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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

< humor > If we don't think your post said what its title self-evidently means (to us), does that give us a license to accuse you of lying? < / humor >

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"Scott isn't *lying* to us when he says the media doesn't lie, he's just holding himself to the usual media standards" :P

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"Sources say media seldom lies"

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As with newspapers, the headlines here aren't chosen by Scott, they're instead decided by editors who may have very different vibes intended than the actual content.

...would have been the funny addendum to >Please don’t have opinions based on the titles until you’ve read the posts!

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I really hope that headlines for articles posted here are chosen by their authors, rather than anyone else. I particularly hope they aren't chosen by "editors" with goals unlikely to match those of the authors, never mind the readers.

There are more than enough sources of click bait headings out there already. The medium term (months) result is that people remember "links to this site are unreliable" and stop visiting the site. Scott really doesn't need editors driving his potential readers away.

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It was intended as a joke, though I do notice Scott tends to have an unusually high proportion of sub-optimally titled posts relative to other Substackers. Others it's impossible to imagine anyone else doing the titling, because the titles are so...on brand. FdB's post titles are always just as rude as the content, so I can tell he writes those. (Said with approval, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin.)

Sometimes I think Scott just likes to/unintentionally subconsciously bury the lede a lot. Like this threepeat series where The Moral Of The Story is the difficulties of setting censorship bright lines. But that's not remotely obvious from any of the titles, and one must actually read the posts in full with a bit of attention to grasp the thesis <-> supporting arguments distinction. Thousands of comments debating the supporting arguments, not many grappling with the obvious thesis. Maybe because it's too banal, what with rationalists generally being opposed to censorship/"mis-disinformation" already? So we fight about what's more interesting instead.

("You can't blame Scott for writing these articles, he's just throwing red meat to his subscriber base...")

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Honestly, the fact that so many people are having trouble grokking Scott's actual thesis is 100% his own fault. These posts remind me a lot of the frustration I get with Ayn Rand's use of the word "selfish" (or philosophers' habit more generally of taking ordinary words and giving them weird, idiosyncratic definitions that the reader has to dedicate half their mental energy to keeping straight): sure, I get what he's trying to say, but I don't understand the doubling and tripling down on a rhetorical strategy that clearly isn't working.

If "the virtue of selfishness" really means "there is nothing inherently moral about self-sacrifice; don't feel ashamed for living your life according to your own values," and you're not telling everyone to be anti-social pricks who lie, cheat, and steal their way through life, maybe it's counterproductive to keep using the phrase everyone assumes means the latter, and the time you're spending defending your slogan could be better used making actual, substantive arguments. (Although I get the impression Rand was being deliberately inflammatory for the attention, because she was at least as much a public figure/celebrity as she was a philosopher).

If I were to be similarly uncharitable to Scott, it almost seems like he's using deliberately inflammatory headlines to boost engagement. I'm sure he's not, as that doesn't jive with everything else I know about him from reading his blog over the years, but it's frustrating that he won't just admit that "yeah, it wasn't the best title. My definition of the word 'lie' is unusually narrow, and I probably should not have started a blog post intended to convince my progressive friends that it's not as easy to distinguish the kind of lying Infowars does from the kind of lying the NYT does as they think it is, with a headline implying you should be ~more~ credulous of the media."

I understand what he's saying, but he insists on saying it in a way that's almost guaranteed to confuse people.

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I agree that these kinds of flare-ups are unseemly and unnecessary; it's sad when a blogger and their commentariat get into petty split-hair fights, and both sides have too much pride to admit they fucked up or went too far. Somewhat excusable for pundit-type bloggers whose true profession is Take-Slinger, less so for professed Rationalists. Principle of Charity doesn't extend to cover bullheadedness.

It's also still weird to me because...I use a similar truth taxonomy as Scott? A really shocking amount of Obvious Nonsense is, in fact, true[1]; it's challenging to litigate intent and ignorance if we aren't clear on whether we're judging what-the-text-actually-says, versus what-the-typical-takeaway-is. Not just in a legal-censorship way, but it's where so much of the difficulty with Bounded Distrust[2] comes from. It's like the Lizardman Constant: one must assume that everyone, of all persuasions, is trying to corral inconveniently-flexible facts into a narrative...that's the background level of noise in any news communication. One's priors will be weighted differently for favoured speakers, ingroups vs outgroups, certain topics and not others...but you still gotta Do The Math in each case, or the whole exercise falls apart.

Plus I think it shouldn't be as confusing for longtime readers, since Scott's been making more or less these same nitpicky points for years now. The old SSC posts "Against Lie Inflation" and the "Lies, Damned Lies, And Facebook" series, for example. I sometimes think there's been a bit too much Rally-Round-The-Schelling-Flag effect wrt NYT, so even though there's a very large deserved amount of incredulity, sometimes tribal defensiveness leads to excessive...I wouldn't say "paranoia" like Scott did, that's too combative. But like, confusion of the narrative-news ecosystem we actually have, and a Platonic Ideal of News Media which somehow turns a profit via telling The Truth, Only The Truth, And Nothing But The Truth. Businesses sell what people are willing to buy, and it's not unvarnished distortion-free facts.

I don't know. I just feel there is some real and important inferential distance between unreality-as-stated, and creating-the-illusion-of-reality-via-sophistry-and-misdirection. To me, the former is a much more egregious epistemic sin than advertising an inaccurate map. Scott didn't do a great job making that point clear in these posts, but it's an important point nonetheless. How does the apocryphal Soviet saying go..."Pravda is useful because it always lies, the NYT is less useful because it sometimes tells the truth"? I think MSM skeptics would rather it be Pravda all the way down. Sadly, things are not so convenient - so we must be *more* vigilant, not less. (I do fully agree the headline is a dud, misleading at best. Hence my joke. Scott doubling down by saying we didn't read the subtitle is...well...silly.)

[1] In the classic sense: https://www.readthesequences.com/Your-Strength-As-A-Rationalist

[2] I liked Zvi's attempt at formalizing this solving-for-the-equilibrium. Specifically, if the obfuscations and distortions are the weak cliche ones you'd expect - that's simply the best they could afford: https://thezvi.substack.com/p/how-to-bounded-distrust

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Great points. The annoying thing is that I also think I use a similar truth taxonomy as Scott. Zvi's method is actually remarkably close to how I already approach the news. I don't think I actually disagree with much of anything Scott's said in any of the three posts on this topic he's made. If I really zero in on what about the posts bugged me, it's that Scott didn't use sufficiently critical words to describe people he fully admits are doing bad things. It's kind of a strange and petty criticism when I lay it out like that, but it's interesting to see in myself (and many other commenters) just how much "I agree with you who the bad people are. Your feelings are valid" is something I'm looking for here. (I think this also explains some of the "you did not just draw an equivalence between the NYT and Infowars" people).

Scott may have accidentally stumbled across this community's scissor statement. The original post managed to call everyone dishonest without calling anyone a liar, which managed to piss off just about everyone, left, right, and center.

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I think that I consider it qualitatively different to employ a word in a narrow, idiosyncratic way when you're trying to expand that definition beyond the original scope, rather than fighting to maintain a semblance of the original boundaries. It's very difficult, nowadays, to construct any argument for preserving the utility of certain words without meeting opposition that dismisses the effort as naïve (i.e. you can't fight the colloquial erosion of specificity, so why even bother?)

The major problem I have with this position is that it seems to completely miss the point. Influencing the colloquial evolution of this language is exactly what any thought-leader is trying to do when writing a post like this. Accusing them of needlessly discomfiting people is, in a backwards sort of way, acknowledging their success.

After all, this sort of discussion is a small part of how the vastly complex memetic landscape is shaped.

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"maybe it's counterproductive to keep using the phrase everyone assumes means the latter"

I agree with this in principle, but sometimes it threatens to become arbitrarily hard to have a conversation about topics *without* trying to redefine a word.

Take "capitalism", which I've observed a lot of left-leaning folks to use as a synonym for "greed" (sometimes as "systemic greed"). I get why they're doing it, but there's a perfectly good existing word for it ("greed"), and I'd wish they'd back off from trying to give a different perfectly good existing word a permanent synonymous connotation. It makes conversation difficult.

Arguably, this is exactly what you're saying - we should avoid redefining words. But in this case, redefining it worked (for that tribe), and it bricked a perfectly useful word in that sphere of communication.

Which is to say a few things: (1) I think it's hard to guess when attempting to redefine a word will work and when it won't, (2) I think it can sometimes be a good idea to try and redefine words even if it seems likely to fail. (Although in my example, I think people have managed to partially evade the issue by using the term "free markets" instead.)

Re: Scott, I previously commented that (in these circles, at least) I think it's mostly a question of which definition of "lie" is useful for your model of the world. I share Scott's definition of "lie" and it's been useful to me and my interaction with people to have that distinction in my head, but I can easily imagine situations where that isn't true.

