Let’s talk about the grand Slate Star Codex brouhaha.
A lot of people have already written about this. Here is the original New York Times piece that started the controversy.  Against the Grey Lady we have Cathy Young, Robby Soave, Micah Meadowcroft, Matthew Yglesias, Freddie DeBoer, Scott Aaronson, Noah Smith, and Dan Drezner, as well as Scott Alexander himself.  The most compelling brief in the Gray Lady’s favor was written by Elizabeth Spiers, but Will Wilkinson and Elizabeth Sandifer have weighed in as well. Gideon Lewis Kraus’ New Yorker essay from last June is probably the best “neutral” piece that has been written yet; If you do not know anything about Slate Star Codex or why so many people are writing about it now, start there. Sebastian Benthall’s commentary is also a very good middle ground analysis.
I am sure there has been a great deal of debate on twitter as well. I have not read it and thus cannot link to it: I unfollowed everyone on Twitter except a handful of newspapers and thus dwell in blissful ignorance. Indeed, from the perspective of one slowly letting go of Twitter following this debate has been great fun. Linking to all those blogs and substacks feels like reliving a memory from an older, better internet.
The least charming things about this entire debate is how every participant feels compelled to declare their loyalties before they state whatever they actually have to say. I’m not going to make my general readership slog through that kind of thing here; if you are the type who must know every intersection between my personal biography and the worlds of journalism or rationalist blogging, you will find that information in the fifth footnote.
What sticks out to me when reading all of these pieces, aside from the biographical digressions, is that the participants are not actually debating the same thing. There are a half dozen separate questions being fought over. Some folks have a pressing interest in conflating them with each other. I do not think this is helpful.
At a minimum, these questions include:
1) Was it ok to “out” Scott Alexander’s true identity as Scott Siskind?
2) Did this specific New York Times article (“Silicon Valley’s Safe Space”) misrepresent the content of Slate Star Codex, the contours of the broader rationalist community, or the nature of their connection with Silicon Valley?
3) Assuming things were misrepresented, why did that happen? Was it a premeditated “hit job” or revenge piece? Or is there a better explanation for what happened than that?
4) Do journalists have the right to uproot the lives of their subjects lives with negative coverage? Do communities so targeted have the right to impose costs on journalists (say, by harassing them on twitter or flooding their inboxes) that are “just doing their job?” (A simpler way of phrasing this question: who is “punching up” here?)
5) Is this a controversy specific to the New York Times, or does the incident point to broader problems in the way American journalism works as a whole?
6) Do powerful figures in the consumer tech sector really expect journalists to play the role of a glorified PR agent? (Or to flip the question around: are journalists unfairly biased against tech?)
7) Does the entire Slate Star Codex affair prove the Silicon Valley decentralist argument right? Has the time come to overthrow old “East Coast” hierarchies and replace them with new “West Coast” institutions?
Now look, if you are Balaji Srinivasan you are going to want a negative answer on question #1 to translate to positive answer on question #7. Given his chosen project I cannot fault him for trying to equate one with the other. But in truth question #7 is not the same as question #1. You can be an East Coast climber and still view this particular piece as libelous. Or you can think Alexander had unrealistic expectations for personal privacy while also believing journalists are biased against tech. We have reduced these separate threads into one big debate: who is the real enemy here? This sort of Schmittian friends-and-enemies game is stupid. We are smarter than this.
Let us go through these questions one-by-one. Some of these questions are more interesting than the others. I will not be giving them equal space. I cannot promise I will finish them all today, but may instead defer some of the questions to a second post to keep this at a readable length.
Question One: Was it ok to “out” Scott Alexander’s true identity as Scott Siskind?
Of course not. Look: both psychiatrists and online community leaders have a certain sort of relationship with their clients and followers. By design these relationships are bounded in a specific domain and are wildly inappropriate outside of those bounds. With a big online following comes a host of parasocial relationships. These relationships are often, for lack of a better word, creepy. It would not be good for Scott’s office if his parasocial hanger-ons (be they his most ardent haters or his most rabid fans) show up looking for treatment.
