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Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media (newyorker.com)
354 points by hprotagonist on July 9, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 555 comments

Sigh. I think this article is holding Scott, and a core constituency of posters and meet up people, guilty by association with every rando on the internet, and also about half of the celebrities in the Bay area.

"War against the media" strikes me as ridiculous hyperbole in this context. I have met some of these people in real life, and none of them expressed that attitude to me, nor any kind of utopian superiority. It seemed like they were just trying to live morally considered lives and improve themselves a little at a time if they could -- and maybe do a little networking.

I think if Scott knew that his blog would get so big it would screw up his career and living arrangements, he probably wouldn't have published it in the first place. That might have been a lapse of judgment, but begging the NYT not to make him mainstream famous is hardly war on the media.

>I think this article is holding Scott, and a core constituency of posters and meet up people, guilty by association with every rando on the internet, and also about half of the celebrities in the Bay area.

Tying Scott and Silicon Valley together is another case where I simply do not understand the way reporters/journos draw cultural ties, boundaries, allegiances, and opposition.

It's like looking at twitter to form an opinion about the market for a product instead of doing market research. Voiced opinions from the type of people to voice their opinions on twitter are insanely different than the purchase habits of the population. But every day some journo is acting like Twitter is a useful cultural barometer.

My (not too confident) assessment is that Scott and whatever amalgamation of "tech" / "the internet" they're lumping in with him are just people that look like the pre-iPhone internet era: online often, and willing to venture into open communication for the sake of the ideas and discussion. That happens to weigh toward computery jobs, where reading (and sometimes writing) online resources are large part of the job and competitors openly collaborate online.

I think it reads like Gonzo journalism without the self awareness of a writer like Hunter S. Thompson.

Too many narratives being constructed from coincidence, because a narrative is more enjoyable to write and read than a set of coincidences.

The "War against the media" is outlined towards the end of the article. When Bay area "thought-leaders" are calling for the blacklisting of reporters and replacing traditional media as a whole, "war" doesn't sound like hyperbole to me.

AIUI, they're calling for individual non-cooperation with unethical reporters. There may be a broader "war" between SV and elite media, but it's not clear that the SSC affair has much to do with it beyond possibly being a case of elite media behaving unethically, and (quite uniquely, all things considered) being held accountable for that.

No, there's a pretty clear call for SSC readers to just not work with anyone from the NYT in future. It's not about individual journalists - at any rate Cade Metz doesn't have a bad reputation and appears to believe his actions are constrained by corporate policy, rather than being his own choice.

I myself have been the (cooperative) subject of a bio piece that landed on the front page of the international edition of the NYT in the past, and notified them that if they go ahead and wreck SSC then I won't work with them again on stories. By myself this is unlikely to have much impact: yes, I've been more than a reader for them but also a story, on the other hand, that only happened once. I'm not appearing in the NYT every week.

The NYT can fix this very easily; promise Alexander their story won't include details about his real life. Then he'll bring back his blog, the NYT will get their story, and everyone is fine.

Obviously the New Yorker managed this feat of journalistic integrity, so none of the NYT's excuses for why they "can't" do it add up. I feel they've led directly to the destruction of a highly valuable resource for no reason at all, it's not a hard decision to say "no" if and when their journalists come calling again.

> guilty by association

True. It's peculiar how a nuanced presentation of Scott's blog and the values of rationalist culture are not sufficient, and a crude description of Scott's purity test results is offered to readers, likely so Lewis-Kraus can avoid worry about being cancelled.

Do readers of the New Yorker really need such blatant reassurance that Scott is not a Trump supporter, and that he was actually a vocal opponent of Trump and strategic supporter of HRC?

The New Yorker can't insulate itself from the many illiberal negatives of cancel culture when it stoops to this level.

C'mon, the New Yorker has been unusually good on this topic, even skewering a few sacred cows here and there: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/30/the-new-activi...

Perhaps, but can we honestly believe that if Lewis-Kraus had omitted the extra verbose reassurances that Scott isn't a Trump supporter and within hours of the article's publication there were calls for the New Yorker to fire him, that the New Yorker's editors would defend the more nuanced treatment?

Seemingly, Lewis-Kraus does not believe this. I wonder if the extra verbiage was his own decision or the result of editorial feedback.

I guess you can believe whatever you want, but it's equally possible that the author is trying to (accurately) emphasize to his readership that Scott Alexander isn't a member of the alt-right/scientific racism segment of the self-proclaimed Rationalist community.

Yes, and I hope that is the correct explanation. But I think we should be wary of the tremendous pressure that publications face to lean away from nuance and anything that requires careful reading and to rely on broad and pat generalizations.

In my view, the New Yorker is an incredible publication that typically features writing that is superb and also well edited (if edited at all). So that's why this one stood out.

Maybe the issue is that so many people are quick to label anything that sounds like rationalism as alt-right.

I read the thing James Damore wrote and the problem was not the content he claimed was factual, it was the tone. He could have made the same point without sounding like he was on a "side" in an ongoing battle.

The elderly Richard Dawkins gets into political sides taking, as does Sam Harris. Both do little to hide their islamophobia. This appeals to those who were looking for scientific justifications of their beliefs, but also alienates anyone who wanted dispassionate science.

> Maybe the issue is that so many people are quick to label anything that sounds like rationalism as alt-right.

That is an issue, but I'll hope it's uncontroversial to point out that people like, say Curtis Yarvin, who are closely associated with both the alt-right and rationalist movements. There is in fact some significant overlap between those communities.

I'm not all that familiar with Yarvin. Could you contextualize how he fits into the broader rationalist movement? I want to understand how someone with such strongly authoritarian beliefs finds common ground with rationalists.

He doesn't, when you really get into it. But the rationalist movement is generally willing to engage neutrally with new and interesting ideas, and there's no reason why neo-reaction would be an exception.

More: of course it never occurs to the author that NYT readers could include a similar number of randos who might just have taken enough prior offense to run off and be "unfriendly" to Scott. Physically in his face.

There are only two rational explanations here:

1) Scott Alexander wanted more attention, and he realized that deleting his site and blaming the NYT for it would garner dramatically more attention, creating opportunities that he wanted. He recognized that he could become a martyr to a certain group, and use that for future gains.

2) Scott Alexander is an absolute moron who did not foresee the Streisand Effect that he was going to cause.

I personally do not think he is a moron. I think he is a manipulative sociopath who knew that people who agree with him on other matters would line up to create future opportunities for him if he pretended that his hand was forced.

It saddens me that so many "smart" people fall for such transparent nonsense. There was no lapse of judgment. He is just a selfish sociopath. Nothing more.

Scott is extremely popular in the rationalist community (second only to EY and possibly RH), and has a sizeable following outside of it. He doesn't need to "pretend[] that his hand was forced" to get any sort of "future opportunities" he might want; he just needs to ask. This whole kerfuffle doesn't exactly help him, even from that POV.

Who are EY and RH?

They're prominent members of the rationality community, who also happen to be mentioned in the article in connection with the same.

I think they were asking for someone to expand the abbreviations and save others from having to dig for all the EY/RH people mentioned.

EY = Eliezer Yudkowsky, I don't immediately recognize an RH.

Edit: Ah, Robin Hanson, I guess?

Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson.

He's had mental breakdowns over harassment tangential to the site's function (culture war debates). His relative degree of anonymity and obscurity shields him from the worst of the internet. He may write rationalist essays but he's human.

I understand that you're celebrating his loss, but that's just not a charitable read. He provided one the last bastions of nuance on the internet.

I'm surprised you don't consider other possibilities, like that he was genuinely concerned about his real name being made known, for the reasons he stated. You don't address these.

I'm also surprised that you feel able to diagnose someone you presumably don't know as a sociopath. This seem like hyperbole.

Honestly, I don't think this post is up to YC standards.

Funny you should use the word "rational" here.

What's funny about his use of the word?

hey, are you on reddit memexy? i'm /u/foobanana, ping me if you are. admire your attempts at reasoning with the unreasonable here.

Thanks for the kind words. I stopped using reddit some time ago but good to know there are still good people there like you working to uphold standards. I am on keybase and I'm always happy to chat with fellow reasoners: keybase.io/memexy.

I dislike getting swept up in groups and that's what happened to me on reddit and other social media sites so now I make sure to deliberately talk with individuals without worrying about performing in front of a group.

I agree with you. His actions paint a very dark picture and I also don't understand why people are defending him.

It's like you said, he's either smart enough to know what he's doing, in which case his actions should be scrutinized as such, or he has no clue what he's doing and he should be called a "moron" and left to his own devices. It can't be both at the same time. He can't be a moron and a genius that was forced to do something he didn't want to do.

