1. The piece includes the following ominous sentence: “But in late June of last year, when I approached Siskind to discuss the blog, it vanished.”  This framing, it seems to me, would be appropriate for some conman trying to evade accountability without ever explaining himself. It doesn’t make much sense for a practicing psychiatrist who took the dramatic step of deleting his blog in order to preserve his relationship with his patients—thereby complying with an ethical code that’s universal among psychiatrists, even if slightly strange to the rest of us—and who immediately explained his reasoning to the entire world. In the latter framing, of course, Scott comes across less like a fugitive on the run and more like an innocent victim of a newspaper’s editorial obstinacy.
  2. As expected, the piece devotes enormous space to the idea of rationalism as an on-ramp to alt-right extremism.  The trouble is, it never presents the idea that rationalism also can be an off-ramp from extremism—i.e., that it can provide a model for how even after you realize that mainstream sources are confidently wrong on some issue, you don’t respond by embracing conspiracy theories and hatreds, you respond by simply thinking carefully about each individual question rather than buying a worldview wholesale from anyone.  Nor does the NYT piece mention how Scott, precisely because he gives right-wing views more charity than some of us might feel they deserve, actually succeeded in dissuading some of his readers from voting for Trump—which is more success than I can probably claim in that department! I had many conversations with Cade about these angles that are nowhere reflected in the piece.
  3. The piece gets off on a weird foot, by describing the rationalists as “a group that aimed to re-examine the world through cold and careful thought.”  Why “cold”?  Like, let’s back up a few steps: what is even the connection in the popular imagination between rationality and “coldness”? To me, as to many others, the humor, humanity, and warmth of Scott’s writing were always among its most notable features.
  4. The piece makes liberal use of scare quotes. Most amusingly, it puts scare quotes around the phrase “Bayesian reasoning”!
  5. The piece never mentions that many rationalists (Zvi Mowshowitz, Jacob Falkovich, Kelsey Piper…) were right about the risk of covid-19 in early 2020, and then again right about masks, aerosol transmission, faster-spreading variants, the need to get vaccines into arms faster, and many other subsidiary issues, even while public health authorities and the mainstream press struggled for months to reach the same obvious (at least in retrospect) conclusions.  This omission is significant because Cade told me, in June, that the rationalist community’s early rightness about covid was part of what led him to want to write the piece in the first place (!).  If readers knew about that clear success, would it put a different spin on the rationalists’ weird, cultlike obsession with “Bayesian reasoning” and “consequentialist ethics” (whatever those are), or their nerdy, idiosyncratic worries about the more remote future?
  6. The piece contains the following striking sentence: “On the internet, many in Silicon Valley believe, everyone has the right not only to say what they want but to say it anonymously.” Well, yes, except this framing makes it sound like this is a fringe belief of some radical Silicon Valley tribe, rather than just the standard expectation of most of the billions of people who’ve used the Internet for most of its half-century of existence.
  7. Despite thousands of words about the content of SSC, the piece never gives Scott a few uninterrupted sentences in his own voice, to convey his style. This is something the New Yorker piece did do, and which would help readers better understand the wit, humor, charity, and self-doubt that made SSC so popular.  To see what I mean, read the NYT’s radically-abridged quotations from Scott’s now-classic riff on the Red, Blue, and Gray Tribes and decide for yourself whether they capture the spirit of the original (alright, I’ll quote the relevant passage myself at the bottom of this post). Scott has the property, shared by many of my favorite writers, that if you just properly quote him, the words leap off the page, wriggling free from the grasp of any bracketing explanations and making a direct run for the reader’s brain. All the more reason to quote him!
  8. The piece describes SSC as “astoundingly verbose.”  A more neutral way to put it would be that Scott has produced a vast quantity of intellectual output.  When I finish a Scott Alexander piece, only in a minority of cases do I feel like he spent more words examining a problem than its complexities really warranted.  Just as often, I’m left wanting more.
  9. The piece says that Scott once “aligned himself” with Charles Murray, then goes on to note Murray’s explosive views about race and IQ. That might be fair enough, were it also mentioned that the positions ascribed to Murray that Scott endorses in the relevant post—namely, “hereditarian leftism” and universal basic income—are not only unrelated to race but are actually progressive positions.
  10. The piece says that Scott once had neoreactionary thinker Nick Land on his blogroll. Again, important context is missing: this was back when Land was mainly known for his strange writings on AI and philosophy, before his neoreactionary turn.
  11. The piece says that Scott compared “some feminists” to Voldemort.  It didn’t explain what it took for certain specific feminists (like Amanda Marcotte) to prompt that comparison, which might have changed the coloration. (Another thing that would’ve complicated the picture: the rationalist community’s legendary openness to alternative gender identities and sexualities, before such openness became mainstream.)
  12. Speaking of feminists—yeah, I’m a minor part of the article.  One of the few things mentioned about me is that I’ve stayed in a rationalist group house.  (If you must know: for like two nights, when I was in Bay Area, with my wife and kids. We appreciated the hospitality!) The piece also says that I was “turned off by the more rigid and contrarian beliefs of the Rationalists.” It’s true that I’ve disagreed with many beliefs espoused by rationalists, but not because they were contrarian, or because I found them noticeably more “rigid” than most beliefs—only because I thought they were mistaken!
  13. The piece describes Eliezer Yudkowsky as a “polemicist and self-described AI researcher.”  It’s true that Eliezer opines about AI despite a lack of conventional credentials in that field, and it’s also true that the typical NYT reader might find him to be comically self-aggrandizing.  But had the piece mentioned the universally recognized AI experts, like Stuart Russell, who credit Yudkowsky for a central role in the AI safety movement, wouldn’t that have changed what readers perceived as the take-home message?
  14. The piece says the following about Shane Legg and Demis Hassabis, the founders of DeepMind: “Like the Rationalists, they believed that AI could end up turning against humanity, and because they held this belief, they felt they were among the only ones who were prepared to build it in a safe way.”  This strikes me as a brilliant way to reframe a concern around AI safety as something vaguely sinister.  Imagine if the following framing had been chosen instead: “Amid Silicon Valley’s mad rush to invest in AI, here are the voices urging that it be done safely and in accord with human welfare…”

Reading this article, some will say that they told me so, or even that I was played for a fool.  And yet I confess that, even with hindsight, I have no idea what I should have done differently, how it would’ve improved the outcome, or what I will do differently the next time. Was there some better, savvier way for me to help out? For each of the 14 points listed above, were I ever tempted to bang my head and say, “dammit, I wish I’d told Cade X, so his story could’ve reflected that perspective”—well, the truth of the matter is that I did tell him X! It’s just that I don’t get to decide which X’s make the final cut, or which ideological filter they’re passed through first.

On reflection, then, I’ll continue to talk to journalists, whenever I have time, whenever I think I might know something that might improve their story. I’ll continue to rank bend-over-backwards openness and honesty among my most fundamental values. Hell, I’d even talk to Cade for a future story, assuming he’ll talk to me after all the disagreements I’ve aired here! [Update: commenters’ counterarguments caused me to change my stance on this; see here.]

For one thing that became apparent from this saga is that I do have a deep difference with the rationalists, one that will likely prevent me from ever truly joining them. Yes, there might be true and important things that one can’t say without risking one’s livelihood. At least, there were in every other time and culture, so it would be shocking if Western culture circa 2021 were the lone exception. But unlike the rationalists, I don’t feel the urge to form walled gardens in which to say those things anyway. I simply accept that, in the age of instantaneous communication, there are no walled gardens: anything you say to a dozen or more people, you might as well broadcast to the planet. Sure, we all have things we say only in the privacy of our homes or to a few friends—a privilege that I expect even the most orthodox would like to preserve, at any rate for themselves. Beyond that, though, my impulse has always been to look for non-obvious truths that can be shared openly, and that might light little candles of understanding in one or two minds—and then to shout those truths from the rooftops under my own name, and learn what I can from whatever sounds come in reply.

So I’m thrilled that Scott Alexander Siskind has now rearranged his life to have the same privilege. Whatever its intentions, I hope today’s New York Times article draws tens of thousands of curious new readers to Scott’s new-yet-old blog, Astral Codex Ten, so they can see for themselves what I and so many others saw in it. I hope Scott continues blogging for decades. And whatever obscene amount of money Substack is now paying Scott, I hope they’ll soon be paying him even more.


Alright, now for the promised quote, from I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

… Even in something as seemingly politically uncharged as going to California Pizza Kitchen or Sushi House for dinner, I’m restricting myself to the set of people who like cute artisanal pizzas or sophsticated foreign foods, which are classically Blue Tribe characteristics.

153 Responses to “A grand anticlimax: the New York Times on Scott Alexander”

  1. matt Says:

    One thing I learned in my much more limited discussions with journalists long ago, is that they will usually quote something you said and you have no control what, so just give them only one or two quotes at most, so that they can’t pick and choose!

  2. uhoh Says:

    What I was struck by the the NYT piece was how frivolous and without a point it was.

  3. orthonormal Says:

    “And yet I confess that, even with hindsight, I have no idea what I should have done differently, how it would’ve improved the outcome, or what I will do differently the next time.”

    My advice would be to not have extended interviews with journalists, unless those journalists are less than two degrees of deep trust away from you. (E.g. Tom Chivers’ book was great, and his access to people through Paul Crowley was absolutely legitimate.) Otherwise, treat an interview as you would treat talking to the police.

    “Treating everything you say on the Internet as if it were broadcast to the world” is one thing; “giving a possible adversarial person an interview that will almost surely be broadcast on the world’s largest platform” is another. No amount of positive statements can prevent a Metz from finding the five-word phrase that looks bad out of context, and the more statements you give him, the easier you make his job.

  4. Roger Says:

    “a few were livid at me for giving a New York Times reporter their email addresses without asking them. (I apologized; lesson learned.)”

    I am curious about the lesson learned. Your colleagues are probably professors who put their email address on their web pages, and welcome email from students and others all the time. And they also get spammed. Surely they are all capable of politely refusing an NYT request.

    I am guessing you also learned this lesson:

    “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward — reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

    In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”
    – Michael Crichton (1942-2008)
    https://www.epsilontheory.com/gell-mann-amnesia/

  5. Joshua Brulé Says:

    You know the saying about hindsight; it’s much easier to point out mistakes after the fact. Not that you need my approval, but I think you acted mostly reasonably (based on what you knew at the time) with the best intentions. That being said…

    I think you were very naive.

    The New York Times has repeatedly demonstrated that they are not acting in good faith; they are not interested in learning the truth and writing accurate articles. They, in your own words, are interested in insinuating “nefarious beliefs and motives, via strategic word choices and omission of relevant facts that change the emotional coloration of the facts that it does present”.

    It’s not crazy for you to talk to the New York Times. You have some power in such a conversation. Yes, really! You have all of the appropriate credentials; you’re well-recognized as an expert in quantum computing; you have tenure. If the New York Times wants to talk about science, they want to be able to quote people who are recognizable as experts; you want to accurate descriptions of science to win out over… less accurate descriptions of science. That’s not a relationship between equals, the press can (and has!) drag your name through the mud for a story. But you’re not powerless.

    I spent just as much time urging those people to talk to Cade

    a few were livid at me for giving a New York Times reporter their email addresses

    I think it was irresponsible for you to suggest that people without the protections of your position talk to the press. “How could you possibly not want to talk? It’s the New York Times!” you ask. Easy: We don’t want to lose our jobs (people have gotten fired when their unconventional views or even just some out of context jokes got signal-boosted by the press); we don’t want our fledgling communities to be overwhelmed by an influx of attention (growing a community while preserving the culture is hard); for the most part, we want to be left alone, especially considering we weren’t hurting anyone else.

    The media sees a subculture building up social capital in their own clubhouse, and their response is to to try to burn it down. There’s a reason so many people pseudonymous online. I think it’s great that you don’t feel the urge to form a walled garden – but don’t ask people to invite the enemy in to theirs.

    even with hindsight, I have no idea what I should have done differently,

    Interestingly, you’ve done it, with this post. You’ve warned people, “Don’t talk to the press unless you’re okay with the strong possibility that your words will be taken out of context and weaponized against communities that you like.”

  6. Scott Says:

    orthonormal #3: I didn’t feel like the piece was unfair to me. I just wish I could’ve figured out how to make it be fairer to others. At worst, I wasted some time.

  7. Michael B Says:

    The NYT article comes across as so intellectually trashy compared to the ideas and community it’s sloppily attempting to critique. It’s almost as if their bills get paid by a public that seeks amusement in the form of putting their face up to the glass so they can sneer at the freaks.

    Probably the biggest insult is that such a dim-witted piece of writing gets off on criticizing one of the most gifted living science writers today for being overly verbose; gaslit by the NYT megaphone. How degrading.

  8. Rand Says:

    > The piece describes Eliezer Yudkowsky as a “polemicist and self-described AI researcher.” It’s true that Eliezer opines about AI despite a lack of conventional credentials in that field, and it’s also true that the typical NYT reader might find him to be comically self-aggrandizing.

    My first attempt to describe Eliezer would be “Autodidact who believed he solved philosophy and attempted to explain how in millions of words on his blog and in condensed form in his Harry Potter fanfiction”. My second is “techno-futurist who used to believe that the technological inflection point (or singularity) would save mankind and is now convinced that it will destroy it”. There is no easy way to describe Eliezer Yudkowsky to a mass audience, particularly not in one or two sentences.

    I was more bothered by them describing you as a “University of Texas professor who has stayed in one of the group houses” (rather than “quantum computing rock star”) and saying nothing about Kelsey Piper (“currently Perfecting the Future in a carefully cordoned off section of vox.com”) at all.

  9. Scott Says:

    Roger #4: What I learned was precisely that getting an inquiry from a journalist isn’t the same normal and innocuous thing for “civilians” as it is for academics.

  10. Ratufa Says:

    What really disturbs me about this whole situation is that parts of the “Blue Tribe” seem to increasingly view rationalists and rationalist adjacents as an enemy. And more specifically an enemy that should be purged. Which is pretty striking considering how insanely “liberal” most rationalists are relative to the median US voter.

    I really don’t think the community has come to terms with this. I really wish it were the case that our good intentions would protect us. But we aren’t (just) a bunch of weirdos arguing on the internet anymore.

  11. LGS Says:

    “But had the piece mentioned the universally recognized AI experts, like Stuart Russell, who credit Yudkowsky for a central role in the AI safety movement, wouldn’t that have changed what readers perceived as the take-home message?”

    Perhaps, but it’s important to note that most AI experts are not, in fact, Stuart Russell. Last I checked, Stuart Russell was a single person (the same person is always used in this context of defending Yudkowsky/MIRI, out of many thousands of AI experts).

    My own conversations with AI experts indicates that most do *not* take the Yudkowsky view seriously (though by now most are familiar with it). They may well be wrong about that; I’m have some Yudkowsky-ish sympathies myself. It’s just that appealing to Stuart Russell sounds like the kind of argumentative move that could justify anything (e.g. would it be fair to appeal to a global-warming-skeptic researcher, assuming I could find one, to try to paint denialists in a positive light?)

    (And be careful with the term “AI safety”; it means something very different to most AI researchers than it does to the rationalists.)

  12. John Kennedy Says:

    The piece has at least one outright falsehood:

    “That week, a Google employee named James Damore wrote a memo arguing that the low number of women in technical positions at the company was a result of biological differences, not anything else — a memo he was later fired over. One Slate Star Codex reader on Reddit noted the similarities to the writing on the blog.”

    Damore’s memo definitely did not assert that the low number of technical positions at Google was solely because of biological reasons. For example, he said:

    “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

    and

    “Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.”

