Sunday, February 14, 2021

More on Slate Star Codex

Apparently even his friends are using his full name, Dr. Scott Alexander Siskind now, and he has a new psychiatry practice in San Francisco, Lorien, and a new blog Astral Codex Ten. Writing in defense of him, Scott Aaronson makes the following comment about the New York Times article. 

The trouble with the NYT piece is not that it makes any false statements, but just that it constantly insinuates nefarious beliefs and motives, via strategic word choices and omission of relevant facts that change the emotional coloration of the facts that it does present. I repeatedly muttered to myself, as I read: “dude, you could make anything sound shady with this exact same rhetorical toolkit!”

Exactly.  The insistence that they are still mostly-respectable reporters even outside of the science, travel, and style sections rests on wordings, innocent looks, and diminished oaths ("By Saint Loi!") that fool no one beyond a high school AP English class unless they want to be fooled or are in on the joke. We learn the tricks of our trade.  I was complimented once on having written a chart note that told any experienced clinician exactly what they needed to know about the patient, even though it could not be said outright.  I was deeply complimented at first, but later wondered if this might be a moral deterioration on my part. I confess I don't know where that line is and I may be excusing my own bad behavior.  Yet I at least know I am not in the same category as modern journalists and their butter-wouldn't-melt disingenuousness.

Quillette also has a good article on this.


Christopher B said...

This prompts me to circle back to incommensurability, and maybe something else that's going on. Facts have ceased to be facts, to be studied, compared, and evaluated. What matters now is how they can be used rhetorically.

To return to your often used example of the number of COVID deaths, it is rarely referenced in the media in the way you have used in some of your posts as something to be analyzed to determine its bounds, our confidence in its accuracy, or to be used to weigh our choices of alternate courses of action. While I don't mean to minimize the suffering it represents, the Intoning of the COVID Death Toll is often a ritual act meant to indicate the speaker Takes COVID Seriously, and more over, that anyone who disagrees with the speaker's opinions is a COVID Death Denier. This hasn't changed regardless of the total. There was a similar dynamic working with the 'Grim Milestones' of deaths during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts but somehow no other major media outlet has noticed that there haven't been any combat deaths in Afghanistan for a year.

Would it be better if everyone could agree on an objective measure of the total? Yes, it would but I don't think that would lead to a consensus on a course of action, or even a consensus that different impacts might warrant different responses. The debate over the number is inextricably linked to the debate of what our response should be.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I intone the death toll only when responding to someone who clearly is attempting to minimise what has happened. When pressed, I will add in what we know about other casualties of the disease who have survived C19 but have ongoing heart, respiratory or neurological symptoms.

There are some who are not Covid Death Deniers but do persist in speaking as if the numbers are very different than what we know. These days, this often takes the form of saying "well, you can't trust (everyone who disagrees with me) and I think a lot of those deaths weren't actually covid but other things."

Texan99 said...

It's odd suddenly to read a lot of articles about how dangerous "rationalism" is. It's not particularly how I thought of Slate Star Codex. I just saw it as unusually thoughtful and civil. It's very odd what strikes people as dangerous these days.

Sam L. said...

Typical NYT tactics, which is just one of the reasons I despise, detest, and totally distrust the NYT (and it's little dog WaPoo, TOO!) (I LOOOOOOOVE to say that parenthesis!)

Donna B. said...

@Texan99 - yes, thoughtful and civil. I appreciated the wide variety of topics as well. I did not appreciate most of his commenters as I thought them expert hijackers and nitpickers. (Unlike AVI's hijackers and nitpickers, who are not experts. Except me, of course.)

SJBC said...

I remember a CBC "expose", from a few decades ago, of the McCain Brothers in New Brunswick that made them sound like Bondian super-villains. But essentially they were accusing the company of paying more for potatoes grown in the Canadian Maritime provinces than other potato processors, and of processing the potatoes in that region instead of out of region; thus creating jobs in a region with high unemployment. A masterpiece of slanderous description that skirted the legal definition of slander. Sort of like that infamous joke about the Texan political candidate who accused his opponent of being a philatelist and of having a sister who was a thespian who performed in front of paying audiences.