Likewise, the relationship between psychiatrists and their clients are inherently imbalanced. A client may view their psychiatrist as their friend, but psychiatrists are not friends. By design it is a one-way relationship. In the world of counseling, clients who have an outside connection to their therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, or so forth are described as being part of a “dual” or “multiple relationship”—an ethical no-no for the profession.
While none of the various psychological codes of ethics specifically mention parasocial relationships in their lists of improper dual relationships, it should be obvious to anyone who thinks about the issue for 60 seconds that a psychiatrist cannot have a healthy working relationship with his or her client when said client has a parasocial attachment to them (especially when said psychiatrist regularly blogs about his experiences treating patients).
This isn’t hard folks. Scott created two separate identities because—irrespective of the actual content of his writing—the role of “psychiatrist” and “online community leader” cannot be played by the same person at the same time.
I do not think this solution was ever sustainable on the long term. At some point Scott would have to choose which role he wanted to play full time. But that should have been his decision. What right did the New York Times have to make that decision for him? Where do they get the moral authority to decide when that decision must be made? A great deal of the anger directed at the Times comes back to that question: just who are they to make that call—and to make it for the sake of C-section column most Times readers will have forgotten about a week after they read it?
Question two: Did this specific New York Times article (“Silicon Valley’s Safe Space”) misrepresent the content of Slate Star Codex, the contours of the broader rationalist community, or the nature of their connection with Silicon Valley?
Lots of folks have discoursed on this one already. I have little original to add and will not rechew others’ cud. I will only note that the quest to connect the rationalists—who are not representative of Silicon Valley writ large and have far, far less influence there than the Times would have its readers imagine—to the broader sins of big tech is in part an attempt to pre-empt the question I posed above. “If we can explain why Google is sexist, surely that will give the New York Times the right to break apart this one man’s life for the sake of a column, right?” On the other hand, if Slate Star Codex’s influence is limited to claiming a handful of tech billionaires and a few dozen Heterodox Academy types among its readership, the justification for forcing Scott to choose between his career as a psychiatrist and his success as an internet writer begins to fade away. 
When I read through the debates on this question I often want to ask: did y’all read Gideon Lewis Kraus’ New Yorker piece on Slate Star Codex from last year? His piece is everything Cade Metz’s Time article is not. Kraus has a far stronger grasp of what the rationalist movement is all about, the types of personalities attracted to it, its actual relationship with the tech world, and where it fits into the broader story of American intellectual life. Because Kraus did his homework, his inevitable critiques of the community and their favorite blog land. The rationalist response to that piece was muted: It did not prompt a flurry of angry blogposts and twitter threads. Most Codex readers did not agree with all of it but accepted it as a fair piece of journalism—and the difference in that reaction tells us something about whether the Slate Star Codex audience’s expectations are really that crazy. For my part, I see Kraus’ essay as the best evidence that Metz and his editors overstepped their bounds, engaging in journalistic malpractice—or something very close to it.
3) Assuming things were misrepresented, why did that happen? Was it a premeditated “hit job” or revenge piece? Or is there a better explanation for what happened?
So why did this happen? Here is where I break ranks with the rationalists: all the talk about “hit jobs” is silly and conspiratorial. Prestige media will play this game with very important people—CEOs, politicians, generals, and the like. Scott Alexander is not at that level. Not even close. Scott Aaronson might think that the demise of Slate Star Codex would be “an intellectual loss on the scale of, let’s say, John Stuart Mill or Mark Twain burning their collected works,” but just about no one outside of the rationalist community would agree with him. 
On this account Elizabeth Spiers is absolutely correct:
“Only in a bubble as insular and tiny as the SSC community would this theory be even remotely plausible. To put this in context: SSC is influential in a small but powerful corner of the tech industry. It is not, however, a site that most people, even at The New York Times, are aware exists—and certainly, the Times and its journalists are not threatened by its existence. They are not out to destroy the site, or “get” Scott, or punish him. At the risk of puncturing egos: they are not thinking about Scott or the site at all. Even the reporter working on the story has no especial investment in its subject. That reporter is also probably working on six other stories at the same time, thinking about their friends, family, what their kid needs to do in Zoom school tomorrow, the book they want to read, whether Donald Trump will get arrested, whether rats dream of boredom. They do not sit around thinking about how they’re going to “get” people they write about, and when subjects think they do, it’s more a reflection of the subject’s self-perception (or self-importance) and, sometimes, a sprinkling of unadulterated narcissism. 
