I really owe an awful lot to Scott Alexander. If nothing else, he’s had a huge influence on the way I write. I first became acquainted with his work in my twenties, and I’ve read virtually everything he’s written since then. He’s a solid writer, and he was and remains one of the few people I’m aware of who tackles complex subjects in an in-depth way both effectively and without hiding behind big words or academia-speak. If my writing sometimes comes off as being produced by a discount-brand Scott, there’s a reason for that.
I think Scott is aware of the damage that partisan thinking has and does inflict on our discourse, and he is hypersensitive to any accusation that he is indulging in that kind of thinking. He wants to be above reproach in this area, and puts hedges around himself so as to not even get close to saying anything that might seem biased. Does he go too far? Perhaps. He has not yet gone as far as Zossima in "The Brothers Karamazov" who blamed himself for everything and asked forgiveness of basically all of humanity and the whole universe for their own mistakes.
I'm willing to grant him leniency in this area, because, as you said, his commitment to self-aware, reasoned responses to situations is quite valuable and rare in this age. I'm also glad that you wrote this "contra" because it's very easy to follow along with rationalist thinkers like Scott when they start pointing out biases, so as not to seem biased ourselves.
"Scott desperately wants to believe that he can win over the left and be accepted and important in their world, even though the left has made it clear they want none of this to the extent a non-monolithic group can make things clear."
To be fair to Scott Alexander, he has won over a lot of left-leaning folks, as is clear from his comments section. You don't have to convince the entire left-wing media establishment your message is worthwhile to have a positive influence.
Eh, as someone who hangs out with right wingers a lot I appreciated the article because it brought needed subtlety and moderation to stuff like tweets from cernovich and other big right wingers about how this proves the msm always lies and you should never listen to them again (despite them not being reliable news sources themselves).
> The twitter level discourse, for instance, says something like "CONSERVATIVES ARE SO DUMB THEY ARE ALL TAKING HORSE DRUGS BECAUSE TRUMP SAID",
I liked the article precisely because the conservative discourse on the article was also “LIBERALS ARE SO DUMB THEY ALL BELIEVE THIS ONE TWITTER SCREENSHOT PEOVES IT AND EVERY NYT STORY IS JUST LIKE THIS THEIR MEDIA NEEDS TO BE DISMANTLED PERMANENTLY” and hence liked Scott’s thread of the needle
News sifes do need to fact check at least a bit tho. As an example, I saw this yesterday - https://www.vice.com/en/article/jg83bg/reddit-bans-abortion-bounty-hunter-forum a story about a Reddit sub for abortion bounty hunting. How awful! But the sub was a fake subreddit for baiting people, and had a grand total of 50 subscribers and as many posts. - the image in question has such real Texan usernames as CatsLikeMyCum and cry_for_me_fatty
It got 17k upvotes in 4 hours - https://old.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/pk9e28/reddit_shut_down_a_forum_for_selfdescribed_texas/ and 13k likes https://mobile.twitter.com/kendallybrown/status/1433588701385400327?s=19
rdrama[.]net was the source of the bait
Thanks for writing this. I appreciated your comments on Scott's article because I was pretty uncomfortable with what he wrote myself, but I didn't really feel like I could put my finger on why. I think the focus on Mistake and Conflict Theory really helps. I wonder if there should be a corollary that whichever theory you subscribe to, Mistake or Conflict, you will then behave in such a fashion as to make your chosen theory literally true. Maybe that doesn't apply to Mistake Theory, but it seems to me that if you believe in a Conflict Theory world you are going to act out your part, creating a situation where Conflict Theory is in fact true. Since they believe the other side is out to do evil and destroy them, the believer of Conflict Theory seeks to destroy the other side in the name of good because discussion is pointless. Thus is created a REAL faction that really does want to destroy the other side, making Conflict Theory true in this case.
My sense is that Scott is deeply uncomfortable with that notion, perhaps more so because the so much of the American left has fallen into that pattern. Not that the right is free of Conflict Theorists, but my sense is that they are much fewer and less respected, whereas those on the left are considered the true believers and practically lionized by others on the left. Possibly because the left's philosophy is grounded in Conflict Theory?
Anyway, thanks for writing this!
Since the NYT published their "hit-piece" smearing "verbose" Scott, he seems to got a bit embittered. He even wrote: about the NYT: "écrasez l'infâme" - which is strong language. (And French, had to look it up on wikipedia: "Voltaire's works, especially his private letters, frequently urge the reader: "écrasez l'infâme", or "crush the infamous". The phrase refers to contemporaneous abuses of power by royal and religious authorities, and the superstition and intolerance fomented by the clergy" - I would translate it as "kill the beast". ;)
Today he published his 2nd piece about climate-alarmists - still sounding as if he is a firmbeliever - but if you stick to the facts as Scott does, you end up showing the alarmists wrong (the first one started out as "having kids is fine, even if bad for the climate - and it is not that bad for climate" and ended up showing: people mostly die, when it is cooler, not when hotter) . - I wonder if he is on a mission? - Whatever: For me the most important living writer. And I got to your fine substack only because: Scott reads you.
I disagree with this criticism of Scott, I think he wrote a piece that needed to be written, and he wrote it excellently. Perhaps Scott stops short of accusing Rolling Stone to have acted in bad faith, but Scott does make it quite clear that Rolling Stone is a bad actor. And importantly, that so are BBC and Guardian and the others who just piled on - and who are quite bigger fish than Rolling Stone, by any metric.
Your criticism of Scott revolves around that "Conflict vs. Mistake" distinction, because Scott makes those newspapers to be "merely" bad actors ("Mistake") rather than bad faith actors ("Conflict").
I think Scott basically looks at the facts, leaving emotion and attribution-of-motives completely aside. Like a doctor assessing a tumor, and not in an "Aaarg! Tumor! Bad Tumor! EVIL Tumor!!1! (rage)" way. More in the way of pondering "OK so, when looking at all of these messy guts, what is the healthy tissue and what is the tumor? How far has it spread? How do we stop it from spreading?" In my view, Scott gets kudos for thoroughly presenting the facts, and a hundred kudos for exculpating Dr. McElyea from the whole shitshow. The RS-debunking ran along the lines of discrediting McElyea (the NHS Sequoyah message). Someone who gets his news only from that strand of RS-debunking narrative, is likely to pile on McElyea as the culprit for the RS article. Scott makes it clear that McElyea is guilty of no such thing - he had merely given an interview to a local news source where he was talking both about hospital overcrowding and about the appearance of ivermectin overdose cases and about various other things. It was *RS* who decided to fabricate this into a "ivermectin overdoses cause hospital overcrowding" narrative - yes, a narrative in the service of tarnishing Republicans. And the other tarnish-spreading powerhouses immediately jumped in, from BBC to Guardian etc. None of whom did any basic fact checks. None of whom apparently -wanted- to do so.
It's down to that "bad faith actor" vs "bad actor" distinction. Would that distinction apply also to the other side? Where do you draw the line between "lack of due dilligence in disproving a tidbit of information that nicely aligns with your overall worldview" and "nefarious fabrications"? How would you classify a right-winger who, after seeing the @NumbersMuncher tweet, goes to pile onto McElyea? A bad faith actor? Or just a bad actor lacking due dilligence? Those are the kinds of questions that implicitly arise reading Scott's article.
Whence Scott's commandment, "thou shalt not debunk bullshit with cowshit, for it leadeth to pointless polarization, with each side seeing only the shit in their neighbour's eye". There might be less "visceral satisfaction" in the kind of RS debunking that *Scott* made, but it is nonetheless the correct take on debunking.
To make my position clear: to me, RS *is* a bad faith actor, not merely a bad actor. This scoop did involve a fabrication step, and this is not exactly the first time for them. The BBC / Guardian / co. might have picked it up without due dilligence, but also without fabrication - like any right-winger piling onto McElyea, say.
Scott-the-doctor seems to ask, what is the tumor? (insufficient due dilligence in verifying information that aligns nicely with our worldview) How far has it spread? (BBC, Guardian ... but not *only* them) How do we stop it from spreading? (due dilligence)
Does Scott lean too much into the "Mistake" camp, at the expense of the "Conflict" camp? I'd agree that yes, he does. But c'mon, you can accuse the present times of many things, but not of "lack of Conflict". Attribution-of-motive is cheap, and in serious oversupply on all sides (much more so on the "progressive left", but it certainly exists on the "right" too). Due dilligence is expensive, and in serious undersupply. What Scott is doing is thus golden, and rare. And if he's unduly reserved on proclaiming RS a bad faith actor, so what? The world will still become a better place if Scott's approach becomes more prevalent, not less.