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The Shameful Decline of Scientific American (medium.com/lessons-from-history)
307 points by throwawaysea 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments



Self-censorship is the other half of this problem. How many of us here have self censored our writing out of fear of painting a bullseye on our backs? The more you have to lose, the more cautious you are. If you’ve spent a lifetime studying a certain field, building a business or becoming a well know expert, you risk having it all taken away if you provoke the ire of the mob. And the mob has nothing to lose and everything to gain by targeting well known public figures.

The result is that absurd ideas enter the public psyche and not one expert will risk their career by contradicting them.

The democratization of publishing is an exciting breakthrough in all of human history. I’d rather have it than not. But this post-truth era that is emerging is worrying.


Woke culture had a purpose but it has become a victim of its own success. The author of the SA article clearly wants to carve out science as biased by the mere fact of asserting that all genes are not equal. They seem to think we are all perfectly one as capable as the other in all things. That is insanity. It leads to a spiral of blame and anxiety as we see ourselves as nothing but victims of the world at large and that we're helpless to do anything about it.


>Woke culture had a purpose but it has become a victim of its own success.

Did it ever really had a purpose? I find that the black, gay, indigenous, movements of the 50s, 60s, 70s and so - that is, before the solidification of "woke" ideology, had much more coherent demands and narratives.

In fact, society wise, they were much more militant too, and in periods when it was actually costly to be in favor of those causes. Now the "woke"-ists are mainly following the easy path, and the top of them, makes a career for themselves (plus the whole supporting industry). Not to mention that at the time, the liberation movements at the time were mostly comprised and fought from by the affected peoples themselves (blacks, gays, lesbians, trans, native americans, etc).

Now it's predominantly white aspirational classes that champion wokism and police the field. They found a way to make this about them (and a way to use it as a class signal between their own, like they'd use their superior music tastes and dress style).


Woke people only ever want a blank slate to which they can apply their ideology. They wont tolerate nature intruding.

Why is there no neuro-psychology component in gender studies for example?


Because gender is a made up thing informed by social norms. Not all societies abide the gender binary. Gender studies are a sociological study because there is no gender without some social structure enforcing it.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_in_Bugis_society

Go learn in some depth of “woke” ideology before getting fired up online about it. Learn it from “woke” people and talk with them and take it seriously and maybe next time you might bring some critical thought to the table instead of the same rote “woke people bad and anti-science” drivel.


>Because gender is a made up thing informed by social norms. Not all societies abide the gender binary.

If you find fringe examples, and force it enough, yes. Because, thousands of years of global civilization are invalidated because of what this or that tribe does.


Yeah, one big problem I have with the woke movement is that they seem to advocate for policies that contradict common sense. And then they back it up by pointing to these extreme fringe examples. And then if you question their results, they tend to just get really angry and insulting, like the comment you replied to.


“Woke” thinking is a critique on those “thousands of years of global civilization” and the example I posted shows that what this “global civilization” has decided and coerced others into treating as the natural way of things just flat out isn’t.

So to say something like that the gender binary is an oppressive and unjust norm in global society because trans, intersex, non-binary, gender-fluid, etc people exist does at least seem more justified when you find that it’s not the only naturally occurring way for humans to categorize themselves.


>and the example I posted shows that what this “global civilization” has decided and coerced others into treating as the natural way of things just flat out isn’t.

There are all kinds of outliers for anything, from child killing to incest, even consumption of shit as part of some rituals. But just because there are outliers doesn't mean that the ways that the huge majority over time and space followed are not natural way of things.

The way of life of this people or that tribe, doesn't nullify the ways of billions upon billions for millenia. It just shows that it's not something like an invilatable physical law - but nobody thought it as such.

Same ways that societies that parents casually would kill their children (like e.g. happens with unwanted daughrers in India) doesn't mean there's not a natural and societal imperative to care for them. Just that social custom, special interests, etc, can go beyond that.

And it's not like they were "coerced" - civilizations and peoples came to the same answers and culture types time and again independently, even to the point of not having geographical connectivity with one another.

>So to say something like that the gender binary is an oppressive and unjust norm in global society because trans, intersex, non-binary, gender-fluid, etc people exist does at least seem more justified when you find that it’s not the only naturally occurring way for humans to categorize themselves.

Well, bi, gay/lesbian, and trans people have existed since the dawn of time (and tons of historical figures have been). It's not like societies didn't know they exist (or had roles for them, as in ancient Greece and Rome).

The norms for societies however were categorized by how the majority is (which is why they were called "norms"), and optimized for what helps reproduce societies and peoples.

Why would societies organize social life based on some minority concerns (as opposed to just respect and give rights to those minorities)?


Actually youre the one with the simplistic, black and white thinking so please lay off the lazy slurs.

Gender has an enormous impact on the human body so the idea that the brain (the most important organ of all) is 100% neutral and unaffected by gender is simply ridiculous.

To try to argue this is pure ideology. Anyone with a bit of commonsense and life experience would agree.

For anyone interested Harald Eia (Norwegian comedian) has done some interesting videos on the topic.

Apparently these videos were significant enough to influence govt policy in Norway

https://vimeo.com/user5971760


"Gender studies are a sociological study because there is no gender without some social structure enforcing it."

Everything is a social construct, right... Really heady, intelligent stuff. Extremely interesting. Mindblowing.

"Not all societies abide the gender binary."

There are also a lot of societies where women are considered inferior and don't have any rights.


Are your trying to say that gender is defined exclusively by presence/absence of Y chromosome? If so should we have a gender for YY? What about those whose genes express with both male and female parts?

Must such distinctions be legally regulated?


No, we don't need laws for every edge case that occurs in .0001% of the population. Nor should we rearrange society for these edge cases or pretend they are hugely significant.


Please see my recent post history about losing a woke friend. I have talked with the woke and taken them seriously. "Wokeness" includes progressive ideas that are important to pursue, but it is also a platform for craziness.


I see small, walled groups with vibrant and varied discussion re-emerging. I hear about new small groups/chats constantly; I'm a party to several. Discussion within is without fear of consequence, ideas are discussed objectively and in earnest. Disagreements are expected and welcome. Sometimes tempers flare but mutual respect is not lost and empathy is high. The soup of the day is candor, and it's delicious.

It's a matter of time until the bullseye fear is replaced with anger and gives way to courage, and until the mob annoys enough people as to lose any persuasion or power it currently holds. It'll take time, but history shows that change is inevitable.


> Discussion within is without fear of consequence, ideas are discussed objectively and in earnest.

It's almost as if the Chatham House Rule is some sort of universal game theoretic truth that keeps getting rediscovered in different fields.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_House_Rule


Where? For the love of rational thinking, where???


That's what I'm wondering as well. On which platforms? Group chats? Discord? Discourse? One I've never heard?

I ask because I've been flirting with the idea of having more closed off groups, playing with using Discourse for it, as it's a self-hosted platform and I can tweak plugins/themes and close it off to the public. But I'm open to others, and more so, really just curious to learn about some of these communities, how or why they've chosen the level of exclusivity/inclusivity that htey have, etc.


Signal, mostly, personally


how did you find them? I don't believe you!


Organically. Immediate circle started one or two groups, and then was told about or invited to others via the Kevin Bacon effect.


I would like to see a moderation system of vouching for new users (or perhaps individual content) where you are penalised if those users post bad content.

‘Invite only’ works for small groups. For more than say 50 people, a planned incursion can occur by getting one mole in and that mole inviting others.


> I'm a party to several

How did that happen, how did you meet them?


Your comment has me wondering about history and whether such previous drastic changes in communication technology have also brought waves of censorship, both by others and by ourselves. For example, with radio, the telephone, or even the printing press. In other words, not only the ability to publish/broadcast, but to have people reply to your publishing or broadcasting. I also wonder if we somehow adapt to it as we learn these new ways to communicate.


The invention of the printing press opened the floodgates to both open, free discussion and wild censorship. This is a good read if you're into that kind of random info: https://brewminate.com/censorship-and-freedom-of-the-press-i...


> if you're into that kind of random info

Almost always, yes. But by a German professor in Journalism and Communications on historical censorship on a website that has "brew" in the domain? Certainly.

Thank you!


A similar thread could be the proliferation of literature meant to help identify and condemn witches with the invention of the printing press, which greatly influenced the witch hunt moral panic that followed.

In contrast, telephones don't amplify messages in the same way, and radio had the drawback of being temporary since broadcasts couldn't easily be recorded and distributed like pamphlets and books.


Oh yeah, the witch hunts! Such an experiment through which we're living, giving people megaphones to communicate to almost anyone on the planet, whether 1-to-1, 1-to-few, or 1-to-many. And as you said, have it be recorded! What I'm typing here from my kitchen table will be sent 'round the world to however many people who are reading now...but will continue to be sent to those people for as long as this website exists and gets indexed by search engines...or longer if it gets picked up by an archive service. For negligible cost to me, practically free. Goodness.


