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Still alive (astralcodexten.substack.com)
898 points by Lewton 42 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 342 comments

For anyone who hasn't yet had the pleasure, Scott's (fiction) book Unsong is magnificent. It's one of the best books I read last year, and I read constantly.






“I…didn’t know it was broken.”

Uriel’s face became more animated, his speech faster.


<ot> I once had to put up a fence in the middle of a public field. As we were hammering in the first post, security demanded an explanation. The foreman looked up and explained politely and with a totally straight face that we were fastening the tectonic plates to prevent earthquakes.

They let us be... </ot>

Unsong is an absolute favorite. I would love to pay $$$ for a printed version.

Its target demographic miiiight be specifically Jewish, atheist, programmers. Who think about those three things a lot and in combination. I've stopped trying to get anyone not in that demo to read it. But if that's you, please give it a shot!

Not being Jewish or knowing a whole lot about Judaism, is too much of it going to go over my head?

I'm pretty lousy at noticing/interpreting symbolism in fiction, in case that would either help or hurt my enjoyment here (e.g. "blowing right past symbolism that I wouldn't understand anyway" might be better than "noticing it but being stumped for lack of religious background").

Also not Jewish, and easily my favorite read of the 2010's, both in thought-provocation and pure enjoyment. Not since Douglas Adams have I been tickled pink by every word.

As someone who skews atheist but is fascinated by religion, the Kabbalistic mysticism was not only fascinating in its own right, but also a superb lens to examine theological questions without triggering the reflexive aversions many of us non-believers have developed w/r/t Christianity.

I'm not Jewish and absolutely loved it.

Two out of three, so I can't really be sure, but I don't think you need any of these to enjoy Unsong.

I, nor my friend, is Jewish and quite liked it. (Still atheist programmers, so that might help)

Is there something similar for theist catholic programmers?

When it comes to humor like that only HHGTTG -- that I (un)fortunately read first -- has been entertaining. Everything after that seemed as if it was trying to emulate it.

I'm one of the people who's never particularly enjoyed HHGTTG, but very much enjoyed Unsong and Terry Pratchett's Discworld (both of which I read years later).

HHGTTG felt like it was being absurd for the sake of absurdity (IMHO of course, I know how much it's loved by others), whereas in Unsong it all fits into a complete and coherent world where the absurdity just arises from the nature of that world.

While I enjoy HHGTTG, I've long been of the opinion that the Dirk Gently books are Adams' best works. HHGTTG originated as a radio show, and while they're fun, they meander, almost a loosely connected series of vignettes rather than novels. The 2 (+1/2) Gently books are more cohesive narratives, complete with themes and motifs and such, and perfectly stick the landing (besides the last one, which was tragically unfinished).

My father, sadly for him, read Vonnegut before Douglas Adams, and felt that Hitchhiker's was just trying to emulate him.

I didn't inherit this gene, happily for me, and enjoy all three authors a great deal.

If anyone wants to recommend something else in this vein, please do; I'll probably like it.

I read José Saramago and at times felt his writing similar to Vonnegut. Perhaps you’ll like it. Blindness is a good first read.

HHGTTG was absolutely trying to emulate The Sirens Of Titan. They're both great though.

Douglas Adams disagrees with you: https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/60015

Adams doesn't say he wasn't influenced by Vonnegut in those quotes.

Also, here's another quote[1]:

> "I've read The Sirens of Titan six times now, and it gets better every time. He is an influence, I must own up. Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it's very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realise what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual."

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20070302103312/http://www.darker...


But I suppose there is a difference between "influenced by" and "trying to emulate" isn't there, and I absolutely should have said the former. They are books that have some similarities, each in their own style.

I find Adams more whimsical than Vonnegut.

Reading Catherynne M. Valente's 'Space Opera' was like going back to those glorious days when I first discovered HHGTTG.

I didn’t know he wrote a book, thanks!

That excerpt made me think of Romantically Apocalyptic, which is a... visual novel / web comic? I read it for a while, really enjoying the art and the strange and absurd conversations, characters and events. It felt a bit unplanned and all over the place though, but that might just be my prejudice towards web comics combined with the style of writing.

I'm glad that Scott is back (and that Substack will make it easy for him to get paid for his work).

That said, some of the best things about Slate Star Codex were stumbling on the archives, going down a rabbit hole of old LessWrong posts, the links in the blogroll. Substack is much worse than a standard WordPress blog when it comes to that sort of casual reading and creating a permanent home for posts that are timeless. [1]

I'm all for creators being paid for their work, I just hope that SSC doesn't lose anything that made it special with the new platform.

[1] Applied Divinity Studies / Nintil on Substack: https://nintil.com/substack-milquetoast

I particularly liked the emotional end to this post, and I'm very glad he ended it with such a strong and positive tone.

Online communities are able to connect people that, before the Internet, would have had a very difficult time finding the right peers for them. Some communities adjacent to SSC (and some near HN) have helped me find some amazingly smart and cool people, and I'm very thankful that they exist (and that Scott can continue blogging as well), and if anything I hope we can encourage significantly more niche community building on the Internet, and with many more modalities than blogs, forums, and comments (which SSC indeed has).

His notes about people being afraid to express themselves, have open discussions, be honest, and share with one another are pretty saddening however, and I hope that we can progress towards a better area here, even if progress sometimes seems slow or impossible.

Absolutely. Time and money are important resources. But for myself, and I imagine many other people, the single richest form of currency in life is the trade in ideas. It is how my relationships intertwine with experience and the trading of ideas that matters most.

This is part of what makes SCC so good, it is packed with amazing and rich ideas.

The internet facilitates the trade in ideas (and relationships!) and I hope we do not lose it.

"I got an email from Balaji Srinivasan, a man whose anti-corporate-media crusade straddles a previously unrecognized border between endearing and terrifying. He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists. I'm not sure any of them were especially actionable, at least not while the Geneva Convention remains in effect. But it was still a good learning experience. In particular, I learned never to make an enemy of Balaji Srinivasan. I am humbled by his support."

Top notch.


Explains the joke:

It starts off with normal support, goes towards outlandish support, then concerning support, then ethically-questionable “support”, and after every one, Scott's written “I am humbled by [pronoun] support”.

This is an overly hostile reading of the above comment, Scott certainly didn't, and wouldn't, threaten violence against anyone.

You have failed to parse what is being said correctly in this case.

Imagine: You're clicking around the web, and you find an article posted by a respected food critic and French chef titled "10 food items I detest at McDonalds". You click through, and nod your head at number 6: "Their milkshakes - so called - appear to have no relationship to milk, dairy products, or edibility, and all the flavours taste vaguely of chalk and despair." You laugh in agreement at number 8: "The fries are mediocre when fresh, but quickly congeal under the heat lamps into a starchy, greasy, undigestible brick." But number 7 gives you pause: "The chicken nuggets. The rich flavours, the unique shapes, the delicate breading. What tastier treat could be imagined?"

You quickly jump onto social media and post an outraged rant - how could this man like chicken nuggets? You suggest that perhaps he's not as good a critic or chef as imagined, and you float the idea of starting a petition asking for him to be fired. A man who loves chicken nuggets can hardly be trusted in, near, or writing about a kitchen after all, right?

But of course, this was sarcasm. It's a list of foods he does not like, and tucked into the middle of this list of foods he does not like is a sarcastic description of chicken nuggets, which he also does not like.

Similarly, here, Scott is in the middle of a list of people he disagrees with who contacted him to offer unsolicited, unhelpful advice. One of them is Srinivasan, but his gently mocking description of Srinivasan's advice is no more an endorsement of Srinivasan's views than his description of the Gamergater's offer is an edorsement of Gamergate or their PR efforts.

What the person you were responding to was obviously doing was not saying that "threats against journalists is top notch", but that Scott's writing criticising Srinivasan's anti-journalist crusade was top notch. Which is, I think, a fair assessment; it was a well written criticism of Srinivasan.

There is so much context in the rest of the newsletter that makes it clear Scott is not the sort of person who supports violence against journalists.

No, he's just the kind of person who is happy to be associated with those who do.

I'm fairly certain they were saying the excerpt they pasted was "top notch", not the idea of violence towards journalists.


This is how Scott writes when he's describing something he disagrees with but doesn't want to get into just now because he's making a point about something else.

It's tacit disapproval, but not quite strong enough that people will go off on a tangent about it in the comments (though they still do).


Use your reading. In the first part of the post, he uses the same format for successive paragraphs. They're all examples of individuals who wrote in support who he is mildly baffled or exasperated by. The example prior that was on the four NYT journalists who all said conflicting things about the policy, but they did legitimately want to help, just not in a helpful way. Same with this individual, he legitimately wanted to help, but in a baffling and somewhat scary way. The "I am humbled by their support" kind of seals the deal on the irony. At the end of the post, he uses the same repetition, but for individuals or groups he is legitimately thanking.

This kind of interpretation is why we can't have nice things. Everything you read these days has to beat you over the head with their point, or caveat everything in a sad and painful way. It's the death of joy and play in writing and reading. I'm glad people like Scott can write so boldly, even fully knowing, as I'm sure he does, that the joy and play will be read in the harshest light. And I mourn for all the joy and play I'll never read because people are rightfully afraid of being miscast and mischaracterized.

Thanks. I was about to try to make a similar point, but couldn't quite find the words and saw this when I refreshed.

> Because there is a lot of stuff he seems to be quite fine with that most people assume he would disapprove of because it is truly awful.

Give me an example, and I can probably find somewhere he's explicitly, unabashedly condemned it, and you probably can't find somewhere he's condoned it. Most of the places I've found myself in disagreement¹ with Scott Alexander, it's turned out that I was the one who hadn't thought through the moral implications of the thing I condoned.