What's your definition of smart? Left wing?

Not who you're replying to, but pretty much.

Article fails to defend the NYT in any substantive way, and the writer makes obvious their biases with statements like:

S.S.C. supporters on Twitter were quick to identify some of the Times’ recent concessions to pseudonymous quotation—Virgil Texas, a co-host of the podcast “Chapo Trap House,” was mentioned, as were Banksy and a member of ISIS—as if these supposed inconsistencies were dispositive proof of the paper’s secret agenda, rather than an ad-hoc and perhaps clumsy application of a flexible policy

Obviously this isn't and either/or. The lumping together of all SSC supporters is another cheap rhetorical trick. In any case, no matter which of these views you hold, the examples show the policy could accommodate Scott's request for pseudonymity.

Note too the lack of any real investigation or original reporting here; the author hasn't bother to talk to Metz?

Additionally, it seems difficult to fathom that a professional journalist of Metz’s experience and standing would assure a subject, especially at the beginning of a process, that he planned to write a “mostly positive” story; although there often seems to be some confusion about this matter in Silicon Valley, journalism and public relations are distinct enterprises.

This is just silly. How about you ask Metz? The cheap shot at all of Silicon Valley tips the hand too.

This article is just more propaganda in the evolving war of words between SV and journalism.

> Note too the lack of any real investigation or original reporting here; the author hasn't bother to talk to Metz?

The article specifically mentions that Metz did not want to be quoted directly; most likely, the author did talk to him. (Though, it's even less clear to me why Scott would want to lie about what Metz said, so I'm definitely inclined to trust Scott's account of the matter.)

yea "Metz declined to comment on the record" is the author strongly hinting that he did talk to him off the record, and perhaps the author does have some idea what Metz' article would have ultimately been about. The author could have chosen to say "Metz declined to comment" which would have suggested this less.

> This article is just more propaganda in the evolving war of words between SV and journalism.

There's no war between SV and journalism, theres a feud between technologically and business savvy content companies and decaying content companies. Op-eds, moral posturing and long forms are not journalism. Journalism is a truthful representation of facts with analysis added for context to inform the readers, which the NYT and many other big names haven't delivered in decades.

Along with the rest of HN, you have no idea what journalism is.

When has journalism ever stuck to “facts”?

When has the “news” and “history” been more than short stories and opinion?

Hint: Never

Read: A History of News by Mitchell Stephens https://openlibrary.org/works/OL1854941W/A_history_of_news

Read: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism

Read: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_French_journalism

The role of press is not to be “right” or even factual.

The role of the press is dissent and debate.

The sooner you realize this, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for even those outlets you disagree with.

Read: RT, Al-Jazeera, Fox News, Guardian, WaPo, NYT, NYPost, WaTimes, National Review, New Yorker, Vice

I understand where you're coming from, and while I do understand the value of institutionalized "debating and dissenting" parties (I even believe political parties in a democracy should have declared mouthpieces), there's absolutely no way one can say with a straight face that that is the role mainstream media (and by mainstream I include Al-Jazeera and other "non-allied" traditional-style newspapers) paints itself as having. The term "Newspaper of record" doesn't scream "One voice between many".

The role of the press is dissent and debate.

Even if we take your rather controversial definition for granted, the press suck at dissent and debate as well.

>the writer makes obvious their biases with statements like

Your refutations of the writers points on the surface level is still too charitable. The New Yorker writer knows very damn well that Metz could have just been lying to Scott about the real name "policy" and lying about the purpose of the piece in an effort to make Alexander cooperative.

> For one thing, the S.S.C. code prioritizes semantic precision, but Metz—if Alexander’s account is to be taken at its word—had proposed not to “doxx” Alexander but to de-anonymize him.

Oh? From Wikipedia:

> Doxing, or doxxing (from "dox", abbreviation of documents), is the Internet-based practice of researching and publicly broadcasting private or identifying information (especially personally identifying information) about an individual or organization.

Yes, doxxing is normally associated with publishing addresses or phone numbers of people whose real names are already known, but de-anonymizing an anonymous blogger still sounds like a form of it.

It seems to me that the level of "privateness" of the information is relevant. Obviously just saying the real name of a famous person who goes by a pseudonym is not considered doxxing. This article claims that his full name "can be ascertained with minimal investigation," and Scott's own blog deletion announcement seemed to agree. Where precisely to draw that line is an area where we can reasonably disagree.

I looked up his name a few weeks ago after the blog was brought down. It took be a couple of days to find it and even then I only found it because I've seen him in person. People here are discussing tracking down his old blog through archive.org, but I didn't think to do that. So, 'minimal investigation' is a relative term.

type "scott alexander slate star codex" into google and his real name, plus several pictures of him are on the first page of the image results.

Alternatively, given that he's made his profession as well as place of residence known, looking for psychiatrists named scott alexander in that region also returns an official result.

If it took you days to figure that out I'm sorry to say you don't have a future as a private eye.

Google is not a static thing.

Results a few weeks ago may be nothing much like results now. (If it took a rando on the internet to point that out to you you don't have ... No let's leave that kind of garbage out, yeah?)

his real identity has been up on the internet for ages, years in fact. He even used to blog under his actual name on less wrong, and has been at public events that he himself organised. Not to mention that as a medical professional that info is obviously going to be online as long as he practises.

If your pseudonym is your actual first and middle name and you're relevant enough to be on the frontpage of google right now you're not being doxed, that's just public information at that point.

The guy republished his own blog posts under his real name in print and online publications. If it's a "secret", it's a very open secret, even from the author himself.

It does take more than a little investigation (or, at least, used to).

It seems the goal lines have been moved to KiwiFarms’ brand of doxxing. As to whose ends that serves, I’ll leave as an exercise to the reader.

Have they? The real name of anyone posting anonymously or under a pseudonym has always been the gold standard of doxxing.

It's usually easy to go from full real name to business and private addresses, emails and phone numbers, especially when the person has a web presence, but also for anyone with a few bucks to spare who's happy to pay a data broker.

> The real name of anyone posting anonymously or under a pseudonym has always been the gold standard of doxxing.

The word "doxx" comes from "documents" because it originally didn't refer to just a name, but an actual document listing out lots of personal information. Everything you mentioned afterwards and more.

Yes. Learning the addresses and phone numbers Is interesting mostly to a few people who want to actively harass the person.

Everyone is hunting for the real name of an anonymous person.

It's particularly easy for Scott as a psychiatrist. The top Google result for his full name is the address and phone number of the clinic at which he works, plus a bio with portrait (he looks exactly like I thought he would) for prospective patients.

> The real name of anyone posting anonymously or under a pseudonym has always been the gold standard of doxxing.

Bronze at best if the pseudonymous person has already told you most of their name, their profession, and where they work.

He's not an anonymous blogger. He's forthcoming with personal information. He's published his full name multiple times (even on his own blog). It's not doxing.

> He's published his full name multiple times (even on his own blog).

I'm almost certain this is untrue. Are you possibly mistaking his pseudonym "Scott Alexander" for this full name? If not, and you understand that Scott and Alexander are his first and middle names, could you please provide a link to an example of where he has published his last name on his blog (or at this point, on the relevant archive.org page)?

Edit: I'm guessing from your comments further down the page that you understand the pseudonym aspect, and have a different conception of "publish" than I do. Do you perhaps mean that he linked or referred to a scientific paper on which he was listed by full name as author? If so, and if true, the strongest I'd probably phrase this is "revealed" rather than "published". If not, and if I'm wrong, and he has directly published his last name on his blog in a manner intended to make it publicly known, I'd like to know so I stop making false claims in the future.

I'm cool with saying "revealed".

I don't want to link directly to it because I think it's kind of an asshole thing to do, but you can find a last name on a bunch of posts on Raikoth.net in archive.org. He reposted most that without the reveal on SSC.

> I don't want to link directly to it because I think it's kind of an asshole thing to do, but you can find a last name on a bunch of posts on

Telling the internet where to find his last name in the comment above was "an asshole thing to do", IMO. Especially given the security concerns mentioned in this article, I just don't see any good coming from making it easier for people to find him in the physical world.

I mean, when someone asked for proof, that seems like a reasonable way to "prove" it.

There are vastly easier ways to find his last name, and even work address, than to (presumably) stumble across a Hacker News comment and then follow my oblique instructions.