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Do you really think that when the average person hears "the media is lying to you", they interpret it to mean "the media is presenting you with information that is technically accurate, to the best of their ability, but is leaving out important context in a biased manner"? I would predict with very high confidence that this is false, and that Scott's idea of what "the media lying" means is the normal one. I could *maybe* believe that people who talk about the NYT "lying" are usually applying a broader standard than Scott is here (although even then I'd place roughly 80/20 odds against), but I'm almost 100% confident that this isn't true in the context of "alternative" media like InfoWars.

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Scott's idea of lying isn't even *Scott's own idea of lying*. At the end of this very post, he endorses sometimes calling "#6" "lying", and yet that directly contradicts the definition he bases the rest of his argument on.

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The problem is that the thesis is so watered down as to be utterly trivial and meaningless (as the comment about Weekly World News showed).

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At what stage of going over the comments do you develop your list of categories?

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I guess my issue with this series of posts is that the headline initially sounds like an interesting, debatable topic, but then the word "lie" is used in such a narrow sense the conclusion is meaningless. A post titled "The Media Very Rarely Completely Invents Facts Out Of a Whole Cloth With Zero Relationship Whatsoever With the Truth" would be a pretty boring and pointless post, and that seems to be the argument being made here. By this definition of "lie", even people like Trump or Andrew Tate or whoever are not lying, because they can point to some underlying shred of fact or say it's technically an opinion or they are passing on something they heard. That might be true, but who cares? If you define any term that narrowly it won't cover much.

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"He's a liar, but not a fraud" might be a useful concept here.

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

Agreed. Scott's definition of lie is very narrow. He sees to be claiming that if an article offers even a smidgeon of support for an assertion, no matter how weak or irrelevant, then people shouldn’t call it a lie. But this clearly leads to absurd results. By this standard, even an article that says something like 'John is a murderer' and gives as its only evidence for this claim 'John seems like the kind of person who would be a murderer' would not be classified as a lie.

There's a point where an argument is so incredibly bad and misleading that it's equivalent to a lie.

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Jesus Christ, why does Scott even bother writing anything? We're three posts and thousands of comments in!

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

But has Scott considered that his definition is too narrow? Maybe he should put some caveats in the title or subtitle.

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But the whole point of this is that there are a lot of ways to convey an incorrect understanding of the world that aren't overt lies. And this is important because it tells you how to read the New York Times. If you know basically what narrative they're looking for, and you know that they will not lie but will also maybe leave out stuff or shove stuff to the end of the story to avoid messing up the narrative, this makes the NYT's reporting more valuable.

For example, consider: "Oh, wow, there was a really serious shooting but the article never mentions the race of the criminal and never shows any pictures even though he's in custody. I guess he's black." This wouldn't be a sensible inference except that most major US newspapers go out of their way not to mention the race of criminals or show their faces when they are black, apparently as an overt policy of trying to avoid supporting stereotypes.

Reading a story about a hate crime against a Jewish or Asian grandma in a big city where the race of the attacker is not mentioned, similarly, well, you can infer the race of the attacker by knowing the narrative the newspaper prefers. If the perp was a MAGA-hatted white guy, there would be a dozen pictures of him in his MAGA hat. If the perp was a crazy black homeless guy who beat up the grandma because the little voices told him to, the reporter would just accidentally somehow not ever mention his race and it would turn out that there was no room for a mugshot.

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What you're talking about here is related to Bounded Distrust: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/rvpEF2mBLeZE9j53n/how-to-bounded-distrust

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I was thinking about that post (and probably should have mentioned it) when I wrote my comment.

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Right. The New York Times is a tremendous resource, _especially_ if you know how to read it perceptively.

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"If the perp was a crazy black homeless guy who beat up the grandma because the little voices told him to"

Speaking of ways to convey an incorrect understanding of the world:

In the US (with presumably similar numbers elsewhere), people with mental illnesses are FAR more likely (like an order of magnitude) to be the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of violent crime.

Iirc, they also make up a smaller percentage of perpetrators of violent crime than they do of the general population, ie mentally ill people are "underrepresented" among violent crime perps.

You could have easily given your example of race reporting in violent crime without bringing the issue of mental illness into it.

I think you should have.

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You recall incorrectly. People with schizophrenia are considerably (4 to 6x says the first study when Googling, and corroborated as approximately correct by subsequent studies.) more likely to commit violent crimes than the general population. The fact that they're more likely to be victimized by it than commit it is a sad, but irrelevant fact.

Of particular predictive power for violence is, in addition to psychosis, substance abuse and command hallucinations. So if you encounter a crazy black homeless guy who has voices telling him what to do, he's much more likely to attack you than the average, random person. Though most people, regardless of all those factors, are nonviolent.

Having an explicitly irrational actor as the hypothetical illustrates the point more effectively, if you ask me.

Also, if it matters to you, I write this comment with a person diagnosed with a psychotic illness lying in bed next to me. You don't need to ignore reality to have compassion.

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Now do "assault weapons."

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I could have also given the example without incorporating race or homelessness, which work similarly--blacks and homeless people are overrepresented among both criminals and their victims. The whole point of my post is that media sources will omit a lot of possibly-relevant information (like the fact that the dude who beat up a Chinese grandma while screaming ethnic slurs was a crazy black homeless guy) in order to either support their preferred narrative, or to weaken some narratives that support stereotypes like that a lot of crime is committed by blacks, homeless people, and (some kinds of) crazy people.

But what I'm looking for in an information source isn't someone to sculpt my mental landscape in a socially-beneficial way or to fight back against harmful stereotypes by omitting relevant information in their stories. Instead, I'm looking for sources that will accurately inform me about the world. So if the Chinese grandma was bashed by a MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter, I want to know that, but if she was bashed by a black homeless dude who was in the middle of some kind of psychotic episode, I also want to know that.

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He literally did.

"With a title like that, obviously I will be making a nitpicky technical point." is literally the subtitle of his first post.

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He didn't even sneak a "the the" in there, which, as we all know, would definitely have rendered that entire subtitle invisible.

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This thread is my punishment for attempting to convey sarcastic irony on the internet. Unless I'm missing your sarcastic irony here.

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Jan 13, 2023·edited Jan 13, 2023

I do not think completely missing the obvious subtitle in the first post and then ignoring the explicit mention of it in this article is more absurd than people reading a text that constantly repeats in slightly different ways "The media will very rarely lie in the sense of explicitly saying falsehoods, instead, they will convey misinformation by proxy, through quoting biased sources or signal-boosting some evidence while ignoring other" and then linking to a news post of the media doing just that, and claiming it somehow disproves the central point.

If people are lacking enough reading comprehesion to comment such things, I don't think it is unreasonable to imagine they also didn't see the obvious subtitle.

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At the end, even Scott tacitly admits his definition is too narrow, given that he himself endorses calling "#6" a lie in some cases.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

> By this standard, even an article that says something like 'John is a murderer' and gives as its only evidence for this claim 'John seems like the kind of person who would be a murderer' would not be classified as a lie.

> There's a point where an argument is so incredibly bad and misleading that it's equivalent to a lie.

Perhaps, but the standard you describe doesn't reach that point, or come close.

The problem with your example is that it's not misleading at all; when you say "John seems like the kind of person who would be a murderer, so he must actually be one", no one is going to believe you.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

> Agreed. Scott's definition of lie is very narrow.

This is not Scott's definition, he's using a standard definition of "lie": https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lie

1. To make an untrue statement with intent to deceive (Scott's 7)

2. To create a false or misleading impression (Scott's 6)

Unfortunately #2 also includes "bias", so Scott says he reserves only egregious examples of that as the media lying. Totally reasonable.

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founding

From the same source, "Love" https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love

(1): strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties

maternal love for a child

(2): attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers

After all these years, they are still very much in love.

(3): affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests

love for his old schoolmates

If I were to say, and insistently repeat, "Parents should not express love for their children; it's not good for the children and if at all common is a sign of social degeneracy", I will probably cause a great deal of confusion and get more than a few people angry even though I am pedantically correct using *a* standard definition of "love" (#2).

If a thing is clearly true for one "standard definition" of a word, and clearly false for another standard definition of the same world, and clearly contentious for many people, then it might be best to chose a different word or phrase.

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I agree that Scott's definition of a lie is too narrow. Experienced liars agree with Flashman: Suppressio veri is a useful servant, but Suggestio Falsi is a perilous master. Experienced liars are still knowingly telling lies of omission. But mass media is by definition a choke point, unlike social media. No news story can include everything. JD Bernal went so far as saying mass media is always censorship.

So we should not expect more from any mass media than we expect from advocates in court. If I'm on trial I don't want my defender to include every possible way I'm guilty. If I'm a D party loyalist I don't want the New York Times to include President Pedo Peter's bribes from Ukraine or anyone else, much less track down the underage naked girl Hunter tied up and photographed on his laptop to check if she's still alive. If I'm an R party loyalist I don't want Fox calling Arizona for D party before they have to, much less point out every last Trump stretcher.