Goodness, indeed. But, in the context of memes, this means ideas no longer have to be beneficial to their human hosts in order to proliferate. It used to be that you’d have to be at least moderately well-to-do (thus, capable financially and biologically) for extended periods of time in order for your ideas to appear in print and be spread. That is no longer the case: an idea might be deadly or ruinous within hours and still have enough time to go viral.


I'm a little lost yet curious, what do you mean by "no longer have to be beneficial to their human hosts in order to proliferate"?


I took it to mean that the idea has escaped into the wider world and its fate is no longer tied to its originator's alone.


Those breakthroughs had gatekeepers, for better or worse. Publishing house owners, newspaper owners/editors, radio station supervisors and owners. For the first time in all of history we can all publish instantly to everyone else at no cost. It’s a very exciting time and is, unsurprisingly, fraught with problems.


Yeah, I agree. The ability to broadcast (and respond to broadcasts) to the world from almost anywhere in the world at any time, and have it recorded in text, audio, video, or more for an indefinite amount of time, so that people can receive it almost at any time from any place, I'd say has no close parallels in human history. The lack of gatekeepers I think is one of the biggest deals. Maybe the printing press gave the lack of gatekeeper, and maybe some forms of radio had that as well, but normally to broadcast to large audiences, there have been gatekeepers. Now, that being said, some platforms are starting to gatekeep at a very high level (e.g. Youtube, Twitter, FB), and many communication forums have lower level moderation (reddit, group chats, email lists, etc), yet, still, huge changes. I try to not say "we're living in an unprecedented time" because I think people use it way too often and it often has more to do with their inability to see similarities across time. And yet, as you've mentioned, we've never had communication like this as a species.


It is not true now. Unless it is published on platforms controlled by select few, most people won't see it.

For example, it looks like a reasonable (evidence-based) discussion on COVID is not possible on Youtube unless it reflects what google censors think the current scientific truth should be https://youtube.com/watch?v=5iABaxRWGxk&list=PLSl6im8mc0fIRu...


I tend not to self censor too much (though I do on certain topics, where people are ready too jump). I get banned on pretty much every reddit sub that has any kind of political element to it now.


Scientific American has been in decline since their 2003 hit pieces against environmentalist Bjorn Lomberg. All ad-hominem attacks, no science or logic.

Sadly this has infected other publications: Last week The Economist did not do an official obituary of E.O. Wilson, they did a drag queen instead. Wilson was relegated to a four paragraph notice in the science section.

Wilson was badly attacked by Marxists in the 1970's for his book on ants, Sociobiology.


The Economist obituaries are often of unexpected people. That's part of the charm. You never know who you'll find on the last page.

One of my favourites was about the guy who played The Creature from The Black Lagoon. I wouldn't read too much into their choice.


I think there's a significant difference between a hit piece with personal attacks and not dedicating "enough" ( for you) material to a person.


What were their gripes with Lomberg?


Probably that his research shows there are more effective ways to spend resources than reducing CO2.


I listened to him recently and he seems to be looking at the climate problem in exactly the way that we should be - taking a step back, looking at the big picture, what works and what doesn't, instead of focusing on one aspect hysterically over everything else.


It's not Scientific American. It's every medium. The NYT of 2022 is not the NYT of the past, and WP is not the WP of Watergate. And it goes beyond the ideological issues.

In fact, the same declining quality (though not with the same specifics of course) is the case in every industry where they're fighting for increasingly thinner profit margins.

It was the same back in the day (as far back as Mark Twain, Hearst/"Kane" and the first newspapers), where it was all about political and magnate influence to please some sponsor or another, and cheap writing to get people to buy papers.

If journalism had a veneer that it wasn't about the bottom line, that was when money were plenty, because there was a brief (not that innocent, but much better than before and after) period, say between 1940 and 2000), when:

(a) consumer spending got big

(b) advertising budgets grew

(c) while still having no "per page view" metric available,

(d) and before the race-to-the-bottom of the online era, as there weren't hundreds of thousands of competing news sources plus every amateur with a website plus social media plus 24/7 tv

that gave print journalists the luxury of working independently and with more prestige.


Yes.

Popular journalism has never NOT been biased and at worse absolutely awful for those without power. For that reason, freedom of speech and diverse outlets are important. For whatever reason, people just don’t know much about the history of journalism.

- Yellow journalism is a thing and was responsible for riots, murders and possibly a war: https://www.history.com/news/spanish-american-war-yellow-jou...

- The press of the US South openly advocated and encouraged lynchings: https://www.poynter.org/maligned-in-black-white/

- The LA Times apologized for its stereotypical poor chronicling of issues facing people of color: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-09-27/los-angeles...

- The Kansas City Star has apologized for its reporting of minorities: https://eji.org/news/missouri-newspaper-confronts-and-apolog...


Bad journalism in the past, does not mean journalism isn't worse today than it was overall 50 years ago.

This erroneous argument I see frequently is similar to saying "botched surgeries happened in the past, therefor modern surgery is just as bad as it's always been."

...and then I can go on to list three anecdotes like you did about individuals who died under the surgeons knife 50 years ago.

It's not logical. It's also hard to imagine it as being an honest argument. Can you honestly tell us that you haven't noticed a decline in the quality and accuracy of journalism over your lifetime? The contrast from my perspective is blatant and staggering.


If you were born between 1940-2000 then the parent comment would imply that you have seen a decline during your lifetime?


This is accurate, and I'll add this issue also isn't necessarily about "woke culture" at all - the decision makers at these media companies are latching on to memes they think will drive viewership, and in doing so are amplifying questionable voices and poorly-thought-out content, because those decision makers can't tell the difference and likely don't care.

Being "woke" initially just meant acknowledgement of existing social stratification, and was a meme/label just like being a "Chad" or a "Karen". It was a simple state of being, which has been blown out of proportion by the trends OP outlined. Everything gets bastardized and watered down to the point where it isn't the same thing at all anymore. Now, were seeing amplification of people screaming "that's racist" at everything. I think most things deserve scrutiny, bit I agree the bar for that scrutiny needs to be much higher than the SA article.


I agree corporate journalism is a pathetic shell of its former self that can only race bait to get clicks. But I do think there is some good journalism going on in the independent scene. For example, Glenn Greenwald still puts out good investigative journalism, and there is a lot of good content on substack as well. I think this is the future, it just makes sense. In the past, journalists had to group into big organizations as you needed a lot of infrastructure to get the message out - printing presses, delivery workers, etc. Now with the internet all you really need is a single person.


> Glenn Greenwald still puts out good investigative journalism

Everything I’ve seen from Glenn (to be fair, that's filtered by what his fans make popular on other platforms, because I’m not actively following him) since he shed traditional journalistic standards enforced by editorial oversight at the outlet he founded has been fairly naked ideological hackery that demonstrates why he was wise to establish traditional journalistic standards and editorial oversight when he founded the outlet he left for substack.

Previously his ideological bias was pretty clear, but his journalism was nevertheless, if not flawless, at least recognizable as such. Now he's just throwing red meat to an ideologically-allied fan club


This reads more like "he left the Orange-man-bad-echo-bubble/party-line-therefore-he-is-bad".

There are however plenty of journalists to carry the established, tired, party line for mock rage and cheap partisanship. You'd be fine with WP, NYT, the Guardian, and many others, there's no shortage of my-party-right-or-wrong types.


> This reads more like "he left the Orange-man-bad-echo-bubble/party-line-therefore-he-is-bad".

Er, no he was very far outside of that (with very much the same ideological bent he has now) even when he was at the Intercept


Yeah, I don't actively follow him either, and I am aware that he has aligned himself more with the right lately. I do think though that his work on the Snowden case was really courageous - whether or not you agree or disagree with what he did, it certainly takes balls to go up against the NatSec apparatus.


It might have been courageous to take on that story, but Greenwald was also hilariously wrong. If he had bothered to talk to any subject matter expert, he wouldn't have gotten PRISM so incredibly wrong. The New York Times, CNET, etc. were able to get the story right just by being the slightest bit competent.


I think it is hilarious people think Greenwald is aligned to the right just because he is upset with Democrat party making mistakes.

He votes Democraft (despite being upset at them), is gay, and married to a (male) politician of the Brazillian far-left. (not just "left", his party has "socialist" in the name but has people with strong ties to the communist party and several members openly defend communism).


The Democratic party has become dominated by illiberal authoritarians, as I'm sure you've noticed. If you criticize these people, you are the enemy. Just look at Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema.


He left The Intercept because The Intercept wouldn't publish Glenn's story about Hunter Biden because you're not allowed to criticize Biden because TLAs want Biden. Greenwald obviously is mostly known for exposing the crimes of TLAs.


TLAs?


Three letter agencies


That true, because they use a different model (directly supported by people via subscriptions/donations).

This model can produce good journalism in some cases (when the people have taste and the journalist doesn't try to optimize his way to placating larger masses) but can also produce bad journalism (say, subscriptions are what sustain all kinds of crap content creators via things like Patreon to Twitch, and hell, OnlyFans).


The point of journalism is still to make money, not to get the message out.

