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The Disinformation (uncrunched.com)
225 points by aaronbrethorst on Dec 30, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

I can't imagine how this situation could resolve itself in a way that will make The Information look good. If you weren't aware, it's a publication that asks for more than $30/mo, in exchange (literally, this is the point) for not running clickbait and keeping the signal/noise positive.

I was happy to pay a buck a day for that service, but to pay for it and then see them run misleading clickbait makes me feel dumb for paying.

Cancelled subscription.

Note it took two steps for PG to be mischaracterized: TheInformation's editing and then Valleywag's selective excerpting and misleading headlining. (Too bad there's no Valleywag subscriptions to be cancelled.)

I thought even without the word 'these', the conversational context suggested the topic was relative rates of an activity, or within an implied reference class (potential "but for this one factor" founders/YC-applicants).

It's often possible to clip phrases out of a discussion so that standing alone, they sound unqualified and extreme... when in fact the establishing context, perhaps paragraphs or pages earlier, set limits on what was meant and renders the words reasonable.

Yet, in the modern link/referral/social-news economy there are big rewards for removing context, adding new spin, and sending the result out for amplification (and further modification) by those already primed to express outrage.

Indeed. Especially in light of their response to this article, paraphrased:

"It's not that we were trying to be malicious. It's just that we're incapable of parsing spoken English"

Followed up in a tweet with "To clarify, even after reading several detailed explanations of the spoken English in question, we're still unable to parse it".

So either way, malicious or dim, it's hard to imagine considering them a trustworthy source of news after this.

[Note: some of the above quotes have been edited slightly for compactness and clarity, as is common practice in such things.]

Not to mention their refusal to admit that they shouldn't be changing quotes in the first place.

What made The Information's value proposition so alluring? It seems like an opportunity for another publication to step up and eat their lunch, whatever it was.

I guess their promise of high-quality tech coverage was a welcome change. Seems like a good idea; hopefully someone else will deliver it.

The headlines I've seen on their Twitter feed are very compelling topics that I haven't seen covered anywhere else, e.g. news on what Scott Forstall has been doing since he left Apple. I haven't subscribed so I haven't read them so I can't vouch for the quality.

I get the appeal of a premium service, but what's wrong with ArsTechnica or The Register?

I'm constantly impressed by the quality of these site's articles (although I find The Register difficult to get on with for the same reasons I find Private Eye difficult to get on with).

You "can't imagine"? When posting that, did you yet do the research and determine whether or not Paul Graham threw Jessica Lessin under the bus... common when one feels personally attacked and doesn't think as critically as they should?

What's interesting, at least on this thread, is that people aren't analyzing the raw transcript for themselves: (http://jessicalessin.com/2013/12/31/on-the-information-and-h...) Or did I miss someone doing that, under the weight of all the fluffy, useless rhetoric?

One poster's brief, lucid point about journalistic practices is buried by lots of useless rhetoric. (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6989348)

Everyone should know this is true here even on technical topics. People commonly point out a lack of critical thinking on HN, weak at discussing tradeoffs.

Reading the raw transcript, seems to me Paul's comment about "these women" doesn't show him in a better light. But even if you disagree, doing the analysis is important, rather than echo Michael Arrington's and Paul Graham's rhetoric.

I really liked Arrington's post; but most fundamentally, what is the value of the so-called "tech press"?

Like so many things, free press in general is being disintermediated, since "leaks" happen without it, outside of it, and many times despite its best efforts to ignore them.

Still, one can imagine there's value to the business of keeping the government accountable -- if the business gets done.

But in tech? What secrets are there to uncover? As this story shows, the only "secrets" left are those made up by the press to try and justify its existence.

Well, I'd say the biggest reason why I like them is summarization and curation. Without them, it would take way too much time for me to gather and understand what's happening. Seriously. As well, it would take too much time and effort to choose what to focus on. Now we can debate on whether they do that job well, but I'd warrant that they still do it better and more efficiently than I could myself, and same when compared to social media or discussion forums.