OK, I presumed by "his blog" you were referring to Slate Star Codex. Yes, if one includes his earlier internet presences (which I don't think are mentioned in the linked article?) I'm willing to believe he has at times posted his full name, and that if you are willing to dig through some links, you can associate his current writings with those older writings. I think that at some point about a decade ago, as his medical career began, he consciously decided to stop doing this. I'm pretty sure he's been protective enough of his identity since the beginning of SSC that he hasn't published it there. So while one might easily fault his "historical operation security", I think his intent to keep this last name unassociated with SSC was clear and consistent.

That's fair. The only real reason I disagree with you (and probably him) is he _did_ continue to publish personal information. Enough to identify him, even without the last name. If someone repeatedly reveals their own first/middle name, location, and occupation, I think it's silly to call "we'll publish your last name" doxing.

It seems like he might have just freaked out over a series of poor choices and didn't really own up to it. Easier to blame the NYT for "doxing" and do the honorable thing to protect his patients.

Here's a different take. I tried a few times over the last years to figure out his last name, and failed. I didn't spend much time on it, but there was definitely a barrier there. Had the NYT published it, not only would that barrier have disappeared, but a large spotlight would suddenly have been shone on the name, and probably an onslaught of much-higher-profile internet articles about him/it, and quite possibly a large scandal. We're getting a bit of that with things like this New Yorker piece, but it's probably nothing compared to what it would have been if the NYT article had named him and the blog had stayed up. You seem to be arguing that not much would have changed since his name was a poorly kept secret anyhow. I think that has to be wrong. Tons would have changed. There has been a minor avalanche of attention as it is, and probably like a lot of casual readers, I know his name now. But deleting the blog was maybe a good way to prevent the minor avalanche from turning into a major one. Of course, that doesn't mean that his stated reasons for deleting the blog were his real reasons. My thought was that he was looking for an out anyhow and this was a good pretext, though that theory isn't consistent with participating in an NYT profile to begin with (edit: unless he realized partway through the NYT process that it wasn't going to be in his interests to go through with it).

I think you're right about the amount of scrutiny. I think he's pretty firmly a "public figure" now (more deliberately than most), his name is obfuscated at best, and I don't have a problem with the NYT publishing his last name.

I would have a real problem with it if he published under a pseudonym and the NYT were truly doxing him. But I don't think they'd have bothered with his last name at all if he were writing as "Bert Axelrose" or something.

I don't know why you'd say that. I expect they would have handled "Bert Axelrose" exactly the same way. Great name though!

Haha. I just mean it wouldn't have been as immediately interesting. No one would know who "Scott Alexander _______" was. I could be wrong, but knowing the rest of a sequence is more interesting than the name behind a code name (which I'll forget, probably).

I don't follow him, but many of his early blog posts were posted under his full name. He changed that eventually, but it was the case for a while (I say third hand).

I'm unsure if that was before or after the slatestarcodex domain name.

This is fascinating. It's a New York take on the Bay Area take on New York. It's the Media take on the Tech take on Media. It's illuminating, and frustrating. I keep looking for some reflection, some attempt to learn something from another point of view.

I'll have to read it again more closely.

Scott Alexander only recently moved to the Bay Area, and as a clinician, he is very unlikely to be associated with any tech companies, although many techies read his blog, of course.

The NYT behavior here was despicable. Not quite Wen-Ho Lee yellow-baiting despicable, but despicable nonetheless. The New Yorker shares the same envious hatred of tech companies most of the New York media scene seems to evince, not surprisingly as their livelihoods are evaporating. That said, the reason this is happening is not tech companies, but the take-over of news companies by entertainment conglomerates, the replacement of actual reporting by infotainment goop, and the turning of reporting from a slightly disreputable working-class scrabble to a respectable profession for fancy liberal-arts college graduates who would never dream of being rude to their fellow classmates working in PR, law or other professions dedicated to preserving the status quo, let alone afflicting the comfortable.

Writers who write for The New Yorker are not worried about their livelihoods evaporating because local papers are going bust any more than tenured professors at Harvard are endangered by funding cuts at Directional Statename University.

I keep seeing variations of your take, where techie types are convinced that journos have a chip on their shoulder. But the genuinely elite media types (in contrast to out-of-work former gawker writers) probably don't give two shits about us. We're just a bunch of nerds with nothing meaningful to add to the discourse.

>The New Yorker shares the same envious hatred of tech companies most of the New York media scene seems to evince, not surprisingly as their livelihoods are evaporating.

You really got to love how thin-skinned all the tech bros here are if they even receive the tiniest amount of scrutiny. You legitimately sound like Donald Trump ranting about the "failing New York Times", mocking people's livelihood evaporating? What kind of comment is that?

And how is the New Yorker "infotainment"? How is the NYT? The quality of reporting at either institution is the same it's always been, in fact they're doing better than they've done in a long time. What's wrong with a liberal-arts education or being a lawyer?

They're defending the status quo? Who brought Theranos to public attention, or Epstein, or Weinstein or much of the behaviour of the current administration over the last few years? Not Scott Alexander or the tech sector, they're too busy running their ads or writing arcane blog posts about the dangers of feminism with comment sections full of racists.

There were lots of very clear warnings about the whole Theranos situation at places like HN, well before the story hit the most elite media. The red flags were quite visible, and people did point them out. For that matter, Scott Alexander and the rationalist community in general are more insightful than even the most famous policy wonks and pundits. They don't do paid-for investigative journalism? Maybe, but so what - public policy commentary is just as impactful on its own terms.

Not sure why parent comment is grayed out; seems like it’s more for its viewpoint than anything else. Not that different in tone or broad assertions from lots of other posts in this thread.

I had a very similar take (probably not precise), and like you I'm about to start a second reading, to say "this is a fascinating read to me, personally" must come with the caveat lector that I'm not making any value judgements.

Agreed. I think there's a lot of overreaction in these comments. Yes, the writer has his own point of view, but he tries pretty hard to be fair and balanced, and I learnt a lot from reading it.

As a European whose exposure to SV's culture and politics has mainly been through HN and similar sites, it definitely was a fascinating read.

Apart from some unfair points (the definition of doxxing for example), I think it was a pretty reasonable old media take on SV tech libertarianish viewpoints. It's a political and cultural disagreement that I don't think has a clear-cut "good" and "bad" side, but it's certainly an interesting back-and-forth discussion to follow.

What an ugly article. A couple quotes:

> It remains possible that Alexander vaporized his blog not because he thought it would force Metz’s hand but because he feared that a Times reporter wouldn’t have to poke around for very long to turn up a creditable reason for negative coverage.

The reporter is unaware that the Internet Archive exists? The content is obviously still readily available, so the reporter is either stupid or disingenuous.

> For one thing, the S.S.C. code prioritizes semantic precision, but Metz—if Alexander’s account is to be taken at its word—had proposed not to “doxx” Alexander but to de-anonymize him.

And no, the difference between "doxx" and "de-anonymize" is never explained.

The practical lesson that I'd take here is that semi-anonymity doesn't exist. Alexander should either have written under his own name, or taken sufficient technical precautions to make doxxing by the NYT impossible.

The higher-level lesson is that anyone expressing heterodox opinions is likely to write something that a reporter working for a mainstream outlet considers "a creditable reason for negative coverage". At that point, the reporter now seems happy to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to cause that person harm, with the implicit consent of the huge organization behind them. Probably this was always true to some extent, but I think it's getting worse.

Parts of this read as a smoothed-over hit piece. An honest and comprehensive effort to rip apart and debunk neo-reactionary ideology is painted guilt-by-association style as "possibly legitimizing" or "describing" it. "[Exploring] and [upholding] research into innate biological differences between men and women" is "[giving] safe harbor to some genuinely egregious ideas". Asking people to politely contact the editor of a major newspaper is "incitement". Not to mention the sheer bravado of simultaneously claiming that everybody involved is a grandiose conspiracy theorist for being worried about being targeted and misrepresented by the news media, while doing all of the above and providing direct quotes that show them being targeted and misrepresented about whether they "recruit people for white supremacy" in the comment section. This is being a "professional journalist", but disputing this narrative is being "quarrelsome" and "agitated". The writer admits that "a reporter would want to make them pay for" tolerating extreme positions in order to show how those positions may be mistaken.

I got the same impression. Even though it's couched in "respectful language", they really went out of their way to cover the half-dozen or so most cringe-worthy controversies to ever come out of SSC or SSC-adjacent spaces, whether it's relevant at all or not to the (very tenuous) point of the article.

Like, you really have to bring up Roko's basilisk? What is the point, besides "look at how silly these Silicon Valley types are"? They present it like a central example of "Grey Tribe" discourse, when it's pretty fringe, even by LessWrong standards.