¹: Excluding philosophical disagreement along the lines of “what should we care about?” – what would be religious disagreement were he religious, which most people in my culture don't consider a sign of evil.

I notice you didn't carve out an unconditional condemnation of violence in your comment here. It's implied.

Can we stop being so laborious?

Try a good faith interpretation.

Then you'll understand what they actually meant.

Good faith got us the 1/6 coup attempt. It's time we hold public figures to a higher standard. This is not the time to joke about violence against journalists.

What do you think of the journalists not caring about violence towards Scott?

For that matter why is Scott not considered a journalist?

Many of his pieces are deeply researched and analytical of current affairs and are certainly comparable to magazine journalism.

Now? As opposed to 3 months ago when you made this account?

It's not super uncommon for people who've been on HN for years to create alts, new accounts, throwaways, finally decided to stop lurking, etc. ahem :)

I don't even think the user who posted the comment was in support of violence against journalists, much less the author as others have said.

Additionally, journalists are just journalists. Sometimes, knowingly or unknowingly, the things they publish work in favour of fascists and fascism.

In another context I'd find such oblique references to violence crass and offensive. I don't particularly enjoy them here, either.

Okay, I changed my mind, on second read I can tell that he's being ironic. Wow. That is pretty top notch.

I've never heard of that man, but his post was a pleasant bit of my day and his writing is excellent. It's the first time in a long time I've properly went through a text linked on HN, front to back. My habit is to parse at break-neck pace, squeeze the meaningful marrow out of it and then go to the comment page to exercise my God-given right of inventing an opinion I didn't know I had a minute prior.

Good luck to him.

I discovered SSC through this blog: http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog which I discovered thanks to this HN comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18176929 and I can heartily recommend it.

That comment, and more specifically, Aron's blog have made a huge impact in my life. I've spent hundreds of hours reading it and losing myself in intellectual rabbit holes, I've been introduced to many interesting topics, books and authors (such as Scott Alexander, G.K Chesterton and Gödel, Escher, Bach (which I have on my nightstand)), and I've come to truly believe in God.

The comments section is usually very interesting as well.

Someone else in another comment mentioned his work might appeal to atheists, so it's interesting you mention now believing in God. I grew up as an atheist but later in life returned to the eternal Dharma (Hinduism) and thoroughly have experienced God

> Someone else in another comment mentioned his work might appeal to atheists, so it's interesting you mention now believing in God.

It's probably the G.K.Chesterton influence that led to that. Scott definitley writes from an atheist viewpoint, although like a lot of the rationalist community he has a soft spot for Buddhism - see for eg. his short story Samsara (https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/11/04/samsara/).

Chesterton certainly played a role, but it was mostly the posts on Aron's blog themselves. The story is like this: I was born into a christian family, but like many young people, and helped by some written works, some healthy amount skepticism, other not-so-healthy things, and what I saw inside and outside my social circles, I came to doubt my previous beliefs.

Anyway, then I discovered Aron's blog, and it was like a new world open to me. Something that I've experienced very few times in my life; maybe when I found SICP/Lisp…

And it could even ve said that I discovered that blog thanks to SICP since it went something like this: OCW > SICP > Paul Graham > Hacker News > (eventually) The Blog. ^^

Scott does write from an atheist viewpoint, since he is atheist, but even though I am not, I still enjoy his writing very much, just as I've liked many of PG's essays or LessWrong articles. It is not necessary to hold the same beliefs to enjoy intellectual fellowship/communion as it is (usually) exemplified by Hacker News itself.

Also, if you want to, I can share with you some of my favorite articles there. I have a huge list though.

I'm really curious, in what way(s) have you experienced God?

"I've read lots of interesting discussion on how much power tech oligarchs should or shouldn't be allowed to have. But this is the first time I've seen someone suggest their powers should include a magic privacy-destroying gaze, where just by looking at someone they can transform them into a different kind of citizen with fewer rights. Is Paul Graham some weird kind of basilisk, such that anyone he stares at too long turns into fair game?"

This is an interesting concept that I haven't heard discussed by society much, but seems like its true. The powerful have the ability to make someone go viral without their consent.

And it's not even an ability they wield themselves - it happens by association. So you can't just go and ask 'pg, would you please not look directly at Scott - it's the journalists noticing, "hey, he has celebrities in his fanbase", and using this as an argument why he himself is of public interest.

Essentially second-order paparazzism.

I do hope Scott will some day restore the old website to its original layout rather than the default WordPress template it's had since he pulled it. At least for archival and nostalgic value.

Does anyone know why SubStack doesn't allow more customization of the blogs? I feel like every one is nearly identical in font/layout/"feel".

>Does anyone know why SubStack doesn't allow more customization of the blogs? I feel like every one is nearly identical in font/layout/"feel".

Because it's about the content -- it's literally an emailing list subscription service.

You inspired me to customize it myself: https://applieddivinitystudies.com/slatestarsubstack/

If you download a chrome extension and paste in the provided styles, you can get a pretty good approximation of the original page!

Several of the extensions you recommended at the end (Adblock Plus, The Great Suspender, LastPass) are widely considered to be compromised

I haven't heard anything about the issues with AdBlock Plus outside places like this, and I have no idea what you've heard about LastPass. I don't know what The Great Suspender is.

You might want to expand on the problems in case this isn't a fluke.

Ack, thanks. I've removed the entire paragraph.

SubStack is for e-mail not blogging. All email has nearly identical font/layout/feel. Substack is not a blogging platform.

As long as Substack hosts a blog-like format for its newsletters, it's also a blogging platform.

I wish at the very least they'd make the font customizable by the readers. I can't stand looking at that font they chose for a prolonged period of time. The only way I read stuff published on Substack is by proxying the content (reader mode, RSS feeds, Pocket).

> Also, my patients couldn't Google my name and find me immediately, which I was increasingly realizing the psychiatric community considered important.

Could somebody tell the Swedes? When I looked up the name of a local therapist here, expecting to get a website of their practice, I found their Swedish personal number, private phone number and address as the first search result. Out of curiosity, I then tried looking up the names of the other therapists in her practice. Same issue. Apparently the government freely shares this kind of personal information unless you explicitly opt out! I emailed the them (through the practice website) that this surprised me and would never fly in my home country. Obviously, those therapists did not want me after that.

> Obviously, those therapists did not want me after that.

Not obvious to me. Why didn't they?

Because they were apparently incapable of distinguishing the messenger who reminded them that there are potentially scary patients out there from said actual potentially scary patients.

It's not that the government freely shares that information (they do some) but that they actually sell information to companies that then create searchable products on that data.

And of course you can't generally opt out of the government selling you data (a friend litigated this and lost).

Hm. GDPR disagrees.

Well, not-so-long ago there was a widely available index of almost-everyone's private addresses and phone numbers - you could opt out, but most people didn't. It was called a telephone book.

Yes, I know. In fact, I know because my parents are retired doctors, and they (and all of their colleagues) were among the people who would opt out. On top of that, when I got my first mobile phone as a teenager I learned that I had to opt out as well, because patients would mistakenly think I was my father and randomly call me and tell me shit I really didn't want to know.

(This is why I was quite confident when I emailed them that this would not happen in my home country, but I'll concede that I maybe should have mentioned this in the top comment)

The therapists obviously knew about it, and it is considered perfectly normal (and a good thing) by the general population. It's not possible to opt-out anyways.

The principle that all (non-classified) official records should be public is more than 250 years old, and is a very fundamental part of the Swedish (and Scandinavian) society. I find it to be one of the best things about living here.

This is how things are in Scandinavia. In Norway a lot of what other countries regard as confidential is regarded as uncontroversial public information here. For instance I can log in to the tax authority website and see how much tax someone paid or put a registration number into the roads authority website and find out who owns the vehicle.

I am surprised you found their personal number. This used to be commonplace but less and less so over the past decades.

For the uninitiated, what sort of content is Slate Star Codex known for?

I see he kind of addresses it in his initial post. That description seemed pretty broad and open ended though.

Hard to pigeonhole. Long, sometimes rambling, well written (in my view; opinions vary), generally thoughtful, fairly centrist, often left-of-centre (enough so to deeply annoy certain breeds of conservatives), but with enough libertarian or classical liberal ideas sprinkled through it to deeply annoy a certain type of leftist.

Some of his consistent themes are a gentle scepticism about what we think we know, a refusal to attribute malice to those who disagree with him, and a desire to be pragmatic about how we can achieve our shared goals.

...obviously this means there's a vocal faction on social media who believe he is the modern equivalent of a grand wizard of the KKK, and who have said so in exactly so many words repeatedly.

If you're the kind of person who'd like Scott's writing, you'll probably like it a lot, and you will reach this conclusion quite quickly. You'll also likely find it inexplicable anyone might disagree. If you're the kind of person who does not like his writing, you'll probably hate it, and probably find it confusing that anyone else might not hate it. For reasons I don't remotely understand, he (and his writing) is oddly polarizing.

Your last paragraph reminds me of one of my favorite short stories from him, about "Scissor Statements". Very black mirror vibes, and I mean that as a sincere complement.


Yes, I really like that one too. Fun and enjoyable to read, but once I got to the end, I found it quite thought provoking.

It hadn't occurred to me before to think about its relevance to Scott himself; there's some interesting irony there. Particularly, I think, because I rather imagine that's the opposite of what Scott has ever intended with his writing.

> For the uninitiated, what sort of content is Slate Star Codex known for?

IIRC, it's a blog that's very influential in the "rationalist" community, which I think spun out of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LessWrong. So very long-winded posts on miscellaneous topics.

Why put the word rationalist in quotes?