Is it really a surprise that The Information is bad journalism? Forgive me for linking to Valleywag, but they don't mince word in describing her concept of journalism--- I'm sorry, "reportrepreneurship": http://valleywag.gawker.com/jessica-lessin-throws-intimate-p....

It's just more of the same tech writing, wrapped in WSJ-like finance reporting.

Well, probably the following could at least help them with reputation: 1. Public apology and explanation how they are going to prevent this in the future 2. Publishing the full transcript of the story free of charge and publicly announcing it 3. Firing the reporter or editor or whoever was responsible for the act of conversion of information into propaganda. If it was Jessica herself then probably there's nothing to save here.

Jessica is guilty. She could have diffused the situation by saying 'We misquoted PG, sorry'.

Instead she tries to justify it and says 'Paul Graham was not misquoted'. Or at least that is what the ValleyWag troll tweeted https://twitter.com/Valleywag/status/417093209886846976

They have published the transcript here:


Not they, she did. As a private person. Which is not exactly what I've meant, but definitely better than nothing.

Would a retraction/apology combination be effective here? Or is this just too egregious an error?

I, in turn, feel dumb asking, as I would have liked a subscription to a service like that. I wouldn't want to encourage this sort of nonsense, either.

"We reviewed the transcript again and shared it with Paul. We stand behind our excerpting and editing for clarity. We continue to believe that the quote is in its proper context. Thanks for checking in." http://valleywag.gawker.com/paul-graham-says-women-havent-be...

I wouldn't hold my breath for a retraction/apology. It sounds like they have dug in their heals.

Am I mistaken that this is related to ValleyWag's stance and not The Information?

EDIT: yes, I am clearly mistaken on a second glance. I hadn't actually reached the end of the article's updates (curse browsing on a phone and careless reading).

It’s extremely frustrating to have your words rearranged, edited and taken out of context to make it seem like you’re saying something you aren’t.

This is absolutely absurd, coming from Arrington, who twisted Jamie Zawinski's words from an anti-crazy-work-hours rant into rallying cry for gullible programmers to "work hard, cry less, and make history":


Is what he said wrong? Is his history relevant to the actual message he is communicating here? To me, it seems like the answers are "no" and "no".

Guy records a radio PSA saying "don't punch strangers in the nose". Later, it turns out that the guy has a history of punching strangers in the nose. Is the PSA wrong?

There's a way to write the comment that points out that Arrington's history here might be checkered. Unfortunately, the way you wrote your comment isn't that way, because it calls the message into question along with the messenger, and the message here seems valuable.

In retrospect, absolutely absurd should be replaced with hypocritical.

>Is what he said wrong? Is his history relevant to the actual message he is communicating here? To me, it seems like the answers are "no" and "no".

He didn't say it was wrong. He said it was "absurd coming from X" -- which is different.

I guess this would be a DH1 on the disagreement hierarchy?

Well said. For the first time I agree with you....unless I'm downvoted into abyss for expressing my agreement :P

I don't think these two incidents are comparable.

Jamie's diary page (src: http://www.jwz.org/gruntle/nscpdorm.html ) says at the top that the excerpts might serve as a cautionary tale about working in a startup (and Arrington also says in his infamous article (src: http://uncrunched.com/2011/11/27/startups-are-hard-so-work-m... ) that people who think they are working too hard or sacrificing too much should quit their startup), but aside from that it's a just a bunch of entries from a personal diary, not a rant with an overarching message or thesis statement. Arrington used the diary entries as evidence that the startup experience was hard in 1994, but (correct me if I'm wrong) he never modified jwz's quotes or tried to make it appear that jwz had an opinion that he didn't have.

Arrington didn't literally twist and reshape jwz's sentences, as pg's were. Even still, it's hard to see how Arrington metaphorically twisted anything jwz wrote. From the article:

He's telling you the story of, "If you bust your ass and don't sleep, you'll get rich" because the only way that people in his line of work get richer is if young, poorly-socialized, naive geniuses believe that story! Without those coat-tails to ride, VCs might have to work for a living. Once that kid burns out, they'll just slot a new one in.