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Lying has a simple and precise definition: "Making an assertion which one does not think is true."

By this definition, the media rarely lies. It often deceives, however, and I would argue that that is sort of worse, because deception (lying using truths) is trickier to refute.

Trump espouses outright falsehoods so often and so strategically that I think it is more than reasonable to accuse him of lying. Now Andrew Tate may, in fact, be so stupid that he believes his claims—I genuinely can't tell. In any case, an assertion does not need to rise to the level of a lie to be harmful. In a certain sense, true believers in falsehoods are more dangerous than liars, because they spread untruth with a relatively clear conscience.

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Wouldn't that precise definition be, "Making an assertion which one believes is not true"?

I ask this because you brought up the example of Trump. He generally seems to be simply indifferent about whether his factual assertions are true or not. If the assertion helped him pursue his objectives then it was worth saying, and if it didn't then it wasn't. That seems to be his only criteria.

Does _indifference_ to truthfulness count as lying? Seems like it should....but maybe that is actually a different category.

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

That's a great point. I think you're absolutely right. Wherever there is positive indifference to the truth, you can't really call it lying.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit

I always thought that the above book, due to its rather crude title, was on the intellectual level of those cringy self help books like "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK!!!"

But just at a glance, I think that Frankfurt's category of "bullshit" tracks exactly with what you're saying. The book seems pretty relevant to the whole discussion, actually.

The media doesn't lie. It either deceives, or more often simply pushes bullshit.

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There is something sort of similar to the cringey self help books you mention, though.

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I would say "making an assertion that one does not believe is true" rather than "making an assertion that one believes is not true".

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That's sort of isomorphic to John's "making an assertion which one does not think is true", which is precisely what Paul aimed to correct with "...one believes is NOT true."

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Law of excluded middle is being assumed here.

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I'm a software engineer. There's a usually a deep cultural rift, to put it mildly, between the engineering and the sales sides of every software company. The two groups don't understand each other and have quite visceral distaste for the other.

Trump is a salesman, period. And that's one of the many things, perhaps the main thing, that people who can't stand Trump can't stand about him. The fact that Trump, who was the President of the United Goddamn States, and therefore responsible in at least some way for what happened in the lives of ~300 million Americans, if not in the lives of ~7 billion humans on Planet Earth due to America's outsized influence in the world, just didn't give a shit if the things he said were true or not is beyond infuriating to the "engineering" mindset.

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+1

People for whom "true" and "false" are not important categories set my teeth on edge. And that's basically all PR people and most politicians, but Trump dials it up to 11.

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Tied to the "salesman" concept is another important truth category that seems to be neglected here: statements that the speaker hopes will become true as a result of saying them. Self-fulfilling prophecies.

As someone in the finance world, the most obvious one to me is this: a bank CEO says "Our bank's financial position is fundamentally secure." The vast majority of the time bank CEOs say this, and the vast majority of the time it is correct.

Now, let's imagine one of those same CEOs were to instead say, "Our bank's financial position is highly dubious. I don't know if we'll survive another day. If you're exposed to any sort of counterparty risk or other financial risk from our bank's collapse, then you're about to get completely screwed over, sorry."

That statement, too, would very likely be correct as a very result of the bank CEO saying it.

CEOs at places like Lehman and Bear Sterns were accused of lying when they said their firms were secure, even though they were actually on the verge of collapse. Which, while I don't exactly have sympathy for those guys, I also don't think is entirely fair. They said the only thing they could say, out of HOPE that it would be true and knowing that if they didn't say it, they were certain to fail.

Back to a more proper salesman: imagine Steve Jobs. "This product is insanely great." People said he had a "reality distortion field". At least part of what made his products insanely great, they'd say, is the strongness of his assertions. Maybe, if he hadn't made such strong assertions about Apple's greatness, people would actually have rated their products lower. Maybe they would have derived less enjoyment from them, fewer endorphins released.

This is even clearer when you go beyond consumer electronics (which have both a fashion and function component) into pure fashion. There it's all just salesmanship, really. That dress, those blue jeans are the bee's knees because we have salesman'd our way into convincing you they're the bee's knees. If we hadn't convinced you, then we'd be liars.

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It's an old American tradition. "The Power of Positive Thinking" was a vast bestseller by Norman Vincent Peale, Trump's childhood minister.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

It's intriguing how Peale was influenced by Christian Science, which was itself influenced by Hegel. In other words, there is a direct line of ideological descent from Hegel to Trump. That prussian is truly at the root of all modern philosophy and thus, all modern errors.

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Oddly, what seemed to upset people the most about Trump were his true statements: Mexico is not sending their best, Norway vs. Haiti, etc.

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It's not like "Mexico" was/is actually "sending"¹ anyone, so yeah, clearly true!

And I don't think that's particularly odd: for known-to-be-false statements, they can point at the facts and say "see, this statement is false".

For the disliked true statements, sometimes the only thing his opponents could say was some sort of "hey, don't you know you're not supposed to say that out loud & in public?"

...which seems a lot more upsetting and frustrating as a position.

¹In the sense Trump meant here. Presumably the people Mexico actually *does* send to the US (eg their ambassador and embassy staff) are in a sufficiently high percentile for at least some relevant dimensions that they could reasonably be called "their best" (if not MIB "the best of the best of the best").

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The implication here is that nations are no more than their governments, which I'd disagree with. There was still such a thing as Italy when Dante was writing (in fact, it's a word that he uses). Of course, governments can help forge nations -- there is probably more of an Italy today, some 150 years after unification, than in Dante's day. And if Italy were to split into separate states again, or be subsumed into a European superstate, there would probably be less of an Italy 150 years after that.

Mexico as a nation has been sending large numbers of people northward for decades, which the government in Mexico City has regarded with approval (mainly because of the economic boost provided by remittances) but hasn't done much to directly facilitate.

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This, to me, comes off as odd.

On the one hand, I have an engineering degree, and have a history of getting pushback from people above me because I insist on things being technically correct. I've had bosses complain when I've provided something that precisely met their specifications (but not what they actually wanted) and teachers punish me because I would insist on correcting their grade-appropriate but not technically true answers.

On the other hand, I grew up in the DC suburbs. News of politicians and political appointees say things which are not technically true is background noise here. Trump was not an outlier (or out-liar) in this respect. Our current president has a long history of telling fantasy stories, and if he's not deliberately lying when he does it now, the alternative is significantly scarier. We have "You can keep your health insurance", "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" and "I am not a crook!" from past presidents, plus countless examples from lesser figures.

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The problem is that Trump spoke outside the overton window. I don't the window actually has a veracity condition, it is just about social acceptability. So Biden's lies are largely banal and within historical bounds. It isn't the lying, it is the social transgression.

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Indifference to the truth is a category that Scott completely overlooked in his taxonomy at the end of the article, and it's really important. A huge amount of false information comes from this category, because for most people in most situations the truth is besides the point.

One thing that should concern us is that the cost of generating truth-indifferent information is dropping close to zero thanks to ChatGPT and other systems like it, because they are, by their nature, indifferent to the truth. They have no idea what's true or false, but they know how to generate text that sounds convincing. Expect the future to include dramatically more bullshit.

For more details on these ideas, listen to Ezra Klein's podcast from 5 days ago: A Skeptical Take on the A.I Revolution.

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Agree – a good way to understand what is going on with a lot of media articles is to forget about true and false, and look instead at what the author feels, and what they want the reader to feel. That's a whole extra layer of analysis that Scott is neglecting in these posts.

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I believe most of Trump's "lies" are hyperbole, which often bypasses detection in the same way sarcasm can, and thus is perceived to be a lie. Yes, there are cases when he seems to have lied, such as when he claimed during one of the debates that insulin could, in the future, be as cheap as water. But when he claimed, for example, that COVID was totally under control, that wasn't a lie, I believe, but the normal stuff said by all politicians.

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I guess the point is that Trump's claims are not just misleading (which is typical for politicians), but positively false to a degree which is unprecedented in American politics. See here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veracity_of_statements_by_Donald_Trump

The recurrent insistent claim that the election was stolen, for example, is totally groundless. Many such cases!

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It has a lot of well-collated information. Some comments:

"In his 2016–2020 financial reports, he claimed that the Trump Hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. had revenue of over $150 million. In 2021, the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed that, to the contrary, the property had a net loss of $70 million during that period." I checked the source on this, and yes, that is all it says. Assuming the quote is entirely true, there is nothing that is a lie in it, if it also had $220 million in expenses.

"During a 2018 interview, television personality Billy Bush recounted a conversation he'd had with Trump years earlier in which he refuted Trump's repeated false claims that The Apprentice was the top-rated television program in America. Bush recalled Trump responding, 'Billy, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That's it: you just tell them and they believe. They just do.'" This sounds very typical Trump. Basically, when Trump says something, one should interpret it as if a politician said it, but more so.