You're only going to get "good" reporting if it pays well to do so, and pays poorly to do "bad" reporting


Not to mention National Geographic and the Wall Street Journal. Buzzfeed on the other hand has been getting better, from a low base.


It's just capitalism at work. The period between 1940 and 2000, roughly, is when white men had the most disposable income. Unsurprisingly, most media was produced for them, specifically. Now, white men have a very small piece of the disposable income pie. And, we see lots of diversity in media and big media companies trying to appeal to the widest demographic.

So, I'm guessing that Scientific American's readership just changed, and they went with what sells.


This is about declining quality, not increasing diversity (if there's much of the latter).

Today it's mostly cheap gossip (even from major media), rage-inducing pieces, shallow coverage, sponsor ball licking, and "embedded" journalism, that is, exclusives and handouts from the government, the enterprise, and millitary, instead of exposes.

And this goes beyond Scientific American to all media, including those that were already run by and targeted to minorities in the past. It also happened with media in countries without demographic changes, so it's not about whites vs some increased more diverse demographics.

It's the race to the bottom caused by the web, decline of print, rich advertising metrics having them by the balls (not aiming for abstract readers and letting journalists free to write, but being able to micromanage how articles are written to get maximum views).

Newspapers didn't close or go to smaller offices and fire tons of foreign correspondents, staff photographers, and proof editors, for example, "trying to appeal to the widest demographic", but because they couldn't afford them.


The internet has killed most print publication, but the internet does not have good profit margins and so every corner is cut to maintain profitability.

A single ad in a single print issue of the New York Times can easily cost a quarter million dollars. A Google Display ad costs pennies. Online advertisements can no longer support real journalism, only click-bait.

Most news organizations have gone back to the idea that they have to then have users pay subscriptions to view their content online. This, unfortunately breaks the sharability of news stories and creates a frustrating user experience.

I only see two paths forward for print new:

1. Bundle with other services print, streaming, etc etc. Most people won’t pay 20 dollars a month or whatever it costs to subscribe to the NYTimes, but they might if it was part of a package that includes other things.

2. News organizations should go non-profit. This alleviates some pressure to have profit margins and opens up donations as a potential revenue stream.


Something like 15 years ago I was at a conference and happened to sit at lunch table with a top editor of Scientific American. (Maybe the top one at the time, I don't remember.) I had been an enthusiastic subscriber for many years and still subscribed at that point, although I was concerned that it seemed to be dumbing itself down.

I mentioned that to the editor. I forget the exact words I used, but they were an attempt to be diplomatic, and she replied with something to the effect that the magazine had to have an audience. That was not encouraging. It had had an audience for more than 100 years just as it was.

The dumbing down continued until I couldn't enjoy it at all anymore, and I finally cancelled my subscription. That was a sad day. Now get my science news from r/science.


Let me ask you: would you expect the quality/tone/curation of r/science to hold up 50 years from now? Would you be surprised if, in 50 years, r/science didn't have the special sauce it has now?

All things are ephemeral, especially in media. We're just marketed at to believe otherwise.


I had a look at this r/science and honestly can't fathom what that special sauce is supposed to be. A sizable portion of top level comments contain between 5 and 8 words with optional punctuation.

About 1/3rd of submissions and half of the comments appear to be more politically motivated than scientific and mostly US-centric. Just in the current top 10:

> Republican activists perceive Republican senators with very conservative voting records to be moderate if they do not support Donald Trump.

> Study: Emotionally manipulative political ads fail at swaying new voters, but excel at ensuring party loyalty.

> Conspiracy mentality (a willingness to endorse conspiracy theories) is more prevalent on the political right (a linear relation) and amongst both the left- and right-extremes (a curvilinear relation)

I wouldn't be surprised if most people posting there are from the US and from a certain fraction of the population at that. A rather small and uninteresting bubble compared to science as a whole.

Going back to your comment: Neither would I be surprised if r/science 50 years from now was run by a corporation RSCIENCE LTD, drip-feeding "curated" clickbait garbage in-between ads.


> the magazine had to have an audience

They could have opted to bring the audience up to the magazine. But that is The Road Not Taken.


“The foolish crowd is accustomed to place an equal value on the good and the bad: I give it the worst, for that is what it praises.” In this manner a writer of indecent farces was wont to excuse his errors and a sly poet who heard him answered in the following way: A master gave straw to his humble ass and said to him: “Take this, since with this you are content.” He said this so many times that one day the ass became angry, and answered, “I take what you are willing to give me but, unjust man, do you think that I like nothing but straw? Give me grain and you will see whether I eat it.” Let those who work for the public know that perhaps they blame the public in vain, for if it eats straw when they give it straw, when they give it grain, it eats grain.

Tomás de Iriate, Spanish (1750-1791)


As if a magazine can force or entice people to have an interest in complex(-ish) scientific news. Science isn't "cool", and there's so much things available to do out there, which is easy to consume ( even on the same subject). It makes sense they tried to adapt


I can differentiate between editorial choices made to keep the style of the content current and relevant without debasing the substance.


This isn't even about the audience, it's about the writers' careers in media. Have to toe the line or you'll be unhireable.


In the 70s I was an avid SciAm reader. I loved the monthly "Amateur Scientist" column, "conducted" by C. L. Stong. Lots of detailed technical info about how to make a seismometer, a nitrogen laser, an electron microscope, antibubbles, etc. etc. etc.

I have the Amateur Scientist 3.0 CD-ROM, including columns from 1928 to 2001, and I just pulled out an October 1974 column, "Electrostatic Motors Are Powered By Electric Field of the Earth". I remember reading it at the time and noticing that one motor diagram had a commutator drawn so that it shorted the supply for half of the rotation. I wrote a (probably precocious and annoying) letter to C. L. Stong alerting him of the problem, signing it as "Dan Griscom, Age 12". Mr. Stong wrote back, confirming that I was right, and signing it as "C. L. Stong, Age 72". (Still have the letter...)

And yes: the magazine has gone downhill.


I recommend you to have a backup of that CD before it rot down. That seems pretty cool to loose it.

Also, uploading it to Internet Archive wouldn't be a bad idea either :-)


> Amateur Scientist 3.0 CD-ROM, including columns from 1928 to 2001

I know a lot of DataHoarders, who would love to get a hand on this ;-)


Brilliant - reminds me of the detailed self-typed (whiteout and all) reply I got from John Glenn many years ago.


NOVA has been undergoing a similar decline.

The latest episode was about the nanoarchitecture of butterfly wings, which is a fascinating topic.

A researcher mimicked the nano structure onto a piece of metal, a disk the size of a nickel, which is so hydrophobic that two disks close to each other would float, as it had essentially a bubble trapped between them.

The subtext of the show was about "combating climate change". So the narrator ludicrously suggests that it could be used to create floating cities because global water levels are rising.


The problem with NOVA in this TikTok era is the hour long format that was designed for broadcast TV. A topic with 10 minutes of material is stretched into 45 minutes with unnecessary drama and reenactments as filler.

Like the kids say these days 'Ain't nobody got time for that'. I'd rather watch a 10 min video on Youtube that covers the same topic.


I remember this being an annoyance for a long time.

BBC horizon documentaries pretty much took the prize when it came to endless stock video with ambient music and aimless "poetic" quotes from various eccentric scientists talking about some interesting but essentially fantastical topic far removed from any reality or future.


I don't think it's anything unique to the "TikTok era". It has always been like that, as long as I can remember. Decades ago was the same.

My guess is that the primary challenges are

a) finding a subject that happens to exactly fit the 60-minute time slot without requiring grievous cuts or padding. I imagine it is hard to know this in advance. I notice, for instance, the bigger, famous theatrical documentaries don't exactly have a uniform run-length.

b) production costs. Sure, you could fly around the world to interview another 4 experts and get another 3-hours of footage (that you cut down to 15-minutes) and have a graphics artist who charges $1,000/day generate more models ... or you could just recycle and pad with cheap filler to reach your run-time. After all, you were only given a budget of $X,000 to make a 60-minute documentary.


Youtubers stretch 30 seconds of material in 10 minutes.


Pithy, but I’d actually argue the opposite. As someone who consumes quite a bit of science content on YouTube, it’s actually quite jarring to go back to traditional TV science shows. It feels a lot less information dense and more time-wasting.

An interesting example is when Veritasium, who normally does the usual YouTube science content, got some big budget funding for one video [1] and produced it in a style more like what you’d see on TV. It was striking how there was so much filler and dramatization to try to make it interesting, and the whole thing felt dumbed down compared to his usual content, for example [2], which is deeper and relatively information-dense.

And there are channels like PBS Spacetime which go far, far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in any media aimed at a general audience [3].

[1] https://youtu.be/YMDJA4UvXLA

[2] https://youtu.be/OxGsU8oIWjY

[3] https://youtu.be/gSKzgpt4HBU


I don't find that to be true in general. I mean, some do that, but it is quote rare. Most don't try to force specific length at all. They are comfortable with super short videos and super long videos and anything in between.