    Note: *in part*

  13. Michael Says:

    I think that part of the issue is that Cade was understandably angry because some of the responses he and his editor received were abusive. I’ve heard it argued that Scott shouldn’t have asked his followers to write to the New York Times. (Of course, that gets into the question of how to have a mass letter or email writing campaign against a large organization like the New York Times without some people being abusive.)

  14. marxbro Says:

    Universal Basic Income is not considered a “progressive position” among the left. Scott’s lack of engagement with leftist politics is pretty obvious if you’ve spent any time reading Marx and other prominent leftist thinkers.

  15. David Says:

    Scott, I read the NY Times article and had basically the same reactions, and came here expecting you to be rightfully upset, as you are. Or perhaps better put, very, very disappointed, although when it comes down to it I’m not surprised that such a non-politically correct forum would get misrepresented in a mainstream media piece, NY Times or no.

    There is a bandgap in level of intellectual discourse that can’t really be jumped in these things- arguments that critically depend upon a high level of intellectual discourse and intellectual honesty will *never* be renderable in forums that are subject to the general public’s sense of political correctness and what is appropriate to talk about. I therefore find it depressing to think that if you are right about walled gardens no longer existing, that frank discussion at a level higher than that the general (reading) public is capable of, will be more and more endangered in the future as idiotic outside forces intrude everywhere with intellectually spurious disruptions.

    Roger #4: While that quote of Michael Crichton’s is a good one, I find it highly ironic that his own behavior presents one of the worst examples of that sort of misrepresentation. When reading his own polemics on climate change, a subject outside his area of expertise, climate scientists I’m sure are overcome with exactly the same feeling of “I know this subject, and that is a bunch of #$%”. He never had the intellectual honesty to turn that lens on his own advocacy of positions he was unqualified to address.

  16. szablierz Says:

    “On reflection, then, I’ll continue to talk to journalists, whenever I have time, whenever I think I might know something that might improve their story. I’ll continue to rank bend-over-backwards openness and honesty among my fundamental values. Hell, I’ll even talk to Cade for a future story, assuming he’ll talk to me after all the disagreements I’ve aired here!”

    And thus, the farmer, having been snatched from the brink of death with a prompt administration of anti-venom by heroic paramedics, made a solemn vow: from now on, I shall be hugging all of the snakes!

  17. Scott Says:

    szablierz #16: In what way did I suffer a venomous snakebite? The piece didn’t try to insinuate anything bad about me, while its scattered attempts to insinuate bad things about the other Scott seem likelier to win him new readers than to hurt him.

  18. hnau Says:

    > If you want a feature-length, pop condensation of the rationalist community and its ideas, I preferred this summer’s New Yorker article.

    I have the opposite preference. Lewis-Kraus’s treatment was just as full of bad-faith insinuation as Metz’s, but at greater length and more cleverly done. If people are going to read one of the two, I’d prefer the one that’s more obviously (even to you!) a hit job.

  19. szablierz Says:

    Scott #17: yeah, what happened to you isn’t really comparable to being bitten by a viper and it was nothing compared to what happened to the other Scott (or should I just say “Scott”? Are you the other Scott? This is confusing.) I only made that analogy as a pretentious attempt to appear classy and cultured.

    But what happened to you still wasn’t nice. You say you spent hours talking with the guy, sincerely trying to give him a honest and complete understanding of the subject. Your reward was being selectively quoted, with nuance thrown out, and having your name invoked to legitimize the narrative.

    And even if you don’t care about that, being willing to hug vipers just because they only bite your friends still doesn’t sound like a good policy. Anyway, weren’t you bitten by a whole bunch of snakes once upon a time?

  20. conjecture Says:

    I suspected while reading that the main reasons for publishing such an obviously unpolished piece was actually to use it as an attack against Balaji S. I assume they recently received access to the mentioned email and rushed to publish the attack using a half written piece about Scott.

  21. Garrett Says:

    I wanted to comment on this:

    “Hell, I’ll even talk to Cade for a future story, assuming he’ll talk to me after all the disagreements I’ve aired here!”

    But I see szablierz already did. In your response to him you mentioned Metz’ “scattered attempts to insinuate bad things about the other Scott” not hurting him. I’m left wondering why you would want to have any future communication with this person. Just because the bullet missed the target doesn’t mean he wasn’t shot at.

    And I’m sorry, but your original statement comes off as groveling. Why are you being so deferential to someone who has shown you such disrespect?

  22. Scott Says:

    szablierz #19: Yes, I’ve been bitten in the past, and it’s partly because I know how it feels that I spent so much time trying to prevent my friends from being bitten! In the end, though, these long-awaited bites seem fairly toothless, more rattle and hiss.

  23. Sol Says:

    marxbro #14: I think ‘progressive’ is actually probably an accurate way to characterise it, in that UBI is associated with the ‘progressivism’ side of things, i.e. reformist-orientated, assuming capitalism as an axiomatic structure and seeking to ameliorate it.

    You may be right in assuming that Scott didn’t mean it that way, that the aim was to generally associate other-Scott with being ‘progressive’ in the generic ‘left-ish aligned’ sense rather than the more precise ‘progressivism’ sense, but even so, I would be extremely surprised to see anyone attempting to paint Scott Alexander as being a leftist as-such (except the people who don’t have any idea what the word ‘leftist’ means or that there’s any distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘leftist’); even just reading the article linked and noting his off-hand, unexamined dismissal of communism and anarcho-syndicalism not only as though they’re identical and interchangeable, but as though they’re inherently interchangeable with anarcho-capitalism, theocracy and Trumpism, should be enough to disabuse anyone who’s ever heard the terms ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and ‘anarcho-capitalism’ before from that notion.

  24. Scott Says:

    marxbro #14: UBI is certainly a progressive position by the general standards of the US. I agree that it might not be considered progressive by those who’d rather that the workers seize the means of production and the intelligentsia be sent to toil on collective farms.

  25. Scott Says:

    Garrett #21: Have you read Scott Alexander’s new post? He says he suspects Cade didn’t want to write the piece in this way and that the editors’ hand was involved—something that, if true, would jibe with my own impressions.

    In any case, I’m not quite as naïve as it seems. I simply place an enormous value on being open, honest, and cooperative for as long as I can bear the cost—so that if things do break down, it won’t have been my fault.

  26. Garrett Says:

    I just finished reading SA’s post. I’m not sure how much the idea of blaming the editor absolves the author, but I admit to not knowing much of how newspapers work.

    I appreciate your magnanimity, and I hope it ends up being the correct strategy the next time a situation like this comes up.

  27. marxbro Says:

    Well, yes, Democrats like Yang are fairly conservative compared to communists like myself, obviously (I’ll ignore your backhanded and uncharitable portrayal of communism for now). But even among the ‘progressive liberals’ of the Democratic base I think there is significant scepticism towards UBI, hence Yangs lack of popularity and the whole issue falling to the wayside.

    Further, when UBI is being proposed by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, an explicitly conservative think tank, I have no real problem saying it isn’t an especially progressive policy proposal.

  28. Tim McCormack Says:

    Even if Cade didn’t want to write it that way, it seems very unwise to reward him and the NYT for writing this weird hit piece by granting any further interviews to NYT reporters.

    If “oh, your boss made you do it” becomes an excuse, then the corporation is never culpable.

  29. Joshua Brulé Says:

    I simply place an enormous value on being open, honest, and cooperative for as long as I can bear the cost

    Isn’t the correct strategy tit-for-tat, or similar? (e.g. tit for two tats)

    I’m reminded of JJ’s razor: The intentionality of an agent with behavior sufficiently indistinguishable from malice, is irrelevant.

    Cade may or may not have wanted to write that piece – but he did. Whether that was malice or being pressured into it by his bosses at NYT is irrelevant. As long as he’s at NYT, stop cooperating! You don’t cooperate with someone when they keep defecting!

  30. Anon Says:

    But you (and most people like you) would throw someone under the bus if you thought they were a “gateway drug to right-wing ideas”. So all the NYT has to do is insinuate hard enough that most people believe this, and you will eventually go along with it once disagreeing with them becomes “one of those things you can’t say”.

    You’ve committed to always being their devoted toady. They have no incentive to offer you anything in return.

  31. Ben Wheeler Says:

    Scott, thanks for these thoughtful reflections. I love your point about Scott Alexander’s voice. I also frequently disagree with his points and with other rationalist writers, and in particular I think so much self-congratulation about being free from bias and assumptions can get in the way of understanding. But as you point out, there’s a ton of legitimately useful, thoughtful, humanitarian thinking going on in the rationalist community, and a dismissive piece like this NYT one is disappointing for its failure to engage with that.

  32. Brian Says:

    Great post with great points all around. I would just like to gently push back against point 8.

    I also enjoy most SSC posts, but usually when my friends complain about the blog or explain why they don’t read it, they mention that it’s too verbose for them. I think part of the SSC style is building up to main points unusually slowly but systematically, with way many examples than other writers would use, and often with the conclusion being a surprise or at least not clearly telegraphed at the start. I like that style or at least usually don’t mind it; I take it you do too. However, I feel like many people, who might not politically disagree with Scott Alexander too much, find it annoying and wish his posts would just get to the point. Neither opinion is right or wrong, writing style is just a matter of preference, but I do think Scott’s style is a lot more verbose than average.

  33. Meow Says:

    Since when a big, representative newspaper with history and integrity like NYT became the new \href{https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gossip_Girl}{Gossip Girl} of NY city?

    To satisfy or please the morbid appetite of a boring reader? What the motivation behind this psycho behavior? It is a personal mistake or a new culture/norm of NYT? Why did this happen? What they want to AFTER digging out a psychiatrist’s real surname? People (journalists and their readers) with this sick peep-stalking mindset really need to go to see a psychiatrist NOW. In case that they wanna peek or stalk something else which may have a worse influence.

    There are people who are willing to help people anonymously for nothing, why misuse the freedom and harm the healthy online community? So next time, out of privacy concern, that everyone just shut up and not talking about their problems has to be the best self-preservation solution?

    I was outgroup… from a kid to most time of teenager(and this category also missed animal lover, unicorn, fairy, vampire…) then I sort of getting used to it and eventually like it, I can just be the way I like selfishly, without considering other members of this group’s like or dislike, for example, the benefit of watching a movie alone is that I can leave anytime if I don’t like it without pretending to like it and continue watching it with other friends who like this movie. Like the mock doing zazen and enjoy their inner peace and making dialogue with themselves and getting rid of all the noise in my environment.
    Like a few months earlier I read Nietzsche’s dialogue and feel so pleasantly surprised
    “To live alone one must be either a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.”( See, I might have some mild, hidden philosopher temperament!!!)

    How about all the outgroup people form a new group ‘ non-group’ , the only community code is that we will respect each other as a individual by not kidnapping anyone’s free will in the sacred name of any group, party’s cultural togetherness, common interests, or norm of a community?
    If there is a ‘non-group’ like that, I will be very positive to join in since it has the most energetic vitality, freedom, diversity, otherwise, I have ALREADY made friends with loneliness and feel the most freedom and happiness to focus on what I love and do it alone without all the annoying disturbing from the noisy outside world.

  34. Raoul Ohio Says:

    You can grade yourself on the Red Tribe / Blue Tribe lists. My setup was a value in [0,1] for each item, and divide the total by 15. I got an 0.21 for Red and a 0.56 for Blue. That might be a (light) Violet Violet Blue in Blackboard’s color chooser.

    I kind of like that! I’m going to call my next punk/bluegrass/country band, I think “Violet Violet Blue”.

  35. Amoss Says:

    > Why “cold”? Like, let’s back up a few steps: what is even the connection in the popular imagination between rationality and “coldness”?

    English is a hot mess. As a native speaker I would not know this, but learning a new language (with common roots) sheds some light on the etymology. In this case coldness is not an antonym of warm, but rather an antonym of “hot”. In this sense it does not relate to physical temperature but instead to emotional temperature, and the coldness literally implies “without being affected by emotional heat (strength)”. So yeah, cold by definition. English is weird like that.

  36. Vanessa Says:

    “For one thing that became apparent from this saga is that I do have a deep difference with the rationalists, one that will likely prevent me from ever truly joining them… unlike the rationalists, I don’t feel the urge to form walled gardens in which to say those things anyway. I simply accept that, in the age of instantaneous communication, there are no walled gardens: anything you say to a dozen or more people, you might as well broadcast to the planet.”

    I am confused about this. I assume that the phrase “walled garden” refers to Yudkowsky’s piece “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism”, but you seem to use it in a different meaning. What walled gardens do we form? Are you talking about LessWrong.com? Because everything posted there is completely public. So, if it’s a “walled garden” then only in the sense it has a moderation system. In which sense, it is about as much walled as your own comment section, and less walled than an open access academic journal (whose existence I’d guess you support).

    Perhaps you mean that, as opposed to rationalists, you speak online under your real name? However, so do many self-described ratinionalists, including myself!

  37. ryan Says:

    > And yet I confess that, even with hindsight, I have no idea what I should have done differently, how it would’ve improved the outcome, or what I will do differently the next time.

    You should have put more weight the lessons from comment #171: specifically, the ability of an eloquent adversary to misrepresent your words to a degree that is just unimaginable to you (since you value truth in itself, instead of as tool to be used or discarded as part of the exercise of power).

    (Recall MSM’s mischaracterizations and out-of-context quotes of a certain former president: what does that tell you?)

  38. Randall Randall Says:

    > On reflection, then, I’ll continue to talk to journalists, whenever I have time, whenever I think I might know something that might improve their story. I’ll continue to rank bend-over-backwards openness and honesty among my fundamental values. Hell, I’ll even talk to Cade for a future story, assuming he’ll talk to me after all the disagreements I’ve aired here!

    Openness and honesty are not promoted by giving a private interview to someone who will choose to publish only selective parts of it. If you wish to respond to requests for interviews, and can’t secure a promise to publish everything you say, then promise to answer emailed questions, and do so on your blog.

    By giving an interview to someone like Metz, you’re explicitly allowing them to censor anything you say in that interview with which they disagree, while promoting whatever you provided with which they do agree.

  39. Rangel Spasov Says:

    Agreed, could have been worse.

    “cold and careful” as opposed to… “warm and careless”?

    Very often when I read a NYT article, I get a paranoid Neo-marxist feeling that NYT doesn’t really care for equality of opportunity, minority rights, women’s rights or any particular oppressed group. They just hate the successful and the rich.

  40. Renato A. Laguna Says:

    Where is Substack on the cancellation line right now?

    By which I mean, which websites/companies do you expect should have to be deplatformed before Substack becomes the most appropriate target?

    I hope they will be spared for being not very accessible. Let me explain: the need for censorship is proportional to how accessible a medium is. Video-sharing social network on smartphone = very accessible, don’t even need to know how to read in order to be able to use it. That kind of thing requires lots of censorship. Web site with long form highbrow text + few or no images + a “let me read first” curtain that scares away non-subscribers = not very accessible, less censorship required.

  41. Scared Says:

    This NYT story is the kind of trash that the “Blue Tribe” finds entitled to write — it is not lying per se, but making insinuations that completely alter the truth, in order to further their self-serving agenda.

    And in this post-modern world, it’s not the facts that matter, but what things sound like, right? The NYT staff seems to completely agree with this view, given the recent Donald McNeil case.

    I am very afraid that this unhinged serving of justice by unethical journalists is only going to get more problematic, and will further contribute to the loss of credibility by main-stream press. It’s not just the wacky FoxNews and NYPost reports, now it’s NYT who instead of taking a stance against such gross misrepresentations is only resorting to the same lowly rhetorical techniques that the former are using.

