Ask Us Anything: Submit Questions Asking About What We Think SSC is Wrong About, and Why

post by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-07T21:49:35.564Z · score: -27 (25 votes) · LW · GW · 49 comments

A local skeptic friend of of some Vancouver rationality community members takes issue with how so many of us can keep up with epistemology, and laud SSC for its excellence in that regard, when according to him the opposite is true. So he's going to try convincing us, and I quote, "Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading." For the life of me, I don't know why, but a lot of community members are way more interested than I expected in seeing this happen. It's to the point there have been multiple requests to film the event [LW · GW], or have a web presence, for those who won't be physically present.

Since we'll be willing to field some tough questions, I'd thought I'd see if, curious or skeptical, the rest of you want to dig deeper or throw us some hardballs too.

The first speaker will be expounding on how SSC bungles history and philosophy in general, and the history and philosophy of science in particular, among other things. Feel free to ask questions about what general patterns he sees in what SSC consistently gets wrong in this regard, or what's wrong in particular he will use as examples:

For a long time I myself have felt SSC is subtly but crucially wrong about some discourse norms and memes which have become rote in the rationality and effective altruism communities, and stymie much intellectual progress in both. I'll be touching upon and dissecting on mistakes I feel were made in the following posts:

While I can't speak for my fellow presenter, in the week between now and then I'm going to try to write up some posts responding to Scott at length, which should make it easier to ask myself more pointed questions. The event will be done in the style of a colloquium, so sort of a lecture that will field questions during and after the presentation. So questions posed in the comments will be answered during the presentation, which will be filmed and uploaded online shortly after the event takes place.

Please note you can ask us anything, but that doesn't entail we'll answer everything. In particular, begging the question of why this event is taking place in the first place, or why we feel justified in disagreeing with SSC, of the form:

probably won't receive a response on the grounds the answer to those questions would be self-evident based on the cases we're trying to build, in addition to the fact such questions smell logically rude. But we welcome you all to ask away!

49 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2018-09-08T01:49:25.788Z · score: 80 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's good and important to criticize things, and I don't consider myself above criticism.

On the other hand, it's also kind of freaking me out to hear that a bunch of people in a city I've been in for like an hour tops are organizing an event using a derisive nickname [LW · GW] for me and calling me a pseudointellectual, especially since I just sort of stumbled across it by coincidence.

I'm not sure how to balance these different considerations, and probably my feelings aren't as important as moving the engine of intellectual progress, but for the record I'm not really happy with the attempt made to balance them here.

I don't know if I am supposed to defend myself, but I will just say that I am particularly tired of criticism of the Dark Ages post. I've found this to have been a bunch of Redditors talking about how a freshman history student would have been ashamed to make so many howling mistakes, and then a bunch of trained historians telling me they thought it was basically fine (for example, here's a professional medieval historian saying he agrees with it entirely, here's a Renaissance historian who thinks it's fine, here's a historian of early modern science who says the same - also, I got an email from a Dominican friar who liked it, which is especially neat because it's like my post on the Middle Ages getting approval from the Middle Ages). I'm not saying this to make an argument from authority, I'm saying it because the people who disagree with me keep trying to make an argument from authority, and I don't want people to fall for it.

And, okay, one more thing. My Piketty review begins " I am not an economist. Many people who are economists have reviewed this book already. I review it only because if I had to slog through reading this thing I at least want to get a blog post out of it. If anything in my review contradicts that of real economists, trust them instead of me " If you're using errors in it to call me a pseudo-intellectual, I feel like you're just being a jerk at this point. Commenters did find several ways I was insufficiently critical of Piketty's claims, which I describe here ; I also added a correction note to that effect to the original post. The post was nevertheless recommend by an economist who said it was "the best summary I've ever read from a non-economist". Again, I'm not saying this as an argument from authority, I'm saying it because I know from experience that the criticism is going to involve a claim that "it's so bad that no knowledgeable person would ever take it seriously", and now you'll know that's not true.

comment by cousin_it · 2018-09-08T10:05:16.216Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that feels pretty ugly to me too. Sorry you have to face this crap.

comment by DPiepgrass · 2018-09-10T04:27:05.028Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Rationalists have a tendency to sound a little bit like Spock, but in reality we are all human here. I'd say that doing a good job managing relationships with other humans, and learning to be kind, doesn't just fall within the realm of rationalism - it's crucial to our success! There are a number of things I love about Scott. To me he seems insightful and even-handed, but most relevant here is that he seems like a nice person. So I was not at all impressed the first time I heard Jordan, when he said:

"Alright so I just read the worst Slate Star Codex article I've ever read (a new low) and I'm now more determined than ever to host an event where I try to convince members of this community that Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading."

