You and Spiers have the same problem: You approach credibility, but completely gaslight the obvious bad faith that seeps from Metz's Murray and "Voldemort" references. It's not just that Metz deigns to "mention" these -- he injects then in a fashion so willfully and maliciously misleading that it would be borderline sanctionable in court. If you can't admit there's malice here, you're either deluded or likewise operating in bad faith, which makes it difficult to engage with the remainder of what you've written. Same goes for Spiers.

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I more or less agree with your characterization of the most conspiratorial claims about the NYT as almost certainly wrong. But I have personally revised my priors about how much the Times cares about factual accuracy downward after hearing how internal 1619 Project fact-checks fared and seeing that the NYT story on SSC has at least one clear factual error that lots of people have pointed out but that hasn't yet been corrected. The misleadingness of how the Murray parts are written is pretty bad too. We needn't presume untoward motives to believe that the content of the story is factually wrong in parts and unfairly misleading in others. That's my modest claim.

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excellent discussion. The way people talk about the output of news outlets is pretty bonkers. The news industry is like the restaurant industry; profits are razor thin and every company walks a tightrope to cover their operating costs while preserving a reputation (not necessarily for credibility, as the Times has prioritized, but for any number of things that might attract an audience).

Attempting to understand the content of articles on the Times through the lens of malice or spitefulness is just not going to carry you very far. There’s very little time for that; writing from a place of malice or spitefulness does not actually help you produce pieces that attract readers, especially readers who might convert to subscribers in the case of the Times.

Malice is a comforting explanation because it implies you matter, that the journalist or even better their institution, cares enough about you or sees you as enough of a threat to specifically single you out for destruction.

To my mind, the real problem with journalists, which Scott touched on a bit in his inaugural post, is their *indifference.* indifference to the impact of making something salient or shining a spotlight in it. When Metz started researching the piece there really was no compelling reason Scott’s name was *needed*. It was basically a fluff piece, on the level of a trend piece, about an eccentric subcommunity. The public wouldn’t gain anything from having his real name mentioned, and Scott preferred not to have it shown, and “it’s our guideline” is a pretty weak reason. Fact is being written about in the NYT, even in positive or neutral terms, can be a pretty high impact event for people. And the only reason that journalists do it is because it’s their job to find interesting things for their audience; in cases like this, there really wasn’t any more compelling reason than that.

All that said, you’re exactly right that Scott’s behavior basically said in big neon lights “there’s a bigger story here!” I don’t think he has really wrestled with the implications of that, and I think the malice narrative is entirely delusional. But I also think the people like Spiers who have argued from the newsroom perspective have missed how the journalist’s indifference to their impact is felt by the subjects of it, and how malice narratives are often the comfort blanket of those who feel like they were kicked in the shin for no real reason.

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Why do you constantly refer to him as "Siskind" in this article rather than as "Scott Alexander"? It would seem weird to me for a music reviewer to talk about "Stefani Germanotta (who publishes under the name "Lady Gaga")" and then constantly say "Germanotta" throughout the article. My general inclination is to refer to people by the name that they choose to be identified as, with maybe a mention of their legal name if that's relevant. I don't know how much this is shaped by years of exposure to the occasional trans person, for whom this is important in a different sort of way from singers and writers. But it still seems like the polite thing to do, so why not do it? (That goes for Peter Thiel too, though I assume "Theil" is just a mis-remembering of the spelling, and not an intentional alternate name.)

On the bigger point, I think I mostly agree. There was a huge overreaction by the SlateStarCodex fanbase, because there really is a strain of sympathy for neoreaction and anti-feminism there. I do think the particular insinuations Metz made are misleading (particularly the suggestion that social justice warriors are more excluded than neoreactionaries in the community, and the mischaracterization of "I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup" as an attack specifically on the Blue Tribe, while linking several other posts but not that one).

Anyway, I've been glad to be following Scott Alexander, Matthew Yglesias, and you, all on Substack the past few weeks, and learning more about the important similarities and distinctions in views between these people that I've been following online for many years!

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Another earnest question for people like Wilkinson: Why is doxing journalists a bad act? You seemingly expect me to regard journalists as a special class empowered to dox civilians with impunity for profit, clout, and/or sadistic gratification, yet you want me to be disconcerted that Balaji would dox a reporter? You probably read Freddie DeBoer and probably dismissed his piece out-of-hand. You shouldn't have.

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This is already coming up in other comments, so I want to add: "dox(x)" gets used to describe two distinct things:

1- Making previously private information public (revealing an anonymous person's identity, when that information is not really available publicly)

2- Drawing attention to/making salient already public information in a context that is likely to be harmful

2 is really what was going to happen in Scott's case. As everyone has said, it was super easy to figure out his last name from a simple Google search. Some friends in the Bay area tell me that everyone around there already tended to refer to him by his real name during verbal conversations about the blog.