    This style of writing works because no one will be able to accuse the author of lying, after extracting the dry facts from the article. However it is pretty clear that the meaning that it conveys to the reader is pretty different.

    There is really no reason to defend Cade. He willingly participated in this act of misrepresenting truth. Journalism of this type deserves its place — in the trash heap of history.

  42. Richard Gaylord Says:

    “The piece describes SSC as “astoundingly verbose.” A more neutral way to put it would be that Scott has produced a vast quantity of intellectual output. When I finish a Scott Alexander piece, only in a minority of cases do I feel like he spent more words examining a problem than its complexities really warranted.”

    The same might be said for the blog entries of Scott Aaronson and Stephen Wolfram – the word ‘interminable’ seems like an apt description. So little time, so may words. or in the words of Pascal ““I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

  43. panrug Says:

    > I simply place an enormous value on being open, honest, and cooperative for as long as I can bear the cost—so that if things do break down, it won’t have been my fault.

    From hindsight, you know that Scott fell back on his feet. But what if he didn’t? What if it wasn’t about him but someone less talented, more vulnerable, less lucky? What about others who might have been negatively impacted?

    What if, while talking to Cade, an oracle revealed to you, that as a consequence of this article, Scott will have to resign from his job, without revealing the rest of the future? Would you continue talking to him?

    If you are open, honest, and cooperative with someone you know to be defective, and things seriously do break down – in a way you aren’t necessarily able to predict -, wouldn’t you still feel that it was at least partly your fault, even if it really wasn’t?

  44. Jr Says:

    Reading some discussion on Twitter from people that have decided Scott Alecander is just another white guy justifying the inferiority of non-white people. They are also tarring the larger rationalist and Effective Altruism movements with the same brush.

    A bit sad to see, especially since I think there is much in the EA principles that could appeal also to people on the left. As for their criticism of the rationalist community, I just take it as given, given the weird hate the American Left has for nerds.

  45. Scott Says:

    marxbro #27:

      Further, when UBI is being proposed by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, an explicitly conservative think tank, I have no real problem saying it isn’t an especially progressive policy proposal.

    How could the “progressiveness” of a policy proposal possibly depend on which person puts it forward? This seems like a strange inverse of the worldview of the Republicans, who loved Obamacare but only so long as it was being put forward by Mitt Romney or the Heritage Foundation, and who hate deficit spending but only when Democrats do it.

  46. Jiro Says:

    On reflection, then, I’ll continue to talk to journalists, whenever I have time, whenever I think I might know something that might improve their story.

    Metz is a malicious actor. It doesn’t matter that you know something that will improve his story, because he isn’t interested in improving his story. He’s interested in deceiving the public. He’s not telling untruths because he’s misinformed, so you are not going to stop him from doing so by informing him. All you’re doing is giving him enough rope to hang you with, and it’s not only you who gets hung, but other people too.

    And no, you’re not going to get him interested in reporting the truth by vehemently insisting on the truth in great detail, either.

  47. Vampyricon Says:

    hnau #18: To me, the New Yorker article read like it was oscillating back and forth between praise and insinuations of nefariousness. That said, it was still a more enjoyable read than the NYT article.

    Renato A. Laguna #40: Substack is where someone goes after they get cancelled. There’s quite a few fired reporters moving there.

    As for everyone else, I would just advise against spending your time on marxbro. A central example of his output would be his comment on Scott A’s post on List of Fictional Cryptocurrencies Banned By the SEC complaining that RedCoin misrepresents Marx.

  48. Seb Says:

    Scott #45

    (I’m not the person you’ve been discussing this with, but since I don’t see a reply from them yet I thought I’d comment.)

    I think you two are using “progressiveness” in a different way. You seem to be using it to mean “causes progress”, whereas it seems they’re using it to mean “associated with progressives”. I don’t think this person is necessarily saying UBI is bad, just that it’s not a good signal of aligning with the progressive movement.

    In my experience (as a social democrat, so I may be better placed to talk about this than a communist) they’re basically right. It’s a coin toss whether a given progressive will be supportive or skeptical of UBI. Meanwhile, plenty of non-progressives are interested in it. There may be a correlation between progressiveness and UBI support, but only a weak one. Direct cash transfers are traditionally more of a libertarian idea (see Friedman’s negative income tax), while progressives often favor Great Society-style welfare programs.

  49. Derek R Says:

    > I have no idea what I should have done differently, how it would’ve improved the outcome, or what I will do differently the next time. Was there some better, savvier way for me to help out?

    You should assume that media will not act in good faith, and will smear and misrepresent people as an easy to way to make clicks / money.

    Sad that it’s come to this point.

  50. Seb Says:

    Also, I have to say the popularity of the Blue Tribe/Red Tribe article has never sat right with me. It’s the sort of article that could only be written by someone deep in a liberal enclave. I grew up as a liberal in a deep red city in a solid red state, and the connection between culture and political beliefs is far from clear. It’s a well-written article with some interesting points (as per usual), but the conclusion is oversold and written from an incomplete perspective.

    (Sorry for not commenting on the actual topic of the post, the Metz article; I just didn’t find it very notable one way or another. As you said, an anti-climax.)

  51. Johnny Says:

    “On reflection, then, I’ll continue to talk to journalists, whenever I have time, whenever I think I might know something that might improve their story. I’ll continue to rank bend-over-backwards openness and honesty among my most fundamental values. Hell, I’d even talk to Cade for a future story, assuming he’ll talk to me after all the disagreements I’ve aired here!”

    I agree with you here, but I’d appreciate the full text / transcript of your interview with Cade. This would help me evaluate what he and his editors were working with when he wrote this article. This is a requisite for full transparency. Right now there is an information asymmetry between you/NYT, and your respective readers.

  52. Scott Says:

    Tim McCormack #28 (this is also a response to others):

      Even if Cade didn’t want to write it that way, it seems very unwise to reward him and the NYT for writing this weird hit piece by granting any further interviews to NYT reporters.

    On reflection, even if my part of the story came out basically fine, and even if my cooperation didn’t cause any harm to friends that wouldn’t have happened anyway (and I might have even succeeded in making the story epsilon less bad)—this experience will certainly make me more circumspect if an NYT reporter wants to talk to me about a culturally charged topic in the future, whether or not I end up doing it.

    But, like, what about the likelier case that they just want to talk to me for another quantum computing story?

  53. arch1 Says:

    Scott, I’ve read your post and comments here and like others am scratching my head about your undiminished Cade-willingness (though I console myself that it might not be a (Cade+NYT)-willingness, that even if it *were* it would likely decay quickly on recurrence, and that in any case your underlying conscious motivation is admirable).

    That said I think your example 14 out of place, as the NYT quote it contains, AFAICT without having read the article (so I think I’m the intended audience for these examples), is emotionally and morally neutral.

  54. Scott Says:

    panrug #43:

      What if, while talking to Cade, an oracle revealed to you, that as a consequence of this article, Scott will have to resign from his job, without revealing the rest of the future? Would you continue talking to him?

    In that case, I would pause and ask Scott S. what he wanted me to do. (And also tell him the exciting news that our world contains oracles! 🙂 )

  55. Scott Says:

    Vanessa #36: By “walled garden,” I wasn’t referring to LessWrong—certainly insofar as people use their real names on it—but to the in-person meetups. I was sad to have a falling-out with a couple people I’d met at meetups, over the issue that I suggested that Cade talk to them (thinking they’d add a wonderful perspective and if they didn’t want to they’d simply decline, no harm no foul), and they viewed that as an invasion of their privacy. I also thought of other Scott’s tendency to say things like “please don’t share this post widely / post it on social media” (well, hopefully he’ll have no need for that in the future!).

  56. Sniffnoy Says:

    Btw, did anybody else notice that the piece referred to Scott as “Mr. Aaronson”? 😛

  57. John Says:

    Although many people find all math scary, not all quotes are scares quotes. It is fine to put technical jargon, like “Thurston’s geometrization program,” in quotes, depending on context.

    I find your complaints fairly trivial, and have never understood why the SSC community was so sensitive and defensive about a simple NYT article.

  58. Jacob Jacobsen Says:

    It seems to be incorrect to characterize Murray’s version of UBI as progressive, see here:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/7/17/15364546/universal-basic-income-review-stern-murray-automation

    A quote: “Murray’s basic income plan would leave millions of poor and sick people, especially seniors, worse off.”

    Whether UBI is progressive or not surely has to depend on the concrete proposal?

  59. Vanessa Says:

    Scott #55: Hmm, I didn’t have the impression that talking about taboo topics in in-person meetups is at all important for the community. Maybe it’s more so in certain locations? A reaction to cancel culture in the US?

  60. Scott Says:

    Vanessa #59: The weird part is that I can’t remember taboo topics ever being discussed at in-person meetups! I remember discussions of fluid mechanics and set theory and the Fermi paradox and covid, and a lot of puzzles and games.

    All the same, there was an immense amount of fear about being “outed” to news media with hostile intentions. Even knowing what we know today, it’s hard for me to say how much of that fear was a tragically self-fulfilling prophecy, and how much of it was simply prescient and correct.

  61. Psy-Kosh Says:

    Sniffnoy #56: Missed that in the mess of the rest of the article. Wow, just plain rude!

  62. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #56 and Psy-Kosh #61: I’ve never in my life cared about being called “Dr.” or “Prof.,” but now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I’m like “hey! Do I lose my academic credentials when I slum it with the rationalists in their group houses?” 🙂

  63. Tim McCormack Says:

    Scott #52: I agree that it’s unlikely Cade Metz would horribly twist something you said about quantum computing. (At least in a *social* way. He might mangle it technically. But maybe be careful about the phrase “quantum supremacy” around him, hmm?)

    But my concern isn’t about what he might do in the future — it’s about what he has done in the past, and how that should affect your relationship to him.

    As others have pointed out, tit-for-tat until first defection is a pretty standard strategy. Or you can see it as punishment for wrongdoing. Journalists need sources, and if you stop making yourself available, he will have to work harder to find a source. Maybe you reject this, though, and want to use turn-the-other-cheek, or win him over by building bridges, or something like that?

  64. Meow Says:

    No boyfriend…
    New motto: I can tolerate anything except spending valentine’s day alone😩

  65. IWakeToSleep Says:

    @ Scott Aaronson

    I agree with several of the posters here on the general message: you behaved like a fool. You willingly supplied with ammunition the people who will sneer at Scott S and attempt to undermine the values of free inquiry, free speech, anonymity, etc. that you claim to support.

    And it’s somewhat rich, coming from you, this defense of Scott S. Given how you group all Trump supporters whole hog because a fraction-of-a-fraction-of-a-fraction-of-a-percent of them behaved like idiots and stormed the Capitol. Thus, all Trump supporters should hang their heads in shame and never show their face, right?

    You, Cade Metz, his editors, Amanda Marcotte, you’re all fundamentally the same: all thinking that the arc of the moral universe bends in your direction, and just itching for a defensible excuse to shame your political enemies.

  66. asdf Says:

    Cade (or lol, his editors) have a long history of doing stuff like that–enough to extrapolate from, I would have thought. I’ll skip a longer rant here but just +1 to the sentiment of staying away from interviews like that.

    Meanwhile, on an unrelated topic: I came across a paper that claims that quantum mechanics emerges automatically from special relativity if you include the faster-than-light solutions to the Lorentz transform, that are (according to the paper) usually ignored because they are considered physically meaningless. If you include them, and apply a few constraints to the possible equations of motion, you get what looks like quantum mechanics including complex probability amplitudes. It’s a fairly elementary argument that I’m going to try to make my way through. I’m wondering if it’s known here, and if it’s non-trivial (i.e. it might be old hat, but not that interesting). The “magic” (handwave) step might be in the choice of paths to sum over. Any ideas?

  67. Scott Says:

    IWakeToSleep #65: Not only did I not supply ammunition against Scott S, I spent weeks of my life supplying ammunition for him, in a battle stacked against our side, solely because I judged it the right thing to do. I hope some of the ammunition hit the target and made a bad piece slightly less bad than it otherwise would have been.

    My fundamental position is this: we can argue with the NYT, we can condemn the NYT, we can try to fix what’s broken about the NYT, but we do not currently have the option of ignoring the NYT or pretending its judgments don’t matter. The NYT is still the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization. And if we’d like to give up on consensus reality … well then, why not just don an animal pelt and some Viking horns and storm the Capitol to stop the global pedophile cabal?

    Speaking of which, you’re aware, aren’t you, that ~45% of Republicans supported the violent attack on the Capitol, that Trump himself sat watching it transfixed and refused his own advisers’ pleas to stop it? I’ll oppose such authoritarian impulses until my dying breath, for exactly the same reason why I’ll oppose the left-wing authoritarian impulses that would seek to cancel a Scott Alexander.

    I hope I’ve made it clear enough on this blog that my sympathies are with the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment, the only force in all of history that I feel deserves the title of “the right side of history.”

  68. Radford Neal Says:

    Scott #67: “The NYT is still the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization.”

    Umm… Maybe read that again? And then think again? Maybe ask a farmer in India for their opinion? Or for that matter, a farmer a few miles away from you in Texas?

    Perhaps this is just the result of commenting when tired, or some such. Or maybe it indicates a serious detachment from reality.

  69. Jiro Says:

    “Not only did I not supply ammunition against Scott S, I spent weeks of my life supplying ammunition for him, in a battle stacked against our side, solely because I judged it the right thing to do.”

    You supplied ammunition against him.

    What you keep missing is that Metz is not *mistaken*. He didn’t write untruths in his article because he was misinformed or misunderstood. You couldn’t correct him by supplying him with more information in order to prevent a mistake, because his actions were not the result of a mistake. He *willfully misrepresented* Scott.

    Saying *anything at all* is supplying ammunition against Scott. The more things you say, the easier it is to either directly misquote you, or to use what you say against Scott indirectly (for instance, by finding another person to interview or by being led to some things that are easy to take out of context.)

  70. Joshua Brulé Says:

    All the same, there was an immense amount of fear about being “outed” to news media with hostile intentions. Even knowing what we know today, it’s hard for me to say how much of that fear was a tragically self-fulfilling prophecy, and how much of it was simply prescient and correct.

    I’m curious: what kind of evidence would change your mind one way or the other?

    It’s easy for me to “Monday morning quarterback” this – things were much less clear before the article came out. But now that the article is out, we can see that the NYT used your quotes about the rationalists in a nearly maximally-misleading manner.

    You seem to be operating with a (implicit) model of: “More people connected to the rationalist community, talking to Cade, would have increased the chance that the article was positive and accurate. Perhaps not ‘enough’ – so, we don’t know if most people refusing to talk to the NYT was prescient or a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    After this article, I think a more plausible hypothesis is: “The NYT saw that a blogger / the rationalist community had considerably more influence over tech leaders then they (the NYT) did. In the course of researching them, they discovered a way to harm this community. Every person who talked to the NYT gave them more quotes / information to take out of context and further harm the community.”

    Which model do you think explains observed reality better: that the NYT is a group of seriously confused/misguided people who can be coaxed into accepting a more accurate story? Or that the NYT saw a competitor and sought to harm them?

    Scott, I think that you’re a great computer scientist and blogger and that you’re open and honest to a fault. (Literally!) Information is power for reporters. The best thing you can do with a hostile reporter is to give them nothing.