This was not followed by any explanation of what Scott had done wrong, or what a "pseudo-intellectual" is. Though reportedly it was meant to be facetious, I just couldn't read it that way. If you're going to criticize Scott, try at least not to make obvious mistakes that Scott himself wouldn't make, such as sounding like a jerk.

That said, I am curious what Jordan has to say. For starters, which writers are sufficiently free from mistakes that they are "worth reading", and what criteria qualify a person as "intellectual"?

I'm sure Scott has made mistakes. Personally, I make mistakes with shocking regularity. And I do think when Scott is talking about a subject where he has little expertise, the disclaimer at the top about that lack of expertise should not be in small text, and Scott may need more expressions of uncertainty (weasel words).

But I think there is a tension between correctness and popularity. The thing is, perfection is not only difficult, it's time consuming. I have been known to review my own articles over a dozen times before posting them (and errors may still slip through). My carefulness in turn leads to a low posting frequency, which probably contributes to my unpopularity. If you want to be popular, you have to put out. Look at The Eliezer - I think his stuff is riddled with defects of various types, but he wrote fast and was popular. His stuff is at least mostly good enough to be worth reading, so I do.

I wonder if we could develop a process where the community's best writers (and the occasional newcomer) could write "drafts" which would be posted semi-publicly in a "draft" area and then be edited by members trusted by the author (with expert input, if the subject matter demands expert input), before being reposted "publicly for reals this time". Though if you ask me, priority one for improvement isn't SSC, it's The Sequences.

comment by Arkanj3l · 2018-09-08T17:01:46.230Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Your historian friends agreed with the global claim which I believe was fairly well established. From what I've heard talking to the interlocutor hosting this meetup (I am not he), it was *how* you extrapolated to that global claim from a local one that is being taken issue with. Notice that the historian on your blog also believes it is difficult to say to what degree Europe declined during the Dark Ages, although there are many possible markers. Notice that the reddit historian backing you is apologizing for your background rather than providing corroborative concrete evidence related to the structure of your argument. The Dominican Friar thing is nice and it's understandable why you wouldn't quote a private email, but it's of course possible that they would make a similar mistake and taken without detail, it definitely seems like a pithy authority appeal.

As far as this meetup goes, from my discussions with the interlocutor, I'd expect mainly methodological criticisms, and criticisms of the rhetorical moves used to waive the limitations of the methodology. These are not the same as criticisms of the goals of SSC, or even the goals of a particular post. The substitutes recommended will be deeper reading of primary and secondary sources instead of *only* using SSC as a source (being that it's tertiary and pop-sci), at the very least.

Maybe these criticisms once brought to light won't be enough to brand you as a "pseudo-intellectual", but people who do not take these kinds of criticisms into account will read your disclaimers against your expertise, yet would still be left with the inability to understand how these affect the soundness of your claims, because supposedly, they too, are not domain experts. I think such refutations, if valid and pondered, could be educational and sanity-raising for everyone in the SSC blogosphere.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-09-08T03:27:39.252Z · score: 30 (14 votes) · LW · GW

[I'm a mod] I strongly-downvoted this post, for failing to distinguish between 'critiquing an idea' and 'attacking a community member'. The post quickly moves from "person-X's writing is bad" to "person-X is bad" to "we're organising an event for people to coordinate around person-X being bad" without any justification. Sometimes it's the right call to coordinate against a person in your community, but only as a last resort after the peaceful options have been tried, and this post seems to have immediately jumped to coordinating a group against a person.

I'm excited when people write critiques of ideas on SSC - here's two I think are worth reading (and there's been a bunch more on r/SSC, but I can't find them as easily), and had you written a critique of an idea and run an event on that it I would've been happy to support it.

The post is now at -23 karma and is 4 clicks away from the frontpage (for new users). I don't think it's necessary for me to take any further mod action beyond that, though I might if I see the discussion on this post going south.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-09-08T04:29:35.455Z · score: 11 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have to say, it makes me a little uncomfortable to see how strongly this post has been downvoted, and how negative and emotional the reaction to it has been. My objection to this planned event (as I said in my other comment [LW · GW]) was about format, not substance; but it seems to me that other people are reading this as some sort of malicious, personal attack against Scott, which I just don’t see.

For instance—

Sometimes it’s the right call to coordinate against a person in your community, but only as a last resort after the peaceful options have been tried, and this post seems to have immediately jumped to coordinating a group against a person.

Reading this, I would’ve thought that the thing you’re commenting on is some sort of attempt to personally denounce, ostracize, shun, or shame Scott… but that doesn’t seem to be the OP’s intent (I doubt it’s even the intent of this “Jordan” fellow, but of course I can’t be as certain about that).