But 2 is also what made "doxxing" a term in the first place, not 1. When the term first began to be used, it was typically describing a case where someone posted people's home address and phone number, or work address and phone number, all of which was already publicly available information. They'd do this on Reddit or Twitter and generally stoke up a bunch of people into a frenzy (or where they were already stoked up) and they'd call their place of work telling them to fire the person or call their home and harrass them.

This wasn't that. But, I think Scott makes a pretty reasonable case about the professional nuances of psychiatry, and that it wasn't unreasonable to ask the Times to respect that. And as I said in my previous comment, I don't really see what compelling reason Metz had to refuse (in the original interaction); as students of bureaucracy know, "it's in the guidelines" is more often a discretionary judgment, because the person in question simply doesn't want to go to the trouble it would take to make an exception.

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Maybe you think Scott’s mea culpa was insufficient, but it’s objectively true that Scott admitted to overreacting and admonished the actions of his followers that led to harassment.

Now, Will’s speculation is that Scott’s freakout made Metz super suspicious. It’s absurd for Scott to engage in conspiratorial thinking about the Times wanting to score a hit on him, but there is no problem for Metz and his editors to engage in conspiratorial thinking about Scott’s motives. I get that this sort of skepticism is part of a journalist’s state of mind, but this asymmetric treatment feels a little unfair. Of course, we don’t know what Metz thought. This is just Will’s rationalization.

If Metz actually did feel inspired to dig deeper to see what Scott might be hiding, he did a terrible job. That’s really important to emphasize, and is something Will completely ignores. Every anecdote in Metz’s article is easily refuted, and they don’t even require a close reading. They are just bad examples. If that is the result of months of reporting, then it speaks to Metz’s incompetence, Scott’s excellence in obfuscation, or perhaps, there is no *there* there. Will spends no time at all on the actual content of Metz’s piece. I guess maybe there wasn’t space.

Will links to a tweet that has since been deleted with allegedly damning emails. No idea why it was deleted, but that is, in fairness, a piece of relevant evidence. The rest is Will’s idle speculation that Scott is a neofascist. Neofascism, in fact, is seemingly pervasive among technology leaders - at least in Will’s mind. I guess this is healthy journalistic skepticism.

With respect to the Times, it’s really weak for Will to just hand wave away all of the fuck ups associated with its culture and reporting. “Large institutions are just going to fail from time to time, but we should forgive them because they are large and unwieldy” is a bizarre standard and I am willing to bet Will does not apply this principle evenly. If Will wants to defend the Times, he should do the work and rebut the arguments levied against it.

Lastly, what is up with saying “Silicon Valley” is a bunch of white dudes? Leaders in the technology industry are pretty often male, but quite racially diverse. Will spends a lot of his time painting Balaji as a piece of shit and this is apparently lost on him.

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Great article, Will. Small factual correction: "Palantir" is not a name for Sauron's all-seeing eye. (Sauron *is* his all-seeing eye.) Palantir were, basically, crystal ball walkie-talkies that allowed communication at a distance. Sauron captured one of them and used them to manipulate & corrupt the owners of other Palantir. This correction only makes the name creepier!

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Well, I have to say that I had not seriously considered that the reason the final article came out as so negative (which I think it clearly is) is in part because Siskind acted wildly irrationally (I have always agreed there) and in ways reporters would deem suspicious, and that his community too acted in ways that would seem suspicious. And I largely agree that a demand for absolute pseudonymity is a kind of ridiculous and ultimately corrosive demand, even if I think at times certain groups enforce rules around acceptable discussion too heavily to be optimal.

I am not convinced Scott has bad motives or even is aware exactly of what he’s doing (which is at least possibly rationalization rather than reasoning on this matter). But then I don’t really need to be convinced it’s true, just that it’s quite possible (perhaps even likely).

And while I don’t think the NYT article addresses what is actually interesting about SSC and rationalists but rather focuses on basically irrelevant matters around Scott, Thiel, and a few bad eggs in the bunch, without ever actually describing what most people in the community finds valuable about it, you may be right that if you only have 1000 words and are writing for a general audience who doesn’t know or care about anything rationalists talk about then perhaps it’s not unreasonable to focus on these trivialities. (Ouch was that a lot of hedging and way too many clauses.) I think the effect it has is to slander a large number of people in the minds of the general public for virtually no benefit to anyone, but that’s largely because I think the rationalists have a lot of good in them and are highly valuable. Compared to the counter factual where a genuinely valuable article about SSC (in my assessment) was written, the existing article is trash. But it’s at least plausible that to those outside the community who will never learn and never would have learned anything about it ever again, perhaps it serves some vague sense of public interest for them to know certain bad people and people with power like the same blog (and are sometimes the same people).