  71. IWakeToSleep Says:

    @ Scott Aaronson
    —————

    The NYT is still the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization. And if we’d like to give up on consensus reality … well then, why not just don an animal pelt and some Viking horns…

    This is nonsense. Civilization does not hinge on the NYT’s propaganda. In fact, the NYT has power only if people consider it trustworthy; people like you, who keep playing into their hands and then awarding themselves full points by boasting how you “made a bad piece slightly less bad than it otherwise would have been“?

    Congratulations in helping them make the world a little more shitty. In my view, facilitating the media’s lies of omission is the greater threat to civilization.

    —————
    Speaking of which, you’re aware, aren’t you, that ~45% of Republicans supported the violent attack on the Capitol, …

    And you’re aware, aren’t you, that a single survey, by a B-ranked pollster (as rated by 538), which conducts its polling online isn’t rock solid evidence to support writing off half the electorate?

    But you’re so mind-killed by the anti-Trump propaganda, that this is too delicious for you to question. So, spare me the noble nonsense about resisting authoritarian impulses, you’re just getting your punches in, as bullies are wont to do.

  72. Carey Underwood Says:

    My only question: why is this not tagged “obviously I’m not defending…” 😀 😀 😀

  73. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #62:

    I used to read the NYT a lot a long ago, and as I recall, they give a full name on first occurrence, as in xxx yyy, and then to with Mr. yyy or Ms. yyy from there on out.

    I had assumed they did this to sound “official”, as in the “newspaper of record”, and would guess they still do.

  74. Prof. W Says:

    Continuing the thought in the second paragraph of Scott #66: For those of us who work at universities, the NYT is effectively our boss (rivaled perhaps by the U.S. News rankings). About 8 years ago, the NYT, on the front page, ranked universities on their percentage of Pell-eligible (low-income) students. My institution did poorly. Like clockwork, there was a petition signed by most of the faculty saying we had to do better on this metric, and we expended considerable resources improving ourselves on this metric. I support spending considerable resources on disadvantaged students. However, it is notable that the metric for how effectively we were doing this was chosen not by our nominal leadership, or by a sophisticated notion of effective altruism, but by the urgent need not to look bad in the NYT. That’s the world that we live in. Note that to optimize this metric with constrained resources, our student population became more bimodal in wealth: More students on a nearly full ride, more students who can pay the full sticker price, fewer in the middle. Leading, of course, to hand-wringing about inequality on campus. All of this chosen not by us, but by the imperative of NYT’s metric.

  75. albert mills Says:

    Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    What makes you think that, “The NYT is still the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization” This strikes me as an interesting (ludicrous) position. The NYT is preoccupied with matters that a large number of of people don’t care about it all, or don’t attach the same importance to as the times, and the NYT comes down way far on the left of almost every issue.

    See the following article as a typical example: race in orchestras. It’s a subject that very few people care, about, and the NYT position on it (you need to end the current blind audition process through which it’s impossible to discriminate. Instead you need to actively discriminate in order to increase the number of black people in orchestras) most people would find abhorrent (even the articles commenters agree).

    This is typical of the NYT journalism, and for this reason I get the feeling not many serious people in the english speaking world pay attention to it.

    It’s also interesting that you say, “human civilization.” I have a hard time imagining that Russian’s, Chinese, or Nigerian’s give a shit about anything the NYT says at all – the people writing for it are living in a different reality than citizens of these countries.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/blind-auditions-orchestras-race.html

  76. What The New York Times’ Hit Piece on Slate Star Codex Says About Media Gatekeeping – iftttwall Says:

    […] have been embraced by white nationalists.” But before his neo-reactionary turn, Land was primarily known for writing about A.I., so this is rather thin […]

  77. Michel Says:

    Scott, your statement “once you teach people that they can think for themselves about issues of consequence, some of them might think bad things” has another ramification, often involving the best of us :
    once you teach people that they can think for themselves about problems of consequence, some of them might invent bad solutions (and act on them, even with the best of intent).

  78. Aapje Says:

    Scott#67:

    You are making the same mistake of people who freely talk to cops after being charged with a crime. The cops are not interested in being fair, but in solving the crime. If you tell them 100 things that make you look less like a person that would commit such a crime and 1 thing that looks bad, they will only put that one thing in their reports. And even innocent truths can be used as evidence against you. If you tell them that on the day of the crime (not during the time the crime happened), you went to a shop and talked to a cashier, but that cashier doesn’t remember you 5 months later, this can be used as evidence that you lied about that and thus probably also lied about other things.

    Journalists are like cops, but with fewer checks and balances to keep them honest.

    Remember, you have the right to remain silent…

    The NYT is still the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization.

    That’s…a bit hyperbolic. In reality, it is one of several vehicles of consensus for a certain elite. The status and financial success of the NYT depends in large part on reflecting the already existing beliefs of that elite. They certainly have the power to nudge those beliefs with various tricks, but they have to do this carefully and can only do this so much.

    The elite’s and newspapers’ belief that they are a vanguard and have high status is also fragile. They really don’t like being looked down on by the little people, or the little people refusing to follow. Especially if the little people turn out to not be monsters, but nice and smart.

    Ultimately, why not employ the more savory tactics they use to marginalize others? Dismiss them. Starve them of access. When they come up in conversation, point out their large flaws. None of these are immoral.

  79. J Says:

    Scott #67,

    These little angry trumpists will say whatever they believe might hurt you. You seek for a reasonable exchange of informed opinions. They don’t care. In a way this reminds me of when you were arrested by police officers: the more you’re trying to explain yourself, the more you give them ammunitions to not believe you. In a way this reminds me when you were contacted by the NYT: the more you’re trying to explain your tribe (or, at least, a tribe you care for), the more you give them ammunitions to do a hatchet job. From an outside perspective there’s a common theme: you tend to assume good faith. In a way, these mishaps are a counter to the principle of charitable reading. Maybe we should take care to embed that principle in tit-for-tat protocols only.

    “The NYT is the main vessel of consensus reality in human civilization”. Damn, they must spend a lot on translations. Do you have a local version with some USA-specific perspective? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 🙂

  80. James Cropcho Says:

    I echo the sentiment of Garrett #21 and many other comments.

    I am quite surprised that you would collaborate again with Cade Metz, having established himself as a bad-faith actor. It makes me wonder what someone would have to do, for you to cut him off.

    More broadly, I advise all people to _not_ help a publication write articles about people or groups of people, when said publication has a history of hatchet-jobs, no matter how deeply one feels “this time will be different.”

  81. James Cropcho Says:

    I echo the sentiment of Garrett #21 and many other comments.

    I am quite surprised that you would collaborate again in the future with Cade Metz, having established himself as a bad-faith actor.

    More broadly, I advise all people to _not_ help a publication write articles about people or groups of people, when said publication has a history of hatchet-jobs, no matter how deeply one feels “this time will be different.”

  82. Michael Says:

    Strictly speaking, he did not switch to writing under his full name. He signed one post by the full name. Then he confirmed that he did whatever he could to prepare for the searches for his real name to lead to his blog, and he no longer has strong objections against referring to him as the author via the full name, but the blog is still written under the pen name «Scott Alexander».

  83. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Aapje #78;

    Lawyers love handing out advice cards on what to do, the first being “never talk to the police, this can be used against you in court”.

    This is good advice if you are guilty. If you are not guilty, this is very bad advice. Most of the time they establish that you are not the suspect, and that is the end if it. Anyone refusing to cooperate is automatically a suspect.

  84. Aapje Says:

    Raoul Ohio #82:

    I explicitly said that you should be silent if you are charged.

    The analogy is obviously not perfect, but this just strengthens my argument, because the journalists are far less likely to switch to investigating you if you refuse to comment, than the police.

  85. Tu Says:

    Scott,

    First, I disagree with the many commenters suggesting that you were naive in holding discussions with a columnist from the NYT. I think it is wrong that you should treat a journalist (with whom you were somewhat familiar) like a police officer investigating a crime you could plausibly be accused of. You were generous with your time, and I am certain that you were able to present a perspective on SSC to Cade that was accurate and fair. I would encourage those criticizing your actions to consider how the article would have read had you not held discussions with Cade at length. Does anyone here sincerely think that the treatment would have been gentler if Cade had relied exclusively on, for example, open threads on SSC?

    Consider the irony contained in the following four facts:
    – The SSC community prides itself on the importance of free speech, open discourse, and exchange of ideas.
    – Scott talks to a journalist, shares ideas and perspectives with this person.
    – SSC community gets mad at Scott and calls him naive– says he should be a good soldier and keep his mouth shut.
    – The SSC community harrasess a journalist at the behest of “other Scott” in an attempt to stop the paper from publishing an article.

    Second, I agree with your general sentiment that what is written in the NYT matters. We can have disagreements, complaints, laments about the trajectory of the paper but the fact remains that people read it. Furthermore, I disagree with the characterization of the typical NYT reader as someone incapable of grasping the nuance of “other Scott’s” writing. In fact, I think that a balanced presentation of Scott’s writing would have been well-received and appreciated by much of the readership. This is one of the many reasons that I am also very disappointed with the piece.

  86. Tu Says:

    I think it might also benefit us to note that there is an obvious challenge in covering SSC for a general audience. That challenge is not the sophistication or nuance of the content, but the issue that SSC is really two things.

    1) A really sharp guy’s blog.

    2) A website where there are “open threads”. These are were people get together and have discussions and debates about stuff.

    If you are encountering SSC for the first time, writing an article about it for a general audience, it is hard to parce which of these two aspects is more important.

    I may be wrong, but I think it is accurate that 99 percent of SSC’s readership goes there for content in category 1, and does not pay attention to category 2. If I were writing an article about Scott Alexander, or SSC, I would emphasize that SSC is all about category 1, and the open threads are just a side show (this is my actually experience and opinion as a SSC reader).

    On the other hand, If I were writing an article about “the rationalist community” it becomes harder to ignore aspect 2 as an integral part of SSC’s place in the rationalist universe. It is not hard to present the open threads in a positive light– a place where one can have civil debates and discussions about a wide range of topics. However, it is also hard to write about the open threads without mentioning some of the issues that are frequently discussed there.

  87. Jiro Says:

    “I am certain that you were able to present a perspective on SSC to Cade that was accurate and fair.”

    Who cares? It didn’t lead to Cade *publishing* something that was accurate and fair, which is the whole point of talking to him.

    “Does anyone here sincerely think that the treatment would have been gentler if Cade had relied exclusively on, for example, open threads on SSC?”

    It would increase the effort he had to go through to find things to misrepresent and take out of context. He doesn’t have an unlimited amount of effort, so yes.

    “Consider the irony contained in the following four facts:”

    Yes, SSC is dedicated to open discourse. But open discourse only applies when both sides are willing to engage in it.

    If the journalist is going to intentionally misrepresent you or his target, he’s *not willing to engage in open discourse*. There’s no contradiction between being open to discussion but not being willing to discuss things with people who are out to harm you.

  88. Aapje Says:

    Tu 84:

    The quote attributed to Aaronson just supports the framing of rationalists as naive optimists. The quote mining of Friedman suggests that he said that there was censorship of SJWs, which is the opposite of the truth (lefties got preferential treatment by the moderator) and not what he actually said.

    Frankly, the only argument I can come up with of a way in which Aaronson’s cooperation might have helped, is that it might have confused Metz, resulting in this train wreck that may very well be anti-persuasive to many, rather than a better hit piece. However, this is completely speculative and ignores that the more virulent SSC critics tend to be unhinged and quite capable of confusing people on their own.

    Your claim that Metz would have based himself on the comments assumes a level of effort on the part of Metz that is very much not visible in the article. Attacking Alexander over the comments is also very weak criticism that at most shows a lack of strict moderation, rather than what the article tries to assert now, that Alexander was actively promoting certain noxious people and ideas.

    Finally, I’m not a fan of your supposed proof of ‘irony’ in the ‘SSC community’, which is based on a bunch of fallacies:
    – pretending that a group is a single person/hive mind
    – establishing a straw man of free speech absolutism and then attacking that
    – pretending that people have or should have one overriding priority, rather than a bunch of competing priorities
    – attributing behavior by perhaps a handful of people out of hundreds of thousands, as being reflective of that community

    Your argument is as facile as arguing that it is ironic that the Democrats were opposed to Trump from 2016-2020 despite him being elected democratically and them believing so strongly in democracy that they even named themselves after it.

  89. Ralph Says:

    Sorry but you describing the bites as nonimportant when your friend had to change his job, cut his relationships with his patients, basically had his life shaken by hostile elements, is beyond the pale.

    I wish for him and you all the success in the world, but please. Evil is evil. Even if seemed good yesterday and today many people still believe it’s good.

  90. szablierz Says:

    Scott #52:

    “But, like, what about the likelier case that they just want to talk to me for another quantum computing story?”

    Hm, do you want a nightmare scenario? ^_^
    Consider, if you will:

    One day, a young enthusiastic NYT science reporter (I mean, they have to replace the cancelled guy eventually, right?) will come to you to ask about quantum computing. She will be bright, interested and ask all the right questions. The next month her article will appear in which she summarizes quantum computing as “quantum computers can solve problems faster by trying all the solutions in parallel”, and through strategic selective quoting implies that she learned this from Professor Aaronson.

    The article will be a great hit. It will be widely read and widely discussed. It will bring the idea of quantum computing to the masses and serve as an inspiration for many young nerds to think of a career in quantum computing. After all, how awesome it is that we can build computers capable of checking all the solutions in parallel.

    The “checking solutions in parallel” idea will become received wisdom. Anytime somebody clued in hears it repeated and tries to correct others, they will be mocked and dismissed. After all, Professor Aaronson explained how it is in the New York Times and why should they listen to some obnoxious know-it-all nerd?

    Horror without end.

  91. Aapje Says:

    Tu #86:

    Judging by the article, the real challenge for Cade Metz was that he desperately wanted to make ‘Rationalists’ the center of a far-reaching conspiracy theory, despite a lack of evidence. Surely he can actually write a halfway decent article, if he makes that the priority, rather than fitting a square community into a round conspiracy.

    And I reject your assertion that the discussions in the Open Threads reflected rationalism. A small minority (13%) of the SSC readership who answered the last survey identified as rationalist. You can make a fair case that Scott Alexander is a prominent rationalist, but that doesn’t mean that he actually wrote about rationalism all that often, rather than just applying some of the rationalist ideas to his writing, mixed in with a lot of other influences, most prominently his natural personality. That doesn’t make his readers/commenters into rationalists.

    I’m not convinced that rationalism is the thing that made SSC articles so good, rather than fairly mundane things like rigor, following the evidence, good faith, etc; which are not some amazing rationalist inventions, but just things that most people merely pay lip service to, but that rationalists are a lot more serious about. And that is perhaps not even due to their beliefs, but largely because they are giant nerds.

  92. Scott Alexander is not in the Gizmodo Media Slack – Fredrik deBoer Says:

    […] Scott Aaronson says, “The trouble with the NYT piece is not that it makes any false statements but just that it […]

  93. Atreat Says:

    Scott,

    “ Last night, it occurred to me that despite how disjointed it feels, the New York Times piece does have a central thesis: namely, that rationalism is a “gateway drug” to dangerous beliefs. And that thesis is 100% correct—insofar as once you teach people that they can think for themselves about issues of consequence, some of them might think bad things. It’s just that many of us judge the benefit worth the risk!”

    You gotta admit that the events of the last few years have made a very compelling case for your judgement being wrong. You praise Scott Alexander of being successful in a few cases of convincing rationalists not to vote for Trump. How many do you think might have been radicalized or on ramped into Trumpism through the rationalist community?