"When Schwartz wrote The Art of the Deal, he created the phrase 'truthful hyperbole' as an 'artful euphemism' to describe Trump's 'loose relationship with the truth.'" Again, it takes a special interpretation. Once one gets used to speaking Trump, which ought to take perhaps five minutes, one can see at least what he's trying to say.

But don't expect promises to be kept the way they are stated. If he says he guarantees something, he means he emphasizes its importance. If he says something will make money, even something like "huge amounts of money, tons of cash", it doesn't mean it will be profitable. If that's lying in your book, then so be it, and I won't argue that.

Obama promised "hope and change" without specifying whether the change would be good or bad. Here in Michigan, Jennifer Granholm promised we would be "blown away" by her second term if she were reelected. She was right. I was astonished people reelected her with a line like that. And now Gretchen Whitmer was reelected after promising to "fix the damn roads" and not doing it. Trump may be more blatant, but I don't see him doing anything really out of line with other politicians.

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That's always been my problem with the "Trump is a liar" remarks. The proper comparison set is *other politicians* and that set is the absolute worst set to look at and claim Trump is an outlier. I think Trump lies a lot (or has a very loose relationship with truth to the point of indifference), but so does Biden, and both Clintons, and so on. If you put Trump up against Jimmy Carter and call Trump a liar, I might believe it and take it seriously. You put him up against "Wipe it, you mean with a cloth?" Hillary Clinton, I just roll my eyes at both.

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founding

Trump is I think an outlier in that he tells *blatantly obvious* lies, demanding that his followers accept them as proof of their loyalty and ingroup status, and does not defend himself against the obvious outraged rebuttals except with repetition of the original lie. Other politicians mostly tell lies with the intent to deceive and with some plausible-deniability level excuse to hide behind.

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I take issue with the claim that Trump is only somewhat worse along the scale of normal politician dishonesty.

Obama promised "hope and change," which isn't a statement whose truth value one can easily validate in the first place. This is typical of politicians. Gretchen Whitmer promised to "fix the damn roads." This is normal for politicians, but they do not usually have the power to unilaterally get things done while balancing other priorities, and this sort of electioneering essentially amounts to overselling an offer to make this a priority in office. This is behavior that could reasonably be described as dishonest, and is a good example of why people usually have low opinions of the honesty of politicians.

But before Trump, most politicians have been very wary of making statements that are non-weasel-wordily, unequivocally false, at the moment of their making them, in a way which could be positively proven to be the case. People interpret that very weasel-wordiness, which allows politicians who make misleading statements to backtrack or justify deeply misleading statements as not having been lies if they're caught out, as a sign of dishonesty, because they're so avoidant of clear and unambiguous assertions. This was an advantage for Trump, many of whose supporters saw him as more honest, because he was prepared to make clear, unambiguous assertions which were flatly false.

Saying that he had closed his Chinese bank account when he had not, or that he would publicly release his tax returns after election and then not only not doing so voluntarily but spending his whole term in office fighting against being compelled to do so in court, are dishonesty of a sort that politicians before Trump have rarely exhibited. Just as the media rarely "lies," according to a strict, narrow sense of lie, politicians also rarely "lie." Trump is an exception to that norm, and took advantage of the public's expectations of bounded dishonesty among politicians.

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Yea, this. Trump is much more specific with his lies than the professional politicians and also prolific, often weirdly so. And then once he's done it, if challenged he invariably doubles down. For years I thought that Bill Clinton was the most dishonest person to get in or close to the Oval Office during my adult lifetime, but Trump makes Slick Willy's deceitfulness seem almost quaint.

Most politicians lie or exaggerate or spin towards some specific purpose, to cover something up or change how something is perceived or harm their opponents or whatever. And Trump certainly does that stuff. But then he also just literally makes shit up, without being asked, and spews it out. Have you ever attended one of his rallies? Friends of mine have and one of them once made me sit and watch like 40 minutes of live video that she'd recorded -- Trump stood up there at the microphone for that whole time and literally every other sentence included a flat-out lie. About all sorts of random stuff besides big issues -- personal stuff, and even just random topics.

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You don't see a problem with using wikipedia for such a claim? WP:RS explicitly gives greater weight to the NYT and WaPo.

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I just now checked WP:RS, and the string "Washington" does not appear in it. "New York Times" appears twice, but in the footnotes.

I see a problem with using Wikipedia as well, but I can't say it's because of "explicit" weight given to NYT and WaPo.

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I think the giant lie about the stolen election is far more egregious than the distortion most politicians have hitherto peddled. That suffices for me.

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<i>Lying has a simple and precise definition: "Making an assertion which one does not think is true."</i>

I'd add something about having an intent to deceive, otherwise actors, fiction authors, and people telling jokes would all count as liars, which seems implausible.

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In such cases we do not make assertions (that is, we do not put forth a statement as true).

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/display/document/obo-9780195396577/obo-9780195396577-0148.xml

I was thinking: what about innocent pranks? Where we pretend that something false is true—that is, we momentarily deceive in a minor way.

I think that because these pranks involve lying, they ought to be avoided.

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

He also did tell you that he's making a very nitpicky point. So you probably shouldn't have expected a broad debatable post.

But 2, we apparently did get a post that a great many people wanted to debate, considering the number of comments we've had on it and its followups.

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And now you know the secret to writing a successful blog!

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I think the reason that the extremely narrow point is not actually vacuous is one the article makes a strong case for, it's just not a case that's compressed into the headline.

If you have a goal of censoring false and misleading news, it's extremely salient to that goal if very little news meets strict and uncontentious criteria of "false," and which news one regards as "misleading" depends overwhelmingly on one's political affiliation.

There's news that pretty much everyone, liberal, conservative, or occupying some position outside the left-right divide entirely, can accept is simply factually false, and our information landscape is not impoverished by rejecting it. Unfortunately, once you remove all of it from the equation, most of the actually contentious news is still left, and if you resolve to censor "fake news," you're necessarily going to have a big fight about what it is. If any platform chooses to censor "fake news" according to its perception of what qualifies, that perception is almost certainly going to reflect their own biases, because in most cases, determining what is or isn't "fake" relies on heavily value-laden judgment calls.

By more expansive definitions of "lying," I think that both left and right-aligned news media "lie" fairly often, but as a society, I don't think we have very good means to impartially arbitrate when they're doing that.

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YES! This is how I interpreted Scott’s posts from the beginning, and I felt like I was taking crazy pills that no one in the comments seemed to get this. I’m glad I’m not alone.

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There are dozens of us!

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Dozens!

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Right. Also, censoring all news media that engage in sloppy or motivated reasoning, omit relevant facts to tell the story they want to tell, imply far more than they can prove, etc., will mean censoring basically all the news media, most politicians' statements, a large fraction of official government statements, etc.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Very few comments here would survive, either. It's not constitutionally possible to censor the fuck out of "news media" but leave ordinary blog commenters untouched. The First Amendment does not distinguish between the New York Times and Joe Sixpack keyboard warrier banging out a righteous takedown of whatever the guy above him has said. If it's illegal for the first to engage in sloppy or motivated reasoning in print, then it's illegal for the second, and for everybody, large or small. Conversely, if it's protected speech, it's protected for everybody.

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founding

Nit: it's constitutionally possible to establish a censorship office that doesn't have the resources to touch more than a tiny percentage of blog commenters and whose internal incentives are best satisfied by using whatever resources it does have to go after the biggest, juiciest targets. I wouldn't recommend it; even if one would consider that end result desirable, there are too many ways for the implementation to go badly wrong. But it is possible.

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You're arguing prosecutorial discretion is constitutional? I don't disagree, but you still have to criminalize what you don't intend to prosecute, you can't differentiate in the statute itself. Exempli gratia, the fact that the 55 MPH speed limit was never seriously enforced in Montana doesn't mean it was therefore not illegal. And if you had the bad luck to be one of the few drivers who got a ticket, it would do no good at all to argue to the court that so-and-so blew past a trooper doing 85 and the cop merely waved hello.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Looks to me as just another instance of the decoupling/contextualizing divide. To some people the narrow point that the NYT and InfoWars can be described as committing the same sort of sin is irrelevant, because they and their allies consider themselves capable of reliably telling the crucial difference anyway.

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All this discussion about "people want to censor X" would be greatly improved if people would specificy *who* they imagine is doing the censorship in their scenario.

Like, the government needs to be extremely cautious about punishing all but the most obvious and disprovable lies, because when the government acts it's threatening someone with fines and jail. But if I'm a Reddit moderator, I can be a bit more free about saying "I will take down vaccine misinformation, using my own judgement about how misleading your posts are" because the harm of being unfairly banned from a subreddit is far less.

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In recent context, I would say that this is Twitter (or other social media) specific at the least. That Twitter weighed in on the side of certain viewpoints (generally towards the things the federal government was pressuring them to support) and against alternatives - including alternatives that were plausible at the time and have since been proven true.

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I thought something similar at first, but then I realized that in the context of whether or not we should censor “lies“, it’s actually a very good definition to use.