You've not watched any Kurzgesagt have you? Sit down for a wild ride:

https://youtube.com/c/inanutshell


That might be silly, but its not downright misrepresenting concepts the way this article is complaining about, e.g.

> “First, the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against."


I came here to call out that quote. Apparently this is the author: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monica_McLemore

Only half of the story is Scientific American going downhill. The other half is that social activism creeping into science. A professor and researcher, regardless of if they're a social activist, shouldn't disparage statistics like that. It's also troubling that she either 1) understands statistics that poorly or 2) twists the meaning to make a point.


I believe social activism should be entertwined with science - we should use science to make the world a more just and fair place, and we should look to human misery as inspiration for things we can study and improve.

However, twisting scientific terms by using double meanings of terms that have differing colloquial meanings like the scientific american does, doesn't accomplish that and helps nobody.


Also your approach is more honest than saying ‘keep science apolitical’.


YouTube is better now. there's some excellent science/engineering channels.


On another episode, "The Universe Revealed: Big Bang", the presenters said:

"Somewhere there was a first planet that formed in the entire universe. We'll never know about it. We'll never know when it formed or what its fate was. But it formed somewhere!"


I beg a pardon, but what's wrong with this one? Sure, if you understand enough of the general relativity theory, you kinda get that "X was earlier than Y" starts making less and less sense if X and Y are light years apart, but it's not something you can easily explain to the general audience.

The quoted phrase, on the other hand, understandably conveys the idea that planets are not specific to the solar system, and that other systems have formed and died billions of years before.


If Kermit The Frog said it on an episode of Sesame Street, it would be reasonable. Maybe follow it up with "P is for Planet".


That’s certainly dumb but doesn’t strike me as dumbed down. More like some cynic trying to do a bad parody of Carl Sagan.


Watch the episode. It's pretty dumbed down. Even if you realize that there's only 5 minutes worth of material in a 50 minute show. The filler I quoted is just an example.


Reposting my comment from the E.O. Wilson thread from a couple of weeks ago,

"As a reader of the magazine for the past 35 years or so, Scientific American, the print publication, has devolved into what Popular Science was about 20 years ago. Sensationalist headlines, writing geared towards a much lower reading comprehension level and the introduction of politics and opinion in various articles. A sad state of affairs for a once great publication, unfortunately.

However, the mantle has been taken up by online publications such as Quanta, Aeon, Edge and Nautilus, as well as various science authors on Medium and Substack."


Thanks for that list.

I really miss the quality content that Scientific American had in their issue from the 70s and 80s.


I spent hours and hours reading SA, PopSci, Omni and others at my library in the 80's. It was high quality content and much of it was highly detailed long-form writing.


I still remember my high school physics teacher literally used a scientific American special on quantum mechanics to explore the topic for a month. Really good


I definitely have been reading a lot more from alternative sources such as the ones you mentioned. I also would say that the democratization of journalism is really important today because of the politicization of so many institutions, including virtually all traditional media outlets like Scientific American. The threat to heterodox thinking isn’t especially new either - Quillette recently reposted an interview of E.O. Wilson from 2009 by Alice Dreger that feels prescient in its coverage of the social/political dynamics that we see continuing today and underpinning recent hit pieces written about Wilson (https://quillette.com/2021/12/29/speaking-with-e-o-wilson/).


> of journalism is really important today because of the politicization of so many institutions, including virtually all traditional media outlets like Scientific American.

Yes and no. Yes, many of these formerly prestigious publications have declined. No, they no longer qualify for the honor of being called journalists.

Words matter. We have to stop rewarding bad behaviour.


The SA article was terribly written and argued, but Wilson's own words in that interview greatly increased my sympathy for Wilson's critics who were suspicious of sociobiology. Wilson severely underplayed the connection between sociobiology and eugenics and Nazism that came before. "I'm just doing science" is a weak defense when the science is something so adjacent to what had just recently been used to murder 10million people.


You can and should be suspicious of any science. But you should not claim that science murdered 10 million people. A truly evil regime murdered those people.


A lot of domain-specific publications have become insufferably political; they are trading on their previous reputations but are now so ideological that they're basically worthless. A few that come to mind are Wired, MIT Technology Review, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone.


The current editor in chief's career as a journalist was largely writing clickbait style opinion pieces on identity politics for Slate etc.. I have no idea how they were deemed a suitable candidate to work for Scientific American, and it's no surprise her tenure has resulted in a rapid series of controversies.


> “Why are string theorists calling for an end to empiricism rather than an end to racial hegemony? I believe the answer is that knowledge production in physics is contingent on the ascribed identities of the physicists.”

This one and most of the other quotes sound like they were written by some AI.


Related or maybe the same: https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=6202


HN discussion about Scott Aaronson's blog: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29778348


What can I put in my house today that will let my children discover science and physics the way Scientific American let me discover them as a teenager?


I highly recommend the Scientific American Library book series. This is an out of print but readily available series in the used book market that is probably the greatest collection of scientific writing I've seen. I have been slowly collecting all of the entries, and for the ones that I've read, they are absolutely excellent. There are lots of pictures and the writing is at a level understandable by laymen but it does not dilute the technical aspects just to be palatable. The books I have read tell the real story. The authors are all fantastic and usually experts in their field, such as John Wheeler, Steven Weinberg, Peter Atkins, Julian Schwinger, Martin Rees, and others.

https://www.goodreads.com/series/181771-scientific-american-...

https://www.thriftbooks.com/series/scientific-american-libra...

The series reminds me of being a kid and taking home my granny's old encyclopedia set. I'll normally just grab one of the Scientific American Library books and peruse through it reading bits here and there.


For kids, I like some of the National Geographic books. They were a big part of my early nerding 40 years ago and they still seem to make some good books. The other big thing for me was an Encyclopedia Brittanica set, but I suppose that's ancient tech nowadays.


Speaking of National Geographic, I just let my subscription lapse and have no intention of renewing it. I used to love their longer articles but now they've just been getting less and less engrossing. Sometimes I wonder if it is me that has gotten depressed, and uninterested in reading them. But then I look at other aspects of my life and realize that no, its not me, its their content that has gotten depressing and uninteresting.


An ipad with archive access to the old scientific americans. I have one from the 1890s I got in an antique store and it's great.


That must have been one of the first iPads ever made!


IEEE Spectrum.

Second choice would be MIT Technology Review.


just have then watch codyslab and help them do their own experiments


Maybe skip the one where he inhales all the noble gasses.


Scientific American? Just because this post had issues with one article doesn’t invalidate the entire periodical.


Really? Because the fact that this article was published seems to showcase evidence for a systemic problem. How did this article get approved? I mean, it's linking to a study that makes racial and sexist judgements based off of ... general relativity?

Edit: I've read the full article and it is borderline incoherent. I have no idea what in the world she is talking about or how it even remotely relates to E.O. Wilson, much less why in the world they would post this mere days after his death. The article actually barely mentions Wilson other than slandering him in the sentences it does and provides no references to his work or anything that substantiates, well, anything the author is arguing for or against. Yet, the author takes the time to reference near lunacy.

The article ends with:

> The early work of Venter and Collins was foundational to my dissertation, which examined tumor markers of ovarian cancer. I spent time during my training at the NIH learning from these iconic clinicians and scholars and had occasion to meet and question both of them. As a person who uses science as one of many tools to understand the world, it is important to remain curious in our work. Creative minds should not be resistant to change when rigorous new data are presented. How we engage with old racist ideas is no exception.

What does that have to do with anything this article was supposably about? It makes no sense. Yet, someone (multiple people?) approved this article.


Not only was it simply published as an op-ed but Scientific American's editor-in-chief publicly praised this piece on Twitter, calling it insightful, and retweeted the author and another tweet praising it. So unfortunately we can expect Sci Am to continue on this downward trajectory.


As far as the veracity of Medium articles go, this is from the Wikipedia page describing Medium:

The platform is an example of social journalism, having a hybrid collection of amateur and professional people and publications, or exclusive blogs or publishers on Medium,[3] and is regularly regarded as a blog host.

I tend to take things I read on that website with a grain of salt.


What does Medium have to do with anything I wrote?


Medium is where the piece we’re talking about was posted - “The Shameful Decline…”.

While the article in SA does seem appalling, I don’t see this single article’s publication as justification for this broad indictment of SA. It’s concerning, yes. But it’s ONE ARTICLE, and that’s all the piece talks about. OP may well be right, but they haven’t shown it by the citing of ONE ARTICLE.


I was not and am not commenting on the Medium article. I was referring to the Scientific American article.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-complicated-l...

For me, it's enough to think something is seriously wrong there at Scientific American. The more I think about it, the more the article makes little sense to me. I can't even understand what it has to do with E.O. Wilson. The timing of the article would imply that the article was written in just a couple of days by a recurring author. So they used the death of a notable scientist to push some agenda.


It’s common for a media company to have a file and even a pre-written obituary for famous people. That way there’s no need to cobble together an obituary hours after getting word that, say, Steve Jobs has died.