    As I’ve mentioned now a few times… the events of the last few years lead me to the unfortunate conclusion that engaging with the alt-right or proto fascists in good faith rational discussion does far more harm than good. If you don’t wrestle with this Scott, then I think you are letting your own cognitive bias get in the way.

  94. atreat Says:

    Scott,

    Btw, I find a lot of your complaints about tone or structure of the article to be special pleading. The piece definitely has a point of view and there is some persuasive writing in it, not just straight factual reporting, but so what? You write all kinds of persuasive writing so we know you don’t object in general to this. From what I can tell, you don’t like the point of view or think it insufficiently deferential to your friend or to the rationalist community. As your friend, I have to say your criticism about the tone makes you look more thin skinned than it makes the article look overly biased against rationalists or Scott.

  95. Atreat Says:

    And now after reading a good smattering of the comments here I have to say it aches to see how thin skinned and sensitive to criticism – which was not even overtly stated! – so many of the Rationalists on this blog are. Decrying the tone or even calling it a hit piece? Please!

    Many of the comments here complaining about times article use even worse “tone” and insinuation that the Times, the reporter, or their editor are somehow enemies inherently unworthy of being trusted or spoken with. Why? Because it didn’t help to bolster your preconceived notions of the virtues of Scott or the Rationalist community??

  96. Atreat Says:

    Tu,

    “Consider the irony contained in the following four facts:
    – The SSC community prides itself on the importance of free speech, open discourse, and exchange of ideas.
    – Scott talks to a journalist, shares ideas and perspectives with this person.
    – SSC community gets mad at Scott and calls him naive– says he should be a good soldier and keep his mouth shut.
    – The SSC community harrasess a journalist at the behest of “other Scott” in an attempt to stop the paper from publishing an article.“

    ^^^^^^

    One hundred times this!!

  97. Aapje Says:

    Atreat #95:

    The issue is not so much the tone, but the explicit and implicit falsehoods, as well as the confident claims that things are true that are completely unproven and have a high likelihood of being wrong.

    There is a big difference between attacking someone based on facts and slandering them.

  98. atreat Says:

    Wow. Just read Scott’s response and I see where all the Rationalists on this comment section are getting it. Talk about thin skinned:

    “The New York Times backed off briefly as I stopped publishing, but I was also warned by people “in the know” that as soon as they got an excuse they would publish something as negative as possible about me, in order to punish me for embarrassing them.”

    There is no conceivable world where the nytimes article was “as negative as possible” nor was it from what I can tell a hatchet job at all. It was not from a neutral point of view nor was it effusive or especially complementary of Scott or the Rationalist community, but a -hatchet job- ? Come on.

    This whole thing makes the ‘Gray Tribe’ look less and less like it actually *believes* in its ideals of “free speech, open discourse, and exchange of ideas” and more like just another insular tribe mistrustful of anyone from the out group who gives anything less than effusive praise.

    “Don’t trust the press!”

    “They are out to get us!”

    “Don’t bother trying to convince the other side with open minded debate because they are not our friends and it will never work!”

    So much the worse for the gray tribe… 🙁

  99. Scott Says:

    Joshua Brulé #70:

      You seem to be operating with a (implicit) model of: “More people connected to the rationalist community, talking to Cade, would have increased the chance that the article was positive and accurate. Perhaps not ‘enough’ – so, we don’t know if most people refusing to talk to the NYT was prescient or a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    No, what I meant was that I actually believe, as Scott S. also believes, that the original intention was not to write a hit-piece. But the intention changed over time as

    (1) much of the rationalist community reacted to Cade’s inquiries with suspicion and fear (of course, the suspicion turned out to be amply justified!),

    (2) the rationalists, as is their wont, discussed what to do in their public subreddit, and that tipped off the SneerClubbers like David Gerard, who then gleefully supplied Cade with attack material, and then

    (3) most importantly, Scott S. embarrassed the NYT by taking down his blog rather than allowing his real name to be used, thereby making the NYT itself into the story.

    All this, of course, was happening at the same time as the NYT was rapidly reinventing itself as “woke Pravda” rather than “the moderate liberal newspaper of record.” After it, my impression is that the editors demanded a hit piece.

    If I’m right about what happened, then it’s true that the primary blame rests with the NYT … but it’s also true that my open, cooperative “PR strategy” could have worked, had it been possible to coordinate all the rationalists and have them follow it.

    Even when things do descend to war, it’s often important to be able to say, truthfully, that your side tried in good faith for peace.

  100. atreat Says:

    Scott #97,

    “the NYT was rapidly reinventing itself as “woke Pravda”…”

    Wow. Amazed again. Seems you are on board with this Scott which shocks me. I’d like to note that the way you just described the nytimes is way more negative then anything in the so-called “hit piece.”

    Just proving the only thing you really don’t like about the nytimes piece is it was not deferential enough to your own point of view.

  101. Scott Says:

    Atreat #93:

      You gotta admit that the events of the last few years have made a very compelling case for your judgement being wrong. You praise Scott Alexander of being successful in a few cases of convincing rationalists not to vote for Trump. How many do you think might have been radicalized or on ramped into Trumpism through the rationalist community?

    So your question is, how many people became Trump supporters by reading SSC or hanging out in the rationalist community? My first guess would be zero, although I’m open to revising it based on evidence.

    I dunno, but when I watched those hoodlums storming the Capitol, somehow I didn’t get the feeling that their problem was too much obsession with Bayesian reasoning, AI risk, or the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky. 😀

    Indeed, my sense is the opposite of yours: I think Trump got elected 2016 partly because of widespread resentment of “politically-correct Cathedral-dwelling woke leftists,” who were perceived as trying to dictate to everyone else what they were and weren’t allowed to think and say, and to shame anyone who resisted.

    Of course, this was never reasonable or fair as a characterization of mainstream Democrats, and Trump himself was a hundred times worse … but if you actually ask Trump voters, it’s the kind of story you’ll hear. I wish every day that the spirit of President Obama and of Steven Pinker and of Scott Alexander, which was also the spirit of mainstream liberalism until recently, had been heard more loudly and had been able to prevent Trump’s election and the ensuing disasters for our civilization.

  102. Greg Guy Says:

    Treat the media like you would a business deal. Keep a record of everything. If it’s an in person interview bring a voice recorder. If over zoom or skype make sure you can record everything. If over email, keep everything! And most importantly, tell the journalist that you are doing this and plan to publish all the raw material five days after they publish theirs. Though not perfect it does put a stop to a lot of he said/she said type of games.

    This is doubly more important now, as it’s all about clicks and facts are just a complete irrelevancy.

  103. Tim Converse Says:

    Here’s an interestingly nuanced response to the NYT/SSC controversy, if people haven’t seen it already. It’s also a pretty deep and memoir-ish take on some of the surrounding SV cultural questions.

    It did nothing to change my view that the NYT piece was a terrible article, but it did lessen my conviction in the “hit piece” theory that NYT is pursuing some special vendetta against Scott Alexander [surname].

    My revised conclusion about the motives of the NYT and the journalist (part of a longer twitter exchange) is:

    I have a different take on why the NYT piece is all about the guilt of loose associations and less about the content of his writing.

    Alexander writes a lot, in long complicated pieces, and addressing the content seriously would take a lot of reading.

    Journalists have deadlines.

  104. Sandro Says:

    Scott #52:

    But, like, what about the likelier case that they just want to talk to me for another quantum computing story?

    As an academic who no doubts benefits from public funding, you arguably have a professional duty to inform the public via science journalism. You should probably even give One America News a quote if they seek one out, as disasteful as that might be, because like it or not, a not insignificant percentage of the public uses that source for “information” [1].

    You have no professional duty in this NYT case, but you can of course decide you have some personal ethical duties. Perhaps you have a moral duty to your friends to respect their privacy, or a moral duty to humanity to share rationalist ideas far and wide.

    Maybe you’ve already pondered this, but what you wrote sounds as if you implicitly adopted the duties required by your profession, but these don’t necessarily overlap unless you consciously decide they should.

    [1] As an aside, no doubt some people in the rationalist community view the NYT similar to how you likely view OAN, in case you’re still baffled by some of the responses you’ve received.

  105. Sandro Says:

    Atreat #93:

    You gotta admit that the events of the last few years have made a very compelling case for your judgement being wrong. [that people should be allowed to think for themselves]

    I’ve not only seen no such evidence, the fact that you would even question whether people should have the ability to exercise what is arguably an inalienable human right is frankly troubling.

    If you can’t persuade people who disagree with you with words, then your only recourse is violence, and sufficient violence to make a difference at social scales is only possible once you’ve dehumanized them, and once you’ve dehumanized a group of people, atrocity isn’t far behind. We’re already well down that path, and you seem to be blithely cheering it on.

    As I’ve mentioned now a few times… the events of the last few years lead me to the unfortunate conclusion that engaging with the alt-right or proto fascists in good faith rational discussion does far more harm than good.

    More harm to whom? Where is the evidence of this harm and that it’s causally traced back to open discourse?

    atreat #94:

    The piece definitely has a point of view and there is some persuasive writing in it, not just straight factual reporting, but so what? You write all kinds of persuasive writing so we know you don’t object in general to this.

    The fact that you would even think to compare the two contexts honestly baffles me. Scott is not a professional journalist whose duties arguably require him to provide a factual account to their readers so they can judge a subject’s social value for themselves. Unless of course you subscribe to some more “modern” notion of activist journalism where the author’s duty is actually to tell you what your opinion should be.

  106. atreat Says:

    Aapje #97,

    “The issue is not so much the tone, but the explicit and implicit falsehoods”

    Name them. I’ll take the explicit falsehoods first thank you. The “implicit falsehoods” I assume are backdoor way for you to complain about the tone and/or an insufficient deference to your biases so let’s just have the explicit falsehoods first.

    Scott himself says, “The trouble with the NYT piece is not that it makes any false statements” so if you disagree and think there were really problematic explicit falsehoods, then list them.

  107. Aapje Says:

    Scott #99:

    Metz was always going to reach out to haters to see if there is something juicy. That’s just what journalists do, unless they are sufficiently biased towards their subject. And Metz was never going to be that biased, if only because it would have been a huge risk to his career to miss a criticism that his people consider credible.

    I don’t see how a coordinated strategy would be possible, because Metz’ big lie is false. ‘We’ are not some nefarious Illuminati conspiracy with Scott Alexander controlling us like puppets. With about 2/3rds mistrusting the media and SSC having a lot of people critical of contemporary dogma, you were never going to get a large number to happily spill their guts. I don’t think that your exhortation changed a significant number of minds anyway, especially since your reputation doesn’t make it more credible.

    If you seriously considered this a credible strategy, you have a serious gap between your beliefs and reality, IMO.

    Even when things do descend to war, it’s often important to be able to say, truthfully, that your side tried in good faith for peace.

    You can take this too far, far beyond what is necessary to look good for those who can be persuaded. At that point, you are just aiding the enemy, while looking like easy prey.

  108. IWakeToSleep Says:

    @Tim Converse

    Right, Elizabeth Spiers, founding editor of Gawker? Not someone who inspires a lot of trust…

  109. atreat Says:

    Aapje #88,

    “attributing behavior by perhaps a handful of people out of hundreds of thousands, as being reflective of that community”

    That’s AWESOME! I’m going to call this the reverse-No True Scotsman fallacy. Refusing any generalization of a group by ad hoc selective denial of the identity of the group in response to criticism.

  110. Scott Says:

    Greg Guy #102:

      Treat the media like you would a business deal. Keep a record of everything. If it’s an in person interview bring a voice recorder. If over zoom or skype make sure you can record everything. If over email, keep everything! And most importantly, tell the journalist that you are doing this and plan to publish all the raw material five days after they publish theirs.

    While this might be good advice in general, the problem here was not one of the writer misquoting me or misrepresenting anything I said, but simply of his pursuing a false narrative despite all my attempts to dissuade him.

  111. atreat Says:

    Sandro #105,

    “I’ve not only seen no such evidence, the fact that you would even question whether people should have the ability to exercise what is arguably an inalienable human right is frankly troubling.”

    …blah blah Sandro going on about *violence* which has nothing to do with anything written…

    We’ve had this discussion before so I know you are operating in bad faith.

    “a professional journalist whose duties arguably require him to provide a factual account to their readers”

    Name the factually incorrect statements in the nytimes piece. It isn’t the statement of facts you don’t like…

  112. Tu Says:

    Jiro 87:

    “Who cares? It didn’t lead to Cade *publishing* something that was accurate and fair, which is the whole point of talking to him.”

    If a good outcome is all that matters, let’s carry out a consequentialist calculation here. I see many plausible ways that the piece was better and more accurate as a result of discussions with Scott. I see no plausible ways that discussions with Scott made the piece less accurate. So the piece that was ultimately published was at least as accurate as the piece that would have been published had Scott “iced out” Cade. This leads me to conclude Scott did the right thing.

    Suppose Scott doesn’t want to behave strictly according to such calculations, but rather wants to operate based on a general principle of openness, honesty, good will, and not being a jerk! Then he also did the right thing by meeting with a journalist.

    Aapje 91:

    So we agree! As I wrote:

    “I may be wrong, but I think it is accurate that 99 percent of SSC’s readership goes there for content in category 1, and does not pay attention to category 2. If I were writing an article about Scott Alexander, or SSC, I would emphasize that SSC is all about category 1, and the open threads are just a side show (this is my actually experience and opinion as a SSC reader).”

    I agree that rationalism and the rationalist community are not really central to the SSC experience of the typical SSC reader. If I were writing about SSC, it would not present the open threads as central to the experience of the blog.

    If I were writing about the rationalist community more broadly, and SSC’s relationship to it, I would find it harder to ignore the open thread aspect of the blog.

    All that I am saying is that navigating tension between the SSC as a collection of essays and SSC as a forum to have discussions when writing about this blog is difficult.

  113. reader Says:

    I think some things about the NYT article make more sense in light of this:

    https://twitter.com/davidgerard/status/1360773575318384640

    It sounds like (at least according to himself) David Gerard had a lot of influence over the direction of it. Of course, he doesn’t merit a mention anywhere himself… maybe that’s not too surprising, since he has no relevant credentials as an expert (that I’m aware of), other than being an avowed opponent of Scott (and of the rationalists in general.)

    (I guess now that the cat is out of the bag, I could call him “Scott S”, to distinguish him from “Scott A”, but old habits die hard!)

  114. Aapje Says:

    Tim Converse #103

    That “interestingly nuanced response” is written by a founder of Gawker, a gossip rag infamous for making money by violating people’s privacy and ruining people’s lives. So of course, she is going to defend Metz’ privacy violation and reject the claim that it is a hit piece.

    Her entire “I used to be an evil person who would have loved the evil SSC, but now I am a decent SJW who believes in all the right things” spiel is laughably self-promotional. It’s a classic redemption story that amoral people love to use, because it works so well. Yet defending the same immoral behavior that she used to profit from, without showing any sign of understanding the concerns/complaints, doesn’t show any moral growth or change.

    She seems to have done no actual research, making the exact same mistakes as Metz (including the capital R for rationalist) and using the same examples. She just adds a lot of accusations that seem based on vicious stereotyping, while painting her own side and herself as having perfect morals, and also as victims. For example: “I am now what SSC fans would probably derisively call an SJW, the implication being that caring about justice is some kind of weakness, or superficiality, or a posture, something that can only ever manifest as performance.”

    This is just laughably unkind to critics. Claiming that people call others a warrior to portray them as weak, rather than overly aggressive, requires chutzpah. And no one actually called her a SJW! She just imagines that she would be called that so she can play the victim!

