How Should We Respond to Cade Metz?

post by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-02-13T16:11:45.355Z · LW · GW · 28 comments

The Cade Metz article on Slate Star Codex is out.

It seems valuable for us to have a discussion about our reactions to it. Also what we want to do about it. Here are my questions:


I've learned a lot about media today just by reading comment threads in SCC-associated communities. My intuitive takeaway is that it's time for a reckoning, and I need to build a model of how this stuff works on a systemic level.

I understand why some people criticized this post (and a longer article that I moved to drafts), for giving prominence. Personally, I agree with Dentin that it's best to shrug it off as crappy journalism and ignore it. I'd delete this post, except that I don't want to delete his and a few other comments along with it.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Dentin · 2021-02-13T16:47:54.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's be blunt here:  the NYT article is pure, unbridled outrage bait dressed up as journalism.  It's not trying to solve a problem, and it doesn't have any agenda other than to pack as much outrage as possible into the publication form factor so as to maximize eyeballs.  It simultaneously craps on EA, the tech industry, SSC, rationalists, MIRI, tech investors and a stack of others.  (I'm surprised that they didn't also include jordan peterson, because hey, why not?)  That's not the sign of someone being honest.

IMO the correct response here is to recommend that friends and family unsubscribe or avoid the NYT. As far as as creating/finding a rebuttal and explaining things to others, don't.  Instead, say the article was a hit piece designed to make everyone look bad, and shrug.  Give it the kind of attention you give to crazy preachers on street corners.  Let it fade into obscurity.

Remember that with outrage bait, you being outraged and complaining about the article to others is entirely the point.  The only winning move is not to play.

Replies from: kjz
comment by kjz · 2021-02-13T17:49:31.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strongly agree with your analysis.

I also think a lesson to take away here is that, assuming we agree pseudonymity is generally considered a desirable option to have available, it falls on us to assert the right to it. 

Replies from: remizidae
comment by remizidae · 2021-02-13T18:38:41.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does asserting the right to pseudonymity mean?

Replies from: kjz
comment by kjz · 2021-02-13T21:19:25.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good question. I hadn't defined it in any more detail in my mind. But my basic thought is that someone should be able to build an online presence under a pseudonym (from the beginning, without having revealed their real name publicly like Scott had) as long as they comply with the rules of the communities they choose to join, without legal obligation to declare their real name. I would imagine some exceptions would have to apply (for example, in the case of a legally enforceable warrant) but others, including journalists, would refer to the pseudonym if they wanted to report on such a person.

But of course there could be unintended consequences of this sort of rule that I haven't considered.

comment by Yoav Ravid · 2021-02-13T17:39:51.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Better to use an archive link to not give them traffic 

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by Dirichlet-to-Neumann · 2021-02-13T18:19:31.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does an "right of answer" exist in the American press ?

In France, if you think a newspaper article has damaged your reputation/framed you in a wrong way/distorted the truth about you, you get a "right of answer" which allows you to write a short piece to be published in the next edition of the newspaper where you can discuss your point of view. I think Scott should use it if something similar exists in the USA...

Replies from: adele-lopez-1
comment by Adele Lopez (adele-lopez-1) · 2021-02-13T18:38:09.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't, you're of course allowed to write your own rebuttal, but a newspaper has no legal obligation to print it (or to print any particular thing AFAIK), and there's no culture of doing so either.

Replies from: Dirichlet-to-Neumann
comment by Dirichlet-to-Neumann · 2021-02-13T18:41:41.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Too bad. I think it is a fine mechanism to keep newspapers honest.

comment by David_Gross · 2021-02-13T17:43:09.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was surprised at how shallow and uninformative the article was, especially after so much time had gone into it, and how it had attracted so much pre-publication interest. The article shows the reader almost nothing about what makes SSC interesting, instead spending most of its paragraphs hunting for or alluding to evidence of possible wrongthink. There's a quality pop-news profile to be written about Scott, his blog, and the community that respects it, but the New York Times didn't seem to even try to write it. A missed opportunity and a blot on their reputation.