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It's the *only* definition that is useful to the larger argument. Scott was not originally trying to argue in the first two posts that people have the wrong definition of lies, but rather, that we are going to speak specifically about things whose veracity can be objectively determined. It was probably a mistake to call those "lies" given what he was trying to argue.

However, at the end of *this* post, Scott seems to be arguing for exactly what everyone has been disagreeing with him about for the other two posts, so maybe they were onto something all along.

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You're right, he did. That definitely weakens his argument a bit, but I guess explains his original framing more.

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No it's not, because if it's the definition you use, the censorship stops being useful, precisely because it's not screening out much - and certainly not the stuff the would-be censors *want* to apply it towards.

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Yes, I think that is the point. Those who wish to censor want to have (and imagine they will have) a much larger effect. I believe Scott's point is that anything approaching "objective" censorship will have a very small effect, and thus, to get the larger effect most censors seem to want, one must of necessity enter the realm of interpretation, with the inherent cost being the censors' priors significantly influencing what counts as "lying" and that those in power have increased incentives to further expand the definition of "lying" because it will serve their ends.

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If you want to sign on to a censorship regime it makes very much difference what counts as a lie and what does not. If you include much more than Lie Type 7, it becomes very hard to justify any of your censorship.

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"A post titled "The Media Very Rarely Completely Invents Facts Out Of a Whole Cloth With Zero Relationship Whatsoever With the Truth" would be a pretty boring and pointless post..."

I think this line is the *observation* more than the argument of the posts. The argument appears to be that it would be hard to arrive at an objective model for censoring "misinformation / disinformation" that does any actual censoring, which seems considerably more interesting.

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I'd say if the post has made you turn away in disgust from debating about on whose forehead we get to gleefully slap the incendiary and pejorative label LIAR! -- and we need, instead, to take the much more tedious slog to rhetorical victory of digging carefully into the complete picture of the thinking represented by a statement and slotting it carefuly into one of Scott's 7 categories -- why, this is a quite useful result. Conducive to a more civilized public discourse.

Victorian gentlemen use to resort to pistols at dawn when called a liar to one's face. I doubt very much Victorians lied any less (or more) than we do, so I do not think it had any salutory influence on public honesty -- but having that odd firewall in public discourse did mean they did not sling unforgiveable personal insults at each other in the heat of the debate nearly as often or as casually as we do. Might be worth considering.

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It's worth making the argument, because there's a sizable number of people who would disagree, and state that the media actually does invent facts from thin air.

It would be nice if we never had to state the completely obvious, but we don't live in that world.

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The Dominion vs Fox case is getting some quotes in depositions that get pretty close to 7. The issue is booking a guest who you believe is advancing a false theory, and then giving her a pretty uncritical slot to make her case.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2022/12/22/23523385/sean-hannity-fox-news-defamation-dominion-lawsuit

>Two years later, [Hannity] was asked about Powell’s theory in a seven-hour deposition that was reportedly shared during a court hearing earlier this week as part of the Dominion lawsuit: “I did not believe it for one second,” he said under oath. Powell also walked back her theorizing in 2021, with her lawyers stating “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements [Powell made] were truly statements of fact.”

I think the motive here is that Fox is worried about losing market share to programs like OAN, and needs to put some stories they believe to be false on air in order to keep credibility with their audience, who believes them to be true.

I would count that as lying. At a more polished, fact-checking place like the NYT, I think the behavior would less often be a lie of commission, and more often killing a story that the paper thinks holds up, but they think their readers won't believe. (This is the claim made by Nellie Bowles about her experience at the Times).

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

In your list, you clearly forgot 4.5: Not reasoning about the truth/falsity of the question at all, but instead answering with some mix of:

- what you believe you are supposed to answer

- what you believe people like you are supposed to believe

- what some higher status than you person said about the question, or someone whose reasoning ability and data sources you respect

- what you expect will make the person asking the question happiest

- what you think the person answering the question expects (i.e. how can you avoid seeming "weird" to them)

Arguably some of this counts as reasoning, but except perhaps for the strategy of "I don't understand this, so I'll trust an expert", none of it is reasoning about the topic at hand.

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FWIW, I suspect that media use various of these strategies routinely, particularly if you rephrase them in terms of "selling more papers" and similar.

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I believe that in some circles that is what is called "bullshit".

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Came here to say exactly this. Bullshitting is an important part of the falsehood ecosystem, and it doesn't really fit on the list - maybe it's close to (4), or maybe it's actually close to (7).

Even more typically than DinoNerds' bullet points, bullshit is often motivated by

- what you think you can say to get what you want.

Frankfurt's On Bullshit ( http://www2.csudh.edu/ccauthen/576f12/frankfurt__harry_-_on_bullshit.pdf ) is a classic, and indeed Frankfurt distinguishes between bullshit and lying. But it's egregiously incomplete to have a conversation about lying and exclude bullshit!

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Much of this is how we learn truthful reasoning, though, if we're lucky enough to be in a community where social rewards are tied to learning truthful answers.

When you don't already know how to reason about the topic at hand, and you're still learning, you shoot yourself in the foot if you're not willing to "stoop" to some "fake it till you make it". (I learned this after shooting my own feet an embarrassing amount.) "I'm not sure how to reason about this problem on the problem set, but I bet my teacher is good enough to have given me a relevant example, maybe even dropped a hint about which example to use," is reasoning about the social context, not the problem at hand. It's "faking it", to some extent. But it gives you resources to do the problem at hand in order to develop eventual understanding.

Creating a social context that channels the desire to give a pleasing, "normal" answer into finding an actually-correct answer seems crucial to learning from preschool through university. Deep understanding often takes a bunch of shallow conventions for granted, like the order of the alphabet (the ABC song trains children in the order people "like them" are supposed to believe). And, when you don't yet fully understand a problem, going through the motions of how you've socially inferred "it's supposed to be" solved can help you understand. Answering as you're "supposed to" develops the capacity to reason about the topic.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

I learned a lot of things in school that weren't in fact true, particularly in ELHI. I learned even more things that weren't true from religious adults and religious leadership.

Children tend to absorb what those around them claim, without too much critical thinking, and that's a good strategy, both for learning useful information and for avoiding doing things that will get them beaten up or worse. They may or may not eventually go beyond parroting "God is good", "Canadians are better than Americans", "Columbus discovered America", "Eating fat is harmful; sugar is great", etc. etc.

I'm not sure that they actually learn how to go beyond it anywhere in the school system, as commonly experienced - or even whether, as children, they have the cognitive capacity to cope with their teachers being wrong, without experiencing it as betrayal and disillusionment, rather than simply the normal human condition.

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"I'm not sure that they actually learn how to go beyond it anywhere in the school system"

Some learn to go beyond it, and those who do usually first have gone through it. That is, attributing the success of these "some" solely to individual superior aptitude, rather than the conventional, sometimes-wrong, education which gave them the scaffolding to exercise their aptitude, takes the scaffolding for granted, and it can't be. Most people who contribute to the sum of human understanding won't be savants from some isolated village with little formal education: there are some of those, but not enough; education, for all its flaws and betrayals, really does help.

It would be strange to say someone who plays piano well doesn't really understand playing piano, or someone fluent in Portuguese, or at constructing correct proofs in geometry and spotting errors in incorrect ones, doesn't understand Portuguese or geometry, respectively. Someone successful at fixing cars understands *something* about them, even if not enough to accurately explain the science of how they work. For much understanding, doing something well enough is adequate evidence that you've gained understanding about the subject itself, not just BSing.

Then there are other subjects, where it really is much harder to tell...

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To say that (almost) every genius first went to school, so school must be helping, doesn't really follow when schooling is compulsory. Might as well say that paying taxes (the act itself, not anything the taxes are spent on) is essential for motivating scientific advancement, or something.

Modern schooling does an awful lot of teaching "guess the teacher's password", and regrettably little of teaching "find what is true"

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I'm not claiming the education we were forced to attend must be of the best kind – because, look, most geniuses have gone through it, too!

I'm saying even the very talented and intelligent aren't born knowing how to reason about the subject they develop outstanding aptitude in, and typically benefit from social prompts to learn. I'm saying that being in a community where true reasoning and aptitude are socially rewarded matters to developing that aptitude, and that development often includes (even for geniuses) a component of "going through the motions" before really understanding what you're doing and why you're doing it.

I'm also saying that the community can be far from perfect at rewarding true aptitude and be better (even for geniuses) than lacking community – but saying even a flawed thing is better than nothing isn't praising the flaws themselves. Even so, intelligent individuals good at spotting the flaws might underestimate how much their schooling did prepare them to learn true things.

Kids who learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, and that libraries are wonderful places where you can learn stuff for yourself, from their teachers (including parents and private teachers) have been schooled in something truly useful for finding out truth, even if that schooling came with a fair amount of guff. That doesn't make the guff good, or prove that their schooling couldn't easily have been improved on. But the less literate and numerate you are, the harder it is for you to even tell when your teachers are wrong: An education that leaves you literate, numerate – and interested in truthfulness – enough to resent what your teachers got wrong is an education that has partially succeeded – including at teaching you to value truthfulness.