It's because rationality that's committed to a narrow definition of what rationality means typically leads to irrationality at some terminal point.

When people describe themselves as "rationalist" they typically mean "instrumental reason" which is a form of reasoning that has its own bias and baked in values (e.g. western modern values, often supremely meritocratic, technocratic, utilitarian values) which are different from the values powering the methods and forms of reasoning of other cultures and other historical periods. There's a tendency for a superiority complex to creep in where one who takes undue pride in one's "reasoning" sees only one mode of reasoning as the one true reasoning (one true value system).

Ancient cultures had value systems that were entirely different than ours, this doesn't make our scientific reasoning "better" it makes our reasonings incommensurable until you commit to some system of shared values as the one true system of values (e.g. self-preservation, but there's nothing saying that's what humanity should value and in fact one could argue that one of the important facets of being human is the capability to reject this value).

> Ancient cultures had value systems that were entirely different than ours, this doesn't make our scientific reasoning "better"

It's better at coming to the correct conclusions about objective aspects of the world (better – not perfect, mind you). This is useful if your value system prioritises knowledge, though knowledge is pretty useful for all sorts, so I think science is good unless your value system penalises knowledge-generation.

Probably because self-ascribed 'rationalism' can potentially come across a bit self-aggrandizing. Like calling oneself part of the 'patriot' party (which implicitly implies members of other political groups aren't patriotic).

Not that I have a problem with SSC, I think it's a cool blog.

Do you have a problem with the “democrat” party implying that other parties aren’t democratic?

At this point it's pretty common for self-identifying lesswrong-style rationalists to use quote marks, or add a bunch of qualifiers. Weird nerdy people get a lot of hate, there are whole subreddits devoted to hating on "rationalists" for a variety of reasons. Adding quotes tends to calm those people down, and make them a bit less hateful.

Really it's not derisive, it's self defense.

> Do you have a problem with the “democrat” party

Its called the “Democratic Party”, and it is a proper noun, which distinguishes it visiually form the common use of “democratic”.

While some people get upset about it, "Democrat" is useful to differentiate the two verbally. Obviously capitalization isn't possible.

Obama's team launched https://democrats.org/ in 2009 or so. I really think people shouldn't get upset over "Democrat".

“Democrat” is the singular noun form, “Democrats” is the plural noun form, “Democratic” is the adjective form, and “Democrat”-as-adjective is the “signal that the speaker is a hostile partisan" form. They are all useful distinctions.

> While some people get upset about it, "Democrat" is useful to differentiate the two verbally. Obviously capitalization isn't possible.

Not really. "Democrat Party" is literally just a shibboleth used by opposing partisans who are upset that "democratic" is an adjective with positive associations. Everything else is just a post-hoc rationalization.

You think that because a) you don't know the origin of the intentionally incorrect usage of "Democrat" as an adjective, and b) you're confused about the difference between an adjective and a noun.

The usage in that domain name is as a noun. "Joe is a Democrat" is fine. That's a noun. "Democrat politicians" is not fine. That's an adjective.

I would note the pattern is not unique to "Democrat/Democratic"; it is used to turn other descriptors into slurs. Cf. "Jewish" vs. "Jew" as adjectives.

Yes, and I'd certainly try to distinguish whether I meant the specific party or the general concept (either by putting it in quotes or using a capital letter).

Some members of the LessWrong online community call themselves "the rationalist community," but there are plenty of people who self-ascribe as rationalist who don't affiliate with that community. Here, the term means the LessWrong rationalists, not all rationalists everywhere.

I don't know about them, but I've found the community around it both intelligent and accepting. That's not what I've come to expect from the word rationalist.

Agreed. Much less of a Mensa syndrome going on.

I remember at the peak of the 2016 post-election meltdown the SSC subreddit hosted a sort of "ask Trump supporters anything" thread. Despite the absolute insanity of the time and only a minuscule fraction of the sub's readership supporting Trump, the conversation was interesting, calm and uniformly civil.

There were a few Social Justice types that used to comment there too; again, all very civil, although there was sometimes the sense that they were regarded as an interesting zoo exhibit.

Because the word has multiple meanings, some of them subtextual. The quotes don't need to be derisive.

Because it’s a label rather than a descriptor.

They call themselves "rationalists". "Rationalizers" might be more accurate.

Likely because ardy42 isn't a fan of them and the word would otherwise have positive connotations.

In general, the quotes in this context signal an ideological opposition.

The quotes might signal opposition, but they also might just signal fuzziness. E.g. This is a word that you're probably familiar with used in a specific jargony way that you cannot deduce merely from the standard definition.

Much like the words humanist or intellectual?

Would you agree that each of those words can be used in "a specific jargony way" and that putting quotation marks around either very likely signals opposition?

I'm not familiar with a distinction between a more common usage and a more jargony usage of those two words. Is there one? Actually, I don't think I really understand any usage of the word "humanist" very well.

With no context, humanism sounds like it's just something pertaining to humans. Also, at least to my perception, the word has a built-in positive valence. But, it has a much more specific meaning: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism

There's a similar dynamic with rationalism: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalism

ah, but here "rationalist" isn't being used in that particular way. One of the reasons it is sometimes put in quotes, I think, is to distinguish it from the meaning that you've linked. A rationalist in that sense is someone who holds the philosophical positions described in that article. A rationalist-in-this-other-sense is someone who, uh, generally has beliefs in some other collection of philosophical positions, and is involved in a certain community/social-circle . It is an unfortunate overloading of a term.

Some have given a definition of rationalist (or rationalist-adjacent) as : Eliezer Yudkowsky is a rationalist, and anyone who spends a lot of time arguing with rationalists is a rationalist.

This is quite a different thing that the sense of the word described in the Wikipedia article.

Personally, I'm rather fond of the group, but there are still cases where I find myself using quote marks when describing it.

Humans aren't rational. Anyone who claims they are, doesn't understand enough about the human condition to offer you any advice that you should care about.

The whole point of rationalism is understanding our biases and cognitive flaws, not to pretend they don't affect us.

I think that's part of the problem. The stated goal is to understand our biases and flaws, and to become "less wrong." But it's easy to fall into a trap where one claims to get better at such biases, therefore making them more rational than people who haven't, therefore making their position superior - hence re-enforcing their biases.

A lot of the public declarations coming from "rationalist" communities remind me of public declarations of sin coming from certain religious groups. Though it presents itself as self-effacing, it ends up being affirming. You rarely see the thought extend to "therefore, outgroups that I've been deriding perhaps know better than my ingroup."

Particularly interesting when there are biases that have almost become dogma in certain "rationalist" circles, such as the preoccupation with godlike artificial superintelligence.

Lots of very in depth book reviews. Scott is a psychiatrist, so lots of posts on the replication crisis in the soft sciences. And plenty of "rationalist" posts, which are just deep thoughts on culture and society. I'm still not entirely sure why he's controversial. He's definitely very very smart. Unfortunately the rationalist community has a few people who will start arguing that IQ is at least partially genetic, therefore IQ is also tied to race somehow... I think? So watch out for those landmines.

Scott is very intentional about not getting into the landmine issues. IMO part of his service to the community is helping define those boundaries for the less... socially aware members of the community (ie, the things you Do Not Discuss).

His article about Hungarian mathematicians and the followup about Israeli Nobel Prize winners definitely hits those landmines.

Link: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/26/the-atomic-bomb-consid...

There should never exist a rubric known as "things you do not discuss" in any society that takes open debate and free expression seriously. Discussion is not violence and it should always be defended as a freedom regardless of how boorish or controversial its subjects. The very idea of such a category is grotesque and cowardly, to start.

When I finally took the time to learn how the proof of The Halting Problem worked, I was fascinated by just how "edge-case" it actually is: it's less a general principle, than a proof that a black-hat exploit can always exist that will break any given halting-prediction algorithm.

With the caveat that I'm a Chomskyan free-speech absolutist, and I generally agree with you: it's not hard to apply the same Halting Problem concept to free expression. Such an exploit can manifest many ways: QAnon, Red Guards, literal Nazis, Woke "Neo-Marxists", etc; but regardless, scale the intersection of extremist ideology and human social behavior until they approach infinity, and it's easy to see how they can (and historically have) resulted in a systemic collapse of free expression and free thought. (This was what Popper was trying to capture in his now-oft-quoted Paradox of Tolerance, which is now ironically over-applied as a lever of pre-emptive intolerance of challenges to orthodoxy!)

I do agree that it's both a categorical and strategic mistake to succumb to an epidemiological model of memetic extremism. Even to the extent that model applies, extremist ideas only spread under social preconditions of susceptibility (as described by Hoffer [0]), and I don't think pre-emptive idea suppression is either right, or wise, or helpful. Extremist ideological infection is more a symptom than a root cause.

And yet: we can still recognize that certain taboos might exist for a reason, such as the one against openly voicing "maybe we should just kill the people who disagree with us". James Lindsay (perhaps the second-most infamous opponent of postmodernist thought) has described postmodernism as a "universal solvent", capable of taking apart any idea. It's not that you never use such a cognitive tool; rather, one uses it cautiously and judiciously, when one has the wisdom to wield it properly. Similarly, we need safe spaces for dangerous thoughts, even of the Popperian or Halting Problem variety; yet it may be appropriate to hold social taboos against those ideas being used casually in polite society and the public discourse, lest they dissolve polite society and public discourse themselves.

[0] https://samzdat.com/2017/06/28/without-belief-in-a-god-but-n...

That's all well and good, but I'd still rather not see a bunch of autistics fired and unpersoned for unwittingly questioning modern dogma. We live in an increasingly religious time; better to go into questioning the orthodoxy with your eyes open.

> IMO part of his service to the community is helping define those boundaries for the less... socially aware members of the community (ie, the things you Do Not Discuss).

Are you talking about stuff like this? https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-f...

I wish more people cited Frances Yates on Bruno - his heliocentrism was a side note even before he attacked Copernicus but he had some fantastic mnemonic techniques

The quality of comments on Slate Star Codex were part of what really made it great. (I assume Yates came to mind because of the comment to that Bruno post. That and many of the other comments to that post did a great job criticizing the argument that curious, intelligent people such as scientists must be irrepressible contrarians.) I hope that continues on Substack.

No, actually I didn’t get that far in the comments - I happen to have a copy of her book The Art of Memory

I just wanted to say I did read and appreciate your followup.

… And now I realise why people don't like SlateStarCodex. (I still like it.)

I'm no historian, but the stuff he wrote about Catholicism doesn't actually seem right. Argued better than I can in [0].

And some of the comments are not just atrocious, but are not argued against[1]:

> I think there are commonly-known models in all four quadrants. For example:

> a. Widely accepted and good fit for reality: (Law of supply and demand)

• “Supply and demand” is a good first-order model for certain market dynamics, but it only explains… at a guess, ⅓ of the economics I personally interact with.

> b. Socially unacceptable and good fit for reality: (IQ tests as a good proxy for mental ability)

• IQ tests are a reasonable proxy for certain, specific axes of mental ability within a subpopulation; the general “IQ tests are a good proxy for mental ability” claim is blatantly absurd.

> c. Widely accepted and bad fit for reality: (Sexism as main cause of gender wage gap)

• “Sexism is not the main cause of the gender wage gap”… I'm less certain that this is wrong, but I have actually done quite a bit of research on it (including reading what Scott Alexander wrote on the topic!) and this is splitting hairs, to be charitable; I think labelling it “rhetoric” is more accurate. No, several of the systemic injustices aren't due to individual people going “aha! I know what I'm going to do today: not pay my female underlings!”, you're right! But everybody already knows this,[2] and that's not what they mean when they say it's due to sexism. Things like a culture of “you only get a raise if you push for it” (not sure how widespread this is) can contribute to this, and that is, when considered in combination with the rest of everything (e.g. men may be “forthright” and “assertive”, but women are “bossy”), a sexist aspect of the culture.

> d. Socially unacceptable and bad fit for reality (Vaccines cause autism)

(The rest of the comment is mostly okay, apart from those three examples above; I'm cherry-picking to make a point, but I think the point's valid.)

These are just trotted out as “obvious if you're one of us”, when they're probably not even correct. You don't go into a room where people say sensible things and think that your association with those people somehow makes what you say sensible, and you certainly don't sit in the audience of an entry-level lecture and assume that your fellow audience-members are all experts in the field, so why assume that you should take as blind truth things you read in the comments of a blog‽

Also, I'm not certain I agree with the message Scott's trying to convey. This uncertainty correlates with my uncertainty about the historical accuracy of his examples: when he has a point he wants to make and finds some evidence after the fact, it's generally obvious that he's doing so (probably because that skill doesn't get much use).


[1]: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/23/kolmogorov-complicity-...

[2]: https://blog.jaibot.com/

Scott has written an intro post about this on the new blog: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/youre-probably-wonderi...

The about page also has some links to more popular articles on the old blog: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/about

Here are some of my favorites that I'd recommend:

The Toxoplasma of Rage: An essay about how more controversial examples tend to get elevated and thinking about why that happens. https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage...

Meditations On Moloch: An essay about how incentives and coordination problems cause systemic societal issues: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

Who By Very Slow Decay: An essay about death in medicine. https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay...

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup: An essay about tribalism https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anythin...

He's a good writer, as other replies mention it came out of lesswrong (see: https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/sequences).

Some lesswrong favorites (mostly Eliezer Yudkowsky):

Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/PeSzc9JTBxhaYRp9b/policy-deb...

A Fable of Science and Politics: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/6hfGNLf4Hg5DXqJCF/a-fable-of...

Pretending to be Wise: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jeyvzALDbjdjjv5RW/pretending...

Local Validity as a Key to Sanity and Civilization: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/WQFioaudEH8R7fyhm/local-vali...

The Bottom Line: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/34XxbRFe54FycoCDw/the-bottom...


For a fun creative fiction one from Scott: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/02/and-i-show-you-how-dee...

From EY: http://www.hpmor.com/

That's a good list. I'm also very partial to

Fearful Symmetry: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/14/fearful-symmetry/

although I seem to be in a minority on that one. I find it immensely calming when the horrors of the Culture War get too much. Also

G.K. Chesterton on AI Risk: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/01/g-k-chesterton-on-ai-r...

for a giggle, although it'll probably only appeal to Chesterton fans.

Oh, and to anyone working through this list, please take the trigger warning on Who By Very Slow Decay seriously. He's not kidding.

Thanks - I’d probably also add this one to my list: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7X2j8HAkWdmMoS8PE/disputing-...

I swear 90% of arguments are basically that blog post.

Not medical advice, but I enjoyed reading https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/07/10/melatonin-much-more-th..., actually just in general all of the "much more than you wanted to know" posts are great.

Here is a decent selection of top articles: https://medium.com/handwaving-freakoutery/top-slate-star-cod...

I didn't write this, but I second most of the selection.

Also for the uninitiated, what is this post about?

Why were people trying to cancel him, cancel the Times, and more?

Summary: https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/22/nyt-is-threatening-my-...

NYT was writing a piece about rationality, SSC, lesswrong, east bay, maybe AGI, etc.

Evidence suggests it wasn't a hit piece (at least initially) and was just about the rationality community/bay area influence since a lot of people don't really know about lesswrong.

As part of it NYT said they had to reveal his real name and he asked them not to (details described in that blog post). This created controversy.

I’m sorry, rationality, lesswrong, AGI?? Adjusted gross income?

Et Cetera?

A lot of people know what this is and it bothers them?

I’m still lost, so I looked at that older blog post and its also not explained there and the linked subreddit is the “non political one”

so, reading the room here, there is a political context and those above terms are political and I should google something about “lesswrong politics”

I’ll maybe check out that particular rabbit hole in synthesizing but can you enlighten me further because I still have no idea what you’re talking about

AGI = Artificial General Intelligence, watch this for the main idea around the goal alignment problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUjc1WuyPT8

They're explicitly not political, lesswrong is a website/community and rationality is about trying to think better by being aware of normal cognitive biases and correcting for them. Also trying to make better predictions and understand things better by applying Bayes' theorem when possible to account for new evidence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes%27_theorem (and being willing to change your mind when the evidence changes).

It's about trying to understand and accept what's true no matter what political tribe it could potentially align with. See: https://www.lesswrong.com/rationality

For more reading about AGI:


- Superintelligence (I find his writing style somewhat tedious, but this is one of the original sources for a lot of the ideas): https://www.amazon.com/Superintelligence-Dangers-Strategies-...

- Human Compatible: https://www.amazon.com/Human-Compatible-Artificial-Intellige...

- Life 3.0, A lot of the same ideas, but the other extreme of writing style from superintelligence makes it more accessible: https://www.amazon.com/Life-3-0-Being-Artificial-Intelligenc...

Blog Posts:

- https://intelligence.org/2017/10/13/fire-alarm/

- https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/artificial-general-intelligenc...

- https://www.alexirpan.com/2020/08/18/ai-timelines.html

The reason the groups overlap a lot with AGI is that Eliezer Yudkowsky started less wrong and founded MIRI (the machine intelligence research institute). He's also formalized a lot of the thinking around the goal alignment problem and the existential risk of discovering how to create an AGI that can improve itself without first figuring out how to align it to human goals.

For an example of why this is hard: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/4ARaTpNX62uaL86j6/the-hidden... and probably the most famous example is the paperclip maximizer: https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/paperclip-maximizer

Great yeah that sounds like something I wish I knew existed

Its been very hard to find people able to separate their emotions from an accurate description of reality even if it sounds like a different political tribe, or moreso that people are more willing to assume you are part of a political tribe if some words don't match their political tribe’s description of reality even if what was said was most accurate

I’m curious what I will see in these communities

I recommended some of my favorites in another comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25866701

I found the community around 2012 and I remember wishing I had known it existed too.

In that list, the less wrong posts are probably what I'd read first since they're generally short (Scott Alexander's are usually long) and you'll get a feel for the writing.

Specifically this is a good one for the political tribe bit: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/6hfGNLf4Hg5DXqJCF/a-fable-of...

As an aside about the emotions bit, it’s not so much separating them but recognizing when they’re aligned with the truth and when they’re not: https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/emotions

Good... content. I don't really have a good summary except that he digs into random issues (and thought experiments) with an intellectual honesty and wit + clarity that I haven't found elsewhere.

Popsci about "nootropics" and QI.

This link is the new home of Scott Alexander, of Slate Star Codex fame; he stopped blogging for much of last year, but has returned. Here's to many more years of intensely interesting in-depth inquiries packed with perfect puns.

> I got emails that were like that, only it was grad students. Apparently if you have a blog about your field, that can make it harder to get or keep a job in academia. I'm not sure what we think we're gaining by ensuring the smartest and best educated people around aren't able to talk openly about the fields they're experts in, but I hope it's worth it.

This is very concerning, because it lends credence to the general public's idea of an "ivory tower," as well as academia's own idea that it can somehow achieve perfect neutrality through apersonality.

Hi, I work in academia and disagree with the author’s take.

My admittedly anecdotal experience doesn’t support that. The worst perception I can think of would be a (likely older) PI wondering why you’re writing blog posts instead of papers. Blogs are generally seen favorably - they can be a friendly introduction to your work or act as a knowledge base/wiki for how-tos or popular tools.

I know many professors who blog frequently and/or encourage trainees to have a personal website; a PI I work with now has a blog and encourages his members, particularly the junior ones, to contribute for the exposure; and I have multiple grad school friends who blog regularly - so far without negative consequence.

Also, if you want to consider twitter “microblogging”, it only takes a few minutes of browsing scitwitter to debunk the idea that scientists don’t talk about their field online (even unprofessionally). It’s really the only thing they talk about.

> Hi, I work in academia and disagree with the author’s take.

There is a logical fallacy, and I don't recall its name, but it refers to rejecting an argument only because it does not confirm one's personal experience

> a few minutes of browsing scitwitter to debunk the idea that scientists don’t talk about their field online (even unprofessionally)

Perhaps these scientists' work is uncontroversial, or they are protected, or you are right and Scott is wrong. Spend some time with Slate Star Codex and the new blog, and you might become aware of counter examples which you would not become aware of by browsing Twitter

He alludes to an example in the article

> none of us are safe - not the random grad student with a Twitter account making fun of bad science

From that I assumed that the sort of people being referred to are those who are debunking or criticising work by already established scientists. I'm speculating here but I would guess it hurts their chances because those who do the hiring don't want to risk taking on someone who might criticise their science in future.

With some searching I found an example of a grad student being doxxed and harassed for criticizing a powerful professor, but in philosophy, not science. I wonder what incident Scott refers to, if any


This is also concerning because it contradicts the general sentiment here on HN that You Should Be Blogging. Maybe you shouldn't... or at very least, there's more to consider than first appears.

You should be blogging...and you can, as long as you avoid saying any of the Things You Can't Say, which seems to mean following a template, which means the content gets bland and repetitive - unless it is technical, in which case it's special interest and the censors lose interest.

(That's actually my best guess as to why HN has stayed high quality all these years - minimal politics.)

Bloging, or writing, is just thinking out loud. Thinking about the real world outside of technology can easily yield heterodox conclusions that are better off not published these days.

> avoid saying any of the Things You Can't Say

Ha ha, we should be so lucky. No, you also have to Say the Things You Must Say, or you're suspect.

Good luck!

Things You Can't Say change over time though, so you can't keep archives either.


Please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN. It's tedious. That's the real sin here.

I can find such comments and threads if you wish. By your own admission in our past interactions you have stated there are certain topics you remove because you think they lead to flamewars. That may actually be a good thing, and your reason for doing so may be justified. However, this also means there are indeed topics that cannot be discussed on HN. Therefore, it is false for anyone to claim PG's forum does not enforce some form of censorship.

Doing more of exactly what I just asked you to stop is not cool.

Sure, HN is moderated, that's obvious. Obviousness-spun-as-sinisterness is at the far end of the tedium spectrum, which is why I asked you to stop.

You asked me to stop posting u substantive comments in response to my sarcasm, so I substantiated my claim. I also explained you are not doing anything sinister, that your actions are entirely explicable through well intentioned and reasonable motivations. Yet, this does not preclude censorship and a set of topics which are considered Things You Cannot Say. I don't believe any of this is controversial, and in fact is entirely consistent with Paul Graham's essay. There are taboo subjects, and he says the best thing is to not talk about them openly. And I would imagine if he ran a forum the same would go for the forum: go ahead and censor all the distracting controversial subjects.


A lot of things that may be sound career advice in SF tech scene would make terrible advice for other fields and other places. One example is frequent job hops. SF software companies may not judge you negatively because of it, but Zurich architecture firms (as a random example) might.

Depends on what you mean by frequent. At a SF software company, and I look at multiple 6-9 month stints as very big red flags that must have overwhelming evidence in the other direction to be considered. OTOH 2 - 3 years is perfectly fine; I can maybe imagine “Zurich architecture firms” viewing 2-3 years as flighty, if they are used to employees that used to be there decades.

I'd love blogging or doing YouTube videos but there are enough crazy people out there I'd rather stay anonymous my entire life

The reason doesn't have to be political (at least in the sense of national politics). It could be something more prosaic: "if morpheuskafka writes about string theory and conference interactions they could just as well write something negative about how things are done around here."

And in fact morpheuskafka could write something negative about their institution, even (and most likely) accidentally. But then again morpheuskafka could write something positive about their institution, even (and most likely) deliberately.

From my personal experience this is 100% true.

If you have time to write blog posts, you're obviously not serious enough about your research. That's the general sentiment.

I'm still not sure what this means though. Just that if you keep a blog your political leanings might slip out, which will cause you to get fired if you are discovered to hold conservative views?

No, you can get punished for holding any negative views about your field.

This whole episode serves as an interesting datapoint in how long a public person needs to stay out of the spotlight in order to return to their pseudoanonymity after being threatened to be outed by the media. It's not common to face such a threat, and it's not common for those threatened this way to even try to return to their former online identity and life.

Somewhat reassuring to me that it's this short.

I'd not treat it as a data point for that - he's no longer anonymous at all, since he signed his name at the end of the post, and links to his psychiatry practice. It looks like it took him that much time to decide that he can make posting under his full name work for him.

You're quite right, and I stand corrected. Although it's not the datapoint I suggested previously, I suppose there is another datapoint to be gathered: for someone in his position, perhaps nuking the world (physical and virtual) is the only way forward when dealing with such a threat.

He basically had to quit his job and career as a psychiatrist as well as delete SSC in a way, in order to continue with his online no-longer-pseudo-identity.

He didn't quit his career, but he had to quit his job. Fortunately, he's at the stage where he can start his own practice (a somewhat experimental, no less). But if this situation happened just a few years earlier, it would most likely have destroyed his career prospects completely.

He actually decided to drop his pseudonymity a few months back, but it took time to get himself in a position where he could do that responsibly.

Interesting, that explains how he thinks he Streisand Effected himself.

> So I'm going to try to start a medical practice that provides great health care to uninsured people for 4x less than what anyone else charges.

Interesting note buried way down in the article. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this in future.

Let's be honest. It's still going to be unaffordable for those without insurance.

This is such a defeatist attitude. Single payer healthcare is a pragmatic way forward, but we should also aspire to have services available at functioning market prices outside of insurance rules. Private pay will always be more patient defined and nimble.

It's a realistic attitude. Doctors want to make SWE salaries too.

There's a trend of cutting out the middleman insurance company specifically because physicians want to continue to make competitive salaries and provide medicine.

> Doctors want to make SWE salaries too.

SWEs make extremely high salaries in the US because there are too few of them and there is way too much "dumb cash" waiting to be invested.

The problem with doctors is that unlike many in the general IT field, they are saddled with absolutely enormous student loans which they only ever can pay back if they make enough money.

Isn't Scott too old to have experienced enormous loans?

Nope - he's charging $35/month.

For how many hours?

20 minutes / month + unlimited emergency phone calls and emails. It’s mainly intended either as a way for people with long term psychiatric needs to be able to get medications and be monitored without having to also have an expensive health insurance plan, or in conjunction with a separate therapist.

Is the first appointment an hour?


You know the details are on the site, right?

  > Therapists are supposed to be blank slates, available
  > for patients to project their conflicts and fantasies
  > upon. Their distant father, their abusive boyfriend,
  > their whatever. They must not know you as a person.
I don't read Slate Star Codex, nor do I visit a therapist. I don't know if this is something that's peculiar to the author, or genuinely universal among therapists. But it sounds nuts and... kind of creepy? I'm happy to believe in a culture of professional detachment among therapists and doctors, but to believe that you are a blank slate seems kind of delusional.

The therapist has some perceived race, gender, and age. They dress a certain way. They have a certain accent when speaking. Patients may prefer a male or female therapist, or a therapist who shares some other background with them. Patients probably want the confidence that their therapist will not dismiss their concerns and will actually help them make progress.

At this point calling the relationship a "blank slate" seems delusional. Sure, maybe the therapist is such a perfect mimic that they're not actually female, middle-aged, Black, or have experience working with trans patients. Maybe this is all just a mirage projected by their professionalism. Maybe there is no therapist, and I'm just sitting on a couch alone, in an empty room.

It is an ideal, not a reality.

The idea is that you can discuss your issues without filtering them through what your perception of the therapist is.

e.g. If you know that your therapist is a Christian mother of three, you might hold back on how your mother in law is pressuring you to have more children for religious reasons and you think its bullshit. The issue the therapist wants to deal with is your relationship with the in-laws, not whether she agrees on a moral basis with the in-laws.

Therapists need to have a very hard line between personal and professional for their own reasons as well. It is not a business where you want to be mixing different parts of your life.

For these reasons it is a reasonable effort to try and remove as much of yourself as possible from the counselling relationship.

It's not that the therapist doesn't exist in context, its that who the therapist is shouldn't influence the way you present to the therapist.

Now, it would be ultra-ideal if everyone knew and confidently believed that the therapist could and would look beyond her own background—that she would suppress any personal offense and would be good at understanding and non-judgmentally discussing the perspectives of everyone involved.

However, I imagine most people wouldn't believe that, and it's probably not true either. Therapists are humans.

Of course, this kind of raises the question: So therapists have their own biases and we're just blinding ourselves to which ones they have? Is that actually an improvement? (Cf. the koan where Sussman says "I am wiring a neural net randomly because I don't want it to have any preconceptions".)

Perhaps the therapist having to pretend she has no background actually kind of helps her disconnect from it. A kind of theatre. (And maybe the brain having a habit of "when in this office talking with patients, don't connect anything to your real life" is useful.) But I would still wonder if it would work better to bring the issue into the open, and say "Well, I do have this background, which might lead me to think x, but I will consciously try to counteract that." Perhaps there are cases where this second strategy is indeed better (if the patient comes in thinking "I expect almost everyone to be prejudiced against me", and the psychiatrist says "Well, you're right, but I have lots of practice in noticing my prejudices and setting them aside, and it is a point of professional pride for me to do that"), but most of the time it's just faster and less distracting to not mention the issue at all.

I guess the idea is that it is hard for the patient to constantly internalise the fact that the therapist is talking to him as a professional and not as a private person. The patient shouldn't have to be constantly considering this distinction.

Therefore, it's easier for the patient not to know the therapist-as-a-person.

In addition to what others have said - most of the work you do with a therapist is emotional. It's okay for the therapist to have a skin color, perceived sex, perceived age, manner of dressing, accent, etc. - as long as those things just are. The therapist's job is to stay neutral, to have no particular emotional attachment to any of these qualities. That way, when there is a moment of strong emotion in the session, it's almost certainly introduced by the client, and then can be explored by them.

There's ironically a good example of this in the blog post:

"For you, the day [I burned] your village was the most important day of your life. For me, it was Tuesday."

Therapists can have race, gender, and age in the same way that it can be Tuesday. They just can't have race in the sense of having their village burned.

(And FWIW, it's very difficult to have an effective blog devoid of emotional content. I tried once and got accused of being a Markov Chain.)

Imprinting and transference are real things, and the more you see the caregiver as a fully fledged human being, the more appealing that trap is.

This is just begging the question, I think! Transference being real requires the idea that the caregiver is a blank slate onto which projection occurs.

Did you ever develop a crush on someone who had a big positive impact in your life? Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if those feelings are about the person or what they did for you.

If you don’t know the person all that well, it’s plain to see.

Did you ever develop a crush on someone you never really interact with, and who had no positive impact in your life? Perhaps someone who has had a less-than-positive impact?

You don't know the person that well.

He does say "is supposed to be". He's describing some kind of ideal to live up to, not the way anything can actually be once you get down to messy reality.

Yes, I'm questioning it as a goal.

I don't know what fraction of patients project their abusive boyfriend onto their therapist. That honestly sounds like an account of Freudian psychotherapy from 100 years ago.

If I was to seek therapy for myself, I would actively seek a therapist who looked and sounded likely to help me. I would hope to have a conversation with them about their background, their experiences, and their familiarity with my culture. If I come from, say, India, I would want the therapist to understand my relationship with my parents, instead of medicalizing it.

And if I did walk into a therapist's office and find it barren and grey, and the therapist completely and utterly avoidant of any personal topics... Well, that would remind me of getting polygraphed at the NSA Friendship Annex just outside the BWI airport, by a cold and hostile interviewer. That's not a fun experience.

> I would actively seek a therapist who looked and sounded likely to help me.

And a therapists goal is to feel like that person for all of their prospective clients, ideally. The less you can pigeonhole them into social/religious/political/etc boxes the better, from this point of view.

Yes, and I object to that goal being either achievable or reasonable.

I'm sure some therapists believe it is both, and that they are some kind of universal therapists.

I assume these are the therapists I hear about from friends and online acquaintances when they describe a therapist as friendly, approachable, but ultimately both clueless and hopeless.

I have mostly heard this kind of feedback from non-white and LGBT friends, for what it's worth.

> I have mostly heard this kind of feedback from non-white and LGBT friends, for what it's worth.

It seems to me that your implication is that by therapists skewing white and non-LGBT, it becomes harder for patients to open up. Either the patient has some prejudice they can't get past, or the therapist is actually entirely clueless as to the patient's lived existence. The only way around this would seem to be having more non-white and LGBT therapists.

But even with this problem, does it not still make sense to reduce the number of identity facets? The more variables there are, the harder it becomes to find a match, especially for those having a hard time as it is.

We are woefully uneducated about even the concept of mental health.

I don't know of any therapist that doesn't have a specialty and figuring it out is required before you get licensed by the state (CA) simply due to the different licenses available.

There's an undeniable undercurrent of racism if the goal is for the therapist to be a blank white slate for their client, but you misunderstand the goal. The goal, in being a blank slate, is for the client to be comfortable expressing themselves. The therapist, as a professional, is working on behalf of their client and can't let personal opinions that conflict with the client's beliefs come to bear, except in the most exceptional of cases when someone is in imminent danger.

If the client is scared, to the point of not being able to bring it up, that their therapist will judge them and yell at them and verbally abuse them, therapy won't work. If I hate 'lesswrong' and think its stupid, but yet my therapist has built their online presence and career on it (as SSC has), merely knowing my therapist's beliefs on the matter will pollute any response I could have. A good professional therapist can detach their personal opinion of 'lesswrong' from the client's need to rant, and the theraputic value in helping the client figure out their underlying feelings and possible trauma, and to NOT engage with the concept itself. Thus, by not knowing a therapists personal views on every possible thing they might tweet about, this is achievable. If not achievable, then at the very least, worth striving for, for the client's sake. The therapist's goal is to heal the client. The therapist's opinion on misc topics is irrelevant to healing the client.

Is it reasonable? Therapists go to school for years and practice for hundreds of hours, to pursuit of that goal. Some are more successful than others, and still, falling in love and transference - by therapist or client, is simply an occupation hazard.

HOWEVER. This is not the same as saying the therapist needs to not be a human being, otherwise we might as well have therapy by texting an AI (Note to VCs: I know it's stupidly tempting, now's not the time, GPT-3 and ML models a therapist do not make). It's incredibly important, on a personal level, that you find a therapist who specializes in the kind of work you need to do on yourself, in a compatible way, and has some level of similar lived experience.

If I have to explain what the word "woke" means to my therapist wile I'm working through racism in my personal life, that's just not going to work. If I have to explain to my therapist, why being asked to touch my hair, or being told "smile, it makes you prettier", is rage-inducing, it's really just not going to work.

Find a therapist that's like you - in looks, and gender identity+orientation because therapy needs that commonality to serve the client well, but also recognize that's easier said than done.

Having a bunch of psychiatrists and psychologists as friends (met one, then made friends with their friends) this is a very universal thing among therapists.

To the point it's almost regulation via their ethics codes, that they take a test on made by the 'board' of psychology. It's definitely an industry norm. I found out 'the board' is mostly equivalent to Psychologist DMV and is run by the state, and is about as pleasant to interact with.

Did you read the rest of the paragraph that this quote is from? He goes into quite a bit more detail about this and provides several links if you want to learn more.

The sarcastic reply comment was downvoted for a reason, but I will point out the HN guidelines do specifically request you don’t imply someone hasn’t read the article.

The fact that this thread went downhill immediately does indicate this might be a really good guideline.

But I didn't imply anything, I asked if he had read it.

I wasn't trying to be rude, I legitimately think that the rest of that paragraph was a really good answer to his question.

(fwiw) you could have left the question out and your second sentence would have conveyed your intent perfectly.

I know you didn’t mean it that way.

It’s why the guideline is so brilliant, imho.

It is showing us something that isn’t obvious.

You are being well meaning, but there’s something about the question ‘did you read ...’ that gets people going when they are maybe on the fence about how combative they want to be.

No, I presciently scrolled through the essay to find this particular passage, so I could copy-paste it here, and didn't read any of the essay leading up to this passage or anything after that point. My reaction is an unmitigated hot take that I have taken zero time to consider.

Is that the theory you were trying to validate with your question?

No, I was actually really trying to figure out why you didn't mention the rest of the paragraph. It seemed like a good answer to your question. If you didn't think it was a good answer, it would have been helpful to know why you thought it fell short.

People are just really confused why you isolated that passage for criticism, when it is embedded within a long paragraph that makes it abundantly clear that Scott isn't saying remotely what you seem to think he's saying. He's not denying that he has a perceptible race or a gender. He's saying that knowledge of the therapist can be a distraction, and therapists generally see it as a duty to minimize such distractions, which makes fame an obstacle to his professional effectiveness.


Not sure where you get the idea that being a blank slate means you can't have cultural competence, awareness of race, etc.

Some people sure are eager to project onto Scott's words the wrong ways they're sure he's thinking.

What's the TL;DR?

Who is this? Why are they important? Why would NYT write about them? And threaten them?

Sorry there's just so much text I don't have time to read through it all, but I'm curious!

Scott Alexander, a very, very popular blogger deleted his blog because the NYT was going to dox him. After uprooting his life to deal with that he has returned to blogging. Many people expressed their support, for which he is very grateful. The NYT is still committed to doxxing people if they feel like it, which Scott abhors. As part of radically changing his life he quit his previous psychiatrist job and is going to see if it’s possible to make a living treating the uninsured for a lot cheaper than most psychiatrists. He signs off with his real name.

So just now I did a small experiment. I used Google to try to figure out his last name. It was pretty hard, took me a good ten minutes, but not so hard once I went to image search.

On the other hand, once I had his last name, I typed it into Google and I immediately had search suggestions for slate star codex.

So if, as I understand it, the worry was that patients of his would discover based on his actual name that he was writing on the side, well, that cat was well out of the bag NYT or not...

The results of that experiment are badly confounded by the recent kerfuffle and in particular that experiment yielded the other result previously.

I tried this when Scott first posted about the NYT article, and the cat was not out of the bag then.

Robin Hanson had a 2013 blog post titled "Hail Scott Siskind" - the surname was redacted from both the post title and the URL slug sometime between 8 Jan [1] and 24 June 2020 [2] (Slate Star Codex was deleted on 22 June 2020 [3]).

So if a patient had googled "Scott Siskind" before the NYTimes contacted him, they may well have found the post linking the name to the blog.

[1]: https://web.archive.org/web/20200701000000*/https://www.over...

[2]: https://web.archive.org/web/20200701000000*/https://www.over...

[3]: https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/22/nyt-is-threatening-my-...

At the end, he says his name is Scott Siskind. Is that a pseudonym? Was Scott Alexander a pseudonym? Did he change his name?

Scott Siskind is his real name while Scott Alexander is his pseudonym that he’s used for writing online.

Alexander is his middle name

Alexander's name was public (in fact: it was, before the drama occurred, exposed by one of the most naive possible Google queries for it --- as well, some of his better-known writing was originally published under his real name) prior to his encounter with the NYT; Alexander's demand was that the NYT pretend the fact of his name was a secret. The principled arguments about how the NYT was in the wrong revolve around an NYT story simply being more visible than the other public places you could read his name; of course, that's true for practically anybody and any source, the NYT being one of the most visible sources in the world.

He gives good reasons for not wanting his name more public than it already is; they're hard to argue with. But some genies are hard to put back in the bottle, and reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which the NYT is obligated to help with the attempt.

> reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which the NYT is obligated to help with the attempt

Just framing the issue this way tilts the playing field in the NYT's favor. As Scott says in the article, in the NYT's worldview, they start with the right to dox anyone they like, but if you make a strong enough case, maybe they'll decide not to dox you. But why should the right to dox be the default? Why shouldn't respecting everyone's privacy be the default?

The notion that everyone is entitled to cooperative anonymity is a message board meme, not an actual norm of society. It has never been the case that journalists have honored a right to public pseudonymity. I am allergic to the argument that, because something is a norm on HN or Reddit, that norm binds on the rest of the world. HN and Reddit are in a variety of ways fucked up places that operate on principles not necessarily compatible with civil society --- nor is that HN's job!

There are comparable norms on HN that you can imagine someone trying to infect the real world with. For instance: on HN, it violates a norm to pull in things someone has said on other sites (like Twitter or Reddit) as a way of impeaching their authority in a discussion here. That norm makes sense on HN; the collaborative discussion we are having here doesn't work if people flagrantly violate it. But that's a downright dysfunctional norm to import into ordinary life, where the things people say in different places are profoundly relevant to their reputation and credibility.

In multiple very real ways, "journalism" is about doxing, the way medicine is about pharmaceuticals, or woodworking is about joinery.

> It has never been the case that journalists have honored a right to public pseudonymity.

Even if this is true, that doesn't make it right.

> ordinary life, where the things people say in different places are profoundly relevant to their reputation and credibility

That depends on why you are interested in their reputation and credibility. I'm not saying there are never cases where it's justified to reveal things the person would rather not reveal. But "we're writing a story and we have a policy" is not enough justification (even if the policy is consistently understood by all the newspaper's employees, which it doesn't seem like it was in this case). There needs to be an actual reason why people have a right to know details about a person that that person would rather keep private, and it has to be a strong enough reason to outweigh that person's choices.

In this case, we're talking about someone's blog, and the whole point of a blog is that it stands or falls by what is written there and what is referenced there, and personal details about the writer that aren't included are irrelevant. So it seems like this is an obvious case where a choice to remain anonymous should be respected.

No, it doesn't depend on why. You hear this all the time on message boards; for instance, it's at times been an article of faith around here that reference checks aren't OK, unless they're directed specifically to people candidates provide as references. But that's not how reputation works in reality! In reality, people can share unfavorable information about you for their own reasons and, as long as that information isn't false, there really isn't much you can do about it. Nor should you be able to! You can't coerce random people into not sharing true things about you.

You italicize "blog", like there's some important norm of "blogging" that was violated here, but Alexander wrote that blog for years under his own name, and, as I said upthread, some of his better-known pieces originally bore that name. I get that he had a bad experience when employers came across it, and can totally understand why he'd want to undo the decision to publish his name. But that doesn't mean he can.

God help me if I ever try to, like, run for village trustee where I live, and someone thinks to look my name up on this site. Can I reasonably ask the Chicago Tribune to forget about my real name, and use some different one instead? If not, where's the line between me and Alexander?

Ultimately, I think the NYT made the right decision here: that Alexander simply isn't important enough to publish a profile under these fraught circumstances. But the next person in this situation might not fit that fact pattern; they might actually be important, not just a "blogger", and it'll be important that nobody in the NYT buys into this message board kabuki dance about how we have to cooperate to maintain a psuedonymity anybody who can reach Google can puncture.

> You hear this all the time on message boards

To be clear, the norm I am describing has nothing to do with "message boards" or even with the Internet. It has to do with the stated justification for journalists publishing information about people that they would rather keep secret. That justification is "the public's right to know". That has always been the stated justification, for as long as there have been journalists. And in cases where that justification did not apply, journalists were supposed to not publish that kind of information. That is not something that Internet message boards invented.

Alexander's point is basically that the mere fact of him writing a blog, even a blog that got popular, did not mean the public had a right to know personal information about him that he chose to keep secret. (Yes, I know it wasn't actually secret, but it was still, as he notes in the article, quite a bit more secret than it would have been once published in the NYT. More on that below.) I agree with him.

> it's at times been an article of faith around here that reference checks aren't OK, unless they're directed specifically to people candidates provide as references

I agree there is no such "rule" in reality, but this has nothing whatever to do with journalism or journalistic norms, which is what is involved in Alexander's case, so it's irrelevant to this discussion.

> In reality, people can share unfavorable information about you for their own reasons and, as long as that information isn't false, there really isn't much you can do about it. Nor should you be able to! You can't coerce random people into not sharing true things about you.

In terms of what people can do, yes, you are absolutely right. People can do these things, and there isn't much one can do to stop them.

But that in no way means they should do these things just because they can.

> You italicize "blog", like there's some important norm of "blogging" that was violated here

No, I italicized "blog" to make the point that it's not a big deal. It's just stuff that someone wrote about stuff that interested him. It's not nuclear weapons secrets or diplomatic communications or official pronouncements whose provenance needs to be verified. In short, it wasn't the kind of thing where "the public's right to know" was even involved.

> Alexander wrote that blog for years under his own name

No, he wrote a different blog, which, as he explains explicitly in the article (and as you note), he took down when he realized that having it under his own name was causing issues. The blog of his that the NYT wanted to write about was not the one he wrote under his own name, and had no visible connection with that older blog of his; what's more, the NYT article had nothing to do with that older blog of his, and as far as I can tell, the NYT wasn't even aware of it. So the fact of its existence is irrelevant to any judgment about what the NYT did.

> where's the line between me and Alexander?

Simple: Alexander wasn't running for office. Or doing anything else that would imply "the public's right to know". He was just writing stuff.

> The notion that everyone is entitled to cooperative anonymity is a message board meme, not an actual norm of society ... I am allergic to the argument that, because something is a norm on HN or Reddit, that norm binds on the rest of the world.

Well, luckily, neither Scott nor any of the ancestor comments uses "it's a norm on message boards" as the sole justification for their position. Or, indeed, as justification at all, from what I can see—that seems to be an argument you brought in.

Instead, they talk about the expected negative impacts of name-publishing: death threats, loss of professional opportunities (citing examples of what's happened to other people and to Scott himself in his earlier career), etc., while also saying there's no positive impact to name-publishing. In other words, they argue for the norm on its own merits.

The NYT is free to say "Yeah, we'll cheerfully do this unnecessary net-negative-impact thing for no good reason we've been able to articulate", but they should suffer reputational costs for that. Even if—or especially if—that thing is standard operating procedure for them.

When you begin to publish opinions prolifically, you have to consider that it could result in things like a loss of professional opportunities. You might decide to go ahead and use a pseudonym, but there's no right or expectation in the real world that your works must not be attributed to you.

You can blame the NYT but Scott's basic problem is that he published a bunch of stuff on his blog that could interfere with his practice as a psychiatrist. When you have multiple sources of significant income it's not abnormal for conflicts of interest to arise. It's not really a journalist's responsibility to protect them. The rule that they identify the WHO in their story is a good one.

It could be a norm in journalism that trans people are referred to by their birth names.

In fact, it used to be. It was a bad norm, we changed it.

I don't think this should be an unprincipled exception, that journalists should casually refer to people in ways they don't want to be referred to, unless they happen to be trans.

I think it should be the rule. Because not doing that makes you an asshole. And journalists shouldn't be assholes.

Sure, but this wasn't about calling Lana Wachowski "Lana" instead of "Larry", but rather about disclosing that Lana was formerly known as Larry, which is something the NYT still does.

And, of course, not all norm changes are bad. But I'm suspicious of norms imported from message boards, especially if they have the effect of depriving people of information. Better, in a situation like Alexander's, that the article simply not get written --- which is what happened.

Presumably the NYT would be referencing "Larry Wachowski" for some deliberate purpose, like tying into previous work or detailing some aspect of being trans. Bringing up the past is unavoidable if its an integral part of the story.

This situation is more like reporting on someone who transitioned long ago, didn't do anything of note before then, doesn't broadcast trans as part of their public identity, and yet NYT still felt the need to inform everyone that they used to be a man. We'd rightly question their motives for that unkindness.

One of the most popular beauty vlogger (NikkieTutorials) is trans. She became the most popular before that was publicly known about a year ago.

Would it have been ok for a newspaper to write about "One the most popular beauty vlogger" and then add somewhere in the article: "oh some other factoid she was able to keep hidden all these years: she's trans!"?

> The notion that everyone is entitled to cooperative anonymity is a message board meme, not an actual norm of society.

Is the notion of "right-to-anonymity-on-the-internet" about as old as "the internet is a common thing in human life"? I assume it predates HN and Reddit, but unsure when it started.

> It has never been the case that journalists have honored a right to public pseudonymity.

I imagine this could be answered empirically by finding articles -and the reaction to said articles- that revealed the true identity of a similarly situated pen-name writer. But I'll take your word for it.

Maybe I just come from a different part of the Internet than you do --- the parts I came from involved a little bit more X.25 --- but where I came from, "doxxing" people was a sport, not a transgression. I think this norm really does come from 2000s-era message boards.

Before facebook, my only relevant online identity was a Starcraft handle between 2001-2005.

So you're correct - definitely from different parts of the internet!

> But why should the right to dox be the default? Why shouldn't respecting everyone's privacy be the default?

If there is no danger (legal (i.e. whistleblower sources) or physical) then accountability for people to stand by their /should/ reduce 'fake news' where people can just say whatever they like.

Don't forget that we've just come from a world where the US president would continually cite "people are saying". Which people? Name them.

> accountability for people to stand by their /should/ reduce 'fake news' where people can just say whatever they like

The way you do that is to look at what sources the person gives for the claims they are making. Not by revealing personal details that the person has chosen to keep private, and which are irrelevant to the claims they are making.

Scott Alexander was pretty meticulous about citing sources, so to say he should have been doxxed to "preserve accountability" is way off the mark.

I was responding very specifically to "But why should the right to dox be the default? Why shouldn't respecting everyone's privacy be the default?". I'm not speaking in the context of the article because the article depends on a whole bunch of other articles that were deleted, not linked to, or not published:

> I think the New York Times wanted to write a fairly boring article about me, but *some guideline said they had to reveal subjects' real identities, if they knew them, unless the subject was in one of a few predefined sympathetic categories (eg sex workers)*. I did get to talk to a few sympathetic people from the Times, who were pretty confused about whether such a guideline existed, and certainly it's honored more in the breach than in the observance (eg Virgil Texas). But *I still think the most likely explanation for what happened was that there was a rule sort of like that on the books, some departments and editors followed it more slavishly than others, and I had the bad luck to be assigned to a department and editor that followed it a lot.* That's all. Anyway, *they did the right thing and decided not to publish the article*, so I have no remaining beef with them.

Stopping people from putting out Fake News is less important than protecting people from having their lives ruined by a mob for daring to voice heterodox opinions. Anonymity and Pseudonymity protect the weak, not the strong- in that they protect from punishment.

That's supposed to be covered by the policy of protecting sex workers and the like. I think we all agree with you in spirit and we only differ in how we rate the implementation.

But the point is that it the default shouldn't be being NYT exposing you, unless you can make a appeal that puts in you one of the Socially Correct Categories (according to the NYT!).

I want the default to be revulsion for doxing, and widely-used strong pseudonymity or anonymity, whereas from what you've said it seem you'd rather people's real names were out there by default.

Fundamentally the journalist has to make a call to dox or not.

People who took advantage of tax havens as described in the Panama Papers - good to dox.

People who obtained the Panama Papers - bad to dox.

People who fund special interest groups trying to support $GOOD_GOVERNMENT dissidents (e.g. jan6 activists) - good to dox.

People who fund special interest groups to support $BAD_GOVERNMENT dissidents - bad to dox.

There is a great deal of taste involved. Sometimes they will get it wrong. In the example we have in front of us, it worked itself out in the end. In the case of e.g. _why, it did not work and he supposedly quit the Ruby community.

If you are a dissident and want to remain anonymous I urge you to not rely on anyone to keep your information secret for you. Use signal, tor, etc.

But the nytimes wasn't try to hold him him accountable. They were writing a positive piece about his blog.

The question isn't should you dox your enemies who you are trying to hold accountable. It's should organizations just default to doxing anyone online they write about even when their full name has no relevance to the story and that persons asks them not to?

Should it be illegal? No. Was the NYT a dick about it? Yes

Media in the US is a competitive field, so if a newspaper (NYT or other) withholds information that another media also has access to, then another media will likely publish the story anyway. In the US it's ok to republish facts that were published elsewhere, even if someone had sought at some point for the facts to remain secret. The same principle also gives us things like revenge porn, mugshot publishing, and the like. Some places might have more protections against publishing information, for example when it relates to private persons, but usually in the US what I've seen is that it ends up considered to go against the principle of free speech.

> so if a newspaper (NYT or other) withholds information that another media also has access to, then another media will likely publish the story anyway

and yet, a bunch of other news organizations wrote about the issue without disclosing his name.

Which news organizations are you thinking of? The top tier newspapers are the WSJ, NYT, WaPo, and the LA Times. It's less interesting if, like, Reason wades into the controversy about story and doesn't deliberately poke a stick in Alexander's eye. Frankly, at the point where we're batting the process story around rather than the substantive piece about Alexander, even the NYT would be unlikely to use his real name; what would be the point?

> Which news organizations are you thinking of? The top tier newspapers are the WSJ, NYT, WaPo, and the LA Times.

Does the New Yorker meet your standards? https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/slate-st...

Sure, but again, this is a story about the controversy. I knew Alexander's real name when the story broke a few months ago, and I flagged posts here that used it, because again: what would be the point? But in a profile of Alexander in the NYT? With his name so obviously available? Why would the NYT be obligated to pretend they didn't know what his name was, or to collaborate with Alexander on how best to portray him? They're reporting on Alexander, not for him.

First, you responded to a comment saying other news organizations wrote about "the issue" without using his name with a request for examples, so the New Yorker is one.

Second, the NYT isn't obligated to withhold his name, just like the NYT isn't obligated to pretend what Trump says makes sense, or to fact-check its own Iraq WMD reporting, or to publish Tom Cotton, or to publish CCP apologia for the Hong Kong crackdown. It's just making a bunch of decisions that positively and negatively impact its reputation. [Considering] publishing Scott's last name was one that negatively impacted it with no appreciable upside; nobody who read a putative article about him without his real last name would have cared.

I think the proposed Alexander article hurt the NYT's reputation among a cohort of potential readers who firmly believe in Crichton's Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect and have weird ideas about journalism to begin with. I don't think it cost them meaningfully. I am certain that the way Alexander handled the situation more or less ensured that his name would be on the tips of lots of people's tongues --- that's the infamous "Streisand Effect" in action.

I don't so much care about Alexander. I won't use his real name, because there's no upside to it for anyone here or on HN. I do care about the idea of Reddit norms infecting journalism; that sounds horrible, because Reddit is atrocious at journalism.

I didn't say it was a large effect, I just said it existed. Do you think there were any negative effects to just leaving his pseudonym to stand, like they did for Banksy?

Editing to add:

> I don't so much care about Alexander. I won't use his real name, because there's no upside to it for anyone here or on HN. I do care about the idea of Reddit norms infecting journalism; that sounds horrible, because Reddit is atrocious at journalism.

You can feel free to use his real name, he does so himself in the article we're discussing.

I don't really see how Reddit enters into any of this apart from you just carrying a weird grudge against it. I don't personally care for Reddit culture either, but it doesn't make a ton of sense to me that it should matter in this case.

Reddit being just a synecdoche for "message board culture in the year of our Gritty 2020".

His concern was not that people familiar with his blog could deliberately find his real name, but that patients who searched for his real name would find his blog, which would make him unable to do his job. He justifies his concern pretty convincingly in the first post on the new blog.

Exactly. The concern was that you'd immediately and mostly find Slate Star Codex (or NYT articles discussing it) when googling "Dr Scott Siskind", i.e. the name of your psychiatrist. The other direction, successfully googling "Scott Alexander real name" is much less problematic.

I buy the concern. It's just not dispositive of the issue.

If I was writing a blog post about an online persona and they requested that I not use their real life name due to fear of job loss or violence, and their given name added no journalistic value to the piece, I'd be a real dick to print their name anyway.

I don't think anyone at the NYT intended to cause him any harm, but organizationally they acted like a dick.

It's your last predicate there, about "journalistic value", that the whole debate take place within. Further: the NYT will studiously refer to Lana Wachowski as Lana, and not Larry, because deadnaming people is a dick move. But the NYT does not avoid pointing out that Lana used to be named Larry.

I don't see any "journalistic value" in linking Scott Siskind to Scott Alexander. I don't remember anyone at the NYT or elsewhere arguing there was any value. (Plenty of publications posted about the incident without dropping his irl name). Do you think there was journalistic value in linking the two in this instance?

The key word in the sentence "I don't see any journalistic value in linking Scott Siskind to Scott Alexander" is "I". But it's also an easy argument to knock down: he wrote other stuff under his real name. It's valuable to know there's a link between those writings and the writings he chooses to surface today.

Unless there are some of his writing I'm not familiar with, he's written under Yvain, Squid, shireoth(sp?) and he's published a journal article under his real name.

Having written something online under your real name is a bar that is so low that effectively everyone meets it.

I think the NYT is obliged to withhold the name of anyone they specifically interviewed, if that person wishes them to.

I literally see this in other newspapers all the time. The NYT is not some magic unicorn.

I don't believe this is the case.

> reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which the NYT is obligated to help with the attempt.

How far was he asking them to go?

I know it's a lot of text, but if you're at all curious, I highly recommend at least giving it a shot. He's such an amazing writer that this post will likely hook you after a few paragraphs. (It did me.)


“At some point I realized most weren't honestly seeking an accounting of racial gaps; It was just something they could stick you with and disqualify you from debating“ Your post is a grade A example of a bad-faith “he’s a racist, and therefore has bad arguments” ad hominem.


I’ve read his blog since 2008 (back when he was posting on LiveJournal). That doesn’t describe him at all. Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Scott knows your accusations to be false.

Yeah. Maybe he could bless us with the story of who he is and what this is all about before we get into the sob story of what was done to him.

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