I take it that Scientific American didn’t have a pre-written obituary for E.O. Wilson.


If a scientific periodical had an article written by a flat earther that would be bad. If there was a torrent of criticism and the editor defended the article with vigour you would write off the entire periodical. The article discussed above is just as bad as flat earth, but with different polital valence.


Sure, although it sounds like there's been a pretty strong trend in this direction at SA for a while. The Scott Aaronson blog that people have linked from other places in this thread (https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=6202) says as much. Dr. Aaronson is an extremely even tempered and objective thinker. If he says there's an issue and goes so far as to guest publish a former writer sounding the alarm on SA, I'm inclined to believe there's a fire underneath this smoke.


Just because this post had issues with one article doesn’t invalidate the entire periodical.

In my estimation, it's become so shallow that i don't even bother following links to it from HN anymore. Whenever i see an entry in HN, i just move on.


For years and years, I used to be very excited every time SA arrived in my mailbox. But over time, it dumbed itself down, with great consistency, to the point that it's unbearable. I stopped subscribing long ago.


No, it really is that bad. I've been reading Scientific American for decades, I no longer do, it's gotten that bad.

I can even pinpoint when they passed the road of no return - it's when they mixed politics with science here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-are-living-in-... and https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientific-americ... here.

That was when I realized they didn't care about actual science, they cared about appearance.

The old scientific american would have never written an article intended to make people act a certain way by changing the name of things.


You can't really argue about backing anyone other than Trump, his presidency was a cess pool and almost ended the US as the oldest democracy in the world. They were just calling out fascism for what it is. There will always be a place for that in any magazine.


That just makes it even worse - why do they even bother backing his opponent in that case? Why do they feel a need to do this?

I [used to] read it for science, not politics.


Their blogs where they interview a mathematician are still good.


I highly recommend watching the new Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson. When it first came out I made a big production of it with my kids. They got to eat popcorn and drink soda while we all watched the series together.

They (and I) still look back on it fondly.


I would suggest passing on Neil deGrasse Tyson or at least taking a second look. His smugness alone is enough reason for me to not have anyone, especially kids, look up to him. Not to mention, he's often just flat out wrong. I personally cannot stand even seconds of hearing him speak, and I find him insufferable. It's his lack of humility that really gets to me.

The original Cosmos is still available, and it's quite good.

These videos may not be the best, but it shows a side of him that I find distasteful. He behaves the same way in every panel I’ve seen him in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwZXR2PlcEM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTItMy5EI2o


Does anybody else wonder at people who insist on using three names? Some actors do it, too, like Hayley Joel Osment and Brian Taylor Green. It just seems pretentious to me, like somebody insisting on using a title outside of their official duties.


Sometimes the media does it, which is a good thing for people with different middle names. Here are a few examples I thought of. Not good:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Harvey_Oswald https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wayne_Gacy


LHO just seemed to call himself Lee Oswald, indeed the 3 names seem to be a media creation.


I was always under the impression that this is general practice with infamous people, to avoid mix-ups which might get the media outlet sued, however frivolously. But this may not be the case, including with Oswald, who apparently used his middle name sometimes.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2011/01/jared-lee-loughn...


Actors at least have a good excuse: there are various rules in the industry and/or unions requiring unique names (stage names, if necessary) for certain things.


Many people have multiple equal family names. Leaving one out would be as wrong as adding another. Names are never simple.


Usually such people acquire a nickname. A friend of mine's name was a triple name followed by III. Everybody just called him "Trey".


This kind of vitriol makes me sad at humanity


I keep hoping that we reach and pass Peak Woke, but I think we're still not there. Journalism (capital J) has been thoroughly damaged by it, as is evident in so many magazines, newspapers, sites, channels, etc.

I'm optimistic that there will be a renaissance of objective Journalism, and eager for it to happen.


There has to be a downside to wokeness for it to peak and decline. For some employers, this is starting to happen as the downsides become apparent but for most who kneel at the altar of wokeness, it's almost all upside for them. Society as a whole turning against it or widespread violent blowback are probably the only things that could change this anytime soon. Doubt either happens, though sporadic violence already seems to be taking place.


For many employers wokeness is a legal requirement. If they don't make all the right noises suddenly they get sued for "hostile workplace environment" and have to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars. This happened to Tesla a few months ago: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/05/tesla-must-pay-137-million-t...


> colleagues used epithets to denigrate him and other Black workers, told him to “go back to Africa” and left racist graffiti in the restrooms and a racist drawing in his workspace.

This sounds like plain racism, nothing to do with wokeness.


Obviously no one should be harassed at their workplace. However, the wokeness here is manifested in the $130 million the California jury has awarded. Even the infamously excessive "hot coffee lawsuit" [1] looks unimpressive compared to this.

I'm sure many of us would already be retired if we could claim even a fraction of that for every time we are treated poorly.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald's_Restaura...


Big companies need big judgments to care. The point isn't simply to make the one victim whole, but to make the consequences so fearsome that the company decides that a second time must not happen and changes its internal practices.

Otherwise you have the famous Fight Club recall formula.


I skimmed the article, and I can't tell if he was able to prove that they actually said those things (like a recording or email or corroborating witnesses). Otherwise I will go on a limb and say this person 100% made it up...because "wokeness".

Also:

"[...] three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor [...] they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues."

Sounds like black-people making the workplace non-White friendly. Didn't see anybody sueing because of that...because lets be honest, "wokeness" is racist against white people.


> evidenceless conspiracy theory that black people are plotting against you

Literally anything to protect daddy musk from criticism.


The conspiracy is not "black people plotting against daddy musk," its "sleazy trial lawyers plotting to get 100 million dollar payouts." Which is a tale as old as time


We won’t sadly, “post peak woke” will be a current re-writing of history to fit whatever woke ideology is fashionable (MiniTrue style).


If it can't be escaped does that mean it was always here?


It or similar ideologies. For example religion played a similar role. Now that people are more secular, many have adopted social justice as a new kind of religion.


We've been in the woke phase for 30 years now. I don't think it's going anywhere, at least as long as Western culture remains dominant.


"Journalism (capital J)" was always trash. "Objective" journalism is just a euphemism for institutional journalism, which has always served the interests of the powerful. Now that the institutions of power have shifted from projecting white/male-supremacist nationalist Christian conservatism to pure predatory neoliberalism, a lot of people who thought that the newspapers were noble carriers of the light of truth are shook.

There's nothing that the networked financial scams that we refer to as first world economies love more than making the real issue irrational predjudice rather than anything material.

We'll pass peak woke after the white male backlash results in serious consequences for already oppressed people. Then we'll get back to white male identity politics, and the papers won't be any more objective than they were before.

My favorite story about all this was that in 2016 MSNBC was so sure of Clinton's pending win that the new head was going to completely revamp the network editorial line in order to attack Clinton from the right. Instead, with the curse/blessing after the election of the Trump media gravy train continuing, they doubled down into what we see today. How do you attack Trump when you generally agree with him on policy? Wokeness and Russians, while periodically slipping in actual political objections, which consisted of objections to withdrawal from lucrative wars, not arming the Ukrainians, and tariffs.

Wokeness is a PR strategy. A summer of marching in the streets, and the police are more funded than ever.


It is the way you put it which is troublesome. The key is that a single grand narrative never work as there are many beings, institutions, dynamics and unknowns in play. At any one time you may see a pattern. But that is superficial. Many in many with unknown is always in play. Single out any one aspect would lead to totalitarian even if you are libertarian.

Start with many and end with many. Not one. Not even you You will die one day and hence it is not just you or your belief.

Open your mind. And walks on.



Scientific American is a publication, not someone's Facebook page. The writing gets Scientific American's legitimacy when they publish it and it reduces Scientific American's legitimacy if it's of poor quality. Editor-In-Chiefs should remember that 'it's an opinion piece' isn't a valid defense to separate the work from the publication or argue against a poor quality writing. They shouldn't publish the piece if the work doesn't represent the views of the publication or meet the quality of work expected.

Sometimes I feel like we've forgotten what a reputation is and how they work. At the very least, it seems we've decided that opinions are functionally equivalent facts.


Sure but it's still a garbage article. Not all opinions are equal or equally well supported. Having an opinion based on nothing but cringe and woke-ism isn't really one worth reading.


Its not unlike the travesty that has befallen our once informative channels: natgeo, discovery, animal planet...though perhaps not quite as extreme. And the National Geographic magazine has been obsessing over woke politics for a decade now as well. Its a damn shame to lose these institutions to such blatant politicking.

Across society we seem to be regressing to the lowest common denominator. Entertainment, education, consumer goods, advertisement...this can't be sustainable.


> … this can’t be sustainable.

Cue the film _Idiocracy_


A recent HN discussion on the same subject 13 days ago:

The Demise of Scientific American (scottaaronson.blog)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29778348 (419 comments)


I remember my dad’s subscription when I was a kid in 1970’s. It was more like a scientific journal back then. It is not even worth looking at anymore.