It’s not that fringe, given the Elon Musk/Grimes connection: https://pagesix.com/2018/05/07/elon-musk-quietly-dating-musi...

But you’re right it’s not part of the “discourse” except mostly as a joke.

Well, you're right, it's not fringe in the sense that no one knows about it, everyone has known about it for half a decade - taking it seriously is fringe.

I wouldn't say everyone knows about it. In fact one of the most baffling and stupid aspects of the Basilisk is the strong belief it propagates that nobody should talk about the Basilisk.

> the strong belief it propagates that nobody should talk about the Basilisk

Looks like it didn't propagate very well. I'm a few degrees removed from the "rationalist community" and I heard about it years ago.

Yudkowsky tried to prevent people from talking about it, which predictably backfired. The LessWrong wiki has an entry on the whole thing.

EDIT: I'm wrong, Scott Alexander is just his pen name.

The article also calls the author "Scott _____" instead of just "the author of S.S.C.".

Wasn't this exactly what he was trying to prevent with the NYT in the first place? So now other journalists feel like they have to step in and "doxx" him instead? And this New Yorker article ultimately got published in spite of all the controversy surrounding his identity. What kind of backlash is that going to generate? On top of the reaction to all the other veiled attacks on people in the article and irrelevant detours into "controversial" details about SSC and the rationalist community, etc.

I don't see a good outcome to this at all. Maybe it says something if the people who put the most effort into overcoming bias and trying to foster reasoned conversation couldn't prevent all of this from blowing up as it did. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. It's certainly ugly.

You mean it calls him Scott Alexander? That's the public pseudonym he goes by.

Oops, you're right. I edited my comment. Thanks.

This article does not doxx Scott. SA is just his pen name.

It's this, exactly. The author is clearly reaching to paint fairly innocuous actions in the most damning light possible.

One trick that I noticed that adds considerable amount of 'spin' while allowing the article to remain factually correct is to present positive things about the group as subjective - coming from the group itself (which paints them as self-serving and lacking self-awareness), vague 'some' or (even better) some negatively characterized person (which taints it as unreliable), but to describe negative stuff as if it is objective and factual. Some examples:

"...the online persona he has publicly cultivated over the years—that of a gentle headmaster preparing to chaperone a rambunctious group of boys on a museum outing—but, in this case, it seemed to lend plausible deniability to what he surely knew would be taken as incitement." - ok, so his gentle manner is a "persona", but he "surely" incites his readers to harass journalists.

"Slate Star Codex is often held up as an example of what the well-behaved Internet can look like—a secret orchard of fruitful inquiry." - note the passive voice.

"Much of the support Alexander received was motivated simply by a love for his writing." - implies that the support was not founded on actual judgment of the situation.

"On the blog, Alexander strives to set an example as a sensitive, respectful, and humane interlocutor..." - note the word 'strives'. To be fair, the rest of the sentence is genuine praise for his skill as a writer.

"...the rationalists’ general willingness to pursue orderly exchanges on objectionable topics, often with monstrous people, remains not only a point of pride but a constitutive part of the subculture’s self-understanding." - note how willingness to pursue orderly exchanges (with people that are presented as objectively monstrous) is a subjective point of pride.


"the business model of the Times has little to do with chasing “clicks,” per se, and, even if it did, no self-respecting journalist would conclude that the pursuit of clicks was best served by the de-anonymization of a "random blogger." - presented as a factual statement.

"...a near-pathological commitment to the reinvention of the wheel, using the language of game theory to explain, with mathematical rigor, some fact of social life that anyone trained in the humanities would likely accept as a given." - why is this commitment pathological? Why is it as worthless as presented?

"These conversations, about race and genetic or biological differences between the sexes, have rightfully drawn criticism from outsiders." - why was this criticism rightful?

"The rationalists regularly fail to reckon with power as it is practiced, or history as it has been experienced, and they indulge themselves in such contests with the freedom of those who have largely escaped discrimination." - fairly standard accusations of privilege presented as facts.

"there is some evidence to support the idea that he, like anyone, is wont to sacrifice rigor in moments of passion." - presented as a statement supported by evidence.

Similarly, concerns and worries of the group are presented as subjective, over-reacting and reaching into conspiracy theory territory. By contrast, worries that the group itself is problematic are presented as legitimate.

And of course 'rationalists' are consistently presented as low-status dorks, but I guess it is the usual New Yorker snobbery and not something nefarious.

> One trick that I noticed that adds considerable amount of 'spin' while allowing the article to remain factually correct is to present positive things about the group as subjective

It's a bit ironic that you would say that, even as others have complained that the "subjective" presentation is just weasel words and fake balance, i.e. saying "Some people think X." when you really really want to say "X." At least when the author is stating things directly from their POV ("News media is totally not chasing for clicks, honest!") it's clear that it's their own stance.

> It's a bit ironic that you would say that, even as others have complained that the "subjective" presentation is just weasel words and fake balance, i.e. saying "Some people think X." when you really really want to say "X."

Wait, didn't you just pull that trick on me, by referring to some vague 'others'? :) In seriousness, here is for example the Wikipedia policy that indeed discourages the use of weasel words in attributions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_vie... . The difference is, that policy explicitly prohibits presenting opinions as facts without any attribution so there is a temptation to write in some bogus attribution so that is prohibited too. In any case, an opinion stated with no attribution whatsoever appears to bear more weight.

Of course I am not advocating that magazine articles should be written in the encyclopedic style but I think it is important to be consistent. E.g. it is well-known that authors of The Economist write as omniscient gods and that's OK because readers can correct for that, but mixing styles is suspicious. And isn't it suspicious that almost all statements written from the author's POV in the article are negative?

> In any case, an opinion stated with no attribution whatsoever appears to bear more weight.

See, this is what I'm not sure about. An opinion stated with no attribution looks just like that, an opinion held primarily by the author. (After all, you can tell that it can't possibly be an uncontested fact, just by the subject matter. I mean, stuff like "news sites are not chasing for clicks" is bound to be controversial.) Whereas if the author says "Some people think X.", they're pointing to something that's supposedly the shared opinion of a whole group, so it looks a lot more relevant. Of course that's just my point of view, I may well be mistaken.

I think the term "Russell Conjugation" captures this well.


This is close but not quite the same. Russel Conjugation is a play on the emotional content of the words, and I was describing tricks with statement attribution.

But you are right, there are examples of Russel Conjugation too (e.g.: "Alexander’s supporters were working themselves into a tizzy") as well as other tricks. This article is quite a case study on spin!

> The practical lesson that I'd take here is that semi-anonymity doesn't exist. Alexander should either have written under his own name, or taken sufficient technical precautions to make doxxing by the NYT impossible.

He shows up in person to meetups and things like that, so that doesn't really work.

Semi-anonymity works fine as long as there are cultural norms toward respecting it. Nothing really works if people with resources acting in bad faith decide they want to make your life hard.

The higher-level lesson is that anyone expressing heterodox opinions [...]

I think the article both directly addresses this and also succinctly summarizes its tone: "[...] the stridency and hyperbole of the reactions of Alexander’s cohort to his cause bear the classic markers of grandiosity: the conviction that they are at once potent and beleaguered."

Sorry, I'm not sure I understand. Where did you get the "potent and beleaguered" from my comment? Heterodox doesn't mean good or bad or strong or weak, just that it's outside the norm. Lots of heterodox ideas are bad and deserve only criticism and rebuttal, including many of Alexander's. They don't deserve doxxing from the NYT, though.

The New Yorker reporter criticizes Alexander for calling on his audience to lobby the NYT not to publish his name, while ignoring entirely the much worse consequences that Alexander was likely to face from the NYT's own mob. I think it's hard to be that blind by accident, so I think it's deliberate, and that the proposed doxxing showed either an intent to harm Alexander or cheerful indifference to that harm. Do you disagree? Note that I'm asking whether the reporters were pleased to harm Alexander, not whether you think that harm was justified (i.e., whether you'd be pleased to as well).

I insulted the New Yorker article and reporter, but I accompanied that with an argument for why they deserved it--I believe the article contained many false or misleading statements that tend to impugn Alexander's character. If my reasoning wasn't clear from my brief comment, I've explained it to exhaustion elsewhere in this thread. Your comment quotes from the article to insult mine ("stridency", "hyperbole", and "grandiosity" are all strongly negative terms), but with no such accompanying argument for why the insult should hold.

> I insulted the New Yorker article and reporter, but I accompanied that with an argument for why they deserved it

This. It’s a really easy trap to fall into online, but, the whole idea of someone deserving an insult is, 99.9% of the time, toxic.