Would you name some other ways to get rich with a reliability approaching that of starting a VC-funded startup?

The VCs may be in control, but at least it's a game that can be played. I'm not sure how it was disingenuous of Arrington to cite evidence of how hard jwz had to work. His point was that startups are hard. Jwz didn't seem to refute that, nor provide any hope of potentially escaping a lifetime of working for other people without doing a startup. Startup success is rare, but it seems more frequent than most of history has allowed.

I'd argue that there's a fundamental reappropriation of jwz's sentiment here, but rereading the uncrunched article I understand your perspective.

> Would you name some other ways to get rich with a reliability approaching that of starting a VC-funded startup?

Yes, just invest in a mutual fund. Overall VC returns are in line with the broader market at best, and are often worse. (Source: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2013/02/venture-capital-returns.html)

That refers to the returns of the venture capitalists, not the startup founders.

It makes no difference, because one must also account for every other failed startup the founders had or will participate in, along with other opportunity cost. In fact, the final ROI of VCs should be higher than the founders' because they get the bulk of the equity in exchange for their investment.

jwz, and Arrington's target audience, were startup employees, not founders.

The orignal post accuses The Information of publishing a false quote. The article you linked to looks like two authors having a factual and philosophical disagreement, carried out in the normal way. They're on opposite sides of a bright line.

I can see why you might think that but consider it from pg's pov. It is technically true to describe the incendiary passage in the Information's article as incorrect. pg never said what he is alleged to have said. If the information and implication were the same from what he actually said it would be no harm, no foul.

Given that pg was giving background information, not an interview and that his words were misquoted and stripped of context perhaps you can see why people have decided never to give the Information the benefit of the doubt ever again.

It was marketed as quality journalism but it's just Valleywag with a subscription.

Yeah. Most other places would get more slack, but when you big thing is "We are expensive in a market where everything else is free because WE ARE BETTER" and the time before first huge fuckup is counted in days, you lose a lot of that momentum.

That said, suddenly everyone is talking a hell of a lot about "The Information" -- so maybe it will end up being a huge win for them.

Suicide or brilliant marketing move, will be fun to watch.

Unless you're Telegram.

> And really, three sins were committed. The first was changing a quote. You just can’t do that, ever

What utter nonsense!

Unscripted speech, especially under cognitive load about complicated topics, is disfluent. About 5% of the words you speak will be edited on the fly, and not part of the final utterance to be understood. Many professional speakers train themselves not to do this, but even many politicians at the peak of their profession will remain disfluent in unscripted remarks.

Interviews are _always_ edited for fluency. You make someone sound like a bumbling idiot if you supply a verbatim transcript.

Good to see people coming out in support of this horrible editing, and I hope the trouble makers see that it is taking the discussion away from what is important.

Why attack someone like pg over this? Is the attempt to shame him into being more women hacker friendly? Isn't he already going out of his way to support women?

The people who attacked PG have an agenda:

* Publicly shame as many top males for anything possible to make room for women - assume the worst and don't try to resolve possible misunderstanding privately, but instead immediately engage in public smear campaigns. The little shitlord nerds don't deserve anything.

* Smashing the patriarchy requires getting men out of positions of power, because they didn't earn any of it, and so the best, most capable men must be pushed out. Meritocracies create inequality, and so are evil. Women are only not in tech because of deliberate, institutionalized sexism. There is no other reason. Not because more men were shut-in nerds ostracized by society who were hungry for something interesting to work on. That's not it at all. There is no reason for men to compete with each other for well paying jobs other than them being sexist jerks.

