“I AM BUSY. I AM TRYING TO FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.”
“I…didn’t know it was broken.”
Uriel’s face became more animated, his speech faster.
“IT HAS BEEN BROKEN FOR FIVE WEEKS AND FIVE DAYS. I THINK IT BROKE WHEN I RELOADED NEW ZEALAND FROM A BACKUP COPY, BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHY. MY SYNCHRONIZATION WAS IMPECCABLE AND THE CHANGE PROPAGATED SIMULTANEOUSLY ACROSS ALL SEPHIROT. I THINK SOMEBODY BOILED A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK. IT IS ALWAYS THAT. I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO DO IT, BUT NOBODY LISTENS.”
They let us be...
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!
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").
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.
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.
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.
Also, here's another quote:
> "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."
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.
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. 
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.
 Applied Divinity Studies / Nintil on Substack: https://nintil.com/substack-milquetoast
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Can we stop being so laborious?
Then you'll understand what they actually meant.
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.
Additionally, journalists are just journalists. Sometimes, knowingly or unknowingly, the things they publish work in favour of fascists and fascism.
Good luck to him.
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.
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/).
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.
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.
Essentially second-order paparazzism.
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.
If you download a chrome extension and paste in the provided styles, you can get a pretty good approximation of the original page!
You might want to expand on the problems in case this isn't a fluke.
Great suspender contains malware: https://dafoster.net/articles/2021/01/20/i-no-longer-trust-t...
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.
Not obvious to me. Why didn't they?
And of course you can't generally opt out of the government selling you data (a friend litigated this and lost).
(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 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.
I see he kind of addresses it in his initial post. That description seemed pretty broad and open ended though.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Not that I have a problem with SSC, I think it's a cool blog.
Really it's not derisive, it's self defense.
Its called the “Democratic Party”, and it is a proper noun, which distinguishes it visiually form the common use of “democratic”.
Obama's team launched https://democrats.org/ in 2009 or so. I really think people shouldn't get upset over "Democrat".
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.
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 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.
In general, the quotes in this context signal an ideological opposition.
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?
There's a similar dynamic with rationalism: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalism
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.
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.
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 ), 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.
Are you talking about stuff like this? https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-f...
I'm no historian, but the stuff he wrote about Catholicism doesn't actually seem right. Argued better than I can in .
And some of the comments are not just atrocious, but are not argued against:
> 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, 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).
The about page also has some links to more popular articles on the old blog: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/about
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.
I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup: An essay about tribalism
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/
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.
I swear 90% of arguments are basically that blog post.
I didn't write this, but I second most of the selection.
Why were people trying to cancel him, cancel the Times, and more?
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.
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
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...
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
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 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
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.
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.
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
> 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.
(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.
Ha ha, we should be so lucky. No, you also have to Say the Things You Must Say, or you're suspect.
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.
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.
If you have time to write blog posts, you're obviously not serious enough about your research. That's the general sentiment.
Somewhat reassuring to me that it's this short.
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.
Interesting note buried way down in the article. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this in future.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
Therefore, it's easier for the patient not to know the therapist-as-a-person.
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.)
If you don’t know the person all that well, it’s plain to see.
You don't know the person that well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fact that this thread went downhill immediately does indicate this might be a really good guideline.
I wasn't trying to be rude, I legitimately think that the rest of that paragraph was a really good answer to his question.
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.
Is that the theory you were trying to validate with your question?
Some people sure are eager to project onto Scott's words the wrong ways they're sure he's thinking.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"?
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.
So you're correct - definitely from different parts of the internet!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
and yet, a bunch of other news organizations wrote about the issue without disclosing his name.
Does the New Yorker meet your standards? https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/slate-st...
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 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.
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.
I don't think anyone at the NYT intended to cause him any harm, but organizationally they acted like a dick.
Having written something online under your real name is a bar that is so low that effectively everyone meets it.
I literally see this in other newspapers all the time. The NYT is not some magic unicorn.
How far was he asking them to go?