Replies from: Benito, Dirichlet-to-Neumann
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-02-13T22:23:47.898Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. It really made the New Yorker piece shine in comparison.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by Dirichlet-to-Neumann · 2021-02-13T18:04:56.243Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, they did not even tried to discuss what could make it attractive in the first place, too busy looking for trace of sexism, racism and stuff.

comment by ejacob · 2021-02-13T18:07:48.263Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other comments have summed up my opinion on the article pretty well so I will not rehash it. However I do want to emphasize that the "winning move is not to play" as Dentin [LW(p) · GW(p)] said. When Scott said the NYT was going to reveal his identity, his readers wrote to the reporter and editor. The article framed this as Scott trying to dox a journalist in a retaliatory matter. 

In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if any follow-up to that story mentioned this thread or another one like it on some other website.

Replies from: Lukas_Gloor
comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2021-02-15T00:16:32.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good points. "How should we respond" is also a strange framing IMO because it unquestioningly assumes that there's a need to coordinate as a community (on Lesswrong of all places, which isn't even a Scott-themed reddit or the commenters on his blog). Personally I think any coordination around this sort of thing is pretty weird and people should just do what they think they should do (and maybe that includes some person writing a personal post on why they want to boycot the newspaper, in the hope to inspire some others, etc.). 

comment by Larks · 2021-02-14T02:12:28.204Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scott wrote a response.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-02-14T02:45:00.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I updated my OP with the link, thanks for sharing it!

comment by shminux · 2021-02-13T18:43:05.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think an answer is needed, the article is so bad, I'm surprised NYT even published it. Best not even mention it again, lest it gets more publicity than it deserves.

comment by Gary Weiss (gary-weiss) · 2021-02-13T22:12:21.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This article I wrote a few months ago may prove instructive.  I had dealings with the guy long before this recent situation, and they were not good.

comment by PatrickDFarley · 2021-02-13T19:54:34.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the kind of person who outsources their ethics takes to the NYT will now stay far away from the SSC community. I don't see a problem really

comment by Viliam · 2021-02-17T21:56:39.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article pulls quotes out of context, looking for the problematizing angle, distorting the implications of word choice.

Meta: Exactly the same thing could happen with this discussion, if Cade Metz was in a mood to write an article about Less Wrong. Just saying. It could probably be twisted into something like: "the mysterious evil people who manipulate Silicon Valley from shadows are having a sinister discussion about how to retaliate against a brave journalist who exposed the secrets of their cult."

To me the story seemed composed of two almost unrelated parts. (At least this is how I remember it; I am not going to re-read it again.) I think the second part is the main attack on Scott, and the first part is essentially constructing the argument why attacking Scott is "punching down". I am possibly just imagining things, but I wonder whether the second part was written first (before Scott took down his blog), and the first part was added later when it became obvious that many famous people would defend Scott, to explain that it's actually evidence that those people are part of Scott's sinister cabal.

For those of us writing under a pseudonym, should we all just be revealing our real names

You forgot the part about quitting our jobs first. :( Luckily, I am not a sufficiently big fish to care.

Also, I oppose the norm of "people should write under their real names" that is being pushed on us by the advertising/tracking business. I probably cannot win here, but that is no reason to make their jobs easier.

People who read newspapers have short memory. Two weeks later no one will remember this. It's just that the next time someone else decides to make a hatchet job on the rationalist community, they will have one more "reliable source" to quote. Also, someone will quote that article in Wikipedia. I can almost guess his name.

comment by bjoernw · 2021-02-14T10:35:28.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is the article a fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism that we should take seriously? We talk a bigger game about accepting and integrating outside criticism than many communities. Maybe this is our chance to really put that into practice?