* Remove all male identity, because if men don't exist then women can feel better about not doing things they don't want to. All gendered words must be wiped clean, because you don't know who could be reading your own words even in an industry mostly built, maintained, and ran by men. Any word with "man" must be changed to "person" and if there are none available then invent new words, because men do not deserve identity (because of their male privilege). Why are men more interested in getting into tech on their own? Obviously it's the patriarchy which pushes men into challenging STEM jobs, and women into psychology. If there were no gendered words in tech then women would stop going into psychology so much and instead get into STEM

* Make places where men can talk openly safe for women's feelings, because that's the only reason women are not in tech. This means no fun allowed, no jokes allowed. If there are mostly men in a group then it's obviously anti-women, uninviting to women, and most likely a bunch of women hating frat boys. Humor is problematic. Brave white knights (people who defend some by attacking (being bullies toward) others at all costs by default when they do not even understand what is going on (see: people attacking PG on twitter)) treat women as children without agency, which means creating Codes of Conduct which hilariously favor women, and allow women to get any male kicked out for any reason if they feel like making something up, which will totally make more guys want to associate with women at groups and not distance themselves even more.

* Make the good men who want to see equality, would be very happy if more women were in tech to walk on eggshells, or not even say anything, because they are afraid if they ask questions (if you practice the Socratic method then you are a sexist pig) or think things through logically (feels > facts; Social Justice Warrior Misandrist theory is 100% correct and if you disagree you're a misogynist) they will be attacked, publicly misquoted, and have their character assassinated.

* If any man tries to help feminist issues he is really just trying to put the spotlight on himself. He should STFU and listen, because he's a privileged, cis, white male, and he knows nothing. He's not allowed to ask questions either. He can google, and it's not anyone's job to educate him.

Not hyperbole. I have talked with serious people who gleefully hold these sickening views.

Take your conspiracy theories back to the red pill chief.

Yeah, totes there are no people like this, and the attack on PG was not agenda fueled.


You're going to need more than wild speculation and a link to a subreddit.

Are you a newbie to the Internet? Been living under a rock? What do you want me to do cite each example with what Social Justice Warriors say they want?

I'm not new to the internet, but you are definitely new to HN. Well-reasoned and supported arguments are valued here, not baseless and fragmented conspiracy theories.

E.g. Aliens are controlling politics! Proof: http://reddit.com/r/ufos

Individuals have agendas and are attacking people due to their ideology. Look at the thread you are in. PG was attacked by people over something he never said. They didn't do it for no reason, they did it because they saw a chance to draw blood for their twisted cause. Where's the wild conspiracy again? It's not a conspiracy. It's a group of very public, transparent, active, and vocal people who are creating divisive rifts in the tech world. They are post modernists who believe in patriarchy theory and think the only way that they can destroy all of the social constructs is by forcefully enforcing public punishment for thought-crimes. Or something. It gets kind of silly.

Consider the two previous needlessly dramatic tragedies caused by the SJWs:

Donglegate - humor is problematic, and worth getting a guy fired over.

Nodegate - empathy doesn't extend to having empathy over cultural differences of people who do not understand why people would care about pronouns, which drove off one of the top contributors.

There will for sure be more to come!

>Well-reasoned and supported arguments are valued here, not baseless and fragmented conspiracy theories.

My argument is that SJWs are a terrible blight on tech as well as everywhere else. They hurt everyone and help no one. If you disagree with something I stated then tell me and I'll show you examples of people who hold that belief, and actively champion it in the tech world. Unless that's not what you are after. In which case what you do think my thesis is?

>E.g. Aliens are controlling politics! Proof: http://reddit.com/r/ufos

Yeah, dude, totally all of the people linked to and discussed in http://www.reddit.com/r/TumblrInAction are fake! I didn't link to it to show that there are examples of people who believe the things I listed on. Come on who would believe people were so crazy.


Are you serious? I linked to TIA because they showcase the crazies. I'm not criticizing TIA, but linking to them because they very plainly detail what I was talking about in earlier posts.

For example, this pertinent thread: http://www.reddit.com/r/TumblrInAction/comments/1u0tmy/appar...

Sorry, deleted because I was going to check out of this, but you replied.

I'm glad you finally found yourself a primary source, however that still doesn't prove your thesis that this particular incident is an example of what you are talking about.

OK. You could have said that before. I could have linked to the people who were attacking PG for the misquote, and showing how they fall in line with the examples of what people want.

This isn't a conspiracy theory, go click around the SJW corners of the Internet a bit. There are tons of people who think this way. It's prevalent enough that I'd not blame anyone for not providing a bibliography.