    Why is she even writing this story so close to Metz’, with no apparent research and without responding to the actual criticisms, but to mostly write an article about how she became this amazing politically correct person? She just seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, again not demonstrating moral growth, but making this look like a self-interested PR move. Marketing is her current job, BTW.

    Now, I’m not saying that it is certain that she is dishonest, but just to recognize that her past & current behavior (and current job as a professional manipulator) should make you very skeptical. Even if she is genuine, it’s not the kind of genuine argument that has merit.

  115. Tim Converse Says:

    IWakeToSleep #108: ?

    I’m not sure what kind of trust is needed for the kind of analysis and perspective she brings to the piece. She’s forthright about her background with Gawker and Thiel, and addresses potential conflicts of interest right up front.

    It’s funny – if you gave me the NYT piece and Spiers’s piece without attribution, and asked me which one came from an Internet gossip tabloid, I would guess the NYT article for sure.

    I also have to say that if someone had destroyed my startup venture like Thiel indubitably destroyed Gawker I might have a lot more trouble maintaining an even keel like she seems to in the piece.

  116. Tim Converse Says:

    To everyone who is doing me a favor (latest is by Aapje #114) by letting me know that the author of the piece I linked to founded Gawker. I know. I knew already, but she also devotes the entire 2nd paragraph of her long piece to the fact, and to the corresponding conflicts of interest, so it’s not a closely-held secret.

    I am not impressed by the combination of ad hominem argument and guilt-by-association in the NYT piece, but am equally unimpressed by ad hominem arguments of the form “Spiers was a founder of Gawker, so her observations are invalid.”

  117. atreat Says:

    Scott #101,

    “So your question is, how many people became Trump supporters by reading SSC or hanging out in the rationalist community? My first guess would be zero, although I’m open to revising it based on evidence.

    I dunno, but when I watched those hoodlums storming the Capitol, somehow I didn’t get the feeling that their problem was too much obsession with Bayesian reasoning, AI risk, or the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky. 😀”

    I’m going to take the rest of this offline, but Scott have you actually not noticed that your comment section is absolutely *replete* with Trump supporters, insurrection apologists, white supremacists, proto-fascists, misogynistic characters?

    Have you really not noticed what an *inordinate* amount of comments you get from these types compared to what you might expect from a blog devoted to computational complexity and other such topics?

    Maybe you really *don’t* know, but I have to tell you that this blog comment section has one of the highest percentage of such comments in the corners of the internet I regularly visit and engage with. Why do you think that is?

    Personally, I highly doubt that their exists a higher than average correlation between Trump supporters, insurrectionists, fascists and the computational complexity community. Maybe you can ask around and see if *other* folks in your profession have such a high incidence of regular communication with and comments from the ^^ folks? So what could be driving so many of these types to your blog?

  118. IWakeToSleep Says:

    @ Tim Converse

    “I’m not sure what kind of trust is needed for the kind of analysis and perspective she brings to the piece. She’s forthright about her background with Gawker and Thiel, and addresses potential conflicts of interest right up front.”

    ——

    Gawker broke the law and was sued into bankruptcy for publishing a sex tape.

    That should spell out quite clearly what kind of publication Gawker was, and it says a lot about the culture that Spiers and Denton felt comfortable with.

    You want to say that trust doesn’t matter, or that you’re so impressed with Spiers’ honesty, so she deserves be listened to? Yeah, you go for it, as you have. But I think it’s worth pointing out to other readers here exactly how this person has operated in the past.

  119. atreat Says:

    Sandro,

    “As an aside, no doubt some people in the rationalist community view the NYT similar to how you likely view OAN, in case you’re still baffled by some of the responses you’ve received.”

    On this we agree. And btw, thanks for helping to make my point.

  120. Sandro Says:

    …blah blah Sandro going on about *violence* which has nothing to do with anything written…

    You said engaging with group X was harmful. Group X consists of a large percentage of the US’s population. What is your suggestion to reconcile the existence of group X with your position that its very existence is unjust and harmful, but that you can’t address that harm by discourse?

    I asked this in my last post, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I spelled out what seems to me like the only option left, but I’m open to hearing your third option.

    We’ve had this discussion before so I know you are operating in bad faith.

    As I recall, in our last exchange I provided empirical data contradicting a claim you made. You disputed the scholarly interpretation of that data (not my interpretation), I pointed out that this dataset was an official compilation by scholars in the field and that’s the last I heard from you on that point.

    Given your charge of “bad faith”, and the fact that you’ve now repeated your anecdotal claim, again without evidence, I can only assume the evidence hasn’t changed your mind. But sure, I’m the one arguing in bad faith.

    Name the factually incorrect statements in the nytimes piece. It isn’t the statement of facts you don’t like…

    This point you keep making frankly has little merit as some sort of defense of the criticisms of the NYT piece. Everyone has learned to lie by omission by grade 3.

    On top of that, I never even made any claims about the NYT piece, I responded only to your claims since I found them (again), to be unjustified. For all you know, I could agree with everything the NYT wrote, or maybe I found it a typical mix of truth and half truth, or maybe I haven’t even read it and so have no opinion about it at all. Hint: it’s one of those three, and knowing which one doesn’t change my critique of your posts one bit.

  121. atreat Says:

    Sandro #120,

    “I asked this in my last post, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I spelled out what seems to me like the only option left…”

    Ah, so if I think you are a clown and deserving of ridicule and shame and have no interest in engaging with you in rational discourse and think proto-fascists and their like should be similarly laughed at and mocked and have no desire to engage in rational discourse with such bad faith actors, then I must necessarily be into resorting to violence to wipe others out? That’s pretty fascistic thinking I must say.

    See us non-fascists are not into the whole wiping out with violence whole groups of people we might have profound moral and existential disagreements with. That’s the fascists buddy, not us. When it comes to fascists the idea is to *prevent* their violence and genocidal tendencies. Not match them. Shocker I know.

    “… existence of group X with your position that its very existence is unjust and harmful…”

    Again, that’s the way fascists think. I’m not into the whole, “your very existence is unjust and harmful,” therefore let me do some genocide! Seems you are well acquainted with this line of thinking though and are having a hard time imagining an alternative… wonder why that is…

  122. atreat Says:

    Sandro,

    “As I recall, in our last exchange I provided empirical data contradicting a claim you made.”

    And as I recall your empirical evidence was massively cherry-picked excluding whole swathes of World War 2 conflict. It was a sociological bit of cherry-picked data trying to mask itself in neutrality when a cursory examination shows the data points picked were ad hoc with subjective rules of inclusion/exclusion designed to support the “researcher’s” point and not out of any genuine desire for neutral and critical examination of the question. Done with you.

  123. atreat Says:

    Sandro #105,

    “If you can’t persuade people who disagree with you with words, then your only recourse is violence…”

    Shorter Sandro: The only alternative if my words fail to persuade is recourse to violence. ^^^

  124. Scott Says:

    atreat #117: For the past 4.5 years, I took as hard a line against Trump on this blog as anyone did anywhere on the Internet, without actually calling for lawbreaking or violence. That’s the reason for the vast majority of the Trumpist comments I’ve gotten here: because the Trumpists were outraged at me. If you want X supporters in your comment section, the way to get them is to condemn X in your posts.

    It saddens me to read this sort of comment from someone who I once knew and liked in real life—someone who, moreover, once sought to educate me in the ways of Buddhism and transcendence and calm. If your recent comments are any indication, you have nothing to teach me in that department.

    Even as our world grows darker and scarier, haunted by the ghost of Hitler on one side and the ghost of Stalin on the other, I continue to support precisely the same liberal values that I have since I was twelve. And yes, because of those values, I refuse to turn over this blog to the sorts of denunciation campaigns that so many others now claim to support, and that coincidentally help them maintain their social positions and jobs. If that scares anyone away from Shtetl-Optimized, then I’m sorry to see them go, although they could always just restrict themselves to the posts about complexity and quantum.

    I won’t stand for your abuse, and particularly for your slimy insinuation that my lifelong consistency in these matters means that I too might be some sort of closet Trumpist. You’re hereby banned from commenting here.

  125. Sandro Says:

    atreat #121:

    When it comes to fascists the idea is to *prevent* their violence and genocidal tendencies. Not match them. Shocker I know.

    You are dodging the question again. Prevent how. The fascists are here in your estimation. You say you can’t talk to them, and you’ve ruled out violence. Great, now what? You think your values are just, so how do your values prevail?

    Again, that’s the way fascists think. I’m not into the whole, “your very existence is unjust and harmful,” therefore let me do some genocide!

    I never said genocide, and there are many more options beside genocide that count as violence. For instance, compelled “deprogramming”, which has been a real option discussed in some venues post-Trump. I’m interested in your non-violent, non-discursive third option.

    And as I recall your empirical evidence was massively cherry-picked excluding whole swathes of World War 2 conflict. It was a sociological bit of cherry-picked data trying to mask itself in neutrality when a cursory examination shows the data points picked were ad hoc with subjective rules of inclusion/exclusion designed to support the “researcher’s” point and not out of any genuine desire for neutral and critical examination of the question.

    And I had pointed out that 1) the dataset was specifically curated by scholars in the field, and 2) I cited the full inclusion criteria from the research, which concerned itself with internal tensions exactly like what we were discussing, and finally 3) that the conflicts you wished to include were completely different to the circumstances under discussion and so not pertinent to the research.

  126. Jiro Says:

    “If a good outcome is all that matters, let’s carry out a consequentialist calculation here. I see many plausible ways that the piece was better and more accurate as a result of discussions with Scott. I see no plausible ways that discussions with Scott made the piece less accurate.”

    Giving Metz less ammunition means that he has less ammunition. He would have to exert more effort to write a convincing hit piece. Metz does not have an infinite amount of effort, so his hit piece would end up less convincing, on the average.

    Your reasoning seems to be “since everything Metz said was *possible* without Scott A., Scott A. had no effect”, which isn’t true. Making things easier has an effect, even if in theory you could have done them all anyway.

  127. Aapje Says:

    Tim Converse #116:

    My argument wasn’t just that she was immoral in the past, but that her behavior is very consistent with calculating behavior and that I see no evidence of moral growth on her part. I gave an example of a very nasty sentence in her article, that is the opposite of nuanced. Why don’t you address that sentence, then, if her past behavior is not important to you.

    Surely her actual words in that article are relevant as to whether it is actually a nuanced and interesting piece?

    Would you consider it nuanced if I start making accusations of how a group you belong to has nasty beliefs about me, because I’m favor of justice, where I treat the idea that my beliefs result in ‘justice’ as a given, even though people in your group would tend to disagree about that? In my world, this is the opposite of nuance or fairness, but extreme partisanship and stereotyping of others.

  128. Sniffnoy Says:

    Raoul Ohio #83:

    You should definitely never talk to the FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency in the US due to title 18, section 1001 of the United States Code which basically makes it a crime to make more or less any false statement to them. Now the law as written contains a materiality requirement, but the courts have interpreted this condition in a very loose manner. It’s not at all uncommon for the FBI to use various sorts of trickery and scare tactics to get people to lie to them, and then charge them. Really, don’t do it. Here’s a good article by Popehat on the subject.

    Local police don’t have section 1001 at their disposal, but there’s still a lot of reasons you shouldn’t talk to them if they have any sort of suspicion of you… here’s a long video on the topic, unfortunately I don’t know where one might find it in text form, but it discusses why even if you make only true statements to the police it will not help you and might hurt you.

    One thing that bugs me about the “don’t talk to the police” thing is that like… surely there must be a limit to its application, right? Like it seems a little ridiculous to refuse to provide useful information if they don’t suspect you. And certainly one might want to report a crime to the police. But, I’m not sure how one could ever know that they don’t suspect you, especially given that they’re allowed to lie to you; “don’t talk to the police about any crime that has occurred, except to report it, and even then you should shut up afterward (unless perhaps it was a crime against you such that you definitionally could not be the perpetrator?)” still seems correct to me.

  129. Sandro Says:

    Sniffnoy #128:
    Indeed, the law is designed in many ways to punish or at least disincentivize honesty, and that inhibits the pursuit of justice. Nearly everyone breaks some law every single day, and law enforcement could make your life hell if they really wanted to. There’s no collective incentive to fix this system. The incentives to fix the system are purely individual, when you’re being persecuted unjustly, and that’s why the system is so cruel, so inconsistent in definition and application, and so baroque to non-lawyers.

    Awhile back, Scott had an open thread to discuss all of our “crazy” ideas that we nevertheless believe to be true. One I forgot to mention pertains to this exact issue. As an engineer, I often look for the biggest lever to achieve some desired effect. If the baroqueness of the legal system is a problem, then prosecutorial discretion might be the biggest lever we can use to fix it quickly by realigning collective incentives.

    If DAs have no choice but to prosecute any and every infraction, no matter how minor, then we all collectively have significant incentive to either eliminate trivial infractions and inconsistent legal requirements, or to limit the severity of legal repurcussions from truly minor infractions. “Cutting deals” changes from “not prosecuting”, to “more moderate sentencing for cooperation”, which I frankly find much more palatable.

    The law would also have to become less baroque so people can properly understand the possible repercussions of their decisions. This would also incentivize a more nuanced process for sentencing, rather than the perverse incentives of today where DAs have to be “tough” on crime to get re-elected, despite the fact that such policies compound the crime problems in the long term.

    I think this would also go some ways to reestablishing trust in law enforcement. There are no special privileges for elites, and no possibility for corruption, assuming tampering with evidence continues to be viewed as a serious crime. If you understand the law better, the police also can’t catch you on something trivial, but even if they do, the sentencing process will consider cooperation favourably.

  130. fokas Says:

    > The piece says that Scott once had neoreactionary thinker Nick Land on his blogroll. Again, important context is missing: this was back when Land was mainly known for his strange writings on AI and philosophy, before his neoreactionary turn.

    And what if he still did? When did “guilt by associate” became acceptable again?

    Heck, what if he himself was neoreactionary? When did that become a thought crime?

  131. fokas Says:

    > For one thing that became apparent from this saga is that I do have a deep difference with the rationalists, one that will likely prevent me from ever truly joining them. Yes, there might be true and important things that one can’t say without risking one’s livelihood. At least, there were in every other time and culture, so it would be shocking if Western culture circa 2021 were the lone exception. But unlike the rationalists, I don’t feel the urge to form walled gardens in which to say those things anyway. I simply accept that, in the age of instantaneous communication, there are no walled gardens: anything you say to a dozen or more people, you might as well broadcast to the planet. Sure, we all have things we say only in the privacy of our homes or to a few friends—a privilege that I expect even the most orthodox would like to preserve, at any rate for themselves. Beyond that, though, my impulse has always been to look for non-obvious truths that can be shared openly, and that might light little candles of understanding in one or two minds—and then to shout those truths from the rooftops under my own name, and learn what I can from whatever sounds come in reply.

    Critisizing people that do discuss “true and important things” that “one can’t say without risking one’s livelihood” for doing so covertly or under pseudonyms, is misingenuous and inappropriate when you yourself stick to things that can be “shared openly”.

    (Which also implies that if you chance upon some uncomfortably and shunned upon “true and important” thought, you wont dare publicize it. “Oops, too risky, not for me to publicly think about it. It is true, and it is important, but who cares about those things. Heck, I won’t even discuss it under a pseudonym.”).

    If some people dared to discuss “true and important things” covertly (which still incurs dangers, like this case proves), because the culture/establishment/taboos/Inquisition/etc don’t like those truths, someone who only deals in comfortable thoughts that can easily be “shared openly” if not in the position to criticize them.