A "fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism" would arguably take advantage of its outside perspective to point out community taboos and blind spots. Reading about your blind spots should, almost per definition I guess, make your reading stumble in strange and unpredicted ways. But the NYT article is depressingly predictable in its attempt to discredit reputation by alluding to vague links to right-wing positions and figures. The predictability reaches almost comical levels where the author isn't even shy to quote the very sentences that Scott already highlighted and tagged as "These are the sentences that can be taken out of context to discredit me if you are insincere. Please don't do it. But honestly, we all know you will do it. So whatever."

But apart from the politics and the signaling games, it still seems like a worthy exercise to look for object-level claims in the article. I found one:

Slate Star Codex was a window into the Silicon Valley psyche. There are good reasons to try and understand that psyche, because the decisions made by tech companies and the people who run them eventually affect millions.

That might be a valid point.

comment by Dirichlet-to-Neumann · 2021-02-13T17:38:55.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This article is so bad... and this does not even surprise me. The progressive American press is just hopelessly biased to look for a racism/sexism angle in everything.

comment by bjoernw · 2021-02-23T16:30:53.154Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is the article a fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism that we should take seriously?


I’m still thinking about the question if (or on which level) Cade Metz’ criticism of the Rationality scene could be right. Because the counter position that he'd be wrong in every regard on all levels of analysis seems to be a too strong one.

Scott Aaronson summarized the NYT article’s central thesis as warning against the Rationality scene with its openness to ideas as a kind of a “gateway drug” to dangerous beliefs. And generally it doesn’t seem too controversial to assume that ideas can be interesting and potentially valuable as well as dangerous too [vaguely gesturing in the direction of history]. It just feels so off to be warned against someone like Scott Alexander. But could the warning be steelmanned somehow?

Openness as a personality trait is not only associated with openness to new ideas but also with a pronounced sense for aesthetics. I imagine aesthetics to be a kind of rather generic, low-level heuristic for what’s good for us. Like with our built-in appreciation of abundance in nature. (I would suspect aesthetics to be evolutionarily tuned as well as culturally honed.) If my heuristics are functioning well, then I can afford to open up to a lot of new experiences and ideas because my time-honoured aesthetics will tend to guide me to the good ones - even before memetic evolution ran its course.

But the reverse can be argued as well: If my aesthetics are not reliable, that may not only lead to arguably questionable but harmless choices in music, clothes, and home decor, but may actually make me quite helpless in a marketplace of ideas, potentially resulting in the adoption of destructive ideologies.

Personally, I find that observation surprising, now that I think about it. It means that the Rationality community may actually be spoiled with its pool of sharp thinkers and aesthets [LW · GW]. Spoiled not only with respect to stimulating discussions but also with respect to the openness the community can afford without degenerating into ideology. It could mean that not every audience could be trusted in the same way. I don’t like that conclusion very much, politically and culturally. But I see how you could make a point for it. And how, as a consequence, there may be even some value, on a societal level, to be wary of a group of extraordinarily open people. Even when that group tends to be right a lot, paradoxically, because you need to trust your aesthetics a lot to open up to them.

comment by kjz · 2021-02-13T17:40:10.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree this is an important topic for discussion, and I hope others will continue to weigh in with their thoughts. I'm sure this won't be the last time a journalist writes/is interested in writing an article about this community, and it would be good to coordinate around some norms here.

  • Scott was told that the way to get ahead of damaging journalism is to reveal everything they might want to find out. For those of us writing under a pseudonym, should we all just be revealing our real names, and letting friends, family members, and colleagues (where appropriate) know about our connection with SSC and this community?

I'm personally not ready to do that yet. I also feel that revealing it too early would risk some of the positive things I'm trying to do within my community, and I don't want to take that chance.

comment by Rain · 2021-02-13T19:43:57.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He's clearly using a different (and negative) definition of "rationalist". Self-identifying as such will continue to garner negative prestige.