Now this does not excuse Metz’s shoddy reporting—in a way it makes it even less ethical, a point we will return to later—but it does change the nature of the problem. If only this saga were a matter of malice or an empty chase for clicks!  That would be easy to solve. Unfortunately the central problem here is larger, and more difficult to fix.
Not to get too meta, but it might be useful to think of the issue like this: every person on the Earth perceives not the Earth itself but a representation of the Earth that their brain has built. Walter Lippman explained it a century ago:
The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage it.
Azar Gat made a similar observation more recently:
In order to cope with their environment, humans strive to identify, understand, and explain the forces operating within and behind it, so that they can at least predict, and if possible, also manipulate these forces and their effects to their advantage. They are predisposed to assume that such forces are there. With respect both to their natural and human environment, humans achieved impressive successes in using these methods. The quest for an understanding thus evolved into a fundamental human trait. Humans must have answers as to the reasons and direction of the world around them. Stretching this faculty the furthest, humans have a deep emotional need for a comprehensive interpretive framework, or set of interpretive ‘stories’ that would explain, connect the various elements of, and give meaning to their world and their own existence within it. They need a cognitive map of, and a manipulative manual for, the universe, which by lessening the realm of the unknown would them a sense of security and control, allay their fears, and alleviate their pain and distress. 
This is true even for even the most concrete of human experiences: the hunter, logger, and geologist will walk through the same patch of wilderness and see an entirely different forest, for each eye is trained to notice something different. The more abstract the things observed the greater individual variance there will be. For intangible social processes like market exchange, mass movements, and elections, our understanding is all model, no matter. 
This need to reduce reality to a simple mental model is an inherent feature of human cognition. For the most part it is done automatically without much thought. We cannot avoid simplification—we speak of London doing this or China doing that not because such simplifications are true (there is no unitary agent named “London” or “China” doing anything) but because it is impossible to act in a complex world without such short cuts.
The problems of journalism are the problems of cognition on steroids. For the journalist, historian, or social scientist, the drive to reduce is acute and explicit. On top of the normal simplification we all do unconsciously, nonfiction writers must reduce twice more: The first round of reduction comes with investigation. Any subject is too large to be understood in toto. The investigator must decide where to focus her efforts, how to spend limited time, what sources to consult, what questions to ask, and what sort of evidence to be on the lookout for. Many of these things are not explicitly decided, but are forced upon the investigator by the nature of her tools and sources or by her preconceived sense of what is notable and what is not.
The second round of simplification, just as inherent to the journalistic enterprise as the first, is built into act of writing. The investigator has collected in her brain more that can ever be put on a page. Journalists in particular must condense what they have learned onto a very small space. This double reduction process is often described as “framing” a story. Reducing an entire movement—the histories, controversies, disagreements, defeats, glories, and quirks of thousands of unique individuals—to one comprehensible frame will always cut important things out. It is inevitable that some members of the covered group will be dissatisfied with the frame they have been forced into.
This process, far more than any explicit ideological agenda, is the source of most bias in journalism. This source of bias cannot be escaped. Stories without a frame are just an incoherent collection of facts too long and too varied to fit on a page. The bias imposed by framing is necessary—and sometimes even a good thing.
I am here reminded of my Chinese friends who complain about Western journalists’ disproportionate focus on dissident and human rights stories in China. My friends are right to complain, in their own way: the story of China’s persecuted minorities is only a bit part in the vast universe of experiences and events that is China. I don’t mind this particular bias, however. Nor do I find the dominance of diplomatic, security, and macroeconomic stories about China particularly distressing. Journalists and their editors carry with them a set of a priori beliefs on what is actually important (“newsworthy”). In this case I find it difficult to argue that these beliefs are wrong.