  132. Scott Says:

    fokas #130: Some degree of guilt-by-association is unavoidable. Clearly, if my blogroll were filled with Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers, it would support unsavory inferences about either my values or my mental health. The problem today is just that people’s guilt-by-association meters are like an order of magnitude too sensitive, and are picking up massive amounts of noise.

  133. Vampyricon Says:

    Sniffnoy #56, Psy-Kosh #61, and Scott #62: I raised that objection on one of the threads in r/SSC too, but was informed that the NYT does not use these titles. I looked it up and it doesn’t seem to support their case. From The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, 2015 Edition:

    Dr. should be used in all references for physicians, dentists and veterinarians whose practice is their primary current occupation, or who work in a closely related field, like medical writing, research or pharmaceutical manufacturing: Dr. Alex E. Baranek; Dr. Baranek; the doctor. (Those who practice only incidentally, or not at all, should be called Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs.)

    The decision to write “Mr. Siskind” instead of Dr. Siskind is inexcusable, unless they somehow think Scott’s primary profession is a blogger.

    Prof. Ashley T. Berenich; Professor Berenich; the professor. Also: Ashley T. Berenich, professor of history (or chairwoman of the history department or distinguished professor of history). And if the professor holds a special chair: Ashley T. Berenich, the Terry B. Yagyonak professor of history. Also see emeritus.

    Frankly quite inexcusable.

  134. Tom Grey Says:

    [New here for a couple weeks – Trump supporter, tho.]

    Thanks for a good note explaining your views; your list of issues was exclent.

    At ASKblog (Arnold S Kling), my comment agreed with the reporter that SSC is too long, tho I used voluble rather than the more accurate “astoundingly verbose.” Because it’s more detail than I usually want.

    The popularization of “steelman” arguments is great – I think Astral Codex 10 will continue in that mode. Perhaps even more. I also understand that comprehensive steelman arguments require a LOT more space, so I’m OK with just 80% of the key steelman, especially if it can be summarized in 20% of the time.

  135. AJD Says:

    Journalists have deadlines.

    The article was delayed and he had months. This is not a plausible excuse.

  136. Aapje Says:

    AJD #135

    I agree. Although it is peculiar that the author reached out to Moldbug shortly before he published the article. This suggests that the article was completely rewritten recently and Moldbug only now became part of the story. This would be consistent with the completely lack of COVID-related content, even though the author said 6 months ago that this would be his focus.

    The NYT is known for giving marching orders to their reporters, so it is possible that the old story no longer fit the new orders.

  137. Hypnosifl Says:

    ‘the positions ascribed to Murray that Scott endorses in the relevant post—namely, “hereditarian leftism” and universal basic income—are not only unrelated to race but are actually progressive positions.’

    As a regular reader of Slate Star Codex (which I’ve continually found interesting despite strong disagreements with his takes on a number of issues, including the one below), my memory is that Siskind has also periodically directed his readers to at least seriously consider Murray-style views on race, namely the notion that average differences in IQ between different ethnic groups have a significant hereditary component rather than being completely (or near-completely) due to average environmental differences. Looking around a bit for examples, in this post about Jewish achievements in science he writes ‘I find the solution by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending really compelling’, where their solution was to posit Ashkenazi Jews have undergone a selection process at the genetic level that has increased their average intelligence (aside from the complete lack of any genetic evidence for this idea since it was proposed, some additional critiques of this theory can be found here). Sections 5.4.2 and 5.4.2.1 of Siskind’s anti-reactionary FAQ also seem to treat it as reasonably plausible (or at least grant for the sake of argument) that differences in test scores between African-American and European-American populations have a significant genetic component, and suggest it’s a good thing that public opinion doesn’t blame worse outcomes for African-Americans primarily on discrimination.

    Also, when I was searching his blog for posts to confirm my vague memory that he has periodically made posts sympathetic to the online “human biodiversity” (HBD) movement, I searched specifically for posts using the term “human biodiversity” and found a 2014 links post where he described one of his links as “A black guy writes a FAQ on the human biodiversity movement”, and the author of that FAQ, JayMan, was clearly arguing for the Murray-type view that environmental explanations can’t account for racial differences in IQ scores (look especially at items 9 and 10 on the FAQ).

    Searching the blog for more references to JayMan, I found that JayMan was also a regular commenter on Slate Star Codex, where he was even more explicit about his position on genetic explanations for racial IQ differences (see this comment and his recommendation of a paper by well-known ‘scientific racism’ advocates Rushton and Jensen here), and he also argued that this supposed fact had right-wing political implications (see for example JayMan’s comment here where he argues that ‘The source of cultural variation, particularly across space, is genetic variation’ and that therefore ‘The world will never become like that of Star Trek, a progressive Utopia – that is unless NW Europeans replace the populations of the rest of the world’). And Siskind periodically made respectful comments about JayMan’s expertise in these matters, like this one where Siskind referred to him as one of ‘our resident experts’ on the pro-HBD side of the Charles Murray debate, or this one where Siskind responded to a comment criticizing his understanding of heritability by saying “JayMan comes by here every so often. If he agrees with you, I’ll investigate further”.

    JayMan wasn’t the the only pro HBD person that Siskind directed readers to or treated as being knowledgeable guides to the subject, in this post he wrote that “HBD Chick usually writes very well-thought-out articles on race and genetics”, where “HBD chick” is a blogger who also takes Murray-style positions on race and IQ, see for example her post here. And Steve Sailer, the blogger who coined the euphemism “human biodiversity” for claims about innate racial intelligence and personality differences, got a shout-out in this post for his argument that a finding of location-dependent social mobility was really just a consequence of African-Americans having lower social mobility than European-Americans. In the Sailer post that Siskind links to, Sailer doesn’t explicitly argue that this lower social mobility has a genetic origin, but he does heavily imply it by saying “If we want our presidential candidates to get access to better social policy discourse, we need to stop wrecking the careers of the Jason Richwines, James D. Watsons, and Larry Summers for the crime of telling the truth.” (Richwine and Watson both suggested a genetic explanation for observed racial IQ differences, Summers suggested biological reasons for fewer women opting for careers in science).

    Siskind did also occasionally direct readers to anti-HBD arguments, but the example of his post about an anti-racialist FAQ is telling–he talks as though this is one of the few (or only) examples of anti-HBD arguments he’s come across that he actually respects, saying ‘It’s astounding because it is a piece of writing about race that is so good that I actually have specific criticisms of it. I didn’t even realize how strange this was until about my tenth nitpick, when I noticed that I was nitpicking individual arguments instead of shouting at my computer “WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID?! WHY?! WHY?!”’

    Given this history, which Cade Metz may have been at least partially aware of (I know that a rationalwiki editor said they had sent Metz a very detailed list of Siskind’s controversial statements) I think one can reasonably infer Siskind at least finds Murray’s views on the genetic component of racial IQ differences to at least be reasonably plausible, and I’d say it’s fairly likely he finds them *more* plausible than the strictly environmental hypothesis even if his mind isn’t entirely made up. And certainly when he’s praised Murray in the past, as in this post where he says “my impression of Murray is positive”, he never adds any qualifications about the race and IQ stuff that are surely what Murray is most well-known for by the general public, nor does he always specify that he just has a positive opinion of Murray’s views on a specific subject like UBI.

  138. Scott Says:

    Hypnosifl #137: If you read his recent book review at Astral Codex Ten—well, there are so many great things in that review that I won’t try to summarize, but along the way, I think he makes his thoughts on such thermonuclear questions as crystal clear as anyone could reasonably ask. Just as importantly, though, he articulates the importance of basing our hatred of racism, sexism, “let-them-eat-cakeism,” and other evils on moral principles that will stand no matter what the answers to contested empirical questions turn out to be. (Steven Pinker has, of course, been making that same case for decades.)

  139. Deepa Says:

    On what basis did the NYT feel entitled to write about Scott Alexander? He is a private citizen.

    Is that not just like The National Enquirer?

    Do they have the legal right to do this? It certainly seems unethical to me, at the very least. I think it angers many people because Scott Alexander seems so genuinely nice. And his blog and the community generally seem so…NICE. They also seem like true intellectuals, approaching a variety of questions with an open mind.

  140. amy Says:

    Against all good sense, I went and read Metz’s story, then Spiers’. My take:

    1. Metz can’t report or write. I’m not saying he’s wrong, just that he’s not a good enough journalist or writer to be writing for the NYT of 1990. The fact that he writes about tech shouldn’t be an excuse.
    2. Spiers can report and write, and she also knows what she’s looking at. She doesn’t seem to be a particularly nice human being, but that can be said of many people who claw their way up to the top or near-top of any field, also of people willing to work for Jared Kushner. The piece is tiresomely inside-baseball but you get this when your middle class erodes and it’s just a bunch of school chums writing about each other.
    3. Almost nobody cares. For real. This is a tiny corner of a vast and sprawling internet, and as far as I’m concerned, all it’s done is to alert me that if someone’s talking about mottes and baileys, he’s almost certainly a douche (and almost certainly a he). Which I’d likely have noticed by then anyhow.

    I think a community does well to notice when its media paranoia setting is high, and dial down accordingly. I see the same thing frequently in science, where scientists routinely mistake journalists for personal PR crews. Why should the journalists hype whatever they’re doing? Because, in these scientists’ minds, they’re the heroes of the stories and They Are Good People Doing Good and Important Work, and therefore any decent person in possession of a brain should be happy to promote and aid them. A narrative in which they aren’t the hero is opportunity for mild pique, and any whiff of negativity = hit piece. And then you get these scientists wandering around in completely unnecessary rages that probably belong to something else. Of course, even if if the journalism is positive but has a scientific fuzziness about it, the sort of inaccuracy that’s inevitable when the piece is written for nonspecialists, some fraction will seize on that and rage instead about how dumb the reporter is and how, next time, they’ll fix the reporter’s brain for them, as far as it can be fixed. (Happily, the rest will recognize the piece as the nicest possible outcome.)

    The whole doxxing thing seemed to me pretty nuts — when I first heard about this, several months ago, I went and found Siskind in about 45 seconds. Found his photo in another few minutes. He looks like a youngish psychiatrist. Not exactly a mystery. He also seems to be Just Fine. I don’t see that he’s homeless or starving. He’s a highly educated man in a well-compensated field with only himself to look after and apparently massive leisure for writing. His career took a hit because, apparently, his clients? colleagues? find his views odious. He still seems to be practicing, even if his practice site is weird and full of things his patients won’t read, and he’s disingenuous about the main differences between FDA-approved drugs and supplements. Walnut Creek is pretty nice digs. The complaint seems to be that he’s unpopular. Well — okay, if you say unpopular things, that’s how it goes. Nobody’s stopping him from saying them, though. Nobody’s at his door and hauling off his papers and computers. Or him. He’s as free as anyone else to blog and run his business.

    Personally, I’ve never seen what the big deal is about Siskind. He’s got a good essayistic voice, but when I first read him I thought he was seriously blinkered and was trying to use reason as a way out, with predictable results. It was like if Quora had people a billion times brighter, also brought up in some tasteful professional-middle-class environment. The main thing seemed to be that whereas normally, in the “arguing from reason to what society should be” crowd, you’d get to things that have nothing to do with how people live and how societies go right away, he’d catch part of the normal swing of society, and then get on the reason horse and be off in a land that doesn’t have much to do with how things actually go. And he’d go back and forth, which made him a little aggravating to read till you saw what was going on. After a while, frankly, I started to find the horse-changing a little convenient, and at that point I was done. (You see the same problem in his supplements/approved-drugs essay on his practice website, where he’s got tons of very reasonable stuff that manages to walk right around the major argument against relying on supplements as though it doesn’t exist, and it does it in kind of a sleazy way. Waves at the argument without really saying what it is, then says “but these are matters of degree, not kind” (which isn’t really true either) and sails on. Points off if you’re just shooting the shit, but if you’re talking at vulnerable people who actually need medicine, I’ll say sleazy; mitigated by the fact that they’re unlikely to read it.) As for the comments…well, you can’t help who shows up, though you can think about what you’re putting out that attracts various types of people. I’ve got a friend whose work is chronically lifted and misused by flat-earthers and anti-evolutionists, and it’s very clear that he’s not at their party, but I do think it’d be difficult for him to rephrase what he was saying in any way that made them buzz off.

    So – yeah. Not a lovely story, but also unlikely to be of much consequence, and I think the reaction’s a pretty serious overshoot. If you’re looking for “SAK is consequential because,” from a news pov, then I suppose it has to be in “makes language/stories/ideas that can serve as underpinning or justification for what selfish, powerful men who’re causing societal havoc are doing,” but end of day I’ve never known them to really need the pretty words in order to go after what they want. I think the Gebru story’s much more important.

  141. Scott Says:

    amy #140: Good to have you here as always. Regarding Scott Alexander, though, I felt like you asked and answered your own question in the following passage:

      Personally, I’ve never seen what the big deal is about Siskind. He’s got a good essayistic voice … It was like if Quora had people a billion times brighter

    If Scott were like Quora but ten times brighter, that would already be something. If he’s a mere hundred times brighter, that’s enough to make him a crown jewel of our age, enough to compensate for every failing that he’s ever been accused of.

    It’s fascinating how different people (me, you, Steven Pinker…) can care equally about the craft of writing, and yet Scott Alexander sings to some of them and is merely annoying to others. Let me try this, though: as obsessed as Elizabeth Spiers is, in the piece you mentioned, with inside baseball and with all the famous people she’s intersected—that is how obsessed Scott Alexander is with getting ideas and arguments to cohere.

  142. Deepa Says:

    Amy #140:

    You said “Of course, even if if the journalism is positive but has a scientific fuzziness about it, …”

    Well, a science journalist ought not to write in a fuzzy way. Science journalism is about simplifying complex ideas for intelligent lay people, without dumbing them down.

    I’ll give you 2 examples :
    1. When my son was in elementary school, about 11 years ago, he had a voracious appetite for all things math and science. I ran across Asimov’s “How did we find out about…” series in which he wrote about the history of the discovery of genes, computers, and various other topics in science. We bought this on eBay. The books only go up to 1985 or so. But they showed me how a great science journalist writes. At that time, my son had only read the Magic School Bus books, which were for very young children. With that background, he went through this series. It appealed equally to me and my husband, and my parents, each of us with very different backgrounds.
    2. The Oxford University Press has a series called “A very short introduction”. They hire different authors for different topics (since Asimov is not alive!). And the books are a real treat. Extremely hard ideas simplified for the intelligent curious layperson.

    Scott Alexander has a similar ability. It is very rare.

  143. NYT reader Says:

    Very interesting that you came up with 14 arguments against the NYT article.

    Clearly this is a racist dogwhistle, a reference to the neo-nazi 14 words. It’s time the world learns the truth about the racist, fascist, polyamorous rationalist community!

  144. Captain François Dubonais Says:

    The hit piece was a dud. If Metz really wanted to sink Scott, he could’ve pulled quotes from the old weekly Culture War Roundup threads at r/SSC and tarred him for cultivating a fanbase that regularly upvoted opinions most Americans, not just woke NYT readers, would find appalling. TBH it’s weird that he didn’t: Metz clearly isn’t above using guilt-by-association as a smear tactic, and IIRC Scott actually participated in those threads. At least, he was worried enough about their content to ban CWR from the sub.