From the article:

On her Twitter, the writer of the piece [Monica McLemore] wrote: "I purposively didn’t quote his work so you could read it for yourself."

Not a good look for an aspiring scholar when her very first word is a misapprehension of everyday english.


"Purposive" is a word that I've never seen used before, but it's actually in the dictionary, and one of the meanings is as a synonym of the more usual "purposeful": https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purposive


Well I'll be damned. Citations include Aldous Huxley's 1936 "Notes on Propaganda".


My father subscribed, and I found in his papers many articles he'd clipped out and saved, usually from the 1960s.

He'd given up on SA by the 1980s, saying their quality had declined.


The original article is unspeakably bad, a shameful incoherent diatribe from an apparently professional academic. Not least because it is bizarrely self-obsessed, the author cites her own research in a complete non sequitur and links to a lecture where she apparently asked Craig Venter a question…


I had this same experience trying to find some good science magazines for my 14yr old. They are quite interested in genetics and I looked and looked and none of the available magazines were any good.

I think that looking at the advertisements in the magazines tells you what part of the problem is. They are aimed at a fairly old demographic and probably the one remaining that still buys magazines.

The other significant issue is ads. No-one wants to spend ad money on ads that do not provide the type stats that Facebook and Google do. Before the internet the relationship between an ad campaign and increased sales wasn't causal. Maybe the ads worked. Maybe they didn't.

Now advertisers have far more information about the success of their campaigns and much, much more control over how ads are targeted.

So why would anyone do print or newspaper ads?

So magazines and newspapers are left with a diminishing pool of advertisers who target a declining demographic.


Some of their pieces on the blog site read completely like satire (unfortunately they are not), it baffles me how a sane person can write something like that https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/fat-is-not...

tldr it's because the oppression


"Focusing on weight—or health behaviors—puts the burden on the individual, deflecting attention from the more pernicious problem: systemic injustice."

Sounds like when I was a kid and said "the devil made me do it". Taking responsibility for our (in)actions is a necessary prerequisite for being an adult.


Realistically it's a joint responsibility between the system and the individual. Culture and historical context have a huge role in how people behave, which is why one country can consist of mostly skinny healthy people and another unhealthy overweight people. It's not because the latter country's people are genetically predisposed to be irresponsible adults.

You can't fully blame the system or the individual. It's both. Why must everything be a binary war nowadays?


You're right but at the same time all the evidence points towards the benefit of one's own disposition being biased towards responsibility and choice. External locus of control and learned helplessness are not fun states of mind, and an emphasis on external factors tends to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Particularly of course when this focus gets "in the air" and becomes an integral part of the culture. Which, in turn, becomes another oppressive systemic factor differentiating countries.

Plus "average" rates of health and illness conceal considerable heterogeneity - even among those in the same environment, so it's rarely all that illuminating in practice. External factors are important, but more important still is knowledge that the individual almost always has some power to alter their circumstances, or to leave to find a different and better one. And even if this were mostly false, believing otherwise helps make it true.


You're missing the fact that an individual's disposition and choice isn't entirely a creation of their own. Otherwise you'd see a random distribution of dispositions, rather than very different dispositions based on cultural context.

The rest of your statements are vague and hand-wavy, and I'm not sure how to respond.


Not OP. Of course the two systems interact and feed eachother. The parent said the same thing, adding that linking the two too much causes a feedback loop only because we let it. I.e. letting the "victim to the system" become part of the culture, ingraining it and adding even more effect of the system over individual action.

We are forever intertwined with our environment. The only way to untangle it is to pick one guiding principle. I choose personal responsibility as it's the only way to stop perpetuating victimhood and suffering across generations.


It is totally fine that an individual choose personal responsibility. The issue here is when individual choices of others are blamed as the sole cause of the problem.

> The only way to untangle it is to pick one guiding principle.

This is an arbitrary statement with no reasoning. It is both possible to expect individual responsibility and also to hold the system accountable.

The system and individual behaviors are intertwined. That's the nature of human reality. They are a feedback loop that affect and create each other. One does not exist without the other. It's like voting - you can vote all you want, but some changes will never happen without modifying the system, e.g. the first-past-the-post voting in the US killing any chance of 3rd party participation. You have to change the system to ranked-choice. There's no way around it.


>You can't fully blame the system or the individual. It's both. Why must everything be a binary war nowadays?

in societies with limited 'systems', obesity is a non-issue; so if that's the case then it stands to reason that it's the responsibility of the individual to try to disregard the temptations that the 'system' they're a member of places in front of them, no?

This is further reinforced by the fact that heavily-obese countries are not anywhere near 100% obese; individuals in those societies acted with their own sovereignty to avoid whatever physiological issues.

So, in other words, I blame both the individual and the system for the journey towards obesity, but feel that it remains staunchly in the individual hands of the person to avoid whatever pitfalls their individual systems put in front of them.


In a society which spends around $750 billion annually on formal advertising, and a related amount on "influencing", client journalism, covert PR, and so on, individuals are primarily motivated by sovereign independent choices?

Does this really sound even remotely plausible?

That's ignoring the very obvious practical issues that make poorer people more prone to obesity - extreme time poverty, exhaustion and stress, limited affordability of healthy food choices, limited physical access to healthy choices, time and money costs of exercise options, and so on.


Advertising is filled with psychological tricks and should be much more regulated than it currently is. I definitely blame the system for a lot of things but an individual does have some responsibility and agency as to how they live.


I mostly viewed obesity as an insidious health problem that cannot easily be resolved, and yet individual agency can somehow overcome the problem, as I nearly did two months ago.


So how is advocating for a system that removes all social pressures towards healthy lifestyles a fix or even improvement? You assume people are incapable of nuanced discussion, yet you appeal to a vague "it's complicated" approach that merely avoids the issues.


You are falling for the same binary thinking I'm criticizing. I never said anything about removing social pressures towards healthy lifestyles. I'm not supporting the woke "fat acceptance" stance. I can't stand acceptance of being fat actually and am all for fat shaming. It's a horrible drag on our health system and society.

I'm advocating for BOTH systemic and personal responsibility. Why is that such a crazy stance?

You don't think that corn syrup subsidies and the diabetes industry play a role in US obesity?

Please explain why people from Japan and HK are skinny and healthy and those from Texas are less so, on average.


What makes you think fat shaming is effective for reducing the number of fat people? Within the regime of shaming, obesity has increased a whole ton.


Fat shaming is basically virtue signaling, there's no evidence that it's helped anyone, there's plenty of evidence it bullies people into stress eating and suicide.


You are right, it's probably not that effective. I should have framed my statement as I am not against fat shaming, rather than being "for" it. Also, "shame" is a catch-all here for being direct in criticism. I don't support bullying and insults. I certainly don't think acceptance of an unhealthy lifestyle is OK either.


I cracked up when I saw the name of the author to the link you posted. Some sort of comic joke or destiny.


For those wanting to know, her surname is "Bacon".


I was more shocked to find out that the author somehow got a PhD in Physiology


I was listening to NPR the other day and they had a piece about how the individual can do their part reducing carbon emissions by not eating so much meat. The interviewee went into the amount of resources that go into supporting a diet with meat vs a less-meaty diet and the point was pretty clear. The interviewer rounded off the piece by asking about racial disparities and how this will disproportionately affect non whites.

In some circles, this sort of thing is called eco-fascism I guess.


The correct answer to the interviewer's question is to point out that the lowest cost-per-calorie foods tend to be non-meat foods such as grains and legumes. Switching from meats to healthy non-meat foods can save money in many cases.

If the diet change includes a reduction of red or processed meats, switching to healthy non-meat foods would also improve the person's health and reduce their healthcare expenses in the long term.

The financial and health benefits of switching to healthy non-meat foods would reduce racial disparities, if people of color tend to eat a greater amount of meat, as the question implies.


Reducing or eliminating fructose is a better answer, I think. Anti-fat messaging (in food) has resulted in food producers reducing fat but increasing fructose content for decades, with an associated rise in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Check out the lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" by Robert Lustig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM&t=179s


You're completely right that excess added sugar (including added fructose) is well-known to be unhealthy, and that switching to non-meat foods wouldn't address this issue. But, low-meat diets aren't necessarily higher in added sugar than higher-meat diets. (I did say "healthy" non-meat foods to exclude, for instance, replacing meat with candy.)

I agree that reducing added sugar consumption should be one of the highest priorities for the average individual who is looking to improve their diet. However, this particular question asked about the racial effects of reducing meat consumption, so the benefits of reducing added sugar consumption wouldn't be the most relevant piece of information to answer with.


Remove the profit incentive from selling food is what we really need; that or charging food producers for the bad health impacts they create.

After removing fructose, food producers will find a new thing to make people want to eat more, ad infinitum.


> The correct answer to the interviewer's question is to point out that the lowest cost-per-calorie foods tend to be non-meat foods such as grains and legumes.

The correct follow up question after that answer is for the interviewer to ask how one who lives in a neighborhood where the only food sources are convenience stores and fast food restaurants is to find a good source of grains and legumes.