The trouble comes when attachment to a given frame leads journalists into misperceiving their subjects, forcing them into a framework that does not really fit them. If you are primed to think of internet subcultures through the gamergate frame, gamergate is all you will ever find. In the terminology of the rationalists, it is a problem of “priors.” All that was required for a mess like this was a writer with wildly different priors and tight time demands to come into contact with a community they only had a superficial understanding of. No active malice is necessary.
Unfortunately, if this is a problem inherent to journalism, the particular practices of the New York Times editorial team aggravate the issue. Listen to one ex-Times editor compare his time at the Gray Lady to his earlier career at the Los Angeles Times:
For starters, it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”
It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.
Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?” 
All humans naturally tack new developments to pre-existing mental models. Far from fighting this mental tick, the New York Times mandates that its reporters explicitly commit their reporting to certain narrative arcs before they have even begun to really investigate! This is not usual journalistic practice. It has predictable consequences. About two years ago the New York Times signaled that an increasing percentage of their reporting would be devoted to a new guiding narrative. That narrative goes something like this: “shed light on the ideas, institutions, and personalities that exacerbate racial and gender inequity in American life, creating the sort of world where Donald Trump can be president.” Times reporters went searching for stories that might fit the bill. Little wonder that they have found so many!
I suppose if your sole definition of “newsworthy” is “something that exacerbates racial and gender inequity in American life” then you will struggle to see what was wrong with this decision. If that is your definition of “newsworthy,” fine, I can’t criticize you—it isn’t really any different from my finding security stories the most newsworthy things to come out of China. Just be open about the trade-offs of this approach. A journalist who conceives of her beat in terms of a predetermined frame will end up finding them—but inevitably there will be stories shoehorned into a framing that they poorly fit.
Question four: Do journalists have the right to uproot the lives of their subjects lives with negative coverage? Do communities so targeted have the right to impose costs on journalists (say, by harassing them on twitter or flooding their inboxes) that are “just doing their job?”
Historians face all the same problems that journalists do. But when historians debate framing and bias the stakes are low. At the end of the day, their debates are strictly academic. Journalists deal instead with living, breathing people. On this front, many of the folks manning the battlements at high prestige publications lack self-awareness. It can be difficult to get them to understand the true nature of their work. Whatever else it might aspire to be, journalism is an exercise in power. No one who wields power should be surprised when those subjected to it resist.
Part of the problem is that full-time writers thrive in the limelight. For a public intellectual like Will Wilkinson all press is good press; he lives in a world of ceaseless self-promotion, and is not properly situated to understand what being targeted by an international media outlet feels like for folks outside of that world. In her book Liquidated, anthropologist-cum-Wall Street trader Karen Ho makes a parallel observation about investment bankers: thriving in a career marked by transience and risk, socialized to believe it is normal to be let go at any time, they have little compunction reshaping corporate America in their own image and even less sympathy for Americans not as adept at dealing with job insecurity as they are.  Fish will never understand fear of deep water.
To make things clear for the fish: humans have a strong, perhaps even innate, need to tell their own story. This is what makes social media so addicting—it allows you to endlessly curate your own self-image, forever perfecting your personal story for others’ consumption. Losing the ability to tell our own story feels like loss of agency—a violation. The teenage girl subject to a high school whisper campaign feels violated even though no one has touched her. I will not call it an act of “violence,” though some have. “Violation” describes the experience well enough.
Recognizing this is a natural, human experience does not mean all humans have a natural right to narrative control. But it does mean that journalists must be more sensitive to the nature of their enterprise—especially if they write for an outlet with the reach of the New York Times. A story like this may very well be, as Spiers argues, just one of “six other stories” a journalist is “working on… at the same time,” of less interest to them than whether “rats dream of boredom.” It may just be a few hundred words out of hundreds of thousands the journalist will write, the end product of a few humdrum hours on the daily grind. Fine. But for the subjects of a piece—say for the 7000 rationalists committed enough to their community to take the annual seventy-plus question SSC questionnaire—this sort of thing is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
A journalist descends from the New York Times like an immortal from Olympus. If you read your myths you know how those moments go. The Olympians have their fun. They then return heavenward as glowing and unsoiled as they descended. It is for the mortals left behind to bear the scars of their exchange.
Journalists resist this message. They have so long internalized that their role is “speaking truth to power” that they fail to see when they are the power. So let me be explicit: if you have a staff position at the New York Times you are the power. When you are writing for that paper you have the power to determine what millions of people will think about an individual, movement, or event. You have the power to decide the first thing people will find when they Google search your subject—forever. That is power. If every piece you file does not have you in awe at your own responsibility, you are doing this wrong. Unless your subject sits atop a corporate hierarchy, is an elected politician, an appointed high official, a commanding general, has a net worth of more than $5 million, or a loyal following with similar numbers, then your critical coverage is “punching down.” That is simply the nature of the institution you work for.
This fact can be obscured by tech titans eager to co-opt incidents like these as part of their own struggle. Just as the rest of us do, folks like Srinivasan interpret events like these through an a priori frame. As is true with most all of us, these frames can be self-serving. Srinivasan’s cause has something to gain by reinterpreting “the New York Times causes controversy with lazy reporting” as “legacy East Coast institutions continue their unrighteous crusade against Silicon Valley upstarts.” The Times’ own reporting choices lend themselves to such a reading, of course, but that does not mean this is actually what happened. The powers that be would like it if this what was happening: Times journalists want to pretend they are adroitly interrogating big tech; tech titans want to pretend they slay the vampire institutions of America’s rentier class. Behind the pomp is a more pedestrian reality: to fit his reporting into a pre-existing frame, a sloppy journalist mischaracterized an internet subculture.
Few members of that subculture ever wished to be proxies in this battle. Mortals know that when Olympians feud, it is never Olympians who die. Besides, these people have their own concerns. It may be worth while listing some of these out. It will be a good reminder of what the rationalist community is actually about:
- Slightly less than a third of Slate Star Codex readers have anxiety; slightly more than a third have depression.
- Just under a fourth of Slate Star Codex readers are on the Autism spectrum (or believe themselves to be).
- 5.5% of Slate Star Codex readers are transgender or genderqueer (compare that to the 0.3% of American adults who identify as transgender).
- 10% of Slate Star Codex readers have attempted to commit suicide. Another 26% have seriously considered it. Two thirds of those who attempted suicide regret their attempt did not succeed. 
Behind the pretensions to rationalist perfection is a community of people acutely aware of their own atypicality. Sebsastian Benthall calls it a “therapeutic community.” He is right to do so. At the end of the day, rationalism is a giant support group—a philanthropically minded attempt to provide that transcendent sense of community and meaning “normies” find at church.
Like all moral communities, its members react defensively when violated by outsiders. There is nothing surprising or wrong about that.
It sucks if you are the journalist involved, of course. And I concede that sometimes it might be necessary, and even good, for journalists at a high-prestige publication to “punch down.” But given the harm they are about to inflict, these journalists then bear a special responsibility to make sure they know what they are talking about. But how to ensure that they take this responsibility seriously? How to keep their violations in bounds?
The easiest answer, the only practicable one that doesn’t involve vast internal reforms to institutions like The New York Times or a complete transformation of the American media ecosystem, is something like the fabled “delicate balance of terror.” Tit meets tat; lazy harms are matched by rather more intentional ones. From this perspective it is hard to be sympathetic to Times editors upset with the torrent of angry e-mails they have received in response to all this. They are in a position of terrible power. If communities like these are not ready to defend themselves, who else will keep those wielding this power honest?
Well that is it for tonight folks. I have things yet to say about the destructive tendencies of America’s media ecosystem, which is too centered around one big newspaper; thoughts on why technologists and journalists are talking past each other when they debate “bias” in negative tech coverage; and some skeptical swipes at the assumptions behind the proposed tech rebellion against everything East Coast. But this post is already several thousands words long. My thoughts on these other questions will be published next week.
EDIT 26 February 2021: Balaji Srinivasan requested I remove the phrase “tech secessionism” from this post as it does not accurately describe the aims of his program, instead being imposed on it by outside observers (New York Times journalists!) who misconstrued its aims. I am happy to change these references to his preferred moniker (“decentralists”). But more on that next week!
 Cade Metz, “Silicon Valley’s Safe Space,” New York Times (13 February 2021).
2] Robby Soave, “What The New York Times’ Hit Piece on Slate Star Codex Says About Media Gatekeeping,” Reason (15 February 2021); Micah Meadowcroft, “On Writing Around Censors,” Conservative American (20 February 2021); Matthew Yglesias, “In Defense of Interesting Writing on Controversial Topics,” Slow Boring (13 February 2021); Freddie Deboer, “Scott Alexander is not in the Gizmodo Media Slack,” personal weblog (15 February 2021); Scott Aaronson, “A grand anticlimax,” Shetl-Optomized (14 February 2021); Noah Smith, “Silicon Valley Isn’t Full of Fascists,” Noahpinion (13 February 2021); Dan Drezner, “Everything Old is New Again in Mainstream Media,” Washington Post (17 February 2021); Scott Siskind, “Statement on the New York Times Article,” Astral Codex Ten (13 February 2021).
 Elizabeth Spiers, “Slate Star Clusterfuck,” My New Brand Is (14 February 2021); Will Wilkinson, “Gray Lady Steelman,” Model Citizen (19 February 2021); Elizabeth Sandifer, “The Beigeness, or How to Kill People with Bad Writing: The Scott Alexander Method,” Erudotirum Press (20 February 2021).
 Gideon Lewis Krass, “Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media,” The New Yorker (9 July 2020); Sebastian Benthall, “Social justice, rationalism, AI ethics, and libertarianism,” Digifesto (21 Feb 2021)
 OK, here we go.
Although I have done a bit of journalism myself, I am best described as an essayist. My work has been published in numerous magazines and journals of medium prestige. I have never written for the New York Times. But I make my living as a writer, and the writer’s milieu is now my own. In addition, I am personal friends with many members of the China reporting corps and editors for major newspapers and magazines in the Asia trade. I go to journalist wedding showers and play board games with them over pizza. I have had more debates on issues like these with them in person than I can count.
As for the rationalist side of the equation—I am not a rationalist nor would anyone who has read me for a long time consider me in their number. I am not even part of the broader “grey tribe.” I read poetry, not code. I am a red tribe member with the basic social attitudes and opinions you would expect to find in the type of person who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008. I like Scott’s blog, but never read it religiously, and never bothered commenting on it after he put in the fancy log-in system to filter out bad comments.
Despite not being a proper Scott Stan, I was one of the five people who helped organize the 2020 petition imploring the NYT editors to refrain from releasing Scott’s true identity. I did this because I don’t think it is right for a major newspaper to make an anonymous writer choose between writing online and their existing profession, and because I viewed Slate Star Codex and its long comment threads as an exemplary model of reasoned debate and humane liberalism, something America has in short supply these days.
 As an aside, were I the one trying to be “critical” of the rationalists, I would write much less about how their comment threads are hostile to feminism–which isn’t true in any case, there were plenty of feminists in those threads, more of those commenting than there ever were neoreactionaries–and more about how they continually agitate for people to give part of their income to stopping Skynet. I kid you not. If this is not a grift, what is? How did that not make it into the article while all this nonsense about the Silicon Valley psyche did?
Well, we know the answer to that. The absurdity of the AI risk project is so far outside of the NYT‘s existing narrative frame that this detail did not even register.
 Cue Hamilton Noah, public editor for the Washington Post:
Journalism, particularly at the highest level, is about raw power. It is about bringing important people to heel, on behalf of the public. Politicians and officials and business leaders don’t want to talk to the press, subjecting themselves to the possibility of being made to look bad; they do it because they have always felt they had no choice. They felt that way because papers like the Post could offer the carrot of great exposure to those who needed it, but also, always, the stick of negative coverage to those who spurned them. There is nothing devious or ignoble about this; a powerful press, for all its flaws, is good for democracy, and tends to promote equality by holding the big shots in check. Anyone who has ever negotiated to land a contentious interview with a famous person knows that you only get those interviews when your subject fears what will happen if they don’t do the interview. Today, that fear is disappearing. We all need to figure out what to do about that.