What's your opinion of your grandparent post's description of my comment as "grandiose", "strident", and "hyperbolic"? Are you saying those are fine (without explanation), but "ugly", "disingenuous", and "stupid" (with explanation) aren't?

Are you sure that you're not focusing on language to avoid engaging with an argument that would lead you to a conclusion that you find undesirable (i.e., that the NYT intended harm to Alexander, and the New Yorker stepped in to excuse their actions)? That's another easy trap to fall into online.

I actually agree with the grandparent post, and, I'd originally tried to explain why I thought your previous comment was kinda grandiose, but I kept writing snarky things so ultimately decided to pivot ; ).

And, I don't think I'm doing that other thing you're saying but am all ears if you feel that's the case.

I actually agree that my original post was needlessly snarky (and I'm disappointed but not surprised that it got far more engagement than the more nuanced stuff I usually write). I believe that post clearly advanced an argument, though, and that the argument is sound. Leaving aside my language, do you think Alexander actually intended to conceal something from the NYT reporter by deleting his blog (while mirrors remain widely available)? If so, why did he choose such a spectacularly ineffective tactic? I think the deletion was just an (apparently successful) publicity stunt, and that suggesting that he was trying to conceal something in doing so is a smear. It seems like you disagree, but why?

And what do you think is grandiose? I think there's a decent chance that Alexander would have been forced out of his chosen career if the article ran, and that he might be yet. Do you doubt this? That seems like a pretty significant life event for anyone, an odd thing to minimize unless you're indifferent to harm to him.

Finally, what do you agree with in pvg's post? I don't see any argument there myself, just a lot of words with negative connotations.

Thanks for the response man - appreciate it.

To be honest, with regards to the ultimate intention of the New Yorker article, I don’t know. And with regards to your question, I ultimately don’t know what Alexander intended.

I think that the domain of plausible answers to the questions you raise is pretty big and that the article doesn’t really provide enough information to give definitive answers.

We obviously each had different overall impressions of the New Yorker article and it’s authors intent.

With regards to grandiosity, well, the way grandiosity was talked about in the article and the comment was a combination of “beleaguered” and “potent”, I think.

I may have jumped the gun , but to me your comment read as though you felt a particular group that you had some degree of sympathy with was being deliberately targeted by The NY Times. Thus - beleaguered.

At the same time, that particular comment also had a lot of judgements on various things and on various people’s intentions. Judgements which to me traveled a very narrow chain of logic. Lots of either/or black and white, basically. Which I do too at times. But - Thus - potent.

Hope that’s useful information and not crossing a line to say.

Also obviously I don’t believe that The NY Times is specifically targeting anyone or a group in that way. Which isn’t to say they haven’t. And, I could be wrong. My general take is that the motivations of an org like The NY Times are more multifaceted and nuanced than how they’ve mostly been discussed in this comment thread. Same with the New Yorker

Which isn’t to say I haven’t felt a lot of anger towards their reporting at times.

And, I enjoy both those publications FWIW.

Thanks, and I also routinely read both the NYT and the New Yorker. I don't mean to suggest that most or all of their reporters want to use the tools of their trade to harm perceived opponents, just that some non-negligible subset do (as is inevitable in a large group), and their managers seem disinclined to hold them back (which seems new and scary to me). The personal consequences if you meet such a reporter seem potentially disastrous enough (what does a trained psychiatrist do with his life if he can no longer practice?) to be worth a strong warning. Maybe you think it's hyperbolic; but Alexander probably now wishes that someone had given him that warning before he started blogging.

I do think there's an ideological bias to whom an NYT reporter is likely to treat favorably or unfavorably. In this thread and elsewhere, people listed comparably semi-anonymous figures that the NYT declined to name that one might, in the usual oversimplified binary view, described as left-leaning. The world isn't perfectly orderly, and maybe they just got lucky and Alexander got unlucky. I see moderately strong evidence that's not the case, though.

But I'm more concerned that this is happening than to whom. I was aware that Alexander's blog existed before these events, but I hadn't read it much, and I had no particularly favorable or unfavorable impression. I wrote my comment not out of sympathy for Alexander's views, but out of concern that reporters from mainstream outlets now seem happy to bring about or abet actions that are likely to cause people serious and unfair ("Alexander deserved to get fired for what he wrote, so good" is a perfectly consistent and honest position, but I'm actually kind of surprised that no one said that here) harm. I think Marxists are dangerously wrong, but I don't think they should be run out of their unrelated jobs for that reason.

What Alexander feared the NYT would do to him seems to me more polished and subtler than a Project Veritas article on Breitbart, but basically in the same spirit. I do think it's to the NYT's credit that (so far) they dropped the piece, and to the New Yorker's that their piece didn't use Alexander's real name--no one doubts that Breitbart would have ploughed ahead. I'm disturbed that it got that far, though.

It just seems like a lot of conclusions to draw around an article that hasn't been released yet and which no one has read.

Plus, what if the New Yorker article got something wrong (not necessarily thru negligence)?

Or what if the NY Times article changes between now and its publication (if it's published)?

What if Alexander misunderstood something? Or, what if there are circumstances which people have not chosen to publicly share for whatever reason?

I appreciate you writing back. At the end of the day, it just seems like this whole topic struck an emotional chord with a lot of people for reasons I don't understand, or, don't agree with.

To be fair, I've definitely felt an emotional response. There's a lot of fear going around in the world right now, and understandably so.

I also appreciate the response, and I certainly agree that no one except the NYT reporter knew what would be published (and not even they knew what the ultimate consequences would be for Alexander). But since the only way for Alexander to know for sure would have been for him to wait and see if he gets fired, I can't blame him for acting speculatively.

Maybe people respond in proportion to their self-assessed risk that they themselves would end up in Alexander's predicament? That probably explains some of the left/right split on this and similar topics. I just can't help thinking that those with views broadly similar to an average NYT reporter's are underestimating that personal risk, given that: (a) the boundaries of acceptable thought may change quickly and unpredictably; and (b) a much greater fraction of their personal and professional network is likely to come along with the mob, increasing the risk that public censure has consequences to their daily life. "Cancel culture" poses much less risk to a Breitbart reporter (who's already beyond the pale) than to a broadly liberal writer who misses or disregards the latest change in that boundary.

FWIW I think you’re making a lot of assumptions.

I mean 'doxxing', 'mob', 'harm', 'cheerful indifference'. None of this has happened. All of it is based on the framing Alexander has given it - which is neither corroborated nor is he a disinterested party. It very much smacks of grandiosity and sense of grievance.

Sorry, in what sense didn't the NYT propose to "doxx" Alexander? As far as I can tell, everyone involved agrees that the NYT intended to publish his real name. Do you have evidence to the contrary? Or are you trying to draw a distinction between publishing his real name and publishing other identifying details like his address or phone number? But the word "doxxing" is widely used for both, and in this case it's clearly the former that would cause most of the harm.

Or are you doubting that the doxxing would have harmed him? A lot of his phrasing is creepy even to me--the word "like" goes poorly with "eugenics", regardless of one's views on anything. I haven't read his blog extensively, but from the full context of what I've seen I'd attribute that to autistic-style disregard for social conventions rather than any intent to cause harm; but I do believe an article quoting selectively from his writing and including his real name had a decent chance of making it impossible for him to continue in his present career. A Mexican-American utility worker just lost his job for resting his hand out the window of his van in a shape that the Twitter mob thought implied white supremacy. Would the sins they perceive in Alexander not be much, much worse?

Or are you just pointing out that thanks to Alexander's stunt, the NYT seems to have held off (for now)? But unless you're saying that the NYT was never actually going to publish his real name (which I see no reason to believe) or that threats of harm are fine until you act (which would make life easier for extortionists, but which I don't believe is a serious argument), I'm not sure how that's relevant.

Or is it just that you want to see him harmed for the views he expressed, but you consider yourself too nice a person to actually say that? "Alexander wrote stuff under a pseudonym that's so bad he should be forced to abandon his career as a psychiatrist, and if the NYT can make it happen then I'll be glad" is at least a consistent and honest position; so if that's what you think, why not say it?

I don't think we need to parse the precise meaning of 'doxx' or even agree on whether it would be ethical or not for the NYT to publish his name. The only thing that has happened to so far is an NYT writer started writing a piece on SSC and called some people.

This has caused Scott Alexander to faint on the couch and the response that warrants is probably smelling salts, not the mobilization of all legions west of Cappadocia. The only thing we have so far is his side of the story, his prone frame on the couch and his call for the mobilization of all legions west of Cappadocia.

From your implication that this is all an overreaction, it seems like you believe there's no reason to be concerned that Alexander might be forced out of his profession, even if the NYT did run the piece with his full name as they'd proposed (but haven't yet).

Is this because you think it's unlikely that would happen even if the piece did run? If so, then I gave the reasons in my previous post why I disagree--so we have a simple disagreement about a prediction for the future, and we could each give our reasons why we expected our respective outcomes. Why didn't you engage with any of those arguments?

Or is it just because you're indifferent to whether he loses his career, or indeed might be glad to see it happen? That seems most consistent to me with your statements so far--but would you feel the same if the person staring down the Twitter mob were your ideological ally? You yourself? If we normalize this behavior, then what makes you think that it won't be someone you care about next?

I don't have much interest in re-litigating the hypothetical outcomes via the Socratic Pinniped Textwall Method. I think my comment was quite straightforward - nothing happened and then a very mildly critical meta-article appeared in the New Yorker. Your response starts with hyperbole and ends with what is frankly a conspiracy theory about how journalism works. Which is the sort of thing that is gently ribbed in the article itself, completing the circle!

Have you ever considered the possibility that you're mistaken? I try to myself, which is why I want to discuss with people who hold opinions other than mine, in order to understand why they do and whether I should change my view. You've communicated clearly that you disagree with me, but I'm not sure what else I could get from your comments.

Is there any substantive argument that you'd be willing to engage with? I'm not sure why you keep responding if not. You can't actually believe that nothing happened here, unless you believe that nothing happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis because the missiles never flew.

Have you tried to consider the possibility that you're mistake on this forum, or just other ones? Can you point to an exchange here where that's happened? The search bar at the bottom of the page could help, if none come to mind.

I'm always curious about the expectations people when they write things like "have you ever considered the possibility that you're mistaken". It seems totally ineffective as a rhetorical move, but I wonder if might have some slim chance of being productive if accompanied by a show of good faith. Like, for instance, any evidence whatsoever that the person saying it had ever been inclined to concede anything on the forum.

I don't usually comment on political topics like this one, but here's a thread where someone corrected my oversimplified view of the Fed's current bond market interventions. It took several levels of replies for me to understand what they meant, and I later corrected someone else who continued to argue for my initial (and misleading) view:


Close enough? Or in a different sub-thread here (that the mods seem to have detached), another poster and I probably still disagree on the original question, but we did manage a respectful discussion in which we agreed on other related points:


I didn't mean it as a rhetorical device--I'm genuinely curious, how someone came to be so sure that I'm wrong that it's not even worth explaining why. There's very few things I'm that sure of.

It's easy to reach certainty that the conversation you're engaged in has no hope of becoming productive, far easier than reaching any kind of (ugh) "epistemic" certainty. It's helpful to recognize that; otherwise, you're at risk of being the annoying dude in the meme sitting behind a card table on a college quad, "change my mind".

I'm afraid that you're probably right. So what should I have done differently? What could have changed pvg's mind, or at least generated something like a respectful and substantive discussion in which they explained the reasons for their differing views (which you'll see that I did manage with several other posters who disagree with me in this thread)?

A snarky original post like the one I wrote here starts from a negative interaction with someone who disagrees, which I agree is bad. You'll find mostly more nuanced comments in my history, including those about semi-political topics like the coronavirus; but those mostly get no replies at all.

Sometimes it's fine just to give up on a thread. Cards->table, I can't tell you what would change 'pvg's mind, because I agree with him.

It's disingenuous, he knows the blog posts are compiled into an ebook and says as much.

Doesn't that also mean the very act of "deleting" the blog is disingenuous? If deleting the blog doesn't meaningfully impede accessing the blog articles, then what's the point, other than drawing attention to the situation?

It's just the publicity stunt, leaving the NYT with the options to (a) drop the story, (b) omit a significant detail, or (c) report that he deleted the blog because they said they were going to doxx him. The story hasn't been published yet, so it's working so far.

Short-term, this has probably net increased the visibility of Alexander's content (slightly less convenient to access, but much more attention), and I assume he expected that. The reporter can't actually believe that Alexander is trying to hide something horrible that he wrote, so the sentence I quoted can only be knowingly dishonest innuendo. That's why I said "ugly".

Indeed, the publicity stunt in question currently seems to be favoring Alexander.

> The story hasn't been published yet, so it's working so far.

How very optimistic of you. In my mind, it just changed the status of the story from "almost ready for publishing" to "Developing" - the action of taking down the blog and the words of the various parties are definitely news-worthy. The story can no longer be about one guy; the NYT will need a bigger canvas, and more time to work on it.

> The reporter can't actually believe that Alexander is trying to hide something horrible that he wrote

It might be a little farfetched, but no moreso than Alexander's own reasoning for deleting the blog. I think it's a little much to call the whole article "ugly" because of that.

What do you mean? Alexander said himself that he was doing this as a protest and publicity stunt, and he seems to have taken no actions beyond that publicity stunt to make the content less available (e.g., he hasn't (yet) requested deletion from the Internet Archive). His words and actions seem entirely consistent to me, so I'm not sure why you doubt him.

I never said anything about consistency. I'm talking about your claim that the article is "ugly."

To be clear:

1. I believe the New Yorker reporter disingenuously made a statement that he knew to be false (because deleting the blog is clearly effective as a protest and publicity stunt, and clearly ineffective in removing access to content that's been widely mirrored elsewhere already) in order to create the false impression that Alexander might be trying to hide something.

2. I consider knowing falsehoods intended to harm others to be ugly.

I thought you were disagreeing with (1), which is why I thought it's relevant that Alexander himself said his goal was that publicity, and that his actions seem consistent with his words. Are you saying that you agree with (1) but disagree with (2)?

I think that both the New Yorker reporter and Alexander know that deleting the blog will not meaningfully impede people from accessing it who want to access it. I think that the reporter's claim that deleting it might impede people looking for dirt in past posts and Alexander's claim that deleting it might protect his practice and his patients are both far-fetched although not completely impossible.

I agree that the primary benefit to Alexander from deleting his blog was in discouraging the NYT from publishing his name, and that his arguments for why it might still help even after he gets doxxed are much weaker. I'd tend to apply a more charitable standard to weak arguments for something he has the absolute right to do and that doesn't harm anyone else (what if he just didn't want to pay the hosting bill anymore?), than to innuendo questioning someone's character (by implying that this "creditable reason" might be out there) in one of the world's most-read magazines.

Assertion 1: deleting his blog is a meaningful way of hiding his surname, by way of adding an extra step to anyone who wants to search for it.

Assertion 2: deleting his blog is NOT a meaningful way of hiding gross and reactionary discussion happening on his blog, by way of adding an extra step to anyone who wants to search for it.

These seem contradictory to me. He is absolutely trying to hide or obfuscate something, we're just debating what it is.

It obviously does meaningfully impede access. Delisted from google, all existing links broken. Viewablity of articles will be down 99.99%.

Exactly. It's absolutely more than a stunt, despite it drawing its own kind of Barbara attention. Dedicated people will still be able to find it, but the lowest effort attackers wont put in the work to dig. It silences a chunk of outrage culture who will just move on to the next target, rather than investigate broken links.

I never knew deleting anything automatically implied having no back ups. SSC even announced he had back ups. So... even for the assuming people out there he placed disclaimers. Yet more disingenuous statements.

No. Read Scott's own reasoning on the situation here:


In short, he's not worried about dedicated antagonists finding him. He's worried about his psychiatric patients finding his blog, and that interfering with his relationships with them. Deleting the blog makes it moderately more difficult for them to do that.

I don't understand. Publishing his name in the NYT will surely already cause any of his patients who read that to realize it's an article about their doctor. Surely that's where the interference would come from ("whoa, my doctor has been writing about his practice on a public blog for years"), not from the patient visiting the blog. If the patient wants to find the blog, I'm sure they will be able to.

Right, that's why he's trying to stop the NYT from publishing his name. The game isn't that he thinks that by deleting the blog he'll prevent people from finding him even if he's mentioned in the NYT, it's that by deleting the blog it'll make it untenable for the NYT to publish his name. He's gamblng that the NYT will blink.

He might at some later date decide that he needs to erase his iInternet presence entirely, but I don't think that's his current game.

If you really want to paint SSC in a negative light the optimal tool isn't the posts-- it's the comments.

Some of the posts were pretty cringe worthy but the comments were far more reliably cringe worthy.

Plenty of cringe worthy comments on HN, too. I mean, usually they're greyed out but still.

Ethnonationalists and race realists aren't too popular here or defended by the people in charge.

i think they mean comments by Scott Alexander on his own blog.

Wait until you hear about YouTube and Reddit.

He also quotes extensively from SSC, so he clearly has an archived version of it open.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of this article is taken from Metz's proposed article (if it turns out that that never gets published).

It didn't strike me as ugly as all.

Reading the Scott Aaronson affair described as being about the trouble of male nerds on the "dating market," was awfully ugly. Of course, this doesn't mean that the New Yorker has it out for "rationalists," it's just an example of the callous and not-exactly right coverage that subcultures usually get from the mainstream. The truth is that the Aaronson affair was that he had crippling anxiety when he was young, got mixed up with Judith Butler literature, and it didn't really help him. He never had any trouble finding a partner once his anxiety had resolved, so you really have to do some free word association to get from the reality to the description.

It seems to me that simplifying the entire Scott Aaronson affair was necessary, since it was just a brief part of this article. I thought their choice of simplification was reasonable and in good faith, but of course others might disagree (and unfortunately, whether we agree or disagree is likely to be effected by our overall level of agreement with the article).

There's simplifying, and then there's misrepresenting. Simplifying it would be calling it "crippling anxiety exacerbated by uncritical childhood exposure to radical literature."

The article isn’t about Scott Aaronsen.

Also I mean your phrase “uncritical childhood exposure to radical literature” is .... weird.

“Childhood exposure to radical literature”?

“radical literature” almost sound like a disease.

Just because he wasn't the subject doesn't mean it's okay to make materially false statements about him...

>Also I mean your phrase “uncritical childhood exposure to radical literature” is .... weird.

Well, I'm not qualified to write for the New Yorker, but surely they could have written a sentence that wasn't false.

Maybe you could read a more detailed account on The Atlantic, and decide for yourself how it could be summarized. (Seriously, the "dating market," does not come up even once.)


That's a great article!

FYI it mentions Andrea Dworkin though -- not Judith Butler, who you mentioned earlier. Not an expert but think they're fairly different.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Dworkin

I dunno, just seems like emotions are running high. To be fair, mine included. Sigh ...

I think the association with Butler came from somewhere else* . The Dworkin reference was a positive one in Aaronson's original post. If you're really interested in digging through all the details, the original post by Aaronson that sparked the whole thing was called "comment 171." You may come away from it with different ideas than I, but you'll definitely come away from it with different ideas than the New Yorker. ;)

* I admit that the "somewhere else" could have been my imagination.

I think we have to make a variety of assumptions to draw any conclusions about what the author of the New Yorker article intended. There’s too little info in the article to go on.

You can simplify, and then you can say Scott wrote an angry "screed" that misrepresents 99% of feminists and ignores the plight of vulnerable women in its bourgeois defense of the privileged, nerdy intellectual class. (The article doesn't actually say "bourgeois", but the dogwhistles are crystal-clear.)

I confess that any description of anything that uses the word "screed" will tend to seem to me to be in bad faith. Largely because every time I've dug into the origins of such a description, it has indeed been in bad faith.

It does strike me as ugly because there's just one "off" piece after the other.

The thing about hiding posts from reporters while they know there's an ebook.

Saying the NYT "isn't about clicks" while most of the news industry is drowning.

Arguing that "de-anonymizing" Scott shouldn't be a problem because it was easy for them to do.

Arguing that Scott should've expected unruly people to contact the NYT while drawing a complete blank that that's exactly what Scott would've been facing, except with possible physical violence rather than angry e-mails...

There's more but I'm lazy. My "wat?s per minute" were significantly above average. It went far enough for me to call it "ugly."

> NYT "isn't about clicks" while most of the news industry is drowning.

No need to generalize from the state of the media as an industry; NYT is a public company so their balance sheet is public. Here's their latest 10-Q, doesn't look like drowning to me.


I said I was lazy, didn't I? :)

Feel free to ignore that item.

But actually… that sheet also says that $51 million of their revenue is from digital advertising, down from $55.5 million a year ago. It's 11.5% of their total revenue, down from 12.7%. Not a huge problem but… it's still a business consideration.

And let's not forget zest and sensationalism can sell subscriptions and print media too. (Publishing the full name would at least have counted as "zest" IMHO, if not full-on sensationalism.)

Ad revenue is down but subscriptions and total revenue are up -- so doesn't that go counter to the "did it for clicks" narrative? My (admittedly simple) model of the media industry is that clickbait drives ad revenue, quality journalism drives subscriptions.

I totally agree your logic makes sense too. My model was going along the lines of, "hey, our digital ads are down a few million" -> manager telling the assembled team "hey let's try and get the ad revenue back up, all please set the dial just a little bit higher!"

Not even suggesting malice there, just my imagination :)

[Ed. add:]

It's also that I don't even think Metz was necessarily aware the name would be such a big deal. It's very much normal practice to name people, and even if they saw that Scott was privacy conscious it might not have registered properly and just seemed like a "little bit of extra zest." However, IMHO they just should have backed off after it became apparent to them.

But then they still get a factor of 8.8 more revenue from digital advertising than digital subscriptions.

edit: Compare digital advertising to digital subscriptions, not overall subscriptions

Are we looking at the same numbers? See page 3, subscription revenue is ~2.7x ad revenue.

Oops, I see what I did. I was comparing digital subscription revenue to overall ad revenue. Comparing digital subscription revenue to digital ad revenue is "only" a factor of 8.8 rather than 18 (because just over half the ad revenue is print).

Note that newspapers make little if any profit from print subscriptions in themselves, because they're little better than breakeven with the cost of printing and delivery. The real profit has always come from the advertising. Digital subscriptions are something new in that they're actually making money from subscription revenues instead of just using them to cover unit costs, but they're currently still tiny.

> quality journalism drives subscriptions.

A more effective paywall drives subscriptions. Once you have a paywall, subscriptions are as much about clicks as ads.

I don't have a subscription myself, but I have considered paying for one because acquaintances with a low bar for quality occasionally want to share and discuss something behind the paywall and I can't rely on all of them to know how to print a pdf and share that with me.

As subscribers witness the quality decline, they'll cancel their subscriptions.

The NY Times today is not the NY Times of A.M. Rosenthal.

> But actually… that sheet also says that $51 million of their revenue is from digital advertising, down from $55.5 million a year ago. It's 11.5% of their total revenue, down from 12.7%. Not a huge problem but… it's still a business consideration.

But it's a business consideration that exactly supports the claim that NYT isn't about clicks and, in fact, that dependence on click-driven ad revenue is a declining focus of NYT and similar media outlets.

You can’t make that conclusion from the evidence presented.

The fact that ad revenue is declining doesn’t tell us that they intentionally moved focus away from clicks.

As another matter, all those subscriptions grant access to their website content. More clicks on their site probably lead to more new subscriptions, and better retention of existing subscribers. To the extent that clicks lead to subscriptions, they are undoubtably all about the clicks.

That isn't a refutation - the NYT is doing well whilst most of the news industry is drowning.

In fact there has even been an article in the New York Times arguing that the New York Times financial strength and power may be bad for news:


It's definitely a bit ugly (perhaps most clearly so wrt. SA's broadly sensible defense of Scott Aaronson being described as an angry "screed" against feminism) but overall, it's as fair a treatment of SSC as could appear in the elite media at this point.

Agreed. A handful of sentences were completely unfair, and they've been rightly criticized in other comments. But it's a very long piece, and the majority of it came off as reserved and even-handed. I've seen hit pieces, this is not one of them.

It could have been much worse, but it's certainly not charitable.

I really disagree. I thought it was a balanced take, for the most part, and represented the SSC extended community in a way that did much better than naively misunderstanding it, and much better than the community understands _itself_.

I think that a lot of commenters on here have the exact self-righteous tone that this article criticizes (well, discusses with a bit of an air of judgment, but let's just agree that it's criticism): to these commenters, it is inconceivable that the NYT's behavior could be acceptable and not... what, profit-motivated, desperate for clicks, a salvo in a media war? But that's mostly absurd. Not impossible, per se, but unfounded.

This is one of those things where the Internet At Large seems to think that everyone has to agree on who's right here (it's Scott and friends?), and anyone who disagrees is Evil, and it's just a matter of figuring out _how_ they Are Evil. But in reality people can actually coexist, and be allowed to coexist, with _different_ opinions of what is right or reasonable, and the NYT / persons who are removed from the SSC/Silicon Valley/HN bubble have very different opinions there.

The commenters here act like it is not okay for these differences of opinion to continue to exist, and so they must be crushed. It really, really doesn't look great to the community that when commenters encounter this difference of opinion, they... launch into uninhibited tirades against it at every opportunity. To an external observer, the commenters seem ridiculously worked up, and this article (among other takes) seems very mature and charitable in contrast.

It's "balanced" in so far as some parts are charitable, sure, but then it's also peppered with insinuations:

> This plea conformed with the online persona he has publicly cultivated over the years—that of a gentle headmaster preparing to chaperone a rambunctious group of boys on a museum outing—but, in this case, it seemed to lend plausible deniability to what he surely knew would be taken as incitement.

I just can't see that being written in good faith.

Why not? imo it's not an implausible take, even if you don't agree with it.

Funnily enough, the slatestarcodex thread on this article agrees with you. I found this one comment extremely illustrative of the dynamics in this current thread:

>Overall, I’m pretty impressed by this article. It’s the sort of thing I could see myself aspiring to write. It spends ample time presenting SSC in its own terms, touches on enough of the major touchstones and obscurities of the blog to indicate a serious examination of it, and is precise and restricted in its criticisms. I appreciated in particular the attention it paid to the specific quirks of rationalist subculture rather than trying to lump it in as part of something it isn’t, and the way it (accurately) called out the people who were looking more for a war with the media and were willing rovers use Scott as a convenient casus belli.[0]


FWIW, the Internet Archive is willing to remove content if you can prove you are the owner and request it using the proper methods.

It honors robots.txt, even retroactively across changes of owners of domain names.

It's so funny how this community falls squarely on the "Opt-out is bad!" side except for the internet archive!

The Internet Archive provides an important historical archiving mission. Even when the content is made unavailable by express request from the owner, it is still preserved for future generations. This is not a frivolous purpose.

All purpose's defenders will claim that theirs is not frivolous.

Meaning that no non-frivolous purpose exists?

I'm not sure if it means that. I'm just sure that for each purpose, we can find someone that relies on it.

Let's try it this way.

For any given website, more likely than not they would want the Internet Archive to archive it.

For any given internet user, more likely than not they wouldn't want a website to track them for the purposes of advertising and price discrimination.

This tells us what the defaults should be in each case, and let the exceptions change the setting if they want.

Why do you believe that a website would want the Internet Archive to archive it? There is clear evidence that some do not want to be archived (the existence of opt out option). What data shows that most do?

Being archived is all advantages. Users don't generally go to the internet archive instead of the source, so it isn't really competing with you for users. People trust it as an independent party, so if you want to be able to claim that you said something a year ago, it allows you to point to it there and prove that you didn't just put it on your website yesterday and post-date it. If you blow up your website by accident, they've backed up the content for free. People like the idea of what they wrote being preserved for posterity.

The percentage of websites that actually opt out of being in the archive rounds to zero. Compare this to the much larger percentage of internet users who opt out of ads by installing ad blocking software, despite many websites whinging at you or refusing to display content if you do.

> For any given website, more likely than not they would want the Internet Archive to archive it.

I really don't think you can make that assertion without asking the maintainer of the website.

AND if that's the case, IA can either reach out to the maintainer via the email address gotten from the public WHOIS data OR the maintainer can easily go to the IA website and opt in!

> I really don't think you can make that assertion without asking the maintainer of the website.

Let me rephrase. More websites would want to be archived than not. So that should be the default.

This is how defaults are meant to work. Unless the default is somehow harmful or dangerous, they should be the thing that the most people want, so as to reduce the amount of work involved in getting everyone to their preferred outcome. Having 1% of websites opt out is far less work for the websites than having 99% of websites opt in.

> AND if that's the case, IA can either reach out to the maintainer via the email address gotten from the public WHOIS data OR the maintainer can easily go to the IA website and opt in!

You do realize how many websites there are. Why would you want to dump a collective million man hours of work on all of them to opt in, or the even worse consequences when they forget and then don't get archived like they would've wanted?

If a website that wants to be archived doesn't opt-in that is a failure of the website. If a website that doesn't want to be archived is archived that is a (possibly non criminal) trespass by the archivist.

Trespass? It's having a conversation with a public web server, not breaking and entering. It might fall under copyright law, but not trespass.

Is the Internet Archive archiving websites for the benefit of the internet users or the benefit of the website authors?


Remember when that bank used the Internet Archive as a CDN by mistake? The Internet Archive functioned as a primitive form of version control, allowing them to get some client-side code they'd accidentally lost, but needed again.

I'm sure the reasons for collecting your PII are not frivolous to the consumers of that data.

I don't think this is disingenuous. Unlike pretty much every other player scraping the internet, the Internet Archive is a transparent non-profit that has relatedly proven itself to be squarely on the side of the public. I think it's very reasonable to treat them as the exception.

Websites are public. The act of publishing on one is an explicit opt-in.

"This community" doesn't have a singular opinion.

I don’t think the article is saying that “negative coverage” would necessarily be warranted, just that it would exist, and be negative.

I don’t think a hit piece would explain how some potentially controversial SST articles were either later qualified by the author, or, qualified by the author at the time of publishing.

> The reporter is unaware that the Internet Archive exists? The content is obviously still readily available, so the reporter is either stupid or disingenuous.

We would have to see what NY Times policy is on using The Internet Archive as a source. I don’t know, and, you didn’t go out of your way to find and share that information, so I think your conclusions are premature.

Honestly the article didn’t seem ugly to me.

The New Yorker reporter said "creditable reason". "Creditable" usually means "somewhat praiseworthy" so it's weird phrasing; but I interpret the praise as going to the reporter for finding it, implying that the reason would be good. Or perhaps the author actually meant "credible" (or the alternative definition of "creditable" that's a near-synonym), directly stating that it's justified. Either way, I don't see any implication that the negative coverage would be anything but warranted. Where are you getting that?

As many other posters noted, there's also an e-book, and the article itself quoted from the blog. So are you asking me to prove the nonexistence of an NYT policy banning the use of any of those sources, despite the New Yorker somehow figuring it out? It's hard to prove a negative, but I could see what I could find online. But do you really think the burden of proof is on me here? Perhaps your impulse is to defend the New Yorker reporter here, and you think the burden of proof for accusing him (of false accusations against Alexander) should be high; but the reporter is accusing Alexander (of having written something that would be a "creditable reason" for negative coverage), so shouldn't the burden be on him?

I didn't say the article was a hit piece, and I don't think it was one. Another poster called it a "smoothed-over hit piece", and that seems closer to me, a piece designed to leave both a negative impression and an impression that Alexander has been treated fairly.

So, creditable also can mean “worthy of belief” which I think is more relevant. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creditable

But the very fact we are arguing over the meaning of a single word is, I think, kind of a signal of an anti-pattern, so to speak.

It’s like bikeshedding over a single line of code. Sure, in certain cases that single line might be super important (part of an algorithm, performance critical, etc).

Often however there’s a range of acceptable ways to write a single line of code and, if we want to analyze and understand a codebase, it only makes so much sense to spend so much time on that one line.

There’s a lot more code to look at as well and to understand how something works or the intent of the author of the code we should look at individual lines in the context of the whole.

Plus if we’re going to get that specific about individual words, then it’s even more important to be comprehensive and correct and not jump to one of several plausible meanings ;).

That's the definition I meant by "or the alternative definition of 'creditable' that's a near-synonym [for 'credible']". I agree that might be what the author intended, but I don't see how that would imply the negative coverage would be unwarranted? If the reason is worthy of belief, then doesn't that mean it's probably a good reason, and the coverage is warranted?

Though I agree that judging a long piece of writing by a few quotes out of context is generally bad--indeed, I'm surprised no one suggested that I've done the same thing to the New Yorker reporter that Alexander was afraid the NYT would do to him (though with no foreseeable risk to the reporter's job).

I've tried not to--those sentences seemed particularly egregious to me, but broadly within the tone of the overall piece. Human attention behind limited, I'm afraid any discussion of a long piece of writing must either talk about subjective feelings and impressions (where it's hard to identify the reasons for those different feelings), or focus on a tiny subset at the cost you correctly note.

We gotta agree to disagree man.

It's interesting how the HN discussion here is far more critical of the article than the /r/slaterstarcodex discussion is [1]. (although that is a much smaller community.)

[1] https://np.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/ho6g2b/slate...

I’d say the article’s coverage of Scott and rationalism is fairly neutral, while its attitude toward Silicon Valley is negative. Seems like the reactions of the two communities are what you’d expect based on that.

> The reporter is unaware that the Internet Archive exists? The content is obviously still readily available, so the reporter is either stupid or disingenuous.

(Or both.)

Can someone

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