  145. amy Says:

    Hi, Deepa (#142) –

    Science journalism will necessarily have fuzziness about it because a 1:1 translation of science’s precision isn’t possible — an individual scientific word or phrase carries within it constructs representing decades or more of argument, experimentation, and naming, and the analogies used in translation will catch, at best, a partial gist (and often be difficult or impossible to use in concert). The analogies are also given in demotic, polysemic language that was never meant to exclude connotation and multiple meanings the way scientific language so often does (or tries to do). Which is why the problem isn’t so much in putting an attractive lay description across as it is in doing something about the cliff people fall off of as they try to move from lay description into scientific conversation, and that’s a serious problem now in sci comm to do with Covid and vaccines. You can’t bring people to that cliff, have them asking serious (or wrongheaded, but earnest) questions, and then tell them, well, from here on in, you’re just not going to understand unless you put in about three years’ worth of study. Unfortunately, the signal disintegration, once you move from analogy/simplicity to scientific language, is pretty rapid. And it’s field-specific. Scott sent me a draft of some popular book chapters he wrote, a while back, and while I’m certainly a curious layperson, occasionally accused of intelligence, I just couldn’t follow past the first page or so. Didn’t have enough background in his field.

    Similar problem, different level: I was reading a very prettily-illustrated, and nicely-written, Carl Zimmer piece in the Times not too long ago, about the biochemistry of the coronavirus spikes, and unfortunately it’s full of potholes unless you’ve got…oh, at least a sophomore-level understanding of the lingo. Sugars, proteins — these mean different things to nonscientists, and while I thought the illustrations were beautiful, also understand that to a layperson they might well have looked like cones wrapped in pashminas. No obvious connection to disease. Even the whole “flatten the curve” business — it’s a small minority of the population to whom that meant anything at all, because most people don’t know what to do with a graph. The graph doesn’t talk to them. Not because they’re stupid, but because (1) graphs are just hard for most people — enormously abstract, and too many elements to try to hold in the mind at once, plus change; and (2) despite the College Board’s best efforts, graphs hardly ever show up outside of math class for most people. It’s why the field of infographics has a whole array of quantitative visual display techniques that aren’t graph-based.

    A lot of scientists understand these problems (or understand them well enough) and don’t ask that much of science journalism, so long as it’s a cheering squad and avoids serious error. But I do hear from a fair number who don’t understand the difference between popular press and scientific journal, and they get really bent out of shape by what they view as an important gross distortion of their work.

    Part of the problem has to do with the definition of “intelligent curious layperson.” I meet few scientists who don’t expect that this intelligent person already has a pretty sophisticated understanding of what science is, how it works, and what some of its common words mean. I have a hell of a time persuading chemists and biochemists that most college-educated adults are pretty hazy on what a molecule is. They know it’s small. It’s something to do with chemicals. That’s about as far as it goes. Again, it’s not because they’re stupid, it’s just because this isn’t part of their world. The kind of reasoning and mechanical views that are ordinary in science just aren’t, elsewhere, so too often we’re actually talking about an intelligent curious layperson who’s familiar with and enjoys pop-scientific discourse, and probably has some grounding in a STEM discipline to, say, sophomore/junior level (or has a parent in STEM). That excludes a lot of real intelligent curious mass audience.

    Anyway. It seems to me the best science writers will always be scientists who happen to be stupendous writers (and aren’t usually stupendous scientists) and are writing about their own fields. They’ll understand their science better than any writing-side science writer will, and they’ll be able to translate its profundity by dressing it in lightness and charm. They also tend to be very, very good at telling the same story three ways, starting with folk-tale concreteness and simplicity, complicating the story or sliding it over to something more nuanced, and finally talking about it quite abstractly, but still in everyday language, or with one or two key scientific terms already defined. But you don’t very often get the combo of smart scientist and terrific, light-on-feet writer in one person, so the next best is the writer who pays attention to scientists and has enough background to hang on. After that…well, you takes your chances. It’s work that’s not often paid well and it involves doing two quite different, difficult things well at once, so pickings are slim. Asimov also lived in a time that was friendlier to writers generally: you could make a decent living with those magazine stories (and without an MFA), and sell books without sure-bet marketing, and you probably weren’t trying to do the job with a few-ten thousand dollars in ed debt.

    Anyway. Very long explantion of (part of) why it’s not quite as simple as “well, they should just do it better.”

  146. Ivan Zhang Says:

    @Scott (#137)

    I get the feeling you’re avoiding trying to comment too much on what you seem to on some level understand is Siskind’s embrace of race science. I’m sure you’ve seen the leaked emails where he says he thinks race science is probably correct (citing a couple white nationalist blogs) and talks about how he much he likes reactionaries.

  147. Scott Says:

    Ivan Zhang #146: I feel like “embrace” is emphatically the wrong word here. Did you read Scott’s book review of The Cult of Smart, which appeared just hours after Topher Brennan leaked Scott’s private emails? I found Scott as open and honest about these thermonuclear issues as you could reasonably ask anyone to be—while also, crucially, situating them in a much wider context that has nothing to do with race. I found the review—which you really need to read all the way through to understand it—to be an eloquent response to having one’s private emails leaked in an attempt to destroy one’s career, all the more so for never addressing that action directly and for staying at the level of ideas, where Scott is at his best.

  148. amy Says:

    also, Cap’n #143: woke NYT readers? The average subscriber is a millionaire GenX/Boomer who goes to dinner parties and spends or has spent a lot of time driving kids to sports events.

  149. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #124:

    This seems a little harsh. I think atreat’s intention was probably different from what you’ve attributed to them — although whatever it was, they certainly failed at clearly expressing it. You’ll notice that the comment you’re responding to, #117… doesn’t really actually state an argument or position? Instead it tries to hint at one through questions, which — well, I think that sort of thing is really not conducive to good discussion. You want to make an argument, you should make said argument, so that people can properly respond to it. Personally, I think it would be more appropriate here to just request that atreat make their argument or position explicit and cut it out with the hinting.

    FWIW, as best I can infer, I don’t think atreat is hinting that you’re a closet Trumpist, but that rather they’re trying to make some sort of point along the lines of “liberal free speech norms are a problem because they allow for proto-fascists to make their case”. But, it’s hard to tell, because, as I said, they refused to actually make an explicit statement or argument. I think that’s the real takeaway — not that they accused you of something terrible, as you claimed, but that rather they failed to make their accusation clear at all. As I said, I think the appropriate thing to do here is to demand explicitness, that the point may be argued properly.

  150. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #149: Yeah, you’re right. I couldn’t understand atreat’s comment as saying anything other than:

    “The commenters who your blog attracts are proof that something is morally wrong with you. If you want to be a decent person, the only way to do it is to change your blog’s readership by pulling the only lever available to you: namely, to change the genuine beliefs that you yourself express in your posts. Without even bothering to counterargue, in other words, I can prove that your deepest ideals about the Enlightenment, intellectual freedom, and so on must be mere dog-whistles for Trump, the alt-right, racism, and other monstrous and regressive ideas. I can do this purely by looking at the demographics of your commenters.”

    The thing is, if you were trying to set me off, to make me feel like a cornered animal desperately baring its teeth at its predators, you couldn’t design any better way than via the message above. (You might recall that what prompted comment-171, six years ago, was in part my perception that Amy was sending me this message.)

    The good news is, I’ve since been in email contact with atreat, and he clarified that he meant something more nuanced — something something he likes and respects me but I’m too naive about those who’d take advantage of my openness something something.

    So I apologize for overreacting and the ban is lifted.

  151. amy Says:

    Scott #147 – as I read SAS’s (not SAK’s) review, most of what I thought was “he hasn’t got experience teaching the people he’s talking about and doesn’t know how schools or curricula work”, and then, when I got to the outburst about kiddie prison, most of what I thought at the outset was “he also doesn’t seem to know that most kids like going to school because it’s where their friends are, and a lot of them actually like a fair bit of the school part, like and respect at least some of their teachers, plus there’s often something they want to eat there, etc.”

    And then it just got to be, imo, utterly bizarre. I get having a terrible time in grade school in the US. I mean obviously I didn’t have a famously wonderful time there, because I left so early. But I was also a pretty weird kid (and I didn’t have a uniformly bad time; lots was pretty good, I was just bored senseless when not ignoring the teacher) and it’s clear that most of the kids I was in school with were content to be there; my experience isn’t a good one to go by, because I’m not who school’s for. It’s mass education, performed by fairly ordinary people, most of whom are genuinely well-meaning and like children more or less indiscriminately. School has extremely modest aspirations, which, naturally, are going to be dressed in bunting and advertised as wonderful for reasons that turn out to be important, and can’t possibly be for everyone. Of course it’s also not for kids who’re in a bad enough way to need their psychiatrists to show up at school meetings. It isn’t for any outliers, though it does do a much better job that way than it did 40 years ago.

    And of course, thanks to the pandemic, we’e having the mass education in homeschooling now. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of parents do not want to do this, even if they aren’t trying to do (other) fulltime professional jobs while teaching third grade, and don’t feel they’re equipped anyhow.

    As for the Murray question, I really don’t understand why he’s tying himself up in knots like this. I mean yes, he’s very open about his reasoning. But it seems to me the obvious answer is that there’s no reason to deal with this question. It’s a question from the time of purposefully racist race studies, and you may as well be measuring skulls and palpating head bumps. Unless you’re a throwback racist, pocket watch & all, it’s a defunct question. And that’s before you get to the question of what you mean when you say “intelligence”, and examine why you’re trying to quantify it anyway. If what you’re asking is “are these disproportionately everything-but-white poor students who do poorly in school simply (disproportionately) stupid and unpromising,” then this is also a nutty, if not outright offensive, question, to ask before you go for more obvious and less mischievous correctives like becoming a less selfish, racist society and seeing if that’s helpful. Including examining closely what goes on in the lead-in years to the tracking that puts kids on divergent paths very quickly, and what inequities pertain, including what students are being told about themselves and what their parents are capable of doing for them.

    In other words, SAS’s Murray question is a question divorced from realities — an idea-toy. Only he’s treating like it resides in the world of everyday realities, and I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do. People get hurt if they have to sit through more powerful, better-protected people’s idea-play that happens to be about their actual lives — which is something he surely understands from sitting through the sessions with his clients’ teachers, principals, and school counselors.

    Unlike SAS, I do teach students who were told repeatedly that they didn’t have what it took to go to college, and who’ve had practically nonexistent K-12 educations. College students who can’t read NYT articles on their own, many of them. Many of them very poor, many first-gen and mystified as to what they’re supposed to be doing in college in the first place. Some who’ve lied to family in order to go to grad school. One who’s cried in my office, months from PhD, at the prospect of reading an entire book cover to cover. Others who’ve cried from fright at the prospect of writing anything. Some who are young parents, others who are responsible for the care or support of siblings or parents. I also used to write curriculum for remedial-track K-12 students in one of the US’s biggest school districts, and set scoring guidelines for part of the GED. It seems to me that what’s necessary isn’t really a mystery; we just don’t want to pay for it, because it’s very, very labor-intensive work for which you need people who are kind, patient, inclined to the long view, very well-educated in both their subjects and the likely realities of their students’ lives, and thoughtful about how children learn. You can pretend that thirty eight-year-olds and one teacher for 47 minutes five times a week and a high-stakes standardized test at the end is education, but until you get some new machine-ready kind of student, I don’t see how it is.

    When I say that what’s needed isn’t a mystery, and that the Murray question isn’t a question worth asking even apart from its offensiveness, let alone trying to answer, what I mean is that one does not teach statistically. One serves as a teacher to individual people at particular points in their (probably) long lives. And all you can do, unless your intention is to damage those people, is to try to meet them one by one and find out what they want, what they like, what they can receive and use, and what you have for them. All with the understanding that you have no idea at all what they’ll go on to do, and that you may not be the right teacher for them. Whatever else it may be, it’s viciously unhelpful to make racist parlor toys out of the idea that perhaps they’re just born stupid and incapable because, theoretically, those qualities might ride along with race, and to entertain play with them. That kind of shit’s straight out of The Snow Queen.

  152. Ivan Zhang Says:

    @Scott #147

    Yes, I have. I assume this is the passage you are referring to. I want to avoid any accusations of misrepresentation or cherry picking, so I’ll quote it in full. Let me know if you were thinking of a different passage.

    “Earlier this week, I objected when a journalist dishonestly spliced my words to imply I supported Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. Some people wrote me to complain that I handled this in a cowardly way – I showed that the specific thing the journalist quoted wasn’t a reference to The Bell Curve, but I never answered the broader question of what I thought of the book. They demanded I come out and give my opinion openly. Well, the most direct answer is that I’ve never read it. But that’s kind of cowardly too – I’ve read papers and articles making what I assume is the same case. So what do I think of them?

    This is far enough from my field that I would usually defer to expert consensus, but all the studies I can find which try to assess expert consensus seem crazy. A while ago, I freaked out upon finding a study that seemed to show most expert scientists in the field agreed with Murray’s thesis in 1987 – about three times as many said the gap was due to a combination of genetics and environment as said it was just environment. Then I freaked out again when I found another study (here is the most recent version, from 2020) showing basically the same thing (about four times as many say it’s a combination of genetics and environment compared to just environment). I can’t find any expert surveys giving the expected result that they all agree this is dumb and definitely 100% environment and we can move on (I’d be very relieved if anybody could find those, or if they could explain why the ones I found were fake studies or fake experts or a biased sample, or explain how I’m misreading them or that they otherwise shouldn’t be trusted. If you have thoughts on this, please send me an email). I’ve vacillated back and forth on how to think about this question so many times, and right now my personal probability estimate is “I am still freaking out about this, go away go away go away”. And I understand I have at least two potentially irresolveable biases on this question: one, I’m a white person in a country with a long history of promoting white supremacy; and two, if I lean in favor then everyone will hate me, and use it as a bludgeon against anyone I have ever associated with, and I will die alone in a ditch and maybe deserve it. So the best I can do is try to route around this issue when considering important questions. This is sometimes hard, but the basic principle is that I’m far less sure of any of it than I am sure that all human beings are morally equal and deserve to have a good life and get treated with respect regardless of academic achievement.”

    So: what does Siskind think of Murray’s thesis of inherent genetic racial differences in intelligence?

    This is Siskind’s response:
    1. First bringing up some studies where most experts attribute some component of intelligence difference to genetics.
    2. Noting he has tremendous incentives to disavow any belief in racial intelligence differences. And yet…
    3. Pointedly refusing to answer (trying a humorous deflection “I’m freaking out about those studies, go away”)

    Scott, you must be a good enough scientist that you cannot objectively look at all this information and conclude it is not likely he believes in racial intelligence differences. And this is without considering his leaked emails, where again he explicitly says he thinks it’s probably true.

    Now I’d guess a Siskind supporter would probably respond that by adding all these additional words he did in the above talking around the question – “all human beings are morally equal regardless of IQ,” etc. – he has shown that he even if believes in racial intelligence differences, he doesn’t derive any malice from that belief. It’s just as a matter of scientific evidence. Charles Murray, of course, says the same thing (including the point about equal moral weight). Maybe you think Siskind deserves more credulity on this matter than Murray (or alternatively maybe you think that we should also believe Murray doesn’t harbor any racist inclinations and is just following the science.) Let’s even accept that.

    Even then the NYT didn’t do anything wrong, and in fact was producing good journalism. They almost certainly accurately presented what Siskind believes, even if he didn’t want it said. And his reaction to it does him no favors. After all, remember why Brennan leaked the emails. He was upset the Siskind was deceptively pretending that to imply that he that liked Charles Murray was this horrifically unfair interpretation of his writings. However Brennan knew from the correspondence that Metz was in fact accurate about Siskind’s beliefs and Siskind was being dishonest when he was trying to present such an implication as absurd and offensive.

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