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Letter in Response to Jan. 17 Article in The New York Times (hms.harvard.edu)
294 points by crunchiebones on Jan 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments

I've worked in the ancient DNA field but left (at least for now). I haven't worked with David but have with competing labs. I have mixed feelings about the NYT piece -- on the one hand it has a lot of valid criticisms and brings sorely needed critical eye to this hyped field; on the other hand it is sensationalistic, too long, and very unfair to David -- I guess they needed a villain for the piece.

The industrial ancient DNA publication machine is real. A few giants control the vast majority of ancient DNA samples behind a wall, and these giants decide when and where to release these samples. I was part of a study, that got mashed together with a totally unrelated study at the last minute, for the sake of another hyped headline in Nature/Science, which reviewed and accepted the article very quickly. The whole process felt sloppy & rushed, and I was left with a bitter taste that ultimately led me to move on to other areas.

On the other hand, I have immense scientific respect for David. In population genetics, there are a whole host of methods used to infer demographic history that are very biased and ignore important forces like natural selection. David's group has pioneered statistical methods that are more robust and less biased, that make less sweeping claims but are on much sounder scientific footing, and used these methods to derive important insights on human history.

>The industrial ancient DNA publication machine is real. A few giants control the vast majority of ancient DNA samples behind a wall, and these giants decide when and where to release these samples.

Who controls the samples? That sounds like a sci-fi thriller plot in the making.

Agreed. This interesting. How does one get access to these samples? Do the custodians have a website with order requests -- something like that? Is there a bidding process for access?

I should have been more precise. The vast majority of unpublished samples are controlled by a few. Of course, once they are published they are open.

To gain access to unpublished samples, you need to form collaborations with the gatekeepers, who decide the ultimate form of publication -- usually, a big Nature/Science paper with 100 authors.

I liked this twitter thread about some of the challenges of smaller groups in obtaining samples: https://twitter.com/paleogenomics/status/1086402894641971204

Thanks for clarifying and sharing that tweet. Who is the owner of the samples when they are discovered? Does the nation authorize/grant ownership to the discoverer? Where are the financial incentives in this "supply chain"?

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series aren't quite 'thrillers', but one of the recurring plotlines is the existence of Neanderthals who were cloned from ancient DNA samples.

And one of the largest moral issues in the books is that they are owned by the company that synthesized them; it's fiction, but you can see why people are extremely concerned about the concept of companies owning both genetic sequences and their end products.

What happens when genetic treatments start to fix birth defects in unborn children? Will we allow the companies which produce those treatments to lay claim to the child's organs which would not have otherwise existed? I sure hope not, but I could definitely see it happening in this day and age. It'd be a whole new kind of vertical integration.

Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi) is that sci-fi thriller. Granted, it's not about ancient DNA - but about dystopian corporate control of crop seed DNA (think Monsanto/Roundup writ large).

The opinion section of the NYT, and also many of the long form articles, are selected and shaped by the editorial staff which has an agenda. I’ve noticed that popularized science articles are especially bad, and if the science touches even slightly a controversial issue like race or ancestry the meaning and nuance can be warped to match their agenda.

This isn’t only the NYT but given their status as the premier news source in the USA it is the most glaring to me.

Also, I know it’s become a trope to post this on HN as it’s basically gospel at this point, but The Submarine essay by Paul Graham gives some nice insight into the PR and media industry http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html

Simply put, editorial and opinion sections are supposed to be like that. It's not an error; it's by design, and it's a design that has existed for as long as editorial and opinion sections have existed.

You, as the reader, are expected to be know enough about how newspapers are organized to tell that you're reading part of the opinion or editorial sections and what that means. In an ideal newspaper practicing journalistic integrity, letters to the editor like the one presented here would be published in future editions of the paper, or, failing that, published in competing newspapers.

Yes, everything is subject to bias. Everything is subject to bias. You cannot eliminate it. The point is to be aware of it's existence, and newspapers help do that by placing these types of pieces in their opinion and editorial sections.

> Simply put, editorial and opinion sections are supposed to be like that. It's not an error; it's by design, and it's a design that has existed for as long as editorial and opinion sections have existed.

There's a difference between cherry picking stories to support a narrative, and bending the truth. The NYT is engaging in the latter.

One problem I have with it, though, is that often all the most popular articles in their site, are the opinion pieces.

I'm still a subscriber, but there's a strongly "promoted" bias, IMHO, and it requires reading news from several sources with an open mind to get the complete story.

Also, NYT isn't immune to click-baity titles, where the meat of the story isn't necessary correlate with the title.

> often all the most popular articles in their site, are the opinion pieces

It turns out people like to read other people's opinions. Who'da thunk?

> I'm still a subscriber, but there's a strongly "promoted" bias, IMHO

If you want a balanced overall view of the day's news, the place to start is the front/home page, not the "Most Popular" list. Newspaper editors spend extraordinary amounts of time agonizing over exactly what stories should go there and how much prominence to give to each. "Most Popular" skips all that in favor of the "wisdom of the crowd," which it turns out is not all that wise.

(If the nytimes.com home page still contains too much opinion for you, you can get a digital edition of each day's print paper's front page at this stable URL: https://www.nytimes.com/section/todayspaper)

It turns out people like to read other people's opinions. Who'da thunk?

Except that they don't like to read other people's opinions. They like to read their own opinions.