Hamilton Noah, “Washington Post public editor: The powerful have realized they don’t need the Post,” Columbia Review of Journalism (20 October 2020).
 Scott Aaronson, “Pseudonymity as a trivial concession to genius,” Shetl-Optomized (23 June 2020).
 Spiers, “Slate Star Clusterfuck.”
This idea that the New York Times published things for “the clicks” is common but inaccurate. Vox publishes things for the clicks. The New York Times, like other top tier publications such as The New Yorker or the Washington Post, make their money from subscriptions and side services–like that high school trip to Peru that got a certain Times reporter fired. The New York Times is rolling in dough, and that dough has nothing to do with the virality of any given article. In fact, there is a good chance that uber-viral articles cost them more readers than they gain from them. No one subscribed because of 1619 or the Cotton op-ed, but a lot of people did unsubscribed because of them!
Likewise most writers, regardless of publication, care very little about their hit count. At most publications individual writers are not even told site traffic stats for individual pieces. Only in rare cases is payment tied to popularity. What motivates writers and journalists is not clicks but prestige. They measure their self worth through the esteem of their fellow writers, and write to that end. For more on this see my post “Why Writers (And Think Tankers) Feud So Viciously.”
 Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company: 1922), pp. 8-9.
 Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 101.
 You know, gorilla experiment and all that jazz.
 Paul Boyer, Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the Worlds Humans Create (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018),
 Michael Cieply, “Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching,” Deadline (10 November 2016).
 Karen Ho, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 2009).
 See for example this statement in Benthall, “Social justice, rationalism, libertarianism, and AI ethics:”
When the NYT notices something, for a great many people, it becomes real. NYT is at the center of a large public sphere with a specific geographic locus, in a way that some blogs and web forums are not. So whether it was justified or not, Metz’s doxing of Seskind was a significant shift in what information was public, and to whom. Part of its significance is that it was an assertion of cultural power by an institution tied to old money in New York City over a beloved institution of new money in Silicon Valley. In Bourdieusian terms, the article shifted around social and cultural capital in a big way. Seskind was forced to make a trade by an institution more powerful than him. There is a violence to that.
I agree with the sentiment and find it well expressed, but draw a hard line on restricting the word “violence” to physical acts of coercion and injury.
 Slate Star Codex Reader Survey 2020, results available here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd4I-x9oArWW1Tz5mEK4uHmxcJzVKGA28RfKPsDvW8hzZNViw/viewanalytics
 The entire passage is worth quoting:
Certainly in elite intellectual circles, the idea that participation in a web forum should give you advanced powers of reason that are as close as we will ever get to magic is pretty laughable. What I think I can say from personal experience, though, is that elite intellectuals seriously misunderstand popular rationalism if they think that it’s about them.
….Many of these people (much like Elizabeth Spiers, according to her piece) come from conservative and cloistered Christian backgrounds. Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is their first exposure to Bayesian reasoning. They are often the best math students in their homogeneous home town, and finding their way into an engineering job in California is a big deal, as is finding a community that fills an analogous role to organized religion but does not seem so intellectually backwards. I don’t think it’s accidental the Julia Galef, who founded CFAR, started out in intellectual atheist circles before becoming a leader in rationalism. Providing an alternative culture to Christianity is largely what popular rationalism is about.
From this perspective, it makes more sense why Seskind has been able to cultivate a following by discussing cultural issues from a centrist and “altruistic” perspective. There’s a population in the U.S. that grew up in conservative Christian settings, now makes a living in a booming technology sector whose intellectual principles are at odds with those of their upbringing, is trying to “do the right thing” and, being detached from political institutions or power, turns to the question of philanthropy, codified into Effective Altruism. This population is largely comprised of white guys who may truly be upwardly mobile because they are, relative to where they came from, good at math. The world they live in, which revolves around AI, is nothing like the one they grew up in. These same people are regularly confronted by a different ideology, a form of left wing progressivism, which denies their merit, resents their success, and considers them a problem, responsible for the very AI harms that they themselves are committed to solving. If I were one of them, I, too, would want to be part of a therapeutic community where I could speak freely about what was going on.
Bentham, “Social justice, rationalism, libertarianism, and AI ethics,”