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

Something like this issue came up back in the bad old days, when good upstanding anglo protestants were sure there were Jesuits around every corner, and each one had an imprimatur from the Pope itself to lie their heretical little heads off.

John Henry Newman actually reminds me of you in that he is sometimes possessed of such moral rectitude that it can be painful to observe him from the outside... pearls before swine is a phrase which comes to mind. Anyway, he discusses a similar issue (lying vs. deception—that is, what exactly constitutes a lie, & the exact limits of the morality of lying) here:

https://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia/detail8.html

To me this all seems quite simple. You're absolutely right. *Lying* (presenting false propositions) is not *deception* (presenting true propositions in a such a way that, taken at face value, they seem to imply false ones). Whether intentionally or not (whether culpably or not), the media is very deceptive (1-6)—yet very rarely do they go so far as to outright lie (rarely do they get all the way to 7).

The problem is that, as you note, people sloppily equivocate between lying, mere falsehood, deception, and a mere disregard for the truth.

The only way to get out of this, in my opinion, will be to return to moral realism—and ultimately, to natural law. People only began to lie because they did not observe the 9th commandment, which obviously proscribes both lying and deception (which latter thing all ought to agree is wrong, excepting the edge cases Newman discusses above).

To this you might reply that, even without the ten commandments, all men agree that deception is wrong. But in fact, on consequentalist ethical systems, it simply isn't.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

I've long been puzzled by the hatred many people have for consequentialist ethics. Your comment is helpful--I agree that a naive, zero-step lookahead consequentialism would allow more deception than would be good for society--according to consequentialist ethics.

Try thinking of consequentialist ethics as ethical epistemology, and virtue or duty ethics as pragmatic implementations of ethics that you can give to computation-limited people in order to implement the results of consequentialist conclusions in the real world.

By ethical epistemology, I mean that consequentialism is the right method of deciding what's good and bad for someone with omniscience and infinite computational power. A consequentialist with lots of computational power would look ahead and see that telling everyone that it's okay to lie if that seems like them to lead to the best outcome, would lead to most people lying a lot, a breakdown of trust, and failure to cooperate or compromise.

Consequentialism gives an approximation to ethical judgement that gets more accurate as you give it more information and computational power. The approximation can be very bad if you use a greedy consequentialism with no lookahead.

A consequentialist who understands human bias would also realize that most people are overconfident in their opinions and computations, and that most people are too dumb or ignorant to act very ethically if they think for themselves. People with different degrees of intelligence, or different kinds of expertise or jobs, should have different ethical heuristics. The whole system may, if conditions are right, evolve into an ecosystem of different ethical systems which together implement an approximation of consequentialism.

(I don't believe anybody has ever successfully *designed* a distributed virtue ethics to implement a consequentialist ethics, nor that any attempt to do so is likely to succeed.)

Attempts to give everybody exactly the same virtue ethics can also work, but it should be realized that this is a pragmatic approximation, not adherence to some eternal code of behavior dictated by a great sky-being. It will break down with people who have to make very high-stakes decisions that need to be correct, like soldiers, doctors, and the rulers of nations. Such people must have the leeway to do things that society at large, with its simpler ethical heuristics, calls evil because they are discouraged from thinking consequentially.

So in building your society, you promote virtues like truthfulness. But these aren't absolute, eternal values; they're heuristics, things easy to grasp which work well most of the time. Only when society is faced with a long-term, complex, high-stakes moral problem do you break out the big guns and apply consequentialist reasoning, slowly, carefully, and preferably collectively, because only the "ultimate consequences" determine whether some action is good or bad.

("The ultimate consequences" may not exist. Total utility, even time-discounted, isn't guaranteed to converge as you look farther and farther ahead. I don't think this is a problem in most situations. You do the best you can with the resources you have, and call it ethical.)

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We teach children virtue ethics because it's the foundation. Lying is bad is simple and easy to comprehend, but what about when you are older and ready for more complexity? If you are hiding Jews and the Nazis come to your door, is lying bad? The consequentialist question becomes "when is lying bad?" Phil makes that point well.

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That's pride, man. Be humble.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

>People only began to lie because they did not observe the 9th commandment

Suppose I think that the Bible is false, what reason do I have then for following the 9th commandment and/or the natural law? The fatal problem with religion in the modern age, that many philisophers have observed, is that it's moral authority is inextricably tied to plausibility of its ontology and factual claims, and those look ever more untenable as our understanding of how the world actually works grows. The God is dead, we killed him, and he's not coming back, so maybe it's time to seriously consider alternatives?

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The idea lying is wrong doesn't depend on belief in revelation. I think that most people would agree with it intuitively, but you can argue for it on purely natural grounds.

On a personal note, I resorted to God because I felt that I had exhausted all alternatives. In retrospect it seems like a living example of reductio ad absurdum.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Sure, aversion to lying is arguably both an evolutionary adaptation and could be justified on consequentialist/game-theoretical grounds. In practice people don't derive normative rules from first principles (and are incapable of doing so reliably), but instead use time-tested templates provided by culture, which is where deontology and virtue ethics ultimately come from.

I've heard from a few people that they find religion a more tolerable alternative to despair of nihilism, but I just can't understand it. I can't make myself believe something in spite of overwhelming disconfirming evidence, and I probably wouldn't want to even if I could.

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The idea is that their intuitions depend on truths, even if these truths are implicit to most people (and even if most people are far from living up to what they say they believe).

A brief argument to justify that lying is really morally wrong: If we hold to the golden rule, then we ought to reject lying. Because we don't wish to be deceived (or as you said: even if it is possible to wish for that, it shouldn't be), we shouldn't deceive others.

On consequentialism one ought to become religious, provided that it can be shown that doing so would make one happier! But I don't hold to that logic—it's not that I became religious because it was more comforting (I agree that it's evil to try to believe in something untrue), but I turned to God because the alternative premise had lead to contradiction and absurdity.

I should specify that on the religious picture, conversion happens because of grace, not just free will.

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I think that we basically agree regarding lying, just frame it in different terms/coming from different aesthetics.

In terms of absurdity, it seems to me that both accepting and denying the existence of a (deist) God leads to absurdities, like there being an uncaused cause or there having passed an infinite amount of time prior to the current moment.

However, even if you accept a deist God, I've never seen a good argument for further subscription to any particular dogma, e.g. a Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist one. They all seem strictly epistemologically inferior in positing a vast edifice of outlandish unsubstantiated claims.

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You can't distinguish between someone who tells false claims and doesn't care if it's true or not (4) and someone who tells false claims intentionally (7) you just incentivize people like Trump who always fall back on a type of "insanity" defense. Trump tells false claims all the time but he (and apparently you) defends himself by saying that he didn't know it was false, even though anyone reasonable presented with the same facts as he was would know that it was false.

At that point, it is impossible to identify anyone as lying according to your definition. Even though Trump is a clear liar, who has lead fraudulent enterprises on multiple occasions, one could never criticize him for it. And that is a loss, because his reckless disregard for the truth greatly harmed our societal ability to have any conversations. In addition to the immediate effect of many people believing the false claims that he made (even though you won't allow me to use the word "lie" to describe it).

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In theory, it can be very difficult to distinguish 4 and 7 as you say. In practice, people in 7 send each other messages saying "haha the suckers fell for it" in a slack channel called "liar liar pants on fire".

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Except that Alex Jones did that and Scott still questioned whether that was actually what he felt.

Additionally, unless everyone (including Scott) agrees that Trump is in category 7, which I don't think everyone agrees on, then he is taking advantage of the loophole that Scott's "useful idiot" stance creates.

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All that stuff about how paranoid your readers are speaks to me, I’m also often shocked by the paranoia of my comments section, often relating to the exact same issues and in the exact same ways. Do comments sections just draw paranoid people or are we naive dopes?

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

I am one of the people who was/is very hard on the media.

But my guess would simply be that people like you and Scott who are trying to create positive information transfer have a greater appreciation for how difficult it is than people like myself on the outside who can just get riled up about all the failures and make angry japes to vent our disappointment.

I do think the core desire for strong condemning language around this issue is the vast gulf between how much imprimatur as arbiters of truth the journalists/outlets/acolytes of the MSM allocate to themselves, and how much they really deserve.

The focus isn't on the NYT/NPR as a bunch of flawed humans doing the best they can. And it isn't on that because the NYT/NPR presents and postures itself as THE PLACE the go to get information about what is really going on in the world. And it manifestly both fails at this regularly, and often isn't even trying to do this.

And the frustration is so large people just want to bring out the largest rhetorical guns to blast them they possibly can justify. Which of course is ironic. Humans are dumb, especially me.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

I have a hearty dislike of the media also, but it has little to do with how much they lie, bullshit, or deceive, because I don't think they do so to any significantly greater degree than good ol' boy Walter Cronkite or fast-talking Ed Murrow back in the day.