The most popular opinion pieces are overwhelmingly those which play to the prejudices of the majority of readers, not those which challenge people by presenting unpopular opinions.

I typically just read the article notifications when they come in, so I think I get a pretty big mix? And I like their evening in review, or morning review sections when I have time.

>and it requires reading news from several sources with an open mind to get the complete story.

I don’t consider this a negative. I have always had a bit of that “rebellious” streak in me, so I’ve been told. I have always questioned everything. I would ask “Why?” like 2 year old. I wasn’t asking to second guess coworkers, but because I wanted to learn to fish rather than being handed a fish. The question everything mentality stuck, so I’m constantly reading multiple sources to confirm or contradict any one single source.

Most people do not have time to do this.

This is true, but unfortunately the new reality. Imagine when "deep fakes" etc become much more mainstream. You can't rely on one single source of information. You're going to have to get used to checking the sources, and cross-checking with other reputable sources.

Which would be perfectly fine, except that digital newspapers have a pesky habit of putting "Opinion" or "Editorial" in very tiny font on the piece's header, with no other indication that the piece being read is, in fact, an opinion/editorial piece.

I think part of the blame is also on aggregators like Google News; I've noticed that GN mixes opinion/editorial content in with real news articles, especially on the sidebar (e.g. "Spotlight" section).

It also seems like the ratio of opinion content to actual news has been increasing lately. In the print version of the NYT, opinion pieces were generally only found on two pages, sometimes maybe overflowing a bit, but you'd never see them on the front page and they certainly weren't the bulk of the paper. Now it seems like the majority of "news" content from some outlets are actually opinion pieces.

> It also seems like the ratio of opinion content to actual news has been increasing lately.

Well, sure. Now that everyone has access to 24h news for free, the facts become commodities and lose their value, and therefore the reference publications start giving more space to the product over which they have some market power: the analysis of news by picked columnists.

If you just want an event log, you're better off skipping the uninterested middleman and just going to AP or Reuters or similar.

Yes! I've noticed GN has succumbed to the right-wing pressure and started showing me a lot more right-wing propaganda sites. So I get news and opinion mixed together like "CBS: Government shutdown continues." "Washington Examiner: Why Democrats want migrants to kill you"

Choose a better paper!

The Guardian labels comment articles with a big orange “ in the headline on the homepage, an orange "Opinion" on the article page, a pastel orange background in both places, the author's name under the heading in orange, and "commentisfree" in the URL.

The Guardian is a pretty terrible choice for people who want less opinions mixed in with their news. Their front page with all opinion stuff removed would have a lot of blank space. Not only is your statement about proper labelling false (random recent example: [1]), but on top of that they seem to think that their own opinion entitle them to their own facts. A non-political example: they accused in passing the journalist Matt Taibbi of rape. When confronted with the debunked claim [2] the Guardian contributor's response was, essentially, "it wasn't news, it was opinion" (does that remind you of some cable news channel?). For context TG is not some 4-person blog with no fact-checker, they are a 1400 employees company, and yet somehow these "mistakes" happen.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/jan/19/is-standup-c...

[2] https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/12/the-destructi...

But then the Guardian also publishes opinion pieces outside of their opinion section as well.

I think this is increasingly a feature of British newspapers: a strong editorial slant in news selection and presentation.

NYT opinion pieces at the start say "Opinion" in a font that is larger than the article text font and larger than than the article subtitle font. The only thing I see offhand that is in a bigger font is the article title. It's not at all tiny.

Once you start reading the article and scroll the above off, the fixed position thingy at the top of the of the page that has the hamburger menu, search box and says "The New York Times" centered changes to contain article specific controls, such as social media stuff, comments, bookmarking, the "The New York Times" string moves to the right, and the centered text becomes "OPINION | <title of article>", with "OPINION" in bolded all caps.

This seems fine to me. I can't think of an occasion where I've ever failed to realize when I'm reading an opinion piece or editorial there.

I would hope most literate readers could tell the difference.

There's an obvious distinction between a pundit advancing a point of view and factual accounting of some event. That's not the say that the news section never betrays bias with the facts a reporter chooses to include, or by omitting contrary perspectives.

But really, I hope readers do not need a giant header banner "THIS IS AN OP-ED" to recognize one.

That's assuming the op-ed is not intentionally taking a journalistic style to mislead readers.

You can increase the font size in your browser if you're unable to read the indications for editorials and opinions.

But it's also kind of odd that you consider there to be a problem in the first place, because it's also trivial to distinguish news articles from opinions and editorials just from their writing stile.

it's also trivial to distinguish news articles from opinions and editorials

It turns out that's not true for most people any more.


It's trivial for New York Times articles. Your link is about advertisements disguised as news (which are illegal where I live).

Every individual article will have some bias. But GP is complaining that the entire editorial staff seems to share a bias, indeed a single agenda, meaning that there is a lack of rigorous discussion.

There's a long-existing term for this: "editorial policy," which is a fundamental feature of all publications. All.

In programming, this would be like complaining about the existence of indenting.

If I thought indenting was lowering the quality of programming I would comment about it too.

If the last decade or so has shown anything it is that people are tired of the standard operating procedures of legacy media. Maybe the idea that the editorials all present a unified narrative is part of that.

"Legacy media" is itself a misnomer, unless you're suggesting that something replace "editorial policy?" What could that something be?