Ultimately I’m not convinced your description of the process that gave rise to the article as it is is correct, but you have at least achieved your aim of moving at least one person in your direction.

Also, this was way way better “lots of rationalists very in their feelings today and I am here for it”. Just because it was true (myself included) didn’t mean that it’s right 🤣. As you no doubt know from your Objectivist period, reason and emotions aren’t necessarily enemies and can go along together! But as rationalists know, they absolutely can be enemies, haha. Frenemies perhaps.

Thank you for the thoughtful post!

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Not being involved with all the supposed overreaction to the first aborted article on SSC, I was just annoyed that a good blog had disappeared for no reason I could understand. I see quotes and supposed fact attributed to people all that time where it would seem know ing their actual identities would be very relevant. What the heck is relevant about who "Scott Alexander" is? If he wants pseudo anonymity, why not let him have it? While this did not lead me (or apparently Alexander, either) into a conspiracy about why the NYT was trying to "get" Alexander, it was still just annoying as hell (in the same way as Fauci never explaining the flip flop on masks, or opposition to First Dose First.) "Just following the rules" is not a good response to the question of why the rules are what they are?

But then the article came out that was much different from what the original one was to be about, SSC as a window into why some people in the "rationalist" community were right earlier on aspects of the COVID response that the MSM/mainstream public health community. That raised a much larger question than why a journalist couldn't go along with a source's desire for anonymity? Now maybe it makes sense that the journalist rewrote his original article in response to what he saw as unjustified attacks on his newspaper (although that seems pretty thin-skinned to me), but why would an editor let that go through?

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OK, this is the post that convinced me to become a paying subscriber. I have long regarded Will Wilkinson as a writer who a) can express things that I'm thinking far more lucidly than I ever could and b) frequently writes things that I at least partially disagree with, forcing me to interrogate the reasons for our disagreement. (This has been somewhat intellectually whiplash inducing as WW has migrated over the years from much more libertarian than me to now seemingly somewhat more liberal than me.)

Question: any recommended reading for the non-PhD in philosophy on the “naturalized” epistemology that came out of Quine, etc. I have also long been interested in how to think better, and I'm generally a fan of SSC and the like, but I agree that there is a lot missing from their approach.

Regarding SSC: the community does strike me as not being nearly skeptical enough about their own rationalism. Yes, they are self-consciously aware of their own potential biases, but it seems like a rational assessment of one's own thinking would yield a conclusion along the lines of: "Most of what I think is likely to be wholly or partly wrong, and if I apply serious effort to improving the quality of my thought...most of what I think will still be wholly or partly wrong."

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You seem to ignore one important point Siskind makes early on: that it is important for the therapeutic relationship to have the therapist remain opaque.

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Good discussion. I recommend a twitter thread from Dave Roberts at Volts about the interplay between rationalism and emotional literacy/EQ (or lack thereof). It's not even clear to me that Siskind/Alexander/whatever the hell the guy's name is made a strong enough plea for pseudonymity before blowing up the blog. But yes, it is a huge red flag to anyone who reads people for a living (including journalists, some lawyers, and so forth).

I admit I'm starting to tire of debates about rational vs. irrational. People make decisions based on values, emotions, facts, ethics, and a lot of other things, and trying to deny that messy reality leads to a lot of missteps.

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Aaarghhh. The writing is great but do something about the typos. Couldn’t figure out what some of the sentences in the first paragraphs meant:

“ Slate Star Codex (SSC), which Siskind sunk [to?] the the bottom of the sea this summer because Metz was working [on an?] article”

“ Yet I know that a bunch of folks, including some friend[s],”

“ So, I’m sorry for the prolix digressiveness nature [digressive nature?]”

“ I am not of member of the out-group, exactly” [not a member of the out-group?]

“ more than [a?] little tribal”

Honestly the writing is fascinating but why do you hate definite and indefinite articles so much?

Otherwise keep up the good work!

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I want to read a stand-alone post about Quineian epistemology: what it is, and how it has shaped your other views.

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That was pretty persuasive and I disagree with you (but less now). I do think the most glaring errors in Metz' piece still deserve updating, but they are the banal ones: the definition of effective altruism, the dishonest rendering of Damore's (admittedly terrible) screed, the discussion of Siskind's views on Murray's views. I'm still disappointed those errors made it through the editing process, even though the Times batting average is still really good.

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