When describing the radical views of others, it should seem obvious that a link to their 'manifesto' or something would be necessary. Suggesting that 'the info is out there' is a piss poor excuse for a weak argument.

You've gone down the spectrum from TiA sensibility, way past AVFM-esque MRA, and into the darkest pits of TRP.

Seeing a polarized culture, hating it and joining an equally polarized culture seems to be a bit counter-intuitive. I think it's pretty clear that his TRP views are coloring his description of his enemies.


And I'm a she. Thanks for misgendering me.

Okay, I guess you aren't into TRP then.

What's your argument?

Because it's one or the other. Very nuanced.

Please take this rant somewhere else.

Please note the topic you are in.

Oh, Lord, not this shit.

I think there's a smear campaign against Silicon Valley right now. ValleyMag is the main agitator, but not the only one.

As Hamish McKenzie wrote in his piece about Elon Musk battling the media: (http://pandodaily.com/2013/11/13/why-elon-musk-is-right-to-f...)

<quote>"There is no established rubric for peer review in the media; adherence to truth is largely a matter of self-regulation. Instead of peer review, in which experts check the work of other experts, media has editors and fact-checkers. Often, those people are not experts in the matters their institutions are covering. Worse, sometimes they are novices on subjects ranging from climate science to jet propulsion to even basic statistics.

But they still get to control the headlines on those stories. They still serve as the major conduit through which the public is informed about what are often intrinsically complex but extremely important matters. And even with strong editing standards in place, it is inevitable that some of the reporting for which they are responsible will lack crucial nuance or just be plain wrong."</quote>

I don't get the sense that the reporter was trying to mislead, but she was doing what reporters always do; twist what was happening into a narrative that they had concluded existed before they began researching and writing the piece. Something contradicts what you have to say? Discard it, and search for something that fits your story. Just like when you would write an essay in college; you're making a claim, and backing it up.

The same is true of events. Creating a story by asking some people questions and trying to bind their responses into a single narrative with one story that makes sense is often-times impossible. Not because the reporter is doing a bad job, but because their task is impossible. The war in Syria is often shown as two warring factions, when in reality there are dozens of groups who play off each other and fight against each other at different times. Even the armies themselves are trying to piece together who is fighting for and against whom today; to expect a reporter to do so is absurd. But that’s exactly what we do.

How, then, can we have any hope of gaining a definitive understanding in the world, if even people paid to do so full-time have difficulty grasping it? Maybe there isn’t any. Life isn’t simple, people aren’t just good or evil, and situations are never binary. Maybe we’re not ever supposed to look at what’s happening in the world and say, “I understand now; it’s simple.” Because it’s not. If we think that we’re probably missing a lot of pieces of the story.

Every reporter tries to simplify complex events to make it more palatable to a wider audience (for that is what media seek, I guess). Most of the time though, this 'simplification' goes too far. If there was more honesty in reporting (i.e. the reporter can give the events and say that they don't really know why it is that way) it would be more honest but maybe we are so used to people 'explaining' stuff that we aren't ready for that kind of reporting yet.

We should pitch in and pay her for retracting the story and apologizing. 10k for retraction seems to be her standard fee and another 5k for an apology should do it.

(Donation address: 1CDdg67uEt6xpzapzGZc1m6JiUF1KAhFqH)


I'm just laughing at the pissing match. Kinda funny that one would PAY for the lowest-quality journalism on the planet. This is like if Pitchfork started charging $200/year just to read it.

I am really surprised that none has actually read the transcript. Here is a quote from the next question in the transcript:

Eric: What you’re saying is that they’re not out there to be found?

Paul: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. It is changing a bit because it’s no longer so critical to be a hacker

So PG's views are actually exactly that - in general no suitable female startup founders exist in the world. That isn't bad per se as an opinion, or makes him misogynist, I'm just surprised how people that have a positive outlook of someone can defend them even in a clearly wrong situation.

Btw I'm not affiliated with that news website in any way, just couldn't bare to see a community - that is normally so ornithological - go crazy over defending someone who doesn't deserve it.