On reread, is it actually about "editorials?" Because that's not what editorial policy is entirely about. Partially, yes, but not completely.

>You, as the reader, are expected to be know enough about how newspapers are organized to tell that you're reading part of the opinion or editorial sections and what that means.

No. They know most people take news articles, editorials and opinion articles as the same thing and exploit it.

It's from the "Magazine", not the news section, nor is it opinion ala "This political party sucks and why". It is the magazine, which is long-form narrative storytelling. I don't think that should exempt them from leaving out or otherwise ignoring facts.

Funny. I just read another “suits back in style” story yesterday.


Great catch and that's hilarious. I saw the same story from multiple sources/platforms yesterday. I thought the paul graham article was about yesterday's news and then I read the date "April 2005". 14 years ago.

Anyone who pays attention to news for any amount of time sees redundant news and agenda. But PR stooges?

If PR firms are so entwined with traditional news and media, I wonder how entrench PR firms are in the social media space.

If PR firms are so entwined with traditional news and media, I wonder how entrench PR firms are in the social media space

Watch the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix

Most social media platforms are designed with their clients needs in mind. Often, those clients are PR firms.

Your concept of objectivity is more flawed than their agenda

It's so disturbing that "integrity in journalism" and "not political" (as an adjective) has become synonymous with advocating causal relationships between behavior and race/sex.

Assuming that all of those relationships are absolutely true, and would hold in a world of equal opportunity that didn't reward conforming to certain stereotypes, or punish deviating from them; even in that world, you'd assume that there'd be far more important issues at all times than these tiny postulated differences.

NYT is awful, but just in the way all corporate media outlets are awful; they cater to the powerful, and protect an encourage industries in which they are also invested.

Yeah, the only traditional outlet that I trust to actually present a diverse set of editorial viewpoints is The Atlantic. The others, like NYT, WaPo, etc. all seem to mostly provide a very narrow set of party-line editorials.

Doesn't David Brooks and Barris White write for them as well?

How is Atlantic not a narrowly left wing mag (which is fine if that's your taste)?

Isn't neutral opinion just a fact.

Perhaps there was a time when the New York Times could be trusted, but that era ended at least several years ago.

Off the top of my head:

- The New York Times fired Quinn Norton basically for being willing to talk to weev (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/the-n...)

- The New York Times fired Razib Khan for reporting on facts that are basically consensus opinion among geneticists and intelligence researchers.

- The New York Times kept Sarah Jeong despite her offenses being substantially beyond the above. (I think it would have been fine to keep Jeong if they also kept Norton and Khan).

- The New York Times published a completely uncritical review of Democracy in Chains, despite it's dishonest scholarship. Even NPR added an editor's note to their report on this book.

I thought this admission/apology from NYT after the 2016 election was interesting.


we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.

It's been 2 years and they haven't changed yet.

This is hilarious considering that the NYT's web section on the 2016 election results showed HRC as having over 50% of the popular vote from Tuesday night on.

Only later was it qualified to say (paraphrased) as "uh, we meant percentage of the popular vote that went to HRC or Trump". But they had never, ever computed their masthead popular vote counts that way before, and they didn't qualify those limited counts until 11 days after the election.

Let’s not forget the 98% “chance of winning” estimate of the 2016 election.

For months ahead of the election, the election was never called by The New York Times as being below a 90% certainty.

They were basically declaring a winner up front, and contributed to the spectacle of total upset.

Now as an outlet, it just spews shit on a daily basis. And I mean shit. It’s been unreadable since then.

The last time I observed good coverage on anything from The New York Times was during the first two years of the 2003 Iraq war. Since then, garbage. Hot garbage.

> Let’s not forget the 98% “chance of winning” estimate of the 2016 election.

> For months ahead of the election, the election was never called by The New York Times as being below a 90% certainty.

It's trivial to verify that neither of these things are true[1][2], so...just adding to the garbage, I guess?

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/upshot/presidential...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/forecast/president

Still, so laughably bad are the predictions, that you kind of prove the point being made.

They were, more or less, calling the election, and in retrospect, trying to drive results.

Perhaps it’s debateable to say no one really wanted Trump to win, given what we’ve now seen, but this points very seriously to the fact that The New York Times is not at all an objective news source, which makes them as worthless as their rivals.

I'm not sure you understand probabilities when you drive at discrediting the NYT. Their last prediction given in the linked series gave Trump a 15% chance at winning. That's about equal to the probability of rolling a 10 or more with a two six-sided dice (16.7%). Would you find it laughable that someone looked at you before the come-out roll in a game of Craps and said there was only a 16.7% chance of rolling a ten or more and then it happened? I wouldn't.

Further, I think if you wanted to drive the results of an election you're far more likely to give your chosen candidate a _lower_ chance of winning in order to drive as much support as possible. If as a voter you thought it a foregone conclusion that your preferred candidate was going to win, it's not likely you see much reason to vote.

All of that said, the NYT is clearly constantly pushing particular agendas (just look at the "Business" section for a start) and has dropped so significantly in own esteem that I will very likely unsubscribe soon. However, when criticizing an organization we should do so objectively and point to their true flaws and not use misunderstandings of probabilities.

As someone who has (once) written an opinion piece for the NYT, I wonder how much the published piece resembled the author's original text. My experience: https://www.rosshartshorn.net/stuffrossthinksabout/nyt_opini...