I mean… is sitting around and discussing someone’s ideas really not peaceful?

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-09-08T05:27:43.254Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, I don't think Evan's intent is bad, and I didn't say otherwise. But the effect of good intentions can easily be very bad.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2018-09-08T07:57:51.723Z · score: 22 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I agree Evan's intentions are good, and I'm glad that someone interesting who wants to criticize my writing is getting a chance to speak. I'm surprised this is downvoted as much as it has been, and I haven't downvoted it myself.

My main concern is with the hyperbolic way this was pitched and the name of the meetup, which I understand were intended kind of as jokes but which sound kind of creepy to me when I am the person being joked about. I don't think Evan needs to change these if he doesn't want to, but I do just want to register the concern.

comment by jimrandomh · 2018-09-08T11:45:32.388Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW
I'm surprised this is downvoted as much as it has been, and I haven't downvoted it myself.

This is partly an effect of the recently introduced "strong votes" feature, where users with karma can pay a trivial inconvenience to make their up- or down-votes be more points. My own strong-downvote was -7 points.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T09:07:01.774Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm genuinely curious what you expect the very bad effects might end up being after you read this comment [LW · GW]clarifying the nature, background and details of the planned meetup.

comment by Raemon · 2018-09-08T17:03:12.811Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're still underestimating how stressful this sort of thing is for writers.

I totally believe you have good intent here and that the meetup itself will be pretty inoccuous, and were talking about it in your usual kind of "is Evan serious I dunno man let the Dankness flow!?" way, but in this case the joke fell flat and felt mean spirited. Regardless of how the meetup plays out, the opening post is written in a way that's making a spectacle of Scott without regard to his feelings.

Being moderately internet-famous is actually really stressful, since you're visible enough to periodically attract internet hate groups but not actually really powerful enough to do much about it. (Scott has already attracted internet hate groups and this post is basically written in their style)

(I have slightly different opinions than Jim and maybe Ben of exactly what felt wrong here. I think holding the meetup was basically fine – local meetup groups can hold random meetups about whatever. But the presentation, and the way you're gathering questions here, seems like it's hyping it up to Be An Internet Event that Scott will have to pay a bunch of attention to, while setting a tone that in the OP was a) bad intellectually for the reasons others have described, b) just mean)

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-09-08T19:05:17.965Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

[Meta: I think there are some complicated questions around when it's okay to attack a person that I haven't gone into in detail about here. This comment is just for Evan because he asked me and I wanted to write down a few things that might seem useful/important to him. I don't plan to write further comments in this thread.]

*nods*

Here's my understanding of the points you were making in that comment:

  • The event will primarily be criticising Scott's ideas
    • You will criticise some community norms, and your friend will argue that there are some systematic biases in the writing at SSC
  • You personally like a lot of Scott's writing
  • The tone of the event was intentionally facetious, not literal
  • The attendees of the event will largely be fans of Scott, and so it's not accurate to call it an event coordinating people around how bad Scott is. Both speakers will be fighting against the consensus, not for it.
  • You're recording it because lots of people asked, not as part of any weird marketing campaign.

Yep, I believe all these points are true, and I feel of the utmost confidence when I say you had zero intention with this event of doing something to hurt or oust another member of this community. I want to mention that I'm personally quite interested to read whatever essay you write about how some of the community norms that Scott has written about might be wrong.

Also, and forgive me for psychologising a bit, but my guess is that when you wrote the title and summary of the event, my very rough model of you was combining the absurd with the rationalist culture, and that was the cause of the style, not any weird or subtle aggression. Y'know, you were being dank.

However, and this is again only a rough guess, I think that when you combined the absurdity with the culture, you forgot that you were writing a post about a person. It wasn't a post being silly-hostile toward a concept ('bayes theorem is dumb') or a brand ('LessWrong looks stupid'), or a building ('the CFAR office smells bad') - this was being silly-hostile toward a person ('Scott is a pseudo-intellectual'). There was no countersignalling in this post (e.g. "I'm only critiquing Scott because I love him") or any sign that you were friends with Scott and so that he'd be okay with you writing an openly hostile post about him (e.g. imagine me writing a post about how Oli is a terrible site designer and we're meeting for me to list all the ways he's terrible). My problem here isn't with criticism, but that this kind of post would make anyone feel like the community doesn't want them in it.

Anyway, I might be wrong about how exactly this post got written, and as I said, I am quite curious to know what your criticism of certain community norms (that Scott and others have written about) are.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T10:35:38.443Z · score: 0 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. We indeed have no intent, malicious or otherwise, to do any of the things it reads as though we're insinuated as intending to do. I think what Ben might be referring to is not the chance of a literal, physical violence, even as exaggeration, but "violence" given a thicker definition of the word than its common, everyday usage implies. The Berkeley rationality community has embraced a variety of novel models/theories of communication style, including Nonviolent Communication (NVC). From Wikipedia [emphasis added]:

Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC, also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication[1][2]) is an approach to nonviolent living developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s.[3] It is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms themselves and others when they do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.[4] Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (social, psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people identify shared needs, revealed by the thoughts and feelings that surround these needs, and collaborate to develop strategies that meet them. This creates both harmony and learning for future cooperation.[5]
NVC supports change on three interconnected levels: with self, with others, and with groups and social systems. As such it is particularly present in the areas of personal development, relationships, and social change. NVC is ostensibly taught as a process of interpersonal communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others. However, due to its far-reaching impact it has also been interpreted as a spiritual practice, a set of values, a parenting technique, a method of social change, a mediation tool, an educational orientation, and a worldview.

And from Dictionary.com:

1. acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong, rough force:
a violent earthquake.

So in this sense a 'violent' wind could pick up, as it's rougher than a 'calm' or 'soft' wind. Using NVC as a conflict resolution methodology is odd when most people might assume something like that when using the word 'violent' refers to physical violence. And, technically, it makes sense physical violence is likelier to result from the escalation of tension in verbal conflict rather than the deescalation of verbal conflict. So even in a tenuous sense a link between 'violent' in its everyday parlance, and how it's use is extended beyond the normal range in NVC, can be made.

I don't think the thick conception of violence given by NVC is the same as the connotation made by some social justice activists or others about how words or verbal abuse alone can be as bad as physical violence. Though this connotation of the word 'violent' may have been loaned from NVC to social justice movements, since NVC has been popular for decades.

That this appears odd wouldn't mean much to me if NVC achieves the goals it's applied to achieve, as that's the story with plenty of stuff in the rationality community. But to understand how it works or what to use NVC for, someone would have to convey it to me. Perhaps Ben thought I understood NVC from the inside. I don't. It appears hard to transfer NVC skills over the internet, which is why like other memes it maybe hasn't spread among the rationality community as widely.

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-09-08T16:31:29.688Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Unless a comment was edited or deleted before I got the chance to read it, nobody but you has used the word "violence" in this thread. So I don't understand how an argument about the definition of "violence" is in any way relevant.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T18:39:21.259Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was contrasting it with Ben's use of the word 'peaceful,' and making some background assumptions as to what the context for using the word was (Said remarked on the odd diction). Apparently those assumptions were wrong.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T09:00:42.848Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

[Note: scroll down and start at the paragraph just before the blockquote, and read to the end, for the tl;dr/conclusion of this comment.]

My friend and I are each critiquing a set of ideas, respectively, which happen to come from Scott. My disagreements with Scott I see as at odds with themes in his writing on discourse he himself created. For example, several posts I'm at odds with Scott wrote are part of the Community and Cooperation [LW · GW] sequence put together from SSC posts. The rest of them are related to discourse norms specific to the rationality or similar intellectual communities (e.g., New Atheism). I should state at the event these are opinions we will express, separate from each other as individuals. And on that basis, attendees may change their mind about some ideas from SSC. But neither my friend nor I expect that to be the likely outcome. To be fair, Scott himself often builds upon his own ideas sequentially. He doesn't do it along a single theme in as short a period as Eliezer did when he wrote the Sequences. But if one could disagree with a set of ideas that were intended to be read as such with the Sequences, which doesn't seem like it'd be out of question on LW, I don't know why the same standard shouldn't apply to posts by Scott either.

My friend thinks Scott has systematic biases, which I think is a tougher case to make, but he is well-aware with the audience he is facing it's an uphill battle.

While my friend doesn't think Scott's writing is particularly good, I disagree. I think he's as a good a writer as most to be found online, and occasionally much better. I did say both of us disagree with Scott in systematic ways. I don't think Scott is systematically biased. But I believe he has overstated the value of some discourse norms, or that they're generalized to too many types of circumstances. But I didn't state Scott's writing is bad in particular (i.e., his writing style), which is distinct from the content of some of his writing. That's what both of us will be addressing. For example, neither of us take issue with any of Scott's posts on psychiatry.

The title of this post, and of the event, and leaving up top the line about the pseudo-intellectual, have made it appear as if that is all this event will be about. Perhaps that was a mistake. However, that is what my friend called the event when he set it up, and that is the tone he set for the event. So I thought to include those parts to accurately represent what this event might be like. The tone of it is meant to be facetious, but the edge of that humour has apparently been lost.

My friend is certainly no fan of Scott (I think he is a conflict theorist, but I'm unsure). I think he just as a chip on his shoulder, as many of us attending do, which is what we'll be putting to the test when he is in the hot seat, and we challenge his conjectures (shminux corroborates this state of affairs in this comment [LW · GW]). I myself certainly didn't mean to imply Scott was bad as a person. I just think he is wrong about some stuff. I do wish that his status within the rationality community didn't make it feel so hard among rationalists to express significant disagreement with Scott. But going by Scott's comment [LW · GW], he doesn't share that attitude.

Since neither of us is calling Scott a bad person, it's inaccurate to say we've organized an event for people to coordinate around him being bad. Most of the attendees think Scott is a rationalist par excellence. In Vancouver, the SSC meetup is actually bigger than the rationality meetups (at least in terms of regular attendance to events, though there might be more a unified culture among local rationalists). Scott is held in higher regard than Eliezer among a lot of Vancouverites. So that's an odd state of affairs that several local community members are open to hearing out a voice critical of Scott. This event is coming from a place of rationalists seeing it as test of their epistemic virtue and mettle, and a form of comfort zone expansion, in the face of a presentation they expect to walk away from still in disagreement with the theses presented. Both my friend and I are coming into this meetup very much being perceived as filling the role of Devil's Advocates.

What this is meant to be about, then, is organizing an event to criticize multiple, distinct sets of ideas from a single author/blogger (Scott), from different speakers (myself and my friend), who will be speaking to a single audience who are fans of that blogger. The goal is for us to rise to a challenge given to us by the audience, local community members: to convince them some overarching themes from SSC spread out over multiple, thematically related posts. My friend and I will be coming at this from two different angles, as I laid out in another comment [LW · GW], quoted below:

Right, if it wasn't clear in the OP, the statement "Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading" is a claim from a friend who is doesn't self-identify as part of the rationality community, but is involved in local hangouts and occasionally attends meetups. I should clarify he will be expounding upon on in his opinion "SSC bungles history and philosophy in general [much of the time], and the history and philosophy of science in particular."
I don't personally believe Scott is a 'pseudo-intellectual.' I think my friend believes something like how Scott has such a degree of influence over so many people that, like it or not, he has found himself as a sort-of intellectual in an age when bloggers wield more influence over public opinion, and accordingly, he should take more intellectual responsibility to not misrepresent the history of ideas. He will be making a case along these lines. Like others in this thread, I'm looking forward to how my skeptic friend will try to convince us of his definition of 'intellectual' or 'pseudo-intellectual,' and that Scott fits the bill for the latter, since he's facing such an uphill battle. I personally believe that to call Scott a pseudo-intellectual is erroneous as he doesn't fit a conventional and common-sensical definition of 'intellectual' in the first place, nor self-identifies as one.
So the claims about SSC being a pseudo-intellectual who misrepresents history, intellectual and other; and my claim about how discourse norms from SSC are over-applied within communities which closely follow SSC, are from two different people. Our thematic disagreements with SSC have little in common.
Some ambiguity from my post might be about how I use 'we' to refer to my friend and I as if we'll be doing the whole event together, as opposed to it being separated into two mostly unrelated halves.

What we're not trying to do is coordinate a hack job to oust someone from the community. Nor are we trying to unilaterally ruin their reputation locally. It's being recorded for those who can't attend who want to watch after. Also, there will likely be a transcription. If it helps, I can ensure the transcription is released before the video, if that's strongly preferred. However, multiple people have expressed an interest in watching a video recording of the live event, so that will also probably go ahead.

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-09-08T16:42:07.035Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's an antisocial move to put forth a predictably inflammatory thesis (e.g., that an esteemed community member is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading) and then preemptively refuse to defend it. If the thesis is right, then it would be good for us to be convinced of it, but that won't happen if we don't get to hear the real arguments in favor. And if it's wrong, then it should be put to bed before it creates a lot of unproductive social conflict, but that also won't happen as long as people can claim that we haven't heard the real arguments in favor (kind of like the motte-and-bailey doctrine).

I don't doubt your sincerity in that you're doing this because you don't believe the thesis yourself, but your friend does. But I don't think that makes it okay. If your friend, or at least someone who actually believes the thesis, is not going to explain why it should be taken seriously, then it's bound to be net negative for intellectual progress and you shouldn't post it.

comment by Arkanj3l · 2018-09-08T18:01:49.232Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Meetup hasn't happened yet. Should the refutations be given on your time frame?

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-09-09T16:27:18.809Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It appears that you are somehow commenting as a deleted user. The database suggests your account was deleted during LW 1.0. I don't know the reason for why your account might have been deleted, but I can restore access to it if you want, otherwise I will remove your login privileges.

comment by Arkanj3l · 2018-09-09T16:39:42.267Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's best to restore it, I would have just used my throwaway otherwise and I discovered that I could still log in by a fluke. Although I was enjoying being anonymous while it lasted. Why aren't deleted accounts just taken off of the database entirely? That seems like a holdover from using Reddit as the forum engine.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-09-09T17:15:03.136Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We still use the account data for spam-detection and a bunch of related things. So that's why we keep the data around. Will restore your account.

comment by Arkanj3l · 2018-09-09T18:08:33.967Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ha, if it's any condolence I did delete the account myself three-ish years ago.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T18:42:25.269Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was clarifying my intentions, but my friend, who is the main draw for the event, does intend to defend the thesis Scott is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading. The real arguments will be up in a little over a week though.

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-09-08T19:49:55.896Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Then I think the post should have waited until those arguments were up, so that the discussion could be about their merits. The problem is the "hyping it up to Be An Internet Event", as Ray put it in a different subthread; since the thing you're hyping up is so inflammatory, we're left in the position of having arguments about it without knowing what the real case for it is.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-09-08T20:10:21.268Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

… since the thing you’re hyping up is so inflammatory, we’re left in the position of having arguments about it without knowing what the real case for it is.

Are we, though? Must we have arguments about it? What reason is there for us not to say something like, “this raises red flags but we’ll consider and discuss it properly after it takes place; make sure to document it properly and exhaustively, to signal to us all that you are acting in good faith”, and then say no more for now?

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-09-09T16:17:37.149Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can't speak for all the mods, but this is roughly my model of the situation. I don't think there is currently any action necessary, I don't think it was a mistake to post here about the meetup (after it had already been planned), but do think that the meetup sends a lot of red flags, but we can discuss its effects further after it actually happened.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T21:47:33.992Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is the type of response I've gotten from you, Scott, and the LW mods, for which I'm grateful. To be clear, in this thread [LW · GW] I made clear our intent to indeed document all this properly and exhaustively, which we would have done anyway for posterity, but, in light of the comments, we will also do to signal our good faith.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-09-07T22:18:40.594Z · score: 26 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I have two questions, one meta and one object-level:

First, the meta-level question: why do this as a “live”, in-person event? I am a fan of SSC, but would love to hear criticism of this sort from intelligent critics. I would far prefer that your SSC-critical friend write up his objections to SSC (perhaps even as a Less Wrong post! or put it wherever, really, and then you can put up a link-post here); that way, I can read it at leisure, consider it, etc., and people can ask their questions as comments.

(If you do go ahead with doing this as a live event, I hope you’ll provide a transcript… though this is unlikely, of course, as it entails additional effort, which few people ever bother to make. But in the absence of such, you’ll be excluding a good many people from the conversation…)

Second, the object-level question: the proposition under discussion is “Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading.” The obvious question, then, is: whom do you consider to be some “real intellectuals”, who are worth reading? (The more examples, the better, of course!)

comment by Ikaxas · 2018-09-08T00:22:37.380Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If transcripts end up not being provided, I would be willing to transcribe the video or part of the video, depending on how long it is (I'd probably be willing to transcribe up to about 2 hours of video, maybe more if it's less effort than I expect, having never really tried it before).

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T01:07:55.305Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be willing to transcribe some of it myself, but thank you for volunteering. That is definitely an offer I might take you up on if I don't have time to transcribe it all myself in short order. I don't think it'd be much more than two hours of footage anyhow. I've done some casually. The most I've ever transcribed in one go was 20 minutes worth of video. But that didn't more than 80 minutes. So doing more seems worth the time investment.

comment by Ikaxas · 2018-09-08T05:03:47.233Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Awesome, I'll watch for when the video is up and then get in touch about coordinating who will transcribe what. If I don't get in touch feel free to PM me or comment here.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-10-11T16:32:41.628Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The video is up.

comment by Ikaxas · 2018-10-15T03:08:02.996Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thanks. Just transcribed the first 5 minutes, it took me like 20-30 minutes to do. I definitely won't have time to transcribe the whole thing. Might be able to do 30 mins, i.e. ~2 hours of transcription time, over the next few days. Let me know if you still need help and which section you'd want me to transcribe. Definitely looking forward to watching the whole thing, this looks pretty interesting.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T01:31:32.722Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can answer the meta-level question. My friend Jordan wasn't intending to write this up, as he was only going to be presenting to the local rationality group. I'm trying to get more rationality meetups/events to happen in Vancouver, so after Jordan made a Facebook event for this for the local rationality groups, I invited more people online, including here on LW. On the event invitation pages, there have been multiple requests to people who won't be present to either take notes, record it on video, and/or have a web presence for people to follow along online. There is already going to be at least ten people at the event in person. There might only be 30 people in the local rationality community, so it's significant. We haven't even invited everyone we might want to yet.

I'm also helping run the local university effective altruism (EA) club this year. My friend who has a background in film and I are going to upload recordings of speaker talks given to the club by experts on various fields related to EA. But we haven't done that before. So I thought what with the multiple requests to put up the product of this event online, this would be a good practice run before we did more official-looking videos for the university club.

Every time I asked Jordan if he was okay with these escalations of how public this event was, he okayed it. Since it was going to be a colloquiam-style event, and people online wanted to see it, I figured we'd take questions online. So I made this post.

Jordan has been hanging out with the Vancouver rationality community for several months, or maybe over a year now. He also knows people outside the community who also read SSC, as it's a popular blog. Apparently he's disliked SSC, told people about it one by one, realized that took too long, and has been planning a simple meetup about it for months. And he finally set it up. Even before I posted about it on LW, locally it definitely took on the feel of what the rationalist equivalent of a sporting event would be like. It has the feel of some kind of epistemic wresting match to me. I don't know how it wound up that way.

Who Jordan considers a real intellectual is a question he'll have to answer. I just think SSC is a neat blog. I'd actually be more critical of how SSC fans, rationalists and effective altruists have taken SSC memes like the virtue of silence, or blaming everything on Moloch, to stifle conversation the way the "politics is the mind-killer" meme is often overused. It seems readers use them in a stronger fashion Scott originally intended. He has never struck me as the sort to state things as if they're set in stone (e.g., he hardly writes in the sweeping tone Eliezer often wrote the Sequences in).

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2018-09-08T04:09:02.332Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW
I'd actually be more critical of how SSC fans, rationalists and effective altruists have taken SSC memes like the virtue of silence, or blaming everything on Moloch, to stifle conversation the way the "politics is the mind-killer" meme is often overused.

This feels really disingenuous to me, given statements like "Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading." and " SSC bungles history and philosophy in general, and the history and philosophy of science in particular"

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T07:00:20.508Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, if it wasn't clear in the OP, the statement "Scott Alexander is a pseudo-intellectual not worth reading" is a claim from a friend who is doesn't self-identify as part of the rationality community, but is involved in local hangouts and occasionally attends meetups. I should clarify he will be expounding upon on in his opinion "SSC bungles history and philosophy in general [much of the time], and the history and philosophy of science in particular."

I don't personally believe Scott is a 'pseudo-intellectual.' I think my friend believes something like how Scott has such a degree of influence over so many people that, like it or not, he has found himself as a sort-of intellectual in an age when bloggers wield more influence over public opinion, and accordingly, he should take more intellectual responsibility to not misrepresent the history of ideas. He will be making a case along these lines. Like others in this thread, I'm looking forward to how my skeptic friend will try to convince us of his definition of 'intellectual' or 'pseudo-intellectual,' and that Scott fits the bill for the latter, since he's facing such an uphill battle. I personally believe that to call Scott a pseudo-intellectual is erroneous as he doesn't fit a conventional and common-sensical definition of 'intellectual' in the first place, nor self-identifies as one.

So the claims about SSC being a pseudo-intellectual who misrepresents history, intellectual and other; and my claim about how discourse norms from SSC are over-applied within communities which closely follow SSC, are from two different people. Our thematic disagreements with SSC have little in common.

Some ambiguity from my post might be about how I use 'we' to refer to my friend and I as if we'll be doing the whole event together, as opposed to it being separated into two mostly unrelated halves. As I stated in the OP:

For a long time I myself have felt SSC is subtly but crucially wrong about some discourse norms and memes which have become rote in the rationality and effective altruism communities, and stymie much intellectual progress in both.

I also stated in the coming days between now and the event, I'll be writing up some posts about the SSC posts I referenced myself.

While I can't speak for my fellow presenter, in the week between now and then I'm going to try to write up some posts responding to Scott at length, which should make it easier to ask myself more pointed questions.

I'm a member of the rationality community myself, and intended to pursue this project in accordance with community norms. That was also before many people stated their preference for someone in my shoes to do so here in the comments. I still intend to do so. But I thought I'd make this post a week before the event to field questions fans of SSC and other community members might have regarding significant disagreement with SSC.

comment by moridinamael · 2018-09-08T00:07:28.586Z · score: 23 (12 votes) · LW · GW
Noun. pseudointellectual (plural pseudointellectuals) A person who claims proficiency in scholarly or artistic activities while lacking in-depth knowledge or critical understanding. A person who pretends to be of greater intelligence than he or she in fact is.

I don't think S.A. claims any proficiency or scholarly credentials that he doesn't have. He doesn't review books claiming to be some expert in reviewing books, and doesn't write essays claiming to be setting down eternal truths. Rather, he is openly exploratory and epistemically careful.

I certainly don't think he pretends to be smarter than he is. But of course, the use of this word in the original claim is probably an empty slur, meant to convey sentiment rather than content. I certainly hope the "pseudointellectual" part of the claim isn't important to the argument, since I think even Alexander's detractors would admit it is inaccurate.

Thus, one question in short form: "Given that a pseudointellectual is defined as one who claims proficiency while lacking in-depth knowledge and/or a person who pretends to greater intelligence than he possesses, do you actually believe Scott Alexander qualifies as a pseudointellectual? If so, could you elaborate on where specifically he has exaggerated his own proficiency, knowledge, or intelligence? If not, what did you actually mean by pseudointellectual?"

It's one thing to accuse somebody of being systematically wrong, another thing to accuse them of being systematically deceptive. I don't think my focus on this word choice can be trivially dismissed.

Also, it seems likely that if one of the roughly nine words in the quoted thesis was chosen carelessly, the underlying thought process will be likewise flimsy.

comment by shminux · 2018-09-08T05:47:31.564Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Funny how this downvoting is basically shooting the messenger. Evan is not the one who called Scott a pseudo-intellectual. If the downvotes are about the discomfort with idea of overtly critiquing SSC, then it is not much better.

Personally, I think Scott is a genius and his posts constantly give me new insights into the world, he is an embodiment of steelmanning uncomfortable views, and is as fair and balanced as any fox might aspire to be. That said, I hope to attend the meetup, mainly to see what arguments some people put forward that make SSC "not worth reading", which is an extremely high bar to set. I expect their arguments to be more emotional than logical or rational, and it will be fun to see their rationalizations.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T06:36:20.598Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks shminux. The local context is most people attending this event in person are highly skeptical of the thesis being advanced, and while we expect to remain unconvinced, Scott's critic is taking up the challenge. So if anything in the space Scott's critics will be facing an uphill battle.

comment by jimrandomh · 2018-09-08T01:25:23.422Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn't seem like a productive or fair way to do criticism. By making it an in-person event rather than a written piece, you're making it harder to respond to criticisms and potentially creating a hostile echo chamber. And by making it about an author instead of about a topic, you're encouraging people to cherry-pick whichever posts they can find that are least defensible, out of a massive corpus, then present them as though they were representative.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-09-08T01:28:07.250Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well… do you actually think that it’s never worth criticizing an author, rather than that author’s specific pieces of writing? Scott himself does this from time to time, does he not?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-09-08T01:37:39.444Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We're not trying to make a hostile echo chamber. I can write up some of my responses to Scott in the next week, as I've got a significant amount of free time. My friend didn't originally intend to write up his disagreements with Scott. But if there is sufficient interest from LW and SSC readers, I imagine he'd be willing to write some of it up. For what it's worth, I do believe my friend has picked other pieces, and will sample lots, that he think are representative of Scott's writing, and the ones he might zoom in on the most are just the ones I mentioned. I don't know if for some of the disagreements I have with Scott if there are patterns among them, but a lot of them are discourse-related, and they're popular posts in the SSC corpus.

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-09-26T05:35:41.502Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's been over a week since this event was scheduled to take place, are any of the promised videos or transcripts available?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-10-11T16:31:33.545Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here is the video. Since my friend Jordan did the event as a colloquium, and he didn't anticipate the back-and-forth, most of the 2 hours was him criticizing Scott's classic post I Myself Am A Scientismist, launching off into a discussion of philosophy of science from there. In spite of Scott being tired of criticisms of his post on the Dark Ages, my friend Jordan is still convinced it's at a level of sufficient historical inaccuracy/imprecision there should be a record for SSC readers of how in fact misleading Scott can be when he is out of his depth. So, he may in the next few months do a follow-up on the Dark Ages, with a bit on other posts of Scott's he took issue with.

He is disinterested in writing this stuff up for the rationality community, but similar events in the future will be filmed and transcribed so they're more accessible.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-10-12T01:13:22.230Z · score: 14 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Note that the video you linked is over 20 gigabytes in file size. (It’s in 1080p resolution, and strangely inefficiently encoded.)

I’ve taken the liberty of re-encoding the video at a somewhat lower resolution (resulting in a 55x reduction in file size), and re-hosting it:

https://wiki.obormot.net/Archive/JordanSSCTalk

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-10-12T09:13:28.127Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-10-11T22:53:10.495Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-10-07T00:53:39.842Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They aren't available yet. I'm sorry it's taken us a while to move on this. I have the SD card with the video file on it. But I just realized my laptop doesn't have a port to take it. I can probably find another computer to upload it with in a matter of days. The transcript should be up a few days after that. So at least the video if not the transcript should be up within a week.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-10-11T16:34:21.950Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here is the promised video. Transcription forthcoming.