So PG's views are actually exactly that - in general no suitable female startup founders exist in the world.

That's not what pg is saying at all.

Eric's question wasn't if female founders can be found. Eric is asking if there are non-hackers out there, just waiting to be found, so they can start the next Facebook. pg is saying you can't just go out and find non-hackers and turn them into the next Mark Zuckerberg.

On a side note, I think the transcript is poorly transcribed. Many sentences are missing keywords allowing sentences to be easily interpreted in different ways.

What's truly amazing is the lack of foresight in all of this. If you're a tech company doing tech reporting, why in holy hell would you misquote or spin - or by ignorance allow to be spun - a quote from Paul Graham? How did they think this was going to end for them?

A ton of upvotes for a Michael Arrington lecture about what is and is not legitimate journalism shows just how fickle the HN crowd is. You guys are silly.

News, apart from investigative journalism, is mostly gossip with a patina of occasional respectability.

But by news being essentially gossip, it's something there's plenty of, like artistic talent, so there's not much money in it. That's because there's a positive gradient of information from people that will tell you for free.

The right thing to do here was for them to apologize for taking a quote out of context and fire the reporter. Now that ship has sailed, I think her magazine is probably toast.

Does anyone else appreciate the humor in the juxtaposition of parodical wordplay between "disinformation" and "uncrunched?" :)

"Power relationships" is about an influence to not publish a story to begin with.

Need to "kill a story" (including an ability to kill it by paying) is a sign of lost power.

From both sides.

To add to your remarks on power: VC-funded tech is a world where everyone feels like a loser and is disempowered.

The VCs want to be working on billion-dollar private equity deals and crashing third-world currencies, not flipping measly $200-million startups. They're happy with their $17-million California mansions... until they go to their MBA-school reunions and are the only ones in their social groups without private jets and who don't live in New York or London.

The founders want to be VCs, the engineers want to be founders. Neither transition is likely at all. The non-engineers want to be engineers. Where that transition is likely, watch out.

The tech press is pretty light on ethics because of the false poverty effect. Few people in tech proper are poor, but they all feel poor, and when you conceive of yourself as poor, pissed-on, and generally cheated, you're more willing to do some cheating yourself.

That is why there are so many unethical and shoddy people in VC-funded technology. Watching total fucking idiots like Lucas Duplan get million-dollar welfare checks only adds to it.

Then there are the stray weirdos like me who are in tech because we really like the work, but we don't last long in VC-istan.

Meanwhile, people who have better thing to do than to listen to drama queens carry on with their lives.

Taught to be a hacker? lol.

This is a case where "disruption" is bad, because "disruption" usually involves overhaul of older ethical principles that emerged after decades of missteps.

Journalism is being disrupted (and has been for over 30 years) and the result is that reliable, just-the-facts is getting overrun by this nonsense.

People are comparing this to Valleywag. Actually, I like Valleywag. I think it's great. It is exactly what it says it is, and it's helping to break down VC-istan's image and prestige, which is exactly what it will take to save Real Technology. Valleywag is, perhaps unintentionally, tech's best friend right now.

This, on the other hand, is a five-alarm fuckup. You do not alter peoples' quotes like that, or lie to them in the way that PG was lied to, and keep your reputation. The old newspapers and journalists (with very rare, if high-profile, exceptions) knew that; but a lot of these post-disruption actors seem not to.

I disagree. The real "disruption" here is pg's response and subsequent responses, including yours.

Yellow journalism is still a problem. Most people who read some little quote about women in tech from some guy they've never heard of move on. For the core group of people who are interested, the best way to learn about pg's opinions is from pg himself and that is easy to do.

New standards need to emerge. Publishing transcripts or recordings would be a good place to start. But the ability of misquoted individuals to respond is itself a disruption.

> Journalism is being disrupted (and has been for over 30 years) and the result is that reliable, just-the-facts is getting overrun by this nonsense.

Are you sure we ever actually had the paradise we lost?

why are we still listening to arrington again?

Because he makes a valid point. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

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