I (once) wrote a Sports Illustrated opinion article years ago (similar situation to yours: made a comment on twitter to one of the popular talking heads, talking head took notice and replied, SI took notice, asked me to write something), your experience matched mine from the editing and review standpoint.

At first sitting back and reading the suggested edits and changes in place I had a similar first reaction as you did, but after doing the "walk away, do something else and come back to your writing later" thing, I found the opinion was still there though much less verbose.

Share that to say, the editorial process itself, even for opinion pieces-is rather....well... opinionated.

Very interesting to hear that. I guess I am not surprised. I felt that my basic opinion was there, but an opinion of theirs had been layered on top, in a very politically-oriented way. I don't know if this was conscious or not.

I suspect this will be a take that someone is going to have a problem with, or maybe many do-but this is kind of the editor's job. Editorials while probably not the express opinion of the publication you're writing for does need to at least carry enough of an opinion of theme to stay consistent with readers expectations when they pick up $Publication_Weekly$.

Would it be nice to see if a publication just decided to run editorials contrary to or perhaps ones that eviscerated a viewpoint or position said publication has been known to hold-and entertain plurality for plurality's sake?

Probably. If that's what the readers have come to expect, probably.

But as a default condition of running a newspaper? I think senior editors like keeping their jobs too much for that.

The NYT is called liberal, but more correctly it's pro-establishment/pro-government left-of-American-center.

They are personified by the Clinton family, yet are more pro-Bush than say pro-BernieSanders or pro-GaryJohnson.

With Trump's alternate-establishment weirdness and the extent polarization of modern US politics, the right wing is rejecting the NYT and thus pushing them farther left to maintain readership by catering to replacement readers.

This is astute and quite accurate (imho).

This is really fascinating. Had no idea just an HN comment can get you an invitation to write a NYT op-ed. Is this usual? Have you written for a newspaper before or do they randomly source semi-anonymous internet commenters for opinion pieces?

No, it has never happened to me before (and, I expect, will probably not happen again).

I have been through something similar (not with the NYT) with the same result. In fact I can't think of a single news story I have personal knowledge of that came out the media meat grinder showing any resembalance to what went in - pink slime more closely resembles a cow than these stories to the facts.

Interesting, thanks for sharing.

wow this is brutal. thanks for sharing. I had mused on the idea of pitching them an opinion piece about my field, traffic, but not anymore.

I should say, their check did clear (and I didn't even expect to get paid when I agreed to do it). So there's that.

Very interesting. Did you get feedback from NYT on this page?

I thought Razib Kahn also had a response worth reading. This is all out of line with my previous impression of the New York Times as a respectable paper. Is the new era of virality driven news taking its toll on them? My impression is that they wouldn't have published this 10 years ago but perhaps I'm being naive?


You’re being naive. Things were never better, it’s just that we live in an era when disseminating the counter narrative is easier than it used to be.

Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer was never revoked. He worked for the NYT as Moscow Burea Chief while the Holodmor, the Ukrainian famine was happening and didn’t cover it.


> What Duranty knew and when

> It was clear, meanwhile, from Duranty's comments to others that he was fully aware of the scale of the calamity. In 1934 he privately reported to the British embassy in Moscow that as many as 10 million people may have died, directly or indirectly, from famine in the Soviet Union in the previous year.[25]

> Both British intelligence[26] and American engineer Zara Witkin (1900–1940),[27] who worked in the USSR from 1932 to 1934,[28] confirmed that Duranty knowingly misrepresented information about the nature and scale of the famine.

> There are some indications that Duranty's deliberate misdirection concerning the famine may have been the result of duress. Conquest believed Duranty was being blackmailed over his sexual proclivities.[29]

I heard it this way once:

You open the paper and read an article about your field. “This thing is crap, they got all the details wrong and are drawing ridiculous conclusions!”

Then you click to the next article, about something else. “Wow, this is really fascinating. We need to do something about this!”


I think this idea has a name, though I don’t remember it.

This leads to a possibility I'd not considered before. Trust in the media has deteriorated extensively. This seemed logically attributable to the rise of the internet thus ostensibly creating a race to publish, and publish sensationally, like never before. But something that always bugged me is that distrust of the media is nothing new. Writing in 1807 Jefferson stated [1],

"To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, "by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only." Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it's benefits, than is done by it's abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knolege with the lies of the day. ... I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false."

Yet in my own personal experience, the media seemed at the minimum 'better' before the internet. So what gives? Maybe there is a very simple explanation. What may have changed is that now the internet enables individuals to share their expertise (and the media's lack thereof). It's no longer just the man who is an expert in a field facing disillusionment, but rather now anybody at all that reads his testimony. In times past there was no way to get such messages out. In other words the internet did not create mediocrity in the media, but rather emphasized it loud and clear for all to bear witness to, even those who otherwise would have been none the wiser.

[1] - http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_spe...

Thank you!

Gell-Mann has to do with the contagiousness of poor logic, not the fact that there are stories you like and stories you don't.

This idea has some legs but it also needs to fit context. When I come here and see comments on a subject about programming I know there will be people here who are very smart and knowledgable. However I also know to skip any thread about nutrition, fitness, politics, or anything not tech related basically on this site.

If I said well the people who comment on here and the articles submitted here about fitness are mostly shit, why would I read their opinions about programming, then I'd miss out on a lot.

Not all the writers on staff at any publication are going to be bad, but some will be or they will just be given a topic to write about which they are not familiar with, but are experts in a different field perhaps.

The the level of "bikeshedding" friendliness needs to be taken into account. "Everybody" feels they can have an informed opinion on fitness or nutrition, not the same for specialized technical topics. Some tech topics can be similar though when kept on the general level, like programming languages, editors/IDEs, and testing practices...

You would be surprised by the level conversation around certain health topics.

Keep this in mind every single time you read a piece about the American healthcare system.

I've heard about it too but I don't know what the solution would be.

If a journalist was really knowledgeable about something they were writing, would they still be in journalism when their insight could fetch more elsewhere?

Journalists who know their stuff can make good money running a topical blog / journal. See Stratechery as an example.

Ah I’ve thought about this exact thing before! Glad to see a coined term for it.

"I have mixed feelings about the NYT piece -- on the one hand it has a lot of valid criticisms and brings sorely needed critical eye to _________; on the other hand it is sensationalistic, too long, and very unfair to _________ -- I guess they needed a villain for the piece."

I cancelled my subscription to the NYT because I felt this way about many of their pieces.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18961676.

I mean, this is a lot of journalism in a nutshell, and the NYT tends to be far, far better than most.

If you cancelled your NYT subscription, may I ask what other daily newspaper you find to be as informative but more objective? Or have you given up daily news altogether?

I read NPR now (only text; I can't speak to the audio segments). It's the most blessedly dispassionate news source I've yet found.

Ah no! If you want good, thoughtful news I suggest the Atlantic or the New Yorker (society, culture, politics), Talking Points Memo (politics only), or Propublica (no breaking news, just investigative). All of those four are controlled by journalists and have a more slow-news, news analysis focus. Add a local newspaper, just not one that is owned by a hedge fund or rightwing billionaire.

If you want to listen to audio, there are a lot of great podcasts, many from the above publications. (People in the rigthwing media bubble will complain that the above four pubs are liberal, but frankly: reality has a liberal bias in 2019, and all the above are truth-first, and thus VERY different from rightwing pubs like WSJ, Fox, Daily Caller, etc.)

As for NPR: it is really a terrible example of our current 'both sides', conservative-influenced media. NPR sounds fair, but the NPR news production is strongly controlled by its individual member stations. Because of that station control, NPR is highly susceptible to whining from the right, and so they end up presenting "both sides" of many issues, even when only one is true. It's sad. (Example: NPR refused to use the word "lie" to refer to DJT's statements even as late as Dec 2016, when the NYT had come out with a usage of "lie" to great hoopla in Oct/Nov 2016). The NYT is better than NPR, except for NYT politics coverage: don't read its politics coverage and if you can, skip its headlines. For some reason NYT editors and politics reporters are strong believers in the both sides, fact-second religion.

I've found NPR to usually present "no sides", which exactly what I want. Simply facts. Minimal analysis or hypotheticals. Just, "X happened." The "both sides" mentality presumes a conflict, and implies that the content either lives in the sphere of opinion or includes "alternate facts". I've no interest in it from my news source.

I do end up finding myself on The Atlantic fairly often through links. It has some good opinion pieces, but I don't really think of it as "news" so much. Or at least, not the stuff that I've read.

Presenting only facts is not same to having no sides, as the media can always control whether to present some facts or not. If you don't want to be manipulated by news, simply do not read news. By subscribing to the news stream you should constantly evaluate the possibility being manipulated.

The funding for NPR says a lot. I suspect if you asked them in confidence, the staff would be fairly liberal, but the GOP hasn't defunded them because they realize the threat of defunding is more valuable than actual defunding.

As regards propublica:

I’ve a great deal of experience in the healthcare field. Their recent series of work on healthcare has been amazing and amazingly bad: they’ve chased down data, analyzed it thoroughly, and apparently not bothered to speak to actual experts in the field to contextualize that data. Particularly where that would interfere with their agenda.

The result is, as they say, noise and fury signifying nothing. In honor of the gell-man effect, I couldn’t in good conscience use them as a source for a field I’m not an expert in.


AHA! Thank you for giving a name to a phenomenon I've talked about for years!

I appreciate your insight and I even agree on most of it, but the imperative (even bossy) tone of your comment feels offputting to me.

I don’t read daily news or long form articles at all. At the end of the day, I don’t need to have an opinion on most things. I’d rather be ignorant than cultivate opinions based on journalists who are peddling narrative over facts.

Every now and then I’ll deep dive into an area for whatever reason. E.g. when Trump did his tax proposal, it directly affected us because of the reduction of the marriage penalty. So I looked at how it compared to tax laws in other countries. My conclusion was that the main effect of the proposal would’ve been to move is closer to the tax regimes in Germany, etc. Much of the Western world is following a trend of lowering corporate taxes, e.g. Sweden. But reporting that Trump’s tax policy follows a global trend is not consistent with how journalists today report the news (on both sides), where every story has to have identifiable villains or heros and support some broader narrative and agenda.

Not sure why you got downvoted. The world would be a better place if we all didn't feel a need to have an opinion on every hot-button issue.

Whether or not the corporate tax cuts put us more in line with other developed Western nations is immaterial. It was not balanced with other new revenue sources or cuts to federal programs. The GOP also pushed it as a big deal for the poor and middle class, which is only (somewhat) true for the short term. That is what news outlets were pissed about.

Why were news outlets pissed about an imbalanced budget? They don’t seem to have an issue with AOC proposing un-funded programs.

It was NYTime’s outstanding coverage of Ergodan’s entourage beating of protesters outside the White House that cemented my decision to subscribe to The NY Times. As a journalism company they’re often good and occasionally brilliant, which is a rare quantity these days.

Hence the mixed feelings. They have a track record of breaking really huge and well-researched stories. It's a shame they muddle it up with sensationalism.

Yes I think 'mixed feelings' is right. But it's not just sensationalism that is their failing -- "savvy journalism", the "view from nowhere" and "bothsidesism" are greater problems with the info the NYT conveys. (also, NYT editor Dean Baquet fired the NYT public editor after she questioned their "Not a Russian puppet"[1] story just before the 2016 election)

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/us/politics/fbi-russia-el... "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia" Nov 11, 2016 (Note that quite a few reporters have publicly said they think this story was sourced to Trump partisans in the NY FBI office, but there has been no firm reporting about the true reasons for it. Yet.)

You're claiming that the NYT is letting Trump off too easy? It is to laugh.

Same reason I cancelled mine as well. Also, their reporting on one topic I know a lot about was very inaccurate, so it made me question a lot of their journalism in general.

May I ask, do you have many specific examples?

For numerous others in recent times see the coverage of the Covington Catholic situation: misreporting and sensationalism at it's finest. I wonder sometimes if some of these traditional media behemoths even bother to follow basic journalistic practices like

1. cross referencing your sources 2. seeking the other side of the story / opposing viewpoints 3. asking those involved for comment

because it seems glaringly obvious to me in the Covington Catholic case, none of that was done until 48 hours when some high profile twitter names started actually pointing out the glaring errors.

The push to always be breaking news and the drive for ever more customers is certainly seriously problematic.

And I certainly won't say the NYT is perfect. But it seems a bit much to claim the NYT has so many errors that it is unreadable or reality free. And it is certainly better than the vast majority of alternatives.

After all, in the very case you mentioned, they did print this[1] almost immediately. And the problem in this case comes far more from the "like" button and yet more twitter storms than it does news papers. Papers which attract vastly fewer eyeballs, have far fewer curse words and require attention spans greater than a chipmunk.


Unfortunately this happens a lot but I don't entirely blame the media companies. In the age of twitter and social media, some news moves fast and they have to decide quickly whether to publish something about a trending news item or wait to do proper reportage and lose valuable page-views to more sensationalistic outlets which they have to compete with. I've come to accept this is the new reality and not get too bummed about it as long as we still occasionally get the usual well reported long-form investigative pieces we're used to and that you only get from these outlets

It's difficult to trust the reporting of an organization that misrepresents or gets wrong an event that is entirely recorded on video from many angles. I agree that the New York Times publishes some great articles, but I'm deeply concerned about the bad articles they publish.

If their editorial standards permit them to rush to judgment as they did in the Catholic school incident how can I trust their editorial standards in more nuanced areas where I don't get to see the full story on video for myself?

I don't think their original piece actually made a judgment, it just reported what everyone else initially thought was the case (correct me if I'm wrong ). Still I agree it's disappointing that they a news organization takes what you see on the internet at face value, like the rest of us

I disagree. The original article described the children as surrounding or mobbing the elder, quoted people who described the scene as "horrific", quoted numerous people condemning the event, and connected it to racism. They didn't offer a conflicting perspective at all, creating the illusion there was universal condemnation of the apparently horrific action of the boys.

I think this particular instance is minor, though unfortunate for the unfairly maligned children. What really worries me is just the judgment of the paper. They should've known they didn't have the whole story and that the whole story would be available on video. Why not wait until you knew the relevant information? I can understand people making mistakes, this scenario just seems so simple and obvious though and I can't believe they botched it. It makes me worried - how can I trust them to handle complicated issues?

So here's a great example of where Talking Points Memo gets to the truth and why we all should read it.


Over the last couple days I’ve been watching the unfolding reaction and re-reactions to the video of the confrontation between Native American activist and elder Nathan Phillips and a crowd of high school students from Covington, Kentucky on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The whole story is a good example of how we can react quickly to a zoomed in (both literally and metaphorically) video and miss a lot of what led up to it, as well as some key context. With that said, though, when you add all the context I’m not sure it’s all that different from what it looked like on the first go, despite some now saying the new evidence and new videos change everything.

Saturday night and into Sunday I watched numerous different videos of the encounter itself and what led up to it. So let me give you my impression of what happened as well as links to videos and accounts which can help you come to your own conclusions.

First, the initial videos could easily give the impression that Phillips (the man with the drum) was in the midst of marching in a protest when he was surrounded by a crowd of white teenagers in MAGA hats. That’s not what happened.

(Be very careful of the takes from rightwing, billionaire-funded/owned publications like the Daily Caller, Reason, WSJ, IJR, Fox News, Drudge, or anyone on rightwing radio: they have a political reason to play down racism from a white kid wearing a MAGA hat.)

This story perfectly illustrates the deep-seated bias which is fatally imbuing this “analysis”.