I agree with you but they had just spent the entire interview talking about that. It was an awkward shoehorn to say the least.


So where is the mob? I mean for me this is an attack on science.


I read the magazine through high school as part of UIL competition. I loved it and it continued to be great through the 90s. Its a shadow of its former self.


My parents got Scientific American when I was a kid, which would have been half a century ago. I remember interesting, meaty articles, a column for amateur scientists, and column on math (Hofstadter for a while). Many of the articles were written by top scientists.

So of course my spouse and I subscribed for our kids. My first impression was: "It's turned into the Internet." Rather than nice narrative text, the articles were broken up into all sorts of bits and pieces, in vibrating colors. Like the Internet, it actually makes it hard to focus on an article.


Within the original article, there's a reference to this paper: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/704991 (the author seems well-credentialed in the physics realm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanda_Prescod-Weinstein).

Does anyone have any insight as to what this paper's trying to show? Looking at the beginning of the conclusion:

> The central argument of this article is that white empiricism limits who is authorized to make claims about physics and that this is damaging to physics and alters its empirical direction.

All I can get from it is that the author's trying to point out that (1) science has emerged in dialogue between humans, and (2) we should be mindful of who exactly's participating in that dialogue as that influences the kind of science that emerges. This seems somewhat reasonable and a good justification for encouraging a diversity of perspectives.

But what new insight/perspective does the paper really contribute?

For example, earlier in the same paper we find this when talking about some of the author's perceived failings of string theory:

> Surveying what should happen next, there are at least three distinct possibilities:

> 1. Patience is required, and evidence is coming.

> 2. String theory has failed to succeed in expected ways because the community—which is almost entirely male and disproportionately white relative to other areas of physics—is too homogeneous.

> 3. The scientific method overly constrains our models to meet certain requirements that no longer serve the needs of physics theory.

> ...

> The second option is effectively unconsidered in the literature. Instead, the case for the third option has been made. This is a curious turn of events. Rather than considering whether structural and individual discrimination results in a homogeneous, epistemically limited community, physicists are willing to throw out their long-touted objectivity tool, the scientific method.

The author hints that "there are at least three distinct possibilities", and from what I understand of postmodernism, it's what's hidden in the margins of the text, i.e. what's left out of a philosophical argument, that usually unravels that original argument entirely. One glaring missing possibility is that we just haven't yet found a better theory or approach that more accurately fits observations than string theory. If that's what the author's trying to convey with option 2, it seems like a pretty unnecessarily racialized and facile way to do so to me, and still hints at an important omission that there may be a totally non-racialized explanation for why string theory hasn't lived up to expectations.

Maybe I haven't read enough postmodern literature to be able to appreciate this paper's contributions (maybe they're subtle), but from my first reading it ultimately just seems like one long complaint that black women have been excluded from physics by white men, which isn't really a novel contribution in 2020 if the theme already made its way into popular films. For someone so well-credentialed, I really would've expected a more substantial epistemological critique, or at least practical recommendations as to how to cultivate an environment that encourages a diversity of perspectives. Or, even more practically, if the author had actual evidence of bias (i.e. practices of actively excluding people of certain groups from the physics community), why not address that in the appropriate forum?

It's all very strange to me, including why a paper like this is cited in Scientific American.


[flagged]


hacker news has truly fallen off

*case in point, this post has been flagged


I mean apparently Wilson suggested at one point that because eusocial insects exist where some insects serve others, slavery among humans is natural?

Which ignores a huge amount of differences. To pick one eusocial insects of the same species are closely related to the ones they serve, and how slavery is not universal. Family and kinship groups are probably a way better metaphor than slavery. Occasionally some insects use other insects of a different species like aphid farming ants, but that's more like having livestock.

Ultimately by suggesting that genetics causes behavior but also being inconsistent about how that works, Wilson at times reinforced the status quo in problematic and mistaken ways, without looking at cross cultural studies, anthropology, or other fields that might have given him a broader view.

Anyway the idea that criticizing Wilson is somehow immoral because he is dead seems silly. It's not like many of the same criticisms weren't offered when he was alive, for example this 1975 review of his book. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1975/11/13/against-sociobio...

Many people who did great things also said some shitty ones, And some shitty people like Nixon did some good ones. Quite a few people are dead and canonizing them after death as somehow saintly for their good deads and ignoring anything problematic they did rather than challenging their mistaken beliefs where they contradict facts is against the spirit of scientific inquiry.

As an aside, my understanding is that while conservatives continue to try to make "woke" into a state of being or a quality of character, as if folks can achieve it, the original usage was stay woke, IE to remain vigilant and observant of what's going on so you can adapt and learn. As far as I'm concerned we all should be doing that, changing our beliefs as we learn, rather than wrapping ourselves too much up in what we currently think to be true. If Wilson's ideas are worthy they will be born out by current and future inquiry into our nature as human beings.

Though challenging the status quo might require you to go against your sociobiology.


> I mean apparently Wilson suggested at one point that because eusocial insects exist where some insects serve others, slavery among humans is natural?

Even if you granted him for the sake of argument that slavery among humans is "natural", so what? That in no way answers the is-ought problem.


Slavery is a scourge on humanity. But it was a scourge on humanity for 99.999% of our existence.

I’d sure like to think it wasn’t our natural state, but it sure feels like if society broke down, that’s what we’d default to.


Deleted Was ranting, not good for this forum. Apologize for people who read it.


I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make but keep in mind that most slaves in human history looked exactly like those enslaving them.


Plenty of things are natural that are considered immoral.


I think one can make a reasonable case that foregoing doing some natural things, and trying to force others to also forego them, on the grounds that they are immoral is the only thing that really is fundamentally different between humans and other animals.

The things that are usually cited as the fundamental differences, such as our intelligence, language, culture, etc I would argue are just differences in degree.


At least pseudo-academic wokes like that leave plenty of evidence of the stupidity of their beliefs so that it cannot be in doubt.


In the old days priests would say the gods put rulers in their place over everyone. Nowadays we have Wilson saying the same thing, except science and genetics have replaced talk of the gods. It's very simple and the basis of all ideology - the rulers are right to rule for whatever reason.

It is not a new criticism of Wilson, people in the 1970s saw it for what it was.

Funny to see mention of Lysenko. Lysenko mainly talked about plant germination. Wilson talked about human brains and how one race is superior to another. It seems Lysenko was more modest than Wilson. It's odd to bring Lysenko up as Wilson is completely ideological and politicized - you'd think they would leave out mention of Lysenko. Of course if you right a political book about one race's superiority to another's and want to pass it off as science, first strategy is to accuse anyone who questions any aspect of it of being ideological.

I'm glad old bastards like Wilson, who would prefer to go back to his youth of segregated buses and drinking fountains, are dropping dead. Of course the day will come that this wack job on Medium foaming at the mouth about inferior blacks and communists will one day kick off too.


The opinion piece in question (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-complicated-l...) strikes me as a restrained and sober attempt to explore the possibility that Wilson and others did bad science by presuming differences between races were due to genetics. Maybe you think the piece is wrong but it's just someone expressing some ideas, it's not intended to incite the woke mob or whatever. If anything, the OP seems to be trying to whip up a moral panic to suppress speech (i.e. to teach publishers that writing about race is toxic and dissuade them from publishing further opinion pieces examining race as a structural issue)


The article called someone a racist, days after they passed away, without presenting any evidence of that fact. (The original article does not cite or refer to any of Wilson's work.) When asked on Twitter to provide some evidence of Wilson's racist views, the author of the article declined to provide any. She said that readers should look it up themselves. That isn't sober critique, it's slander.


> called someone a racist, days after they passed away

Wilson was being called racist by many back in 1975. I agree with them. He was a racist who tried to dress his racist political views up in scientific jargon. Like William Shockley.

If you don't want people knocking you after your death, don't write books saying whites are genetically superior to oppressed races in the US and that slavery is natural.


Can you provide a reference or at least a quotation or something? Which book are you referring to? This is the same thing the author of the article did -- dragged Wilson through the mud without actually quoting him or referring to any specific work.

I found a reference [0] where Wilson discusses slavery, but he's talking about slavery in ants. The only actual quotation [1] I've found anyone bring up in this discussion shows Wilson had views the exact opposite of what you imply.

[0] https://www.jstor.org/stable/2407145

[1] https://twitter.com/LSMitchell/status/1476447156118638594?s=...


>presuming differences between races were due to genetics

Its not a farfetched presumption that natural selection continued after the emergence of the homo sapien species. What is less likely is the notion that evolution magically stopped above the shoulders while geographically distinct human groups spent thousands of generations adapting physically, culturally, and likely cognitively to drastically different environments.

>OP seems to be trying to whip up a moral panic to suppress speech

These accusations of racism are the moral panic. This is pushback.