What annoys me is the saccharine unction that drenches everything, like they're all college sophomore Sir Galahads rescuing damsels from Sir Mordred all day long, instead of just hacks pulling down a salary by shipping out a dog's breakfast of what seems to be roughly true and approximately interesting at fast-food speeds.

If they re-adopted the world-weary cynical hard-drinking edge of the Raymond Chandler reporter ("Ah...I'm just a hack trying to make a livin'. Didja know about this bum politician's shenanigans? Whaddya think...?") I'd probably be fine with them, even if they were just as often wrong, and pushing some establishment narrative or other just as hard.

It's like going to the hardware store for a screw to fix the microwave, and the sales help says "A...screw? Nonsense, you poor ignorant peasant, what you want is a fastener, and they come in a wide variety of types and sizes, which passeth your understanding I am sure, but I majored in Truth and Wisdom, so if you stick with me for the next hour I'll begin with basic metallurgy and Roman techniques of construction, and I daresay we'll uncover the real root of your personal problems -- tell me, have you ever kicked the dog because the microwave won't start? Tsk! -- and how you can get therapy to learn to just accept the microwave as it chooses to be in the moment."

The urge to clop them upside the head is strong. Just give me the fucking screw. Just tell me whether Backhmut was overrrun, the price of gas went up or down, and whether Amazon is hiring again, then shut up and play some Cheap Trick or Mozart. If I want to be scourged I'll go to church.

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This is both an astute observation, and very entertainingly written :)

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Thanks, that's a kind thing to say, and I appreciate your taking the time to do so.

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Your account of Raymond Chandler amused me, because that's pretty much the impression I got from Trump. I could easily imagine him saying "I'm just a guy trying to MAGA. Here's this problem happening at the border. Whaddya think?". I (not a Trump supporter, but just opposed largely on account of his lack of experience) naturally felt I couldn't believe anything he said unless I'd checked it some other way. However, I also felt like that was *obvious*. Like a guy selling knockoffs at a street corner. I could see it coming.

Counterintuitively, this worked in Trump's favor. Why? Because he was basically competing against the clean-cut guy in the department store... who was *also* selling knockoffs.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Who writes the most memorable and negative reviews on Yelp? People of rigid patterns of thought who get hung up on one small negative and just go nuclear over it.

Someone who reads a long nuanced post and thinks "eh...there's a couple points here where I think this wavers from Gospel truth...some footnotes/caveats/elaborations/softening adjectives that I would definitely add..." is not going to be sufficiently driven to wrestle the Substack comment system into submission in order to make a long nuanced comment of weak partial disagreement -- and even if he does, it won't stand out as much to you, the author.

I think it's sort of the parallel to the Twiiterverse being far more shrill, dogmatic, and Manichean than actual people in their actual lives.

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Comment sections absolutely attract the paranoid, as well as a few other categories of unusual people. (I’m not sure which categories I fall into, but I recall that traditional comment sections represent a fraction of a percent of readers, and even Substack comment sections represent only about 10-20% of readers, who are already self-selected in all sorts of weird ways.)

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Yeah reminds me of when I was a volunteer developer on an extremely popular open source game, and all the developers and friends of the developers did mostly MP, and all the "regular" players on the forums etc. did at least some MP.

So imagine our surprise when the data showed that as far as total hours played SP was ~97% and MP ~3%.

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I saw an example from World of Tanks, where apparently if you post on their official forums you have to log into your account and it shows some basic stats about you. Some guy was complaining a lot about the game or some update. He had played about 100 matches and had over 9,000 posts on the forums.

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for what it's worth, Kenny, I've seen you leave a lot of comments, and they are often good and never (as I recall) paranoid.

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My guess (and I do not claim a lot of confidence here): The combination of the internet and the financial collapse of a lot of media has left us with tons of very visible examples of lies and deception and general dysfunction by all kinds of high-prestige, formerly-trusted institutions. The result is that everyone starts out kinda defaulting to skepticism or wondering if they're being lied to all the time.

I'd compare this with how the replication crisis has affected my reaction to reading about new results in the social sciences--like I should start out with high skepticism and a cynical "this was probably p-hacked or something" assumption, because I know how much BS was published in the social sciences in the past, and it's hard to believe that there isn't still plenty being published now.

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Similarly, you can now access rebuttals to assertions in the major media, which was very difficult to do pre-internet. Some random guy with the time and inclination can point out the falsehoods or misleading information in a major news network's reporting, which I think has resulted in a lot of us noticing how frequently the news does this. It may have been similarly common in the 1970s (to pick a random pre-internet date), but very rarely known.

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I think Dan Rather's scandal was the point of change, where it became obvious that the public could actually affect things by fact checking the major media.

Speaking of which, I haven't seen Rather's name in this discussion. While I'm pretty sure he didn't technically lie in the initial report, his continuing to maintain his belief in the documents gets to the point where it's impossible to distinguish from deliberate ignorance.

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OTOH, but 60 minutes did that misleading edit of their interview and was caught on it in (I think) the 80s, and seemed to keep their prestigious trusted place in American society. Maybe the existence of alternatives matters here?

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60 Minutes did have some prior scandals, but to my knowledge they were opposed by companies with the ability to hire lawyers to challenge them in civil court, and it took time for the courts to work. Rather was exposed, not by the target of the segment lawyering up and taking the time to go through the court system, but by a blogger, and the false material was exposed as false in a matter of days.

And 60 Minutes (and even Rather himself) still haven't completely lost their trust.

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Hah! If you and Scott are naive dopes, honestly, I am, too. ...I also rarely comment, in general, so I suppose I'm not helping the statistic. I think Carl Pham's comment here is spot-on - people with stronger opinions are just more likely to post, and paranoia breeds strong opinions.

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By the time you get to "Reasoning badly, because you are biased, and on some more-or-less subconscious level not even trying to reason well.", you're full blown trying to deceive people in ways which you would not if you felt accountable for what you were saying. This is the *central thing* that accusations of lying are for, and so the term "Lying!" absolutely fits when someone makes real sure to not reason carefully because they anticipate that reasoning carefully would cause them to know that the things they are saying aren't true. After all, there's conservation of expected evidence, and if they know to avoid reasoning carefully they damn well know enough to conclude that what they're saying isn't likely to be true.

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Scott's category there is not people doing it about a specific issue, but that that sloppiness is part of their character. These people are not "anticipating that reasoning carefully would cause them to know that the things they are saying aren't true", they just don't reason carefully as a matter of course, perhaps because they consider feelings to be more important.

I'd say most people fall under that category, and it doesn't seem useful to say most people are liars.

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No, they definitely are aware that careful reasoning would lead them to conclude that they're speaking falsehoods.

The test is to point them at the flaws in their thinking and see what they do. If they say "Oh shit, thanks for pointing it out!" (i.e. show genuine surprise), then they weren't aware. If they don't even falter in their BS and keep on as if you hadn't said anything to challenge them, then it's possible that they genuinely don't care enough to even anticipate and you get no data (though they likely do anyway). Generally though, these people will make active attempts to avoid looking at the thing you're pointing at, and you can only do that if you already know that looking there will do something you don't want.

Popularity of lying cannot make it not a lie. You just have to be careful with how you apply your limited attempts to shame people for things, since lying is too ubiquitous to just knee jerk it away by using the word "liar" as a shaming tactic. Christianity knows this distinction well. "Everyone is a sinner", "Love the sinner, hate the sin", etc.

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I think most journalists are consistently ignorant about pretty much every technical subject. This is part of the point of "Gell-Mann Amnesia" - every time I read an article in a field where I have technical knowledge, it's either wrong or so garbled that it's not even wrong.

Garrett complained about the media's problems with reporting on firearms, but the problems there are not particularly distinctive. I've just come to mostly accept that articles in the general press will make egregious errors on everything other than easily-available, easily-understood public information. This isn't primarily because of bias, and it's certainly not lying. It's just people being dumb.

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I would say the reporting related to guns is particularly bad because the particular tribe journalists tend to come from is substantially less likely to contain firearms enthusiasts. So there are a lot of newsrooms where nobody has a good bullshit detector for gun related information, because they don’t live in a social circle where a working knowledge of guns is in the water supply and where your buddies will laugh at you if you do something like call a folding stock “the part that goes up”.

Journalists are rarely “experts” on technical subjects, but there are definitely areas where they are more or less ignorant. You don’t need to be an expert to have sufficient working or casual knowledge to be able to sniff out likely bullshit.

This is one area where I think increasing diversity of backgrounds could be legitimately valuable.

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++

Also, its not hard to find a competent gun expert, the Times, Post, etc just actively avoid it. This is not like employing a full time Biomedical Engineering expert for the 3 annual stories you are going to run about new developments in artificial organs. You are running hundreds of stories annually on the subject of guns, and you don't have anyone on staff who knows the difference between semi-automatic and automatic firing.