The initial account was nothing less than a setup. The derisive referral to boys in “MAGA hats”, the utter speculation about what a boy was feeling to fit a narrative in direct conflict with the boys own statement, the over-generalizing “they were all doing tomahawk chops”, and on and on. This is a tortured attempt at ass-covering.

Most glaringly, failing to directly call out the utter lies told by Phillips (a professional protestor and agitator) to the press, which entirely discredits him, the adult in this situation, who was in fact an instigator.

The NYT followup piece [1] on this incident was actually significantly more fair. But it still doesn’t excuse getting it wrong the first time.

What’s beautiful is anyone can watch the full uncut zoomed out videos and see for themselves. This second-hand “analysis” is toxic to the truth, which is just a click on YouTube away.

Compare and contrast the TalkingPointsMemo piece with this one [2] — which I don’t know anything about that site, but the author seems to be a lot more clear headed about what seems to have happened. What I read there was someone describing what they learned from watching the full 1 hour 40 minute video showing what really happened. [3]

In short it’s been an absolute banner week for “Fake News” and you would certainly hope this would provoke some soul searching from the so-called journalists responsible for this.

[1] - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/20/us/nathan-phillips-coving...

[2] - https://reason.com/blog/2019/01/20/covington-catholic-nathan...

[3] - https://youtu.be/3-pFMZaw5f0

sorry but I flagged this because I felt like this comment would derail this thread into an unrelated flamewar.

The press as "enemy of the people" is one of the primary memes in the US right now. Are you comfortable with the side you're taking on that?

It is not always binary. Liberal's read the nyt and if readership feels like they are being tricked into a false truth by canceling they can express any distaste without automatically becoming a conservative.

I never said the press was an "enemy of the people". They do have some incentive to sensationalize, though, and I'm letting them know as a customer about my distaste with it. I think mainstream news outlets generally have the integrity not to report falsehoods, but that doesn't mean they don't put emotional fuel on the fire of partisan hostility. We as consumers have to let them know we don't want that.

Cool, so I can't choose not to read the NY Post now?

Here's the New York Times article:


Boy that seems so story based. That's what's to be expected to get people to read, but also makes it so easy to come up with examples of misinformation when the story is trying to make a subject more easily understandable.

You could solve those issues by having the actual scientists you mention get involved in the process and ask their perspective on something before you write about them.

The laziness of journalists today, even in long form articles like this, with a full graphics team and everything, never ceases to amaze me.

As a recent reader of Reich's book "Who We Are and How We Got Here" I concur that he explicitly and forcefully refutes the notion of racial or ethnic categories as having any meaning over the lifetime of our species. Simply put, humans have migrated a lot and interbred with whoever. Your ancestry is a "tangled tree" (to borrow Quammen's term https://www.amazon.com/Tangled-Tree-Radical-History-Life/dp/...)

The problem is that politics doesn't deal with the lifetime of our species; it deals with the recent past, the present, and the near future. When you narrow the timeframe down like that, race and ethnic categories are meaningful, important, and real. You can look at someone and make some pretty good guesses about their life history and where their ancestors came from and what they experienced. I appreciate the sentiment behind the "race isn't real" position, but it's wrong and, in being wrong, it gives a toehold to people who really do care about race for all the wrong reasons. IMO, a much better position is to acknowledge that race is real, but just one part of what makes an individual who they are.

> Lewis-Kraus’s critiques are based on incomplete facts and largely anonymous sources whose motivations are impossible to assess. Curiously, he did not ask me about the great majority of his concerns. Had he done so, the evidence underlying his thesis that my work is “indistinguishable from the racialized notions of the swashbuckling imperial era” would have fallen apart.

Well, yes. For those wondering why the author did do the simplest possible due diligence — asking the subject of the article about the thinking used to frame it — it's because it likely would have resulted in a less-interesting, less-trafficked story. Accuracy isn't the objective, reach and audience is. Corrections can be packaged up and slipped in later.

At some point I hope the left takes back the NYT from the ideologues. This is the same trite attack on science and bullying of scientists we’ve seen before when it doesn’t comply with their social justice beliefs [1], and this time it’s more dangerous than the creationists that tried to do something similar for their beliefs because as this article shows truth is not a priority in this ideology and they control universities as well as cultural institutions like the NYT.

Another thing that is more worrying is that social justice activists are using the technicality of them not worshipping a God per se to bypass secular protections against enforcing religious beliefs institutionally. [2]

[1] https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/02/academic-grievance-studi...

[2] https://youtu.be/FH2WeWgcSMk

This response is very well thought out and well written. For someone who was likely incensed by the article in question, they responded in a cordial, professional manner.

Anyone got a mirror? Looks like it's not loading...

Edit: found one http://archive.is/vI29T

Thank you - the URL is currently timing out, getting a 404 from google cache and isn't found in archive.org if you give it the url.

The thing that annoys me about this the most is the use of anonymous sources. If you are writing a scientific article, or generally hope to establish some scientific fact, I do not think it is appropriate to hide behind a veil of anonymity.

I totally agree. People speaking on condition of anonimity because they are not authorized to discuss is one of the most annoying things about news today. As the reader, I just don’t trust the info. In recent news, BuzzFeed seems to have been recently burned and the SuperMicro hack sources seemed to have burned the journalists as well (don’t remember which outlet that was).

It seems like people are fed up enough to break confidentiality agreements to leak info, but not fed up enough to quit and leave the hostile environment. I still appreciate the Snowden method. Got fed up to the point that the info must be released, but did not hide to keep his job.

Also, some leaks are from official sources like a press secretary or similar official, but staying anonymous to float information as a trial balloon so there’s some plausible deniability if the balloon was made of lead. In marketing, the leaked photos seem to be an internally approved method to get free PR.

> People speaking on condition of anonimity because they are not authorized to discuss is one of the most annoying things about news today.

This has likely annoyed people since the beginning of anything related to journalistic inquiry. If these people didn't have a guarantee of anonymity, the public would be in the dark most of the time.

> I still appreciate the Snowden method. Got fed up to the point that the info must be released, but did not hide to keep his job.

Not everybody is in Snowden's position; relatively young, unmarried, no kids. He may be able to take this "cool guys don't look back at explosions" approach, but most people can't. That doesn't mean that what they know should remain hidden from view because it doesn't meet your standards for what a 'real whistleblower' looks like.

Snowden is also essentially trapped in Russia. The only reason he was able to find refuge there at all is because his revelations are a useful symbol of American hypocrisy any time the words "surveillance state" are bandied about in discussions about Russia. He's a smart guy and probably knows that the Kremlin's generosity will last only as long as he doesn't try to rock the boat by commenting on domestic Russian matters.


I didn't find that part of the story particularly problematic. If there were people in a field capable of ending the careers of people who criticize them then you're going to need anonymous sources.

That’s why I clarified that my thought applies to scientific writing. If you’re going to criticize the claim (and evidence that supports the claim) made in a research paper, then you should bring your own body of evidence and stick your neck out. Science can’t be done behind closed doors.

That said, the world I’m describing is ideal, unlike our own.

Newspapers aren't about truth. Newspapers are a business that runs on advertising, and advertising makes more money when the news is sensationalist. If you talk to a journalist then don't be surprised if you are then heavily mis-characterised and slandered. The journalist isn't there to tell your story, they're there to tell the story that will get the most clicks.

He should have ended this with drops mic

This is in response to the hit piece. Upvote the parent. Spread the truth.

> To the Editor:

> Gideon Lewis-Kraus (Jan. 17) profiles the nascent field of ancient DNA, which in the last few years has contributed to a transformation in our understanding of the deep human past. His article touches on important issues that we, as a field, have yet to deal with fully: including how to handle ancient remains ethically and in a way that preserves them for future generations; how geneticists and archaeologists can work in equal partnerships that reflect true respect for the insights of different disciplines; and how ancient DNA technology, which at present is applied efficiently only in large labs, can be made accessible to a wider group of scholars.

> But Lewis-Kraus misunderstands several basic issues. First, he suggests that competition to publish is so extreme that standards become relaxed. As evidence, he cites a paper by my lab that was accepted on appeal after initial rejection, and another that was reviewed rapidly. In fact, mechanisms for appeal and expedited review when journals feel they are warranted are signs of healthy science, and both processes were carried out rigorously.

> Second, he contends that ancient DNA specialists favor simplistic and sweeping claims. As evidence, he suggests that in 2015 I argued that the population of Europe was “almost entirely” replaced by people from the Eastern European Steppe. On the contrary, the paper he references and indeed my whole body of work argues for complex mixture, not simple replacement. Lewis-Kraus also suggests that I claimed that our first study of the people of the Pacific island chain of Vanuatu “conclusively demonstrated” no Papuan ancestry. But the paper in question was crystal-clear that these people could have had some Papuan ancestry – and indeed, to support his claim, Lewis-Kraus could only cite his own notes from an interview I gave him long after I had published a second paper proving that there was indeed a small proportion of Papuan ancestry.

> Lewis-Kraus also suggests that I use small sample sizes to make unjustifiable sweeping claims. In fact, small sample sizes can be definitive when they yield results that are incompatible with prevailing theories, as when my colleagues and I described two samples that proved the existence of the Denisovans, a previously undocumented archaic human population. In my papers, I am careful to only make claims that can be supported by the data I have. In small-sample size studies, I emphasize that more samples are needed to flesh out the details of the initial findings. A major focus of my lab is generating the large data sets needed to do this.

> Lewis-Kraus’s critiques are based on incomplete facts and largely anonymous sources whose motivations are impossible to assess. Curiously, he did not ask me about the great majority of his concerns. Had he done so, the evidence underlying his thesis that my work is “indistinguishable from the racialized notions of the swashbuckling imperial era” would have fallen apart. The truth, and the main theme of my 2018 book Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, is exactly the opposite - namely, that ancient DNA findings have rendered racist and colonialist narratives untenable by showing that no human population is “pure” or unmixed. It is incumbent on scientists to avoid advocating for simplistic theories, and instead to pay attention to all available facts and come to nuanced conclusions. The same holds true for journalists reporting on science.

> David Reich Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

What's the point of copy-pasting the content of the submission here?

You know how most people don’t read on the internet? Most people don’t click on links either, on Reddit or Hacker News. When I posted the article text the story was 50 minutes old and about to drop off the front page. I wanted to make it more obvious who aren’t into this specific field what’s going on. Half an hour later when I checked again the article had 50 points and was near the top of the page. Posting the article text got Reich’s response to the hit piece much more visibility than it otherwise would have. That’s a good thing.

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