>What is less likely is the notion that evolution magically stopped

Well, the problem is that the science stopped being about "what is more likely" and turned into "what is more pleasant to hear to an average person". Back in the times of physical magazines and written letters, reading a scientific article required non-trivial effort, that worked as a sort of a selection bias, ensuring that the reader would be sufficiently educated, professional and open-minded [1]. These days, finding racism everywhere has become the claim for fame and meaning of life for too many people, so we all now have to take it into account.

The funny part is that genetically were are very similar to the cave people some 50K years ago, and the huge difference in life quality is caused purely by what we learn, what values we teach to our kids, and where we pick our role models. Any genetic differences between races would pale in comparison to something you can learn in your lifetime. But this baby has somehow been thrown out with the water - one side is now convinced that all problems of certain demographics are unfixable and are caused by genetics, the other side attributes 100% of them to an unquantifiable oppressor and thinks that burning books and renaming formulas will somehow solve them, but nobody actually wants to put effort developing personality traits and habits that actually help a person achieve success in life.

[1] as in "willing to examine weird-looking ideas from a rational standpoint, even if they personally don't like them" as opposed to "supporting the politically expected ideas even if they contradict the rational approach"


where is the panic though? this is just an op-ed. there's not even any strong language in it. the panic you are seeing is a projection, because you are the one who is panicking.


Here's a thought: if the author wants to make an argument, perhaps they should provide evidence for their point.

"Look it up yourself" is the battle cry of a lazy redditor, not someone who's supposedly an academic. Other people don't have to make your argument for you. It's on you to do that.


Every discussion about race seems to include a statement that “race” isn’t a scientific term and has no well-defined meaning. Race seems to be one group saying “those other people are different from us, and we don’t mingle with them.” I don’t consider it surprising for genetics researchers to compare distinct populations that have a long history of staying separate. I certainly don’t believe it’s evidence that the researchers think it’s right for the groups to stay separate; I assume they’re simply interested in the outcome of staying separate.

I’m not even sure that the researchers assume any differences are caused by genetics. I think that’s an important part of the research: what differences exist? what are the causes? can we show some are genetic? can we show some definitely aren’t genetic? what are the outcomes?


perhaps! I'm not an expert on this topic, just pointing out that the article everyone is freaking out about is pretty mild and seems to me firmly within the boundaries of acceptable speech


> The normal distribution is not about default humans. It’s about the fact that in many statistical studies, the characteristics of the population tend to cluster around a mean. So if the average height of the human population is 5 foot 7, then most individuals will be around that height.

NO!! This is known to be false. The average does not mean "most" measurements match the... mean. And it actually does happen that the normal distribution is often (wrongly) interpreted as defining some kind of standard specimen that does not, in fact, exist.

There's a famous story about that exact topic, relating to US pilot seats. Excerpts from an article about it:

> Using the size data he had gathered from 4,063 pilots, Daniels calculated the average of the 10 physical dimensions believed to be most relevant for design, including height, chest circumference and sleeve length. These formed the dimensions of the “average pilot,” which Daniels generously defined as someone whose measurements were within the middle 30 per cent of the range of values for each dimension. So, for example, even though the precise average height from the data was five foot nine, he defined the height of the “average pilot” as ranging from five-seven to five-11. Next, Daniels compared each individual pilot, one by one, to the average pilot.

> Before he crunched his numbers, the consensus among his fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. After all, these pilots had already been pre-selected because they appeared to be average sized. (If you were, say, six foot seven, you would never have been recruited in the first place.) The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But even Daniels was stunned when he tabulated the actual number.

> Zero.

> Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions.

https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/when-us-air-...


This is a pretty poor criticism of the normal distribution, for one it doesn't contain a single mention of variance or standard deviation which is as important as the mean. Modelling something with a normal distribution does not say that any member of the sample actually recorded the average value, it simply states that the values cluster around the mean. If the average American household has 2.5 children, it's fairly obvious that there is not a household in the country that has the mean value. I haven't bothered to look at the underlying distribution of children but the principle is the same.


But the anecdote you're relating doesn't really say anything about the ability of a normal distribution to describe a population. It's just a natural consequence of having a high-dimensional multivariate distribution without accounting for correlation or covariance, along with a low sample size. If you have 4,063 pilots and you take the middle 30% of ten (assumed independent) factors, you're looking at 0.3^10 * 4,063 = 0.02 people who actually fall into that bin, on average -- it's more a dimensions game than anything profound.

That's not to refute the anecdote's takeaway, but the same reasoning doesn't apply to a unidimensional unimodal distribution.


Yeah ok my comment was unclear. My quote from the OP isn't false and the "no" in capitals is over the top and wrong.

Yet the airline story does show that the mean (a bag of means of different factors) can be used -- is often used, wrongly -- to construct an average standard (or ideal) specimen. That specimen is then used as a reference, yet it doesn't exist.

Also

1/ The normal distribution without a standard deviation tells us little about where a specimen lies in a given population;

2/ A normal distribution is often assumed when next to nothing is known about the actual distribution, and that's an even bigger problem, especially in social sciences.


I am not defending SJW in saying this, merely pointing out a clear and obvious fallacy and a shameful one considering those who submit and post here that use it. Employing the pejorative "woke" is an ad hominem fallacy because it doesn't speak to any argument, and it, in fact, says nothing at all. It ignores all argument for the sake of, I presume, insult. It is fundamentally tribalistic. Insulting or denigrating the opposition in an argument does not win any argument, not ever. In fact, it hands victory to your opponent whether their argument is sound or not. Using "woke" is, effectively, a stupid way to communicate, and I mean that literally. If one is too stupid to form an argument or to obliterate an opponent's argument using sound reasoning, then you'll employ "woke" in pejorative, as well as other common fallacies. Also, when "woke" is employed as pejorative, I'm nearly certain it is racist or sexist, depending on the context. So in trying to sound cool, the user ends up sounding racist or sexist, again, depending on context.

Use meaningful words. Form an opinion. Have good reasons for that opinion. Defend your position with facts and logic. If not, speak not.


You know, I'm extremely frustrated with "wokeness" and its attendant ideologies, but I agree with almost everything you said.

I think the problem is that "woke" ideology employs a lot of deliberately slippery language and rhetorical flourishes that make it difficult to argue with. It employs motte and bailey strategies everywhere.

I recently lost a friendship with someone who converted to wokeness. I say 'convert' because he was religious in his fervor. We were discussing a particular Netflix series fondly when he stopped and told me that he musn't get tied up enjoying it too much, because he knows it's just a ploy to get him to forget all the other ways that white people and white society "deliberately designed" to cause him to hate himself for being non-white.

"My anger allows me to think clearly. By making me forget it, this show is how a white supremacist society gives me a few breadcrumbs to just be happy for a moment. So even though it has some positive representations of my people, it really is just more white supremacy designed to make me hate myself."

I tried to tell him, as gently and empathetically as I could, that I was quite sure that, at least in this particular case, Netflix was not trying to get him to hate himself and he could maybe allow himself to enjoy the show. He told me that I was blinded by my white fragility.

I don't know how to argue with this, or what to call it. But his system of belief increasingly touched every topic in every conversation we had until he finally stopped talking to me for being white (although he framed it that I had "chosen the side of white supremacy").


Reminds me of friends who got under the thrall of a[n explicitly] religious cult. You can’t reason them out of it, because their faculties of reason have been short-circuited by the linguistic circularity of the cult. You can’t appeal to what should be their reluctance to cause distress to the people who care about them, because their hearts belong to the cult now. You just need to wait and see if they snap out of it. They often do, and it’s surprising.

Perhaps cult deprogramming techniques can help woke people. I don’t know anything about them, but it’s worth looking in to .


I don't consider "woke" to be pejorative to me it's just synonymous to "hyperprogressive", just more searchable because you'll filter out the physical disease and will only be left with the cultural one in the results


This just kicks the can down the road, as the label "hyperprogressive" then becomes the ad hominem. Once you characterize or label the opponent, whether in contempt, approval or apathy, you've employed ad hominem fallacy.

Ignore the arguer. Speak only to the argument.


Ok, and just to be clear, you’re saying SJW (which you used) is ok because it is descriptive?

But, like, the etymology of many words is obscure; sometimes we do use words as arbitrary references, whose semantics cannot be inferred from their form, no?


My hypocrisy does not affect the soundness of my argument. I may be a hypocrite, it doesn't mean that I'm wrong. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tu_quoque


The article uses the word woke twice, in reference to a specific sort of ideology. It isn't ad homing the author(s).


> The article uses the word woke twice

How many times is it used on this page?

> in reference to a specific sort of ideology

It is a pejorative reference, a slur intended to belittle and insult. That makes its use as such an ad hominem attack.


> Employing the pejorative "woke" is an ad hominem fallacy because it doesn't speak to any argument, and it, in fact, says nothing at all.

> So in trying to sound cool, the user ends up sounding racist or sexist, again, depending on context.


> > Employing the pejorative "woke" is an ad hominem fallacy because it doesn't speak to any argument, and it, in fact, says nothing at all.

> > So in trying to sound cool, the user ends up sounding racist or sexist, again, depending on context.




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