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Right. There's a point where intentional ignorance becomes no different from knowing falsehood, at least morally. The standard for 7 should be "knows or should reasonably know that the statement is false". Reckless disregard for the truth is morally indistinguishable from a knowing lie IMO. It certainly is for libel standards (the former is what's know as "actual malice", in one of those "legal terms that don't mean what you think they mean" instances.)

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Sometimes I do think it’s “actively avoiding it”. But other times I think it’s not quite that. It’s more like “so completely ignorant of the subject and unexposed to anyone who isn’t that you don’t even realize that a distinction might exist, or if it did, that anyone would care”.

Now I do agree that at some point if you’re going to write about a subject a lot you have a responsibility to cast a wide net and at least become familiar with a range of experts and opinions. So I don’t want to imply that I’m excusing ignorance or laziness.

But if you and literally everyone you interact with on a frequent basis all share the same blind spot, how do you know the right question to ask, who you should ask for help finding the right questions, or even whether there are any questions worth asking?

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Because people have repeatedly told them that they're wrong. And experts have schooled them. And they've just closed their ears and said "nah nah nah, I can't hear you!"

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Have “people told them” or have “people they don’t know yelled at/about them on Facebook or in media they don’t consume”?

I think we should be careful to avoid ascribing to malice what can be explained by bubble effects. Again, not an excuse - but maybe part of the reason. And I’m making a point that’s more expansive than just the gun issue explicitly.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Editorials in their own papers. Reports in academic journals. Court documents. All the things they're *supposed* to research as part of their jobs. Heck, even experts *they themselves talked to*. Many of whom have explicitly said that they told them differently, but they ignored the experts or misquoted them to say just the opposite and then quoted 'anonymous' sources which said utter obvious garbage.

On the gun issue in specific (and in many others in general), the kinds of crap they spout is of the order of "1 + 1 = banana". Not even *plausibly* wrong. And requiring willful blindness to reality to say without malicious lies.

Edit: And at some point, I don't believe there's a difference between actual malice (the literal meaning) and a suitably reckless disregard for truth or falsity. At least not in practice, as far as anyone else is concerned.

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But this still explains too little. Liz Cheney is now kind of a NYT darling for being anti-Trump and probably has slipped pretty far into being purely anti-Republican. But I'm pretty sure she's been hunting and knows the difference between an AR-15 and a M-16. There are lots of people like her. Now, most aren't Vanderbilt heirs who can afford 3 years of unpaid internships followed by 10 years earning $40k/year in New York or DC, but that is their own weird problem.

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Not just firearms. I am from Eastern Europe and have closely watched coverage about war in Ukraine. Journalists are extremely bad if talking about military matters, military weapons, weapon systems, etc. Making mistakes, not understading the subject and creating bizarre interpretations.

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Very good point.

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founding

Historically, I think there was also a culture in progressive spaces where firearms knowledge was considered morally bad. Lots of people seemed fairly proud of their complete lack of knowledge, which confused me greatly, and I didn't witness that same effect with other technical subjects.

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In Sunday school I was taught about lying being divided into "sins of commission" (category 7) and "sins of omission" (category 5 & 6). The point being that leaving out key points to deceive someone is still lying, just another kind.

"Commission" and "omission" may be a useful start on your names for every category.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

Another post called this distinction lying and deception, respectively. I think that's a good way to look at it.

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

Re. this comment by Tytonidaen:

"I think a more likely explanation is that many people are choosing to attribute deaths to the vaccine that are not actually from the vaccine. For example, let's say Person A gets vaccinated and dies shortly after of some completely unrelated cause. And let's say Person B, the loved one being polled, has priors about vaccines or the medical establishment or whatever that cause them to be convinced it was actually the vaccine that killed Person A.

"In hypothetical reality, Person A lived a rather unhealthy lifestyle, had lots of risk factors for a heart attack, and would have died from a heart attack, regardless of whether they'd gotten the vaccine. Then, when Person A does, indeed, die of a heart attack, and by sheer coincidence had recently gotten vaccinated, Person B blames the COVID vaccine when polled, but it wasn't really the vaccine that killed their loved one."

This seems fair, since this is how Covid deaths were counted. Once enough tests were available, anyone who died, was tested for covid; if they tested positive, they were reported as a "covid-related death". News outlets reported covid-related deaths as Covid deaths (which was, BTW, a very common media lie).

For one example, an employee of my brother-in-law was supposed to get a liver transplant. He was tested for Covid before being admitted, tested positive, and so was taken off the list of eligible liver recipients, and died soon after of liver failure. This was counted as a Covid-related death. Which it was, in a sense.

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What's confusing is the fact that, in the face of unreality, people claiming to propagate The Truth actually propagate untruths, hence fascist 'anti-fascists', racist 'anti-racists', the proposal for a national Office of Disinformation -- presumably to identify which disinformation the government approves of.

Regressives declare that norms are obsolete and oppressive, then strain credulity to 'normalize' the bizarre. It all makes perfect sense if one accepts chaos. But if you're building your regressive paradise around chaos, you can't turn about and fault others for not recognizing your new, improved 'norms'. You just told us norms are obsolete. Oh! Wait, I get it. Our norms are obsolete. Yours, on the other hand, are golden. It's a pretty juvenile style of rebellion.

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Brilliant, best piece I've read in awhile that exposes the sinews of the fundamental disagreements that hover over and stalk almost every expression on social media. And REALLY depressing. Thanks anyway.

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This is a really straightforward case of "Taboo Your Words". It literally does not matter whether the media is "lying" or not. Scott's original claim was that the media rarely does number 7, and that this is important /specifically because/ that means it is very, very difficult to gain consensus that a given media outlet has done something worthy of censorship. Scott's point is that "reasonable people can disagree" about almost anything, which is proven in how many reasonable people are disagreeing about every one of these issues in the comments.

Given this wide swath of reasonable disagreement, what kinds of statements can be responsibly prohibited or punished? A vanishingly small number. Almost none.

That is the point. That is Scott's claim. That is what you have to engage with. To say "No, I think this behavior should be called lying" is to change the subject. To say "Actually the New York Times is better than/just as bad as/worse than" InfoWars is to change the subject. Your task is to find an article so egregiously false that almost no one in the world would take issue with you trying to get it banned. Until you can do that, Scott's point stands as almost trivially true and impossible to deny.

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Yes. Well-said.

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Yes well said and I thought this was also the whole point of Scott raising this topic, so I was a little surprised that he didn't underline that in this post and seemed focused himself on parsing words. I felt like if I were Scott I'd be shouting "you're not hearing me!" but maybe he feels that way a lot and so this discussion didn't feel more egregiously that way to him.

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Censoring is very difficult to start with for the stated reason, and even more difficult when there is uncertainty involved about an alleged future outcome that is unprovable. Many of the most emotionally entangled subjects up for censorship fall under this category.

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I do think this argument goes the other way and we should try to build a consensus for censorship that goes beyond category 7. The hard part is figuring out how far to go.

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Nice.

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>Given this wide swath of reasonable disagreement, what kinds of statements can be responsibly prohibited or punished? A vanishingly small number. Almost none.

Which is absurd, because this media furiously demands that people not literally lying need to be censored.

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023

But most calls for censorship are not about truthiness, but specifically and carefully couched in terms of "harm". In other words, they would not care too much about deceptions that they think reduce overall harm, like claiming that vaccines prevent transmission which incentivized people to get vaccinated, just like they *would* care about scientific truths that they think will cause harm, like acknowledging differences between genders/races/whatever-group.

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I can find dozens of articles that are egregiously false. Scott will refuse to put them in category 7 because he will blow smoke about how they may have been honestly mistaken. Moreover, even if they fell in category 7, many would disagree that they should be censored. So this categorization doesn't actually help in the censorship conversation.

How about separating the factual claim of whether people actually lie from the conversation about what appropriate censorship is, which may or may not have anything to do with lying at all!

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I agree this is the argument Scott is trying to have, but I think a lot of the comments here are not as orthogonal to Scotts claim as you seem to think. Specifically that because a media outlet rarely does 7, it follows that it should be hard to censor 'misinformation'.

However this is totally contingent on accepting the idea that only 7 constitutes real misinformation. Arguing about what is or is not a lie, is directly arguing with a core assumption of Scotts arguments. If somebody holds that anything beyond 2 is misinformation and should be subject to censorship, that is a consistent principled position that they can maintain. If Scott can not defend the idea that only 7 is misinformation that can be fairly censored then his 'true' argument is necessarily unconvincing.

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It is not enough for one person to believe that anything above 2 is misinformation to collapse Scott's argument: it would require that everyone else agrees on that that is the correct tier, and to agree on to what tier any given claim belongs.

Scott is focusing on tier 7 because people often say, when defending censoring misinformation, that outright fabrications of that kind are a) uncontroversially bad, b) easy to identify, and c) common enough to be a problem. Scott was trying to disprove C, but ended up disproving B as well.

The goal of the censorship scheme is to appear as fair and unbiased as possible, and Scott is arguing that claims from tiers 3-6 are so fraught with emotional and political valence (or sometimes just genuