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deletedFeb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023
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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

Honestly a closely related element for me is the idea that say the NYT is selling you 60% fact, 30% contested opinion and 10% bullshit, and Tucker is selling maybe 50% bullshit, and 40% contested opinion and 10% fact.

And that the people whose general position is "everything Tucker Carlson says is wrong and everything the NYT is right" are just generally going to find themselves wrong about a lot more stuff than people who are more willing to withhold judgement and think for themselves.

And the common response is something like "yeah but the people who believe everything Tucker says are much worse than the people who believe everything the NYT says and I want to be on the side of the righteous".

To which my main response is "Fuck sides, you damn sheep. Not everything is about "them" and "us" .".

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"I was totally raised one and the condescension from other people is insanely real. "

The first time I can recall this personally was after the OKC bombing, when Connie Chung was interviewing the local authorities with undisguised disbelief that Okies could possibly organize rescue/recovery/relief supplies/blood etc. She just would not accept that the locals weren't abject primitives in need of federal expert assistance.

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deletedFeb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023
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What are my "preferred studies" exactly?

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Omit the U in kavanagh

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"hostes humani generi" -> should be "hostes humani generis" (genus is 3rd declension)

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/genus#Latin

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author

Thanks, fixed.

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So he's not, in fact, related to the Supreme Court justice?

Or (if I'm playing a conspiracy theorist) did he change his name to get away from his relative's bad press?

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All so he could generate his own bad press.

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He’s from Ireland and the u is generally not used in Ireland. It’s pronounced differently too. Kav-an-a not Kav-an-Aw

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> Kav-an-a not Kav-an-Aw

It is not at all obvious what the difference between those two is supposed to be. Is the vowel of the third syllable:

"a" as in "comma"?

"a" as in "father"? (This would make it identical to the third syllable of "Kav-an-Aw"...)

"a" as in "trap"? (This would violate the rules of English syllable formation.)

something else?

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Alright.

[KAV] + [UH] + [NUH]

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"a" as in "father"? (This would make it identical to the third syllable of "Kav-an-Aw"...)

In some parts of Ireland, including my own, "father" is pronounced more like "faader" so not really the same as standard English there. The American version is more heavy on the last syllable and more "awe" as here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0t7FhMqopxA

Irish pronunciation is more emphatic on the first syllable: KAV-an-ah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxMfZG4ku1s

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It rhymes with Canada. OK?

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Just use IPA.

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Incidentally, he has the same name as a premiership referee, so gets regular insults/ death threats based on that.

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Might I inquire about the sudden interest in Youtube streamers? Is it because of Aella?

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author

Sometimes there are Manifold markets about them.

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An underappreciated feature of prediction markets surely is that they also tell us what other people are interested in enough to bet money on it...

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I mean, yes, *but* this is sort of the reverse of the observation that prediction markets actually have extremely limited capacity to magically apply to all possible questions precisely because things that don't fall into this category are generally too thinly traded to yield helpful information.

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Destiny is a Youtube streamer whose fanbase has started using Manifold markets quite a lot, and Aella has been on their stream several times.

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It is pronounced Des-tiny, not De-stiny. FYI.

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I thought your ivermectin post was great. It provided something more than just a dismissive, "the experts say ivermectin doesn't work so you shouldn't take it". There is an underprovision of writing for people who want more than a news article but don't want to spend a week ready peer reviewed publications.

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It's precisely why I would link to Scott rather than a simple dismissal when arguing with a believer in ivermectin (as anti-viral).

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Scott demonstrates here that “doing the legwork” has always been his thing. Which I now realize is why I got into ACX- I appreciate having science I can understand but not personally interpret from academic papers explained to me at a level more granular than journalism can and will support.

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founding

This.

Also, this comment is why you getting rid of the like button was a mistake.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

I am afraid this may be a market with a supply shortage because explaining complicated issues thoroughly and without oversimplifying while also staying below the word count and domain knowledge requirements of a bundled dozen scientific papers is really hard, and most people who are not Scott can't do it.

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And for people who couldn't understand the science even if they *did* spend a week reading peer reviewed publications. (I'm probably in that group; I'm no dummy and I have basic science literacy skills, but many of these things have conventions and shorthand that grow up in that specific branch of science. Anyone reading those studies in that branch understands how they are interpreted, but good luck if you're not.)

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I'm sympathetic to this, but academic publications are, by and large, not that hard to read. Yes, you won't understand it as well as the reviewers, but you can become proficient at quickly assessing them for relevance and methodological quality. Look at what journal they're in, what the citations are, sample size, whether they're obsessed with p values, effect sizes, etc. Pay walls are a somewhat bigger problem, but there's always arxiv and SciHub.

If you can't read the papers, consider hedging your life against the thing in question rather than wasting time figuring it out from the internet.

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You are overestimating how quantitative I am and how much time I have. I have read papers and know more or less what they’re saying, but I can’t do what Scott does in assessing the methodology and results. I have read several explanations of what p values or effect sizes are and what they really mean and still do not really understand what they are arrived at or how to tell if the authors are overly obsessed with them or just normally obsessed. Also, it takes *a lot* of time that I don’t have to discover, parse and weigh this information. But “hedging my life against the thing in question” sounds a lot like groping in the dark. If reasonably intelligent but non-quantitative people, or simply people with busy lives, have to resort to this, then *what is the point of science*? People need information to make better, more rational decisions. Why should anyone begrudge that? Shouldn’t there be some level of analysis available to help ordinary people make sense of science and do a better job than the cursory and distorted treatments that dominate the press? The popularity of this blog speaks to a demand for better public-facing scientific analysis. I’m here because what Scott does seems so rare. If we could have a bunch of ACXs analyzing and debating a range of scientific and social topics that would be great for the world.

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Honestly, even if you are perfectly able to parse the reports, you should probably be hedging your life to the thing in question — and many scientists do behave this way about the products of their own inquiry.

I love ACX and similar resources, and agree with you that there should be more of them, but you are deeply underestimating them if you see them as merely summarizing what the actual scientists have done.

I don’t think the lofty purpose of “science” (if it exists) has much to do with the interpretation of any single scientific result or real-world problem. The purpose of a single scientific study is substantially narrower. As a rule, these are laser-focused on ontology (what is) and epistemology (how do we know) — which comes with drastic tradeoffs in their ability to answer ethical questions (what should be done). Generalizing the result of a carefully controlled scientific study to the real world is a perilous process, and _this_ is part of what blogs like ACX (or public health officials, think tanks, etc etc) attempt to do. The meta-analysis done here is knowledge in its own right. Further it is much more valuable, contextualized, actionable knowledge than the studies that went into it. However, it is not a scientific study, and bundling it under a big umbrella of “science” is confusing at best. There is substantial wisdom in risk management, economics, skeptical empiricism, life experience, etc that goes into these posts. Reading ACX and making decisions w it is much closer to “hedging your life” than it is to doing science.

So my main quibble is not that you should just read papers yourself. It is that the main value being provided here is not really reading and understanding papers at all.

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So much this. I've gone on and on on this issue. The state of science reporting is truly abysmal. The only other person I've found doing what Scott does—honestly evaluate and report on the validity and quality of scientific studies—is Emily Oster.

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Feb 18, 2023·edited Feb 18, 2023

Yes, I only wish Scott had studied Covid vaccine safety instead. I could've shown my father that. I don't know what good it did to argue against ivermectin.

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I think the difference is that there weren't studies showing vaccines were unsafe. We've known about vaccines for a long time, so the antivax position is regarded as a perennially wrong & worthless one like creationism.

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People still need to see reviews of whatever data exists. Also, it would be really helpful if someone would explain in detail How The System Works. I have seen neither kind of review; when it comes to depth of coverage, antivaxxers dominate the media landscape.

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A great article, but my main takeaway is a great desire to go visit underwater pyramids.

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Exactly. Where are these pyramids and why do they look like that if the answer isn’t “Atlanteans”?

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Feb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023

Here's one example near Japan, linking to the part where they give a potential natural explanation for them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yonaguni_Monument#Natural_formation

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Thanks. That does look very cool, although less “man made” looking in wide shots.

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Slow cooling and the inherent symmetries present in crystals is the generic answer. If you cool molten salt very, very slowly, it will form one enormous perfect cube, because that's the underlying symmetry of the crystal. If you cool silica slowly enough, it will form enormous six-sided prisms, and so on.

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This would be applicable in the case of hexagonal columns in igneous rock such as at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland , but the example in Japan posted above is in sedimentary rock, which was never hot enough for cooling fractures. Better explanation there would be a combination of vertical tectonic joint planes (presumably ~E-W-running and associated with stress from the convergent plate margin off the Japanese coast) and older horizontal depositional layers in the rock (“bedding planes”).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_(geology)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bed_(geology)

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

Ah yes good point, thank you. I guess the general answer is the underlying symmetries of the mineral crystal structure, plus sometimes symmetries generated by the method of formation. I kind of had Devil's Postpile in mind, which is rather mind-blowing that it's natural.

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I think Illuminatus put them in the Bermuda Triangle. (But Wilson wasn't very specific about the location.)

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Feb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023

He seems to resent people for being curious, in the same mold that the folks who criticize others for "just asking questions" seem to do: just because he's afraid they'll come to a conclusion he doesn't like. I think one consequence of this that he is missing that many of the questions people are asking have implications far beyond whatever narrow culture war issues he's caught up in.

Here he is complaining that people are trying to figure out how robust ChatGPT's guardrails are:

https://twitter.com/C_Kavanagh/status/1622772800598712320

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He is a Twitter brained culture warrior. I used to follow him and his shtick is basically “grey tribe bad”. He’s made some good/valid points but that shtick will lead you to places like making fun of people for bothering to investigate both sides of a controversy.

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I'm reminded of my biology teacher in secondary school who asked me if I believed in evolution. I answered that I wasn't sure because I felt like I hadn't, as you put it, investigated both sides of the controversy. She rolled her eyes.

I think I'm remembering this correctly.

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Nobody "believes in" evolution, or they shouldn't anyway. You may believe evolution is true or at least the best-fitting theory right now, but it's not religious dogma.

Even if some people do treat it as such.

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+1

Evolution is a model for how the living world came to be, which explains what we see *really well*. It's hard to imagine a discovery that would change that, though there can certainly be (and have been, and will continue to be) stuff that requires new explanations, or stuff whose currently-accepted explanation is wrong.

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Well, the current explanation of evolution is certainly wrong. But it's wrong in details. And most of those details are small. It's really difficult to imagine a better theory.

OTOH, epicycles worked correctly, the only problems known were in small details, and it was really hard to imagine a better theory. (Epicycles were more accurate than Copernican theory, but Kepler fixed that. The real initial advantage of Copernican theory is that it was simpler to calculate.)

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Isn't "believing in x" pretty common shorthand for "believing x occurs/exists/is true" depending on whether x is a process, object or statement?

"I believe in photosynthesis," "I believe in the Eiffel Tower," and "I believe in the Nicene Creed" all make sense as statements.

(I had to use the Nicene Creed, because basically no non-religious statements have their own name)

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* "grey tribe and red tribe bad"

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I think the essential component of his objections is that it's not about what people do, it's about what people do *in front of an audience*.

The charitable version is saying something like 'If there's a conspiracy theory that only .1% of people believe, and a careful and fair analysis of the evidence will cause 99% of the people who read it to conclude it's definitely fake for sure, and convince 1% of people who read it that hey that's a lot of evidence maybe there's actually something to it, then exposing everyone to that careful and fair analysis will increase the number of people who believe in the conspiracy tenfold. Bad on consequentialist grounds even if it does help some of the .1% escape their mistakes.'

The less charitable version is that he's like the people who think kids playing violent video games will turn them into murderers, and wants everyone to censor what they say in public spaces in the interest of not accidentally giving anyone 'bad ideas'.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

Fair comment. I think the "charitable" version, let's call it the "don't give it oxygen" story, is basically fashionable amongst the twitter set when it comes to any number of alternative stories related to covid (vaccines, ivermectin, lockdowns, masks) and probably other alternative accounts to things as well (the Hunter Biden laptop comes to mind immediately).

I think folks glammed on to the "don't give it oxygen" argument probably in one or two cases where it might have been at least rational, from a group conflict point of view, if not a fully reasonable approach. Then guys like Kavanagh overextend it to just about any case they can pattern-match it to. It sort of makes sense it *might* apply to ivermectin too but I think Scott is right that actually, what the Ivermectin story needs is some people (preferably shady blogs online, no one as high profile as Fauci or whatever) willing to engage and speak honestly and clearly to people who genuinely want to know.

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On a platform like Twitter "don't give it oxygen" might be the best course of action. Twitter doesn't seem like the best place to lay out nuanced, well researched analysis. OTOH I don't actually participate in the platform so maybe I'm missing something.

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You are. Of course there's plenty of awfulness and stupidity, but there is also serious discussion and debate, and threads that explore ideas in some depth. And of course you can always link to long blog posts.

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On the other hand, if nobody responds, the conspiracy side then use that as proof that they *can't* answer the questions put to them and that the conspiracy 'science' is correct. So damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I think this Chris Kavanagh bloke has picked the worst of both worlds: don't respond and treat it seriously because it is self-evidently rubbish and they're all conspiracy theorists, I know because I'm the expert on conspiracy theorist mindset.

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But it wasn't crazy to think ivermectin would treat covid. There were prominent experts advocating for it, and national-level public health authorities using it, and randomized trials investigating it.

The tragic reality about medical treatments is that they're super hard to get right, so that you can genuinely have a lot of serious well-intentioned experts and health care systems doing pointless or counterproductive stuff for *years*, just because figuring out whether they really work is hard to do and subject to subtle errors. And you can have useful treatments lying around unused for years for the same reason.

So, people ran careful RCTs and it looks like ivermectin doesn't do much for covid (though it's great at treating parasitic infections). A lot of the early hopeful information turned out to be fraud or random noise+publication bias or confounded with other results of treatment. This sucks--it would have been really nice to have this cheap, widely-available thing treat covid. But it's also the normal way that things work out--all kinds of promising treatments turn out, when finally subjected to careful testing, not to work.

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You left out placebos. Of course, that's a part of why it's difficult to determine what works, but it's also true that there are many drugs whose effectiveness isn't that much better than that of a placebo. Which should often raise the question of "Are they worth the cost and side effects?".

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Besides, the charitable interpretation still omits the -admittedly very low- probability that the conspiracy theory may be in fact true. If that were the case, making that 1% of people engage with the argument may have a huge positive impact.

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So, given what Scott said about him, that he spends much of his time mockingly quoting every ivermectin "conspiracy theorist", does his own behavior pass the consequentialist test? Anybody who's inclined to trust "experts and Science" by default would dismiss ivermectin after the first CNN denouncement, so I don't see what Twitter mocking could possibly achieve beyond that, other than further radicalizing red-tribers.

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I get the impression that he and Alexandros have their own beef going on - how else does Kavanagh know so much about him? - and while I'm happy for the pair of them to have a Twitter ding-dong, leave Scott alone!

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Well, I wasn't aware of this Kavanagh character's existence until Scott mentioned him, so I think it's fair to say that he brought it on himself :)

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

> Bad on consequentialist grounds even if it does help some of the .1% escape their mistakes.'

Since this charitable version can be answered empirically, unless they provide evidence that that actually happens I'm not sure why I should prefer it as compared to long, proven history of "informing people causes them to become informed".

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I don't know about evidence, but I think the primary factor which should cause you to expect that old rules like that no longer apply is engagement algorithms on social media, which is basically a hostile AI trying to expose as many people as possible to ideas that will cause the most disagreement and strife possible because their owners can monetize the resulting pageviews.

It's somewhat reasonable to think that the optimal rhetorical strategies under that regime are different from the optimal strategies where that is not happening.

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This raises in my mind the question "Is this a good substitute for war?". I don't really take that seriously, but I'm not totally sure I shouldn't. Many people seem to feel like they need more aggression in their lives.

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I'm still not sure why the hostile AI means writing a factual rebuttal to misinformation would hurt more than help. At best, it sounds like it would do nothing, but not that it would actually increase harm.

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I can't count the number of times I've given people the benefit of the doubt that they were being curious in good faith – and reply back with long, reasoned arguments and zero rancor – only for them to ignore my entire argument and retreat to the worst rehashed conspiracist talking points, making it clear they were just shitposting the whole time. It does tend to jade one.

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That's fair. I have listened to one or two of Chris's podcast episodes, and if there's one thing you can call him, it's jaded. But he doesn't seem to give others the benefit of the doubt, so I don't feel disposed to give _him_ the benefit of the doubt unless he himself explains he used to do that until it backfired on him too much. For all I know, he just thinks people who disagree with him on certain key issues are evil and dangerous and ought to be shut down.

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The other problem is for every Scott Alexander, there are 99 other people out there *doing their own research* who are not remotely equipped actually evaluate the evidence, validate the sources, understand nuance, etc. For those people, just going with the experts will produce a far better outcome on average than trying to play amateur climatologist/statistician/epidemiologist/metallurgy expert/etc. There will of course, be spectacular failures of conventional wisdom along the way.

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But if you aren't scientifically literate, "just going with the experts" isn't so simple in itself, because different people will be telling you different stories about what the scientific consensus is.

The pro-Ivermectin people aren't saying "trust Ivermectin because Jesus came to me in a dream and told me it works", they are saying "here are 30 peer-reviewed studies by respectable mainstream scientists in prestigious scientific journals showing that Ivermectin works". And their websites aren't written in Comic Sans with lots of grammar and spelling mistakes; they look pretty much the same as the websites telling you what the anti-Ivermectin consensus is. Maybe they even look more professional. Now what?

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Then they should find an expert they trust, like their doctor. Not a youtube doctor who makes money off clicks, but an actual doctor. During an all hands on deck global pandemic, your doctor is likely to be up on the current research (unlike say some rare condition where a person doing their own research can supplement their doctor). Doctors can be wrong of course. But at least they understand how medical research and science work. On an issue like Ivermectin, a random doctor is going to get it right orders of magnitude more often than a random person going down internet rabbit holes.

Also in the course of doing your own research, it's not hard to see that the same people pushing Ivermectin were also pushing HCQ, and probably covid/mask deniers as well. Somehow the people who go down rabbit holes never seem to hold their sources accountable for being dead wrong in the recent past.

The fundamental problem imo is that for someone like Scott, doing his own research is going to yield much better information than a random doctor, or whatever the government is pushing in the moment. But how do you explain to a random person who doesn't have a science background that they're not only not equipped to do their own research, they're not even equipped to pick an expert they trust like Alexander? I follow Peter Attia and trust him unconditionally on this kind of stuff. But for the average person, their Scott Alexander or Peter Attia is Dr. Drew or Dr. Oz, who lead them to guys like Berenson. I don't know how to solve that.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

Even Scott reads to me as way sharper on subjects that touch on psychiatry than he does on other topics where he's more of a smart amateur. I'm not surprised by this. This is only natural and is quite typical of public intellectuals as they move further away from their core expertise. We're all affected by this and try to balance personal humility with the our desire and sometimes need to have an opinion.

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If you trust your doctor, fine. But according to what I've been reading many doctors have NOT been keeping up with health researchers. Perhaps they've been too busy. And many of them are required to say or deny certain things by their employers.

I don't think there's any simple answer as to how to find an expert you can trust. And this isn't only true in health care. Look into the replication crisis in many fields of science.

Perhaps they has always been the case, and we're just noticing it now because of improved communications.

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founding

Why would you trust your doctor on something like this? He graduated medical school long before COVID was a thing, and since then he's almost certainly been too busy doing by-the-book medicine for many, many patients to do a deep dive into every contrarian medical opinion just in case one of his patients picks that one to ask him about.

OK, maybe you're paying big bucks for a concierge physician who will take the time to do the research if you ask. But probably, your doctor is just going to tell you the same thing that Dr. Fauci told you, because that's where he learned it. Through different channels, but without doing any independent research.

MartinW is right. Finding independent experts you can trust to give you a straight answer about anything remotely controversial is not a trivial undertaking.

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Chris's post speaks to people developing the skills necessary to tell the difference between something that superficially looks like it is representing reliable sources, but isn't and reliable sources. You can't escape the need to do this, but you can escape the need to do this without developing the level of knowledge that typically takes years and paying lots of money to achieve. His comments weren't "Pfft." They were, "these red flags were enough."

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> Chris's post speaks to people developing the skills necessary to tell the difference between something that superficially looks like it is representing reliable sources, but isn't and reliable sources.

I believe you can do this. I believe I can do this. I have zero faith that most of the people out there fervently doing youtube research will ever be capable of this.

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I think the real problem is that a lot of people can't tolerate being uncertain. Estimating probabilities is very different from belief.

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We're not wired for it. I know someone who is 100% convinced her first kid has been sickly his whole life because of vaccines.

Her second kid got 1 shot, she prayed to God for a sign, the second kid got sick, she refused to let him get any more shots. Good luck ever convincing that person that vaccines are safe. It can't be done.

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> only for them to ignore my entire argument and retreat to the worst rehashed conspiracist talking points, making it clear they were just shitposting the whole time. It does tend to jade one.

Sure, but maybe don't go in with the mindset of "I'm trying to convince this person", go in with the mindset, "I'm trying to convince anyone who might see this person's post and be convinced by their argument". Much harder to get jaded by the outcome.

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If it helps, I've found it useful to ask someone to accurately paraphrase some aspect of the topic that they don't agree with. The people who are not willing to argue in good faith will almost universally refuse to do this or be unable to do it accurately. It's like a cognitive wall that exists, independent of their native intelligence.

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If you're still interested in lost underwater civilizations of questionable historicity, you may be interested in the black sea deluge theory.

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Didn't we all go through the "ancient astronaut" period in our youth? It was von Daniken for me, but I did dip my toe into Hancock's works.

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Can you imagine how satisfying it would have been to be a Troy Was Real Truther?

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Hi, but Troy was very likely real war. Of course not in the exact form in the Illiad but close enough and there might be a conflation of separate stories. But the more you find out about the history the more it is likely there was some kind of Greek expedition against the city. See Trevor Brice and Eric Cline books on the subject. Of course no one can definitely say for sure there was a war but they come close enough.

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I think that's the point - pre-Schliemann, no-one even believed that the city existed.

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Ironically, the idea that there was an orthodoxy that Troy wasn't real, pre-Schliemann, is itself a misconception: All he did was to prove that the site of the city called Ilium (which was inhabited into the 13th century) and associated for centuries with the city of the Iliad, was the place the city had been from antiquity, as opposed to it having moved from a nearby location. The press, however, failed to understand the nuances of this, and Schliemann was in no hurry to disabuse it of its misconception

http://kiwihellenist.blogspot.com/2020/06/truth-in-myth.html

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I know I did too! von Daniken indeed, but I was also very impressed by a theory explaining the different geological eras by different moons slowly approaching the earth, then collapsing on it and creating great catastrophes and extinctions. I thought this explained the appearance of the giant faunas very well: the very close moon had a tremendous upward force of gravity, and allowed the appearance of the huge dinosaurs at the end of the secondary ear, or the monstrous insects before that. Such a beautiful theory!

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I believe this is a plot point in the original Frankenstein novel. A young Victor gets obsessed with fringe biology texts, which eventually sets him on the road to creating his monster.

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Well you're not going to stumble onto lost, arcane secrets by reading mainstream journals.

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Actually you probably are, for a literal definition of "arcane", there's so much interesting stuff published each month that some of it must be forgotten.

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He is an autodidact so he's obsessed with alchemical texts, then he finally goes to university and finds out that is all rubbish, but luckily he also discovers Science! as the next best thing for necromancy. It is the early 19th century after all, now it's all galvanism not summoning demons at midnight. Still involves digging up graveyards, though.

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I think Frankenstein found that the combination of his modern education and his past obsession with old alchemy texts let him find valuable insights hidden in the nonsense that other scientists had missed, which was why he was the one to discover how to make his creation and bring it to life.

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I was so annoyed that he had been fine with necromancy and gravedigging, but when the "experiment" hadn't ended up with a pretty face, all commitment to scientific norms had fled and he'd reacted like a hysterical teenager. It's amusing that the popular adage "it's not Frankenstein, it's Frankenstein's monster" is actually wrong, Frankenstein was the real monster all along.

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Victor *is* a hysterical teenager with a lot of parental issues and chips on both shoulders. He's like a version of the typical Byronic brooding (anti)hero, and I do wonder how much Bryon's presence and the tangle of sexual/romantic relationships going on in that tiny set influenced Mary Shelley,

He messes around, becomes a single dad, and isn't capable of taking care of the kid so he abandons and neglects the creation. Are we surprised the monster turned out the way he did? Textbook social work case! 😁

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So the monster was depraved on account of he was deprived?

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As someone or other once said: Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is the name of the creator, not the monster; wisdom is realising that Frankenstein was the true monster all along.

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Yes, and the narrator makes Scott's exact point. If his father at the time explained why those texts were wrong in a respectful manner, he would have been convinced and dropped it. But his father dismissed them as unserious rubbish, and he was hooked. Its his fathers fault (might have been an uncle. Insert relevant authority figure). Brilliant.

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Not me, I was all about psionics. :-)

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

The 70s were a wacky time, all sorts of stuff was semi-respectable, or at least good enough for a TV show.

https://jcom.sissa.it/archive/19/02/JCOM_1902_2020_L01

"The 1970s: a turning point

How can we reconcile the fact that our societies and cultures grow, on the one hand, every day more technoscientific and, on the other, more ambivalent towards science and scientists and, necessarily, their authority [Bauer, Pansegrau and Shukla, 2019]? To answer this question, one must go back to the 1970s and 1980s and the first postwar mass media pseudoscientific wave. Until then, although present here and there, pseudoscience was largely confined to the fringes of mass media or to fiction, the separation between the real and the fictional remaining clearly demarcated. Yet, on 5 January 1973, when there were only three main channels on U.S. television (ABC, CBS and NBC), NBC broadcast In Search of Ancient Astronauts, the first pseudoscientific documentary shown on U.S. television, which was a 1970 German documentary based on the bestselling Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (Memories from the Future) [1968] — translated as Chariots of the Gods — and dubbed, reformatted and adapted for U.S. audiences. In his pseudoscientific bestseller, the Swiss Erich von Däniken proposed, from a reinterpretation of founding myths and sacred texts in the light of the possibilities opened by the Space Age, that extraterrestrials had influenced the development of human societies in the remote past. The ratings of the broadcast were such that NBC produced two more documentaries on the same theme (In Search of Ancient Mysteries, broadcast on 31 January 1974, and The Outer Space Connection in February 1975) before giving the go-ahead to a TV documentary series, In Search of …, exclusively covering fringe topics from ghosts to the Bermuda Triangle.

Those three documentaries were narrated by Rod Serling, who was expected to reprise his role for In Search of …, if not for his premature death, which led to Leonard Nimoy being cast instead. Both were closely associated with the then minor genres of fantasy and science fiction — Serling as the narrator of The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) and Nimoy as Star Trek’s Spock (1966–1969) — and owed their fame to their 1970s reruns [Beeler, 2010; Geraghty, 2010]. And it must be stressed that the U.S. public had for decades already been exposed to those themes through comics, pulps and B movies [Stoczkowski, 1999]. The documentaries were all produced by Alan Landsburg, who had previously left his mark on award-winning science TV documentaries, a genre he helped create [Colker, 2014], lending them credibility (statements became plausible and assumptions believable), without providing the public with the necessary tools to evaluate their scientific validity. In short, a half-century ago, celebrity was already being disputed to expertise, while the demarcation between the real and the fictional was being deliberately blurred. The programs were widely broadcast and rebroadcast internationally, and many would-be imitators sought to capitalize on their success. They were helped by the transition to cable, which rapidly multiplied the number of channels, the content of which could be tailored to specific audiences. That format has since become dominant."

1969 had been the moon landing. All the SF stories looked to be coming true. No wonder the 70s went mad for 'scientific' versions of the old stories.

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FYI: I had lessons on ESP and the Bermuda Triangle in the Gifted and Talented classes in school, alongside how to communicate with aliens that was popular back in the days of Voyager and Arecibo.

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I grew up in the USSR, but I can't say you're wrong :-)

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You're lucky, some people wind up in even less socially acceptable corners of idea space as their first "let's doubt the mainstream consensus" experience.

Pity those poor teenagers who wind up as Holocaust skeptics instead of Atlantis believers.

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Holocaust denial is probably the easiest rabbit hole to fall into by the means that Scott outlined. Given that expressing doubt in the most minute detail of the Official Narrative instantly brands one as Exactly As Bad As Hitler, it's probably the least acceptable area for independent research, and thus very enticing for a certain variety of contrarian.

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On the other hand, the holocaust is probably one of the best documented events in human history. The lengths people go to to catalogue and publicly display every piece of evidence is honestly astounding. I doubt there are very many holocaust survivors who were never asked to record an interview about their experience, and that's on top of all the meticulously archived records and physical evidence

We have holocaust museums in every major city, whereas I don't see a lot of "Atlantis is fake" museums.

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Sea levels in various places rose during the last 10,000 years, or roughly the time period when at least some humans were building towns in places like the Middle East. If the Black Sea was one of those places where the water level used to be lower, it seems plausible that people would have built their town down near the water for the mildest climate, access to fishing, and other reasons that waterfront real estate is usually more expensive.

But perhaps people had time when the water started to rise to dismantle their towns and carry their carved stone building blocks to higher elevations? Or maybe they just hadn't gotten around to building anything impressive there by the time the water level rose?

Similarly, the English Channel used to be above the Ice Age ocean level and the Thames was a tributary of the Rhine. Human artifacts constantly turn up on beaches at places like Dunkirk. One Dutch nurse who walks everyday on her local beach has found hundreds of Stone Age artifacts from now inundated Dogger Land.

There are a couple of submerged ancient Egyptian cities that are being dug up, such as Heracleion. Pavlopetri is a submerged Greek city discovered in 1967. I vaguely recall a submerged Greek city that was a tourist attraction for boaters in Roman times.

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Personally, I'm a great fan of Sunda, the submerged lowlands of Southeast Asia and western Indonesia.

Then of course one can go even further back to the Messinian age 6 million years ago, when the Mediterranean dried up, and the lost elephant civilization on its bottom...

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That's not the only one. There's also the connection between Britain and the continent, that was drowned. I'm sure there are lots of others of various sizes. And they probably all spawned local tales of catastrophe, some of which were picked up and elaborated upon.

FWIW, some Athenian versions of Atlantis have the civilization placed in North Africa. And their symbol was the King Bee. Which was later(? no evidence it wasn't continuous!!) picked up by the Bavarian Illuminati. We've only got fragments of their literature, but perhaps it was Plato who moved their location to "beyond the Pillars of Hercules".

The stories are real. Believe them as history at your own peril.

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They ARE hostes humani generis, but reversed stupidity etc.

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I must admit, Alexandros is a better fake last name than Alexander. Even though the geographical difference (Greece vs Macedonia) is rather tiny.

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author

I think he's talking about Alexandros Marinos, although I agree it's a great name.

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Alexander? Great? Seems like a stretch.

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There is a nominative determinism there somewhere.

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Reading those comments, I am *so ready* to get into a(n Internet) fist fight. I'm happy for Kavanagh to go after Marinos and his fanboys, just leave us out of it. I want to sit on the sidelines with my fruit salad watching, not be on the field participating!

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> Even though the geographical difference (Greece vs Macedonia) is rather tiny.

Huh? Greece speaks Greek and the local version of the name would be Alexandros. Macedonia speaks South Slavic and the local version of the name appears to be Aleksandar.

(Macedonia is also a weird scammy name for that country. They are not related to Macedon, being located in a different geographic region and speaking an unrelated language, but they constantly claim that they should get credit for Alexander the Great. As far as I can tell, they aspire to be the Stamford University of countries.)

"Alexander" is the Latin form of the name.

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> they aspire to be the Stamford University of countries

I don't think UConn Stamford is all that notable. Maybe you meant the Scamford University?

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I meant Stamford University. The idea here is that the only significance of the name "Stamford" is that, if you're lucky, it might be confused for "Stanford". Lots of people care about Stanford University; nobody in the world cares about Stamford University.

This is also the relationship between Macedonia and Macedon.

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Gotcha, makes sense.

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When reading the post, I didn't read the tweets closely enough and thought "Alexandros" was just a way that Kavanagh was referring to Scott Alexander.

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Feb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023

The most ridiculous line of Kavanagh's: “If studies had supported Ivermectin as an effective treatment it would have been adopted by medical and public health authorities.”

Evidently, Kavanagh's mental model is that authorities operate according to a neutral, objective rationality and are not subject to their own institutional biases. As if we did not see a very great deal during the pandemic that demonstrates the opposite.

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Yes, this is the standard “trust the Science” line. Go on IFLScience or The Credible Hulk on Facebook and argue a contrary position (to ‘Trust Science’) sometime. It’s enlightening. They really, genuinely believe that Science works in the way it’s described in high school science classes, and that trying to publish valid results that contradict the Standard Narrative will result in laudits and massive career advancement, rather than isolation and ostracization.

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I feel like there’s a reference I’m missing here.

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founding

Decent chance this is a "Trump did nothing wrong" claim on his part, but you will see people criticizing presidents for going against the consensus of American intelligence agencies.

Given that the CIA is an international joke and the others also struggle on a not-infrequent basis, I think you can see that there are at least some problems with such criticisms. Among other things, US intelligence consensus leaned heavily toward Saddam having WMDs.

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Oooh, *intelligence* agency. That clears things up. Given that the subject was public health, I didn’t catch the reference.

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"Among other things, US intelligence consensus leaned heavily toward Saddam having WMDs"

TBF, as far as I know, the *entire world* thought that.

Because, as I understand the gambit, Hussein was very interested in having *Iran* believe that, to deter a second war - that Iraq would lose - thus all the runarounds with the investigating agencies and such.

He was fine with the UN et. al believing he had them, because they weren't going to *do anything about it*.

And then 9/11 happened and he learned why brinksmanship is dangerous.

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The "entire world" had no informed opinion on the subject that was independent of US intelligence, as propagated in the media. To the extent that, say, bureaucrats in France had an opinion, it was heavily influenced by what US officials were confidently asserting.

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founding

A huge part of the debate around the Iraq War (at least outside the US, anyway), was whether US intelligence was right or UN weapon inspections were right. It was very much NOT international consensus that he had them any more.

Also, Canadian intelligence got it right off the same exact information as the US. This rather suggests that it was possible to get the decision right.

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The consensus of the intelligence community was certainly not supportive of the claims about wmd, aluminum tubes etc. The politicians hoovered up raw intelligence and interpreted it the way they wanted, which differed a lot from what the actual spies thought. Smart guys doing stupid shit. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/27/the-stovepipe

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Sometimes it does work that way. Much depends on how politicized the questions are, and on the personalities of the most respected people in the field

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Fair. I certainly don’t mean to imply it *never* works that way, but it seems strongly to me that attacking the “consensus” view in highly politicized fields is very unlikely to turn out well.

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founding

Which is annoying, because plate tectonics is taught, including the bit where people called him a liar for years. Or handwashing occasionally.

The idea that consensus can be hard to break and also wrong is not exactly short on examples. There are more counterexamples, of course. But still.

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Those examples are used as evidence that the system works as intended.

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It does, in the long run. But you know what Keynes said about that.

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founding

They're used as examples that the system EVENTUALLY works as intended.

As the good Sir Humphrey has pointed out, eventually is a long time.

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Yes, but it works, so you have no justification for complaining about the system. It works as intended; there's nothing to see here.

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And we have no way of knowing how many times the system hasn't worked yet.

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I don't even know what "the system not working" would look like.

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"For if it prosper, none dare call it pseudoscience."

Excuse me, I need to go make everyone in my organization take an IAT to gauge their racism. Though I need to make sure I don't imply to anyone that white people are more likely to be racist in these tests, since that would probably cause some stereotype threat.

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If recently updated vaccines were better - we would have them. If European baby-formula were as good as US-formula, it would be freely available in the US. If non-US airlines had the know-how to do flights inside the USofA, they would be welcome ( I heard, they are not - but that can not be true, or?). If nuclear power was safe, we would no longer burn coal. - Or as Zvi put it last week:

"We have a new drug that cuts Covid risk of hospitalizations and deaths by about half with no major side effects. You can’t have it. Maybe ever. Because FDA."

https://thezvi.substack.com/p/covid-2922-interferon

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Thing is, the public health authorities *did* update their models based on contemporaneous studies. They found that ventilators work better if you rotate the patient to face down. They found that certain generic steroids made a big difference. They found that SSRIs and particularly fluoxetine had a measurable effect.

What they didn’t do is start a podcast and accuse everyone who didn’t recommend ivermectin or vitamin D or hydroxochloroquine of being in the pocket of Big Pharma.

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What they did do was affix their signatures to a public letter that said it was fine to gather in crowds as long as you were protesting the death of George Floyd, because racism is deadlier than COVID.

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That single act should permanently discredit the entire public health establishment until fundamental changes are made.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

I mean I wouldn’t go that far. But I think it’s an excellent example of the difference between trusting science and trusting scientists. You should trust scientists only insofar as they are disciplined practitioners of science, and trust experts only insofar as they remain in their lane of expertise. Once they deviate from that and start acting like pundits and political activists, their credentials don’t make them any more trustworthy than any other pundit or political activist.

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Which would be fine, *if they weren't speaking with the authority of their discipline when they made political pronouncements.* It calls into question everything they have done, on suspicion of it *all* being political.

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This is a fantastic comment, and a thought I wish more people would come to: *Experts are only experts in their own field.*

Your science/scientist distinction is a good example that I can use to illustrate this to others in the future!

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Thanks. It’s something that always grinds my gears - the IFL Science crowd seems to buy way too deeply into the Hollywood idea that a “scientist” is a general purpose expert in a lab coat that can deploy “science” at any problem and quickly arrive at a clear solution.

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Why would that discredit anyone but the signers?

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Was there an outcry of the rest of the field against such acts? Or is the general sense that this is the consensus view?

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Were there effective treatments for Covid that no medical establishment ever adopted?

I feel like you're making a mistake about what types of errors groups like this do and don't make. Wildly flailing to try to show you're doing stuff in ways that create unnecessary procedures and costs, is not at all the same as looking at a trillion doll bill on the ground and leaving it there.

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I think the generic argument is more that they have a lot at stake if they fuck it up. For example, if ivermectin had turned out to be a miracle cure, and *you* were the fool at the FDA who blocked it, you will certainly put a disagraceful end to your career, if not end up hanged from a lamppost, once the truth becomes apparent -- and it always does, sooner or later. That is, it's not any hypothetical altruistic nature but the Sword of Damocles that we tend to think keeps authority honest.

That's why the best guarantee of honesty in authority is not searching for the magic algorithm to select only saints for the positions, but a vigorous culture of free speech, skepticism, and access to data so that the time between official decision and the manifestation of the truth or falsity of the decision is worryingly (for the official in question) short -- not enough time to get out of Dodge when the brown stuff hits the flying vanes.

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That is really, really, really not the incentive structure at the FDA. Blocking good things comes with zero cost. Approving bad things is career-ending.

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Actually, you've just presented evidence that it *is*. And I agree. The greater the authority, and the heavier the sword hanging over them, the more CYA conservative they become. Failing to approve modest advancements is low-risk, beause nobody expects them and even whey they are later proved out, they're not sufficiently wonderful to get people furious. Approving Thalidomide is a nightmare. That's the way they operate when things are going kind of well on average. It's only when things become dire that they reverse, and the risk of not approving something that might heal the crisis becomes higher than the risk that you might approve something that makes it a little worse. As Admiral King said, in a time of war you send for the sons of bitches, and their allies, the crazy idea guys. But in time of peace you sink back into caution.

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So who lost their jobs for blowing the one chance we had to keep the pandemic in check before it was too late, i.e. the testing fiasco? That’s much much worse than invermectin working.

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The problem is that this is a minority opinion. For better or worse, most people don't see it that way, so yeah there are no serious political consequences. So it goes. A sine qua non for the Sword to fall is that it has to be the will of The People, like most or all of them.

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Who lost their jobs for not approving beta blockers in the US earlier?

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Exactly. There are no consequences for not approving things, and there would be no consequences for those who did not approve Invermectin had it turned out to be a miracle drug, as there will be no consequences for those who do not approve Interferon λ, which seems to actually *be* a miracle drug. https://thezvi.substack.com/p/covid-2922-interferon

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I think we have evidence, because of the pandemic, that the conservative cautious take-it-slow approach will CYA in the long run. See the vaccines that were zoomed through without the usual long trial periods, because we needed to cut through the red tape for this emergency.

Now there are people claiming this was a terrible idea because the vaccines are killing young people via heart attacks.

Were I an official of the FDA, the lesson I'd take away here is "CYA, nobody ever got in trouble for buying IBM, the old ways are the best".

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The vaccine acceleration was a calculated risk, definitely, but I think it worked. Unless someone discovers something truly hideous buried in the 1 in 1 million weeds --- produces babies with no faces when given to teen black mothers between the ages of 17 and 19 -- it looks to me like they won that bet. Vaccines were developed and deployed in a time and at a scale that is without precedent, just amazing. The definitely called for an unusual level of commitment and government money (e.g. Trump's Operation Warp Speed), and it called for a certain level of bureaucratic boldness, to just send it out to 300 million people after testing on 20,000 or so.

But as I said, it seems to have worked. It definitely seemed[1] to have put a stop to the big repeated waves of re-infection and death among the older crowd[2] that freaked at least some people out. We can look at China, which lacked, and still lacks, vaccines that are as effective to see the social cost of not having them[3]. Not good.

By historical standards, of human response to pandemic, it's pretty good, solid B territory. Nobody drowned all the cats, did a pogrom on tne Jews, bled or cupped people, shoved everyone into lepers colonies, gave them grams of aspirin until their livers quit (supposedly a thing that happened in 1918). There was certainly a fair amount of official overreaction, but it's hard to blame officials for overreacting to what The People themselves, bless their hearts, were overreacting. I do blame them for not collecting data early and often, and for every time the temptation to pretend to more knowledge than they had got the better of conservative common sense -- but that's what people are like. They don't develope much sturdier characters once thier job description goes from J. Random Internet Commenter to Senior Poobah In Charge Of Big Decisions. My expectations were low, because my expectations of people are always low, and they kind of met them, so....passing grade.

It *is* an interesting question what lessons for the future will be taken away. Big fast bets on novel biotechnology seems like one of them, which is not necessarily a good thing in all respects. Probably a greater caution in emergency orders to refashion social activity -- but maybe not as much as people hope (or fear), because work from home kind of mostly worked. Definitely a greater investment by all factions in the importance of My Tribe Being In Control, lest the Untermenschen from the other side make all the critical decisions -- which is bad by any measure.

I would give the species as a whole a D on its performance, but mostly because of that last factor, because of our inability, when the chips were down, to behave with restraint, compassion, and consideration for each other.

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[1] I am cautiously saying "seemed" because the role of natural acquired immunity is still unknown. Maybe it was so important the vaccines only changed things on the margin, or maybe the vaccines bought valuable time, or maybe the vaccines were essential.

[2] I realize the younger crowd, who were never in any danger, can afford to be contemptuous about that. Geez, you're already 78, why fuss because you die today instead of 2-3 years hence? What's a few years of life?

[3] And this in a place with a ruthless powerful regime, a population that is used to following orders, and where news that shows the state in a bad light is highly repressed.

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I also think it worked—objectively. But on a PR level, it was a disaster. The vaccines were nowhere near as effective as advertised, the testing in many cases was not as thorough as they made it seem, they refuse to release their actual data in anything like a timely manner, etc., etc. And yes, people seem to be dying suddenly at an unusual rate.

On an objective level, it was probably all worth it. But the FDA doesn't operate objectively. They operate on public opinion. And so they will be even more cautious next time, when the actual empirical lesson is probably that they should be far *less* so.

And I would say that the lack of "restraint, compassion, and consideration" is almost entirely due to official overreach. If the lockdowns and mandates hadn't made this a hugely political issue, most people would not have treated it as one.

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I doubt that anyone will end the career in the FDA for approving Aduhelm (aducanumab). At worst, they will now work for big pharma in some important position.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

While it was atrocious that they pushed through approval, on this one I do give the FDA some benefit of the doubt. People have been complaining for years that they hold up life-saving treatments out of over-regulated caution (who had the last post on here about DALYs lost due to the FDA not regulating faster?), the pharma company engaged in a canny PR blitz, and they were faced with the very real likelihood of media coverage along the lines of "heartless bureaucrats block miracle treatment, read this heart-wrenching account by a family member of how this has ensured their loved one suffers". Political pressure was applied and they folded.

It is to the credit of those involved who protested about this, and the Aduhelm fiasco is going to overshadow all future attempts to get rushed-through approval for 'life-saving' treatments. The only fault of the FDA is that they did yield to having their arms twisted here, and maybe this result (the drug was an expensive boondoggle) will mean they can resist future such attempts.

https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/medicines/human/withdrawn-applications/aduhelm

The problem remains that everyone will be convinced *their* pet treatment should be given speedy approval and leapfrog all the regulations, while the rival treatment is rubbish and should not be approved.

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EMA clearly said that they are not going to approve Aduhelm because the data is not convincing therefore the company withdraw the application.

It may indeed play the role that it will now silence the critics who complain that the FDA hesitate to approve every snake oil they consider a life-saving treatment. We will see.

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In the modern scientific era, It's very uncommon for a major consensus of relevant experts to be wrong about a major area of scientific dispute, and when they are, it's almost always for interesting reasons where their position was reasonably defensible given what was known at the time. The sexy examples of this happening are sexy because it is so uncommon, and even then, those are often over-exaggerated or not quite right because one template pop science writing loves is a maverick taking on the establishment and proving to be correct. Facts get twisted and oversimplified to fit that framework. H. Pylori stories where something like this really happened are unusual.

The pandemic provides a great example of people not understanding this leading them to adopt all sorts of poor beliefs because they think they can easily dismiss popular views of experts who know vastly more than they do as just captured by their biases. We are now drowning in examples of people holding dubious opinions about COVID, its risks, and how to mitigate them driven by people's forays into amateur epidemiology grounded in flippant dismissal of actual epidemiologists.

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So one easy counterexample seems to be the usefulness of masks worn by the public to slow the spread of a respiratory pathogen. The consensus among most US experts and authorities was that making the public mask wasn't useful, and then switched pretty quickly to it being useful. At least one of those positions has to be wrong. (My impression is that in a lot of Asia the consensus was different, but I don't know enough to be sure.)

Or how about the huge replication crisis in the social sciences. Stuff that social psychology professors taught their students was very solid (most priming effects, for example) turned out not to really exist. That was a consensus in a social science field that was wrong. I think you can find about a dozen solid counterexamples to your claim there.

We can also look at radical mastectomy for breast cancer treatment. As I understand it, there was a really bitter dispute there, with the mainstream supporting radical mastectomy and a minority persisting in demonstrating that it did more harm than good.

Or we can consider the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder or not. That was something that changed in the last 50 years or so. Which instance of the consensus scientific position there was the really solid one that we should have confidence in?

Now, none of this means that you're better off finding a rando on the internet to listen to about some field of science than listening to someone with actual expertise. But i do not think it is rare for scientific consensus, even on practically relevant questions, to be quite wrong.

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Radical mastectomy is an interesting example, because it illustrates one of the limitations on empirical science when it comes to medicine. The problem is, you generally *can't* get approval to do a study where your experimental arm gets anything *less* than the "standard of care." So let's say you have an idea that you don't have to remove the *whole* breast, just a chunk (which is what they do now). How do you prove you're right? You can't just sign a bunch of women up and say "OK some of you will be randomly assigned to just get a lumpectomy, which we kind of hope is just as good as taking the whole breast, but maybe not, you might die earlier than those in the control arm." That's totally unethical, and nobody would approve or fund it. So you're left with stuff like studying the relatively rare case that happens accidentally, for other reasons, until you've accumulated enough evidence.

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Actually it is quite easily. Read Vinay Prasad how it is routinely done by pharma companies in cancer drug research. The ethics committee work is a boring, honorary post that is usually taken by old geezers and half-senile profesors who have lost acuity for better jobs. It is quite easy to get an obsolete standart-of-care past them because it is probably the one they used to have while they were doctors themselves. While at the same time it is quite hard to propose more progressive trial designs because those old people are too conservative and afraid from anything new.

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Not even going to bother. Any argument that begins "everybody's corrupt! Check out this one guru on the Interwebz!" strikes me as so a priori implausible that it's not worth my time to even glance over it.

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Impossible of what? Vinay Prasad is not so much known on internet, he has written several books and some of them like "Reversal" are included in the reading list for university studies of therapeutics. You probably didn't know that judging from your response.

I even don't see why you couldn't make a controlled trial as you described it if we have serious evidence that it might be better.

People in this group used to say that human challenge studies infecting people with covid are unethical. The reality is that we do such studies all the time. The UK did but it took quite long time to get the approval.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

The previous expert consensus on masks I'm fairly familiar with as I used to sit on a committee regarding influenza harm reduction in a particular vulnerable community and this topic came up several times, prompting me to read publications on it. It's hard to summarize in a post, but a "for/against" position is an oversimplification. The idea was that for influenza-like respiratory illnesses specifically, poor compliance with proper mask use washed out its benefits and encouraged risk taking behavior such that it wasn't worth the effort. At the same time, epidemiological models were pretty clear that there were different circumstances where there would be a benefit and compliance levels themselves are fluid. Masks would be advisable in theory in the right circumstances. There was no consensus that they were generally useless, which should be obvious given that they're standard PPE in certain settings.

Then COVID comes around and the initial reaction is that previously received wisdom, but we learn very quickly that COVID contagious properties are different such that there's a likely benefit. At the same time, the overall efforts to mitigate COVID spread, of which widespread mask use was one, absolutely crushed the not-as-contagious influenza rates. So does that mean it turns out that masks actually would be helpful to stop influenza spread? Summarizing what I've read, the answer is now, "Yeah, probably" with a side of "should keep looking into it."

Regarding various examples of received expert consensuses being wrong, I will unfortunately again insist that it doesn't happen all that often. It's more often than a prior understanding is incomplete and requires elaboration and embellishment. When something is truly upturned, it's usually the case that a prior consensus was held for reasons that made it the reasonable position to hold. The "scholars just got this completely wrong; what were they thinking?!" stories are rare, but heavily played up in popular media because they are catnip to people. Most of what people learn in the course of getting a science degree will stick around, though some of it will prove to have severe limitations or be only partially correct in a way that calls into question its value. At the same time, they'll learn things that are appropriately qualified in their field that, when translated for a popular audience, are taught with a level of simplicity and confidence that just gets it wrong.

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founding

>Then COVID comes around and the initial reaction is that previously received wisdom, but we learn very quickly that COVID contagious properties are different such that there's a likely benefit.

Perhaps, but we "learned" that at the same time anyone paying any attention at all would have noticed that the American public no longer had any access to the sort of masks that had been previously determined to be mostly-useless-but-sometimes-useful-under-unusual-circumstances. Only cheap imitations built to no specification or standard and sold on Etsy or wherever. If the real thing is understood to be mostly useless but marginally useful under unusual circumstances, it is not even remotely scientific or rational to insist that the untested cheap imitation that *looks* like the real thing, *must* be used.

Really, given that risk compensation is one of the down sides of masking, it was grossly irresponsible to recommend improvised masks under any circumstances unless clearly hedged with "don't even think about trusting these things to keep you safe". And that wasn't the messaging.

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Feb 16, 2023·edited Feb 16, 2023

Wouldn't THAT "messaging" been (seen as) counter-productive? When communicating to all, i.e. millions of IQ below 100 and low willingness of compliance), you do not want to kill your aim (ppl. using masks) by emphasizing how limited their effect really is. - btw, during the low-supply-time, DIY-masks were recommended by many experts (In Germany e.g. by Prof. Drosten ): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8006937/How-make-coronavirus-mask-Hong-Kong-officials-release-DIY-video.html

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Feb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023

This is all downstream of: Kavanagh thinks learning and understanding things is relatively easy, while Scott thinks learning and understanding things is very, very hard. Kavanagh sees the light blinking *Science*, and stops, while Scott never stops.

Kavanagh is wrong. Scott is right.

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Feb 14, 2023·edited Feb 14, 2023

Going by his Twitter potted bio, he's some kind of sociologist. So he's going for the soft science angle of "but think of the mindsets involved" that sociology likes to invoke; you don't go by the numbers solely, you have to interpret the context of the lived experience and so forth.

That's why he's able to be so sure about "LOL dumb" on the ivermectin question; you see, *he* understands the conspiracy theorist mindset and so can dismiss them out of hand, and addressing their questions is merely giving them the dignity of being worth taking seriously.

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Sociologists also have a much stronger incentive than anyone else to insist on no-one doubting their results - their whole field is simultaneously laughable and easy for laymen to poke holes in.

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Does he *think* it’s easy, or does he *want others to believe* it’s easy?

The older I get, the more I find myself reversing Hanlon’s Razor.

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I think both? It appears that in his mind it's easy to know which scientists and studies to believe (if in doubt, just ask him and he will tell you which ones are legitimate, I'm sure). Since it's clear in his mind, he wants others to believe that it should be clear in their minds too. Anyone who thinks it's difficult is probably just listening to the wrong sources.

I happen to disagree with him on all of that, and that's the crux of Scott's post.

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No, Kavanagh probably doesn't think learning and understanding things is so easy. Bring up one inconvenient but well-supported research result or fact and you will see this in action, suddenly he will bring up how "you have to take everything with a grain of salt" and "something something p-values" and "muh X is a complicated field and you have to be careful with generalization". I haven't even heard of him half an hour ago, but I will literally bet my house on this.

What Kavanagh wants is to (performatively) be amazed at how utterly easy and no-brainer his ***conclusions*** are, so he can better wage war on those who disagree and insult their intelligence. This is a standard culture war practice, here's the 1400 year example that first came to my mind :

>Every human is born a Muslim, it's their Jew parents who make them Jew and their Christian parents who make them Christian.

--A hadith. (Sayings by the prophet of Islam, treated as holy and second only to Quran by most Muslims)

Which is funny, because if you actually take a look at 2 year olds you will find they make terrible Muslims, not a single word of the Quran do they know, they don't even understand how God is One (or God, or how bathrooms work).

But the actual message here is something along the lines of "All those other religions are fake and has to be indoctrinated to kids in order to survive, but ours ? ours is superior, it didn't have to be invented, people are just born knowing it."

Kavanagh is doing something slightly more sophisticated than this, but only slightly. Truth is really out there in the observable world and is indeed figured out by experimentation and you can in fact see it for yourself, but the catch is that you can't disagree with our published conculsions. Any disagreement where you're actually *conflicted* about the final say (i.e. any serious disagreement) just proves how utterly peanut-brained you are, our conclusions are so blindingly obvious that, once we have additionally written them in published papers, disagreeing anymore is just stupidity and ignorance and bad faith zealotry on your part.

I believe everyone has their own version of this, sometimes without realizing.

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I truly hope not everyone. I would put Scott up as a candidate.

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How in the world are people Liking comments?

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I like Chris, but I do think Scott is not a good target for him. Scott has spent many years writing hundreds of thousands of words on all manner of topics, most of them non-political, so there’s more basis for good faith.

Brett Weinstein and most of these other cranks are basically political actors who profit from controversy, not accuracy.

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Feb 15, 2023·edited Feb 15, 2023

It's the opposite. Kavanagh thinks that learning and understanding things is hard, so 25,000 word debunkings for a popular audience from personal investigation have a lot of potential to mislead people. Kavanagh argues that understanding the meta-signs that someone is a crackpot should be sufficient and risks less misunderstanding. Scott, by contrast, is optimistic about the ability of ordinary people to weigh critiques and counter-critiques and come to the right decision.

Scott is the person who thinks he can debate a creationist and the audience - or at least enough of the audience to matter - will figure it out where as Kavanagh is worried that the audience will be bamboozled by the debate itself. If anyone thinks understanding is "easy" in this scenario, it's Scott.

I don't know what the right answer is here. It's an old dilemma. But I do think a lot of the comments are misunderstanding what the issue is.

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Feb 18, 2023·edited Feb 18, 2023

I agree that it is important to discuss the signs of crackpottery (and that Scott could've done more in that department) but if you want to convince fence-sitters, there is no substitute for putting in work and showing your work, as Scott did. Because Scott is right, the errors made by crackpots are (1) errors that non-crackpots also make and (2) there are also crackpots who promote a message that is more or less true, e.g. Steve Kirsch was very worried about anthropogenic global warming. Therefore, pointing out that several ivermectin supporters appear to be crackpots is arguably a Chinese Robber Fallacy (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/16/cardiologists-and-chinese-robbers/) though it is, of course, still evidence.

Plus, you can't just say "the signs of a crackpot are X, Y and Z, and see how my opponent shows the signs!" because the people who are fans of your opponent have now stopped listening to you. And if you're not really careful about your X, Y and Z, people might think that better sources of truth also exhibit those signs. And most likely, better sources of truth sometimes do... nobody's perfect.

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Fence sitters are not necessarily convinced by the superior argument. You're insisting that, and I'm suggesting the counter-argument rejects this premise. The problem is that people form their opinions via mental shortcuts that are error-prone and more specifically pseudoscience tends to present arguments that are superficially persuasive. You're taking it for granted that people just know the better argument when they see it, and that's simply not true.

This is one of the major reasons why professional scientists are often cautious about engaging pseudoscientific figures in debate for public consumption. It opens up a window for them to mislead people in a format conducive to their success.

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So perhaps I’m stupid and worthy of ridicule, but I *still* buy (a version of) Hancock’s theory. Hancock himself is not to be trusted; he’s far, far too credulous, and much of his evidence is easily rebutted (such as the frozen mammoth corpses in Siberia being evidence of a rapid climactic shift). But he doesn’t seem to be *dishonest,* and I found the case he presents in *Underworld* compelling. There, he doesn’t talk about Atlantis; instead he presents a picture of a near-world-girdling coastal civilization (or set of civilizations) that was drowned out at the end of the last ice age. This makes *tremendous* sense to me, and explains a lot that nothing else does, such as evidence of truly ancient cultural ties between South America and Africa.

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Two things occurred to me about why there could be shared stories across the world:

1. The same myths that the proto-Indo-Europeans or whatever had got carried with them all the way across the Bering Strait, and the "lost continent under the waves" story was one of them, and turned out to be one of the more durable ones in every culture it showed up in. People like intriguing stories!

2. Before the Bering Strait was washed under, there was communication of ideas across it - so even if the original North American settlers didn't bring it with them, it's possible that it became a big story and managed to spread on trade routes all the way across.

(And replace the Atlantis story with any other cultural commonality you have thought of, and it could've been brought or spread the same way.)

I don't know if this lines up with the evidence, or if this is what you were even thinking of, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

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Fair. I am totally not going to get way into this, as it’s been years since I put any thought into it, but it’s more than shared stories. It’s shared architecture, and, recently, the discovery of some artifacts or materials from Africa in South America (sorry, I don’t remember specifics).

It’s not that I’m unwilling to consider alternative hypotheses, but it would have to be from someone who has read *Underworld* and is willing to respond to its claims and evidence specifically (this is not against you, but a general statement).

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Null hypothesis: Lost lands and floods are really obvious stories for cultures with exposure to water to generate so they emerge spontaneously without needing outside help. The intellectual equivalent of ostriches and emus

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This has always seemed so obvious to me I've always wondered why everyone doesn't think this by default.

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Anywhere with coastal erosion literally has lost lands falling beneath the sea, plus the ocean is a vast and terrifying place at the best of times, it's really not that hard to see how similar myths could arise independently.

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If it was just the stories, sure. It’s more than that: Technology, and even artifacts.

But the stories aren’t just “there was a flood”; there are a lot of specifics you wouldn’t expect to be similar.

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I guess one question is how we could distinguish between:

a. There are stories shared across the world and have been preserved over many thousands of years as humans spread out across the globe.

b. There are stories that are relatively easy to recreate that have arisen independently across humans all over the world, which look similar enough to seem related but are actually just independent things.

For (b), common human experience, human psychology, and the nature and limits of the worldview available to ancient people could all explain having many stories re-arise.

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Details and specifics. Generic accounts are one thing. But at some point, the level of congruence between different stories becomes implausible to be merely chance and general shared experience. (No claims as to whether the flood stories in particular meet that threshold.)

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Indeed, my takeaway from this article is that I should update my priors to believe in ~Atlantis~ pyramid building ancient coastal civilizations considerably. The criticism leveled at Hancock et al. is remarkable for being so damn incurious about things like this.

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Read Hancock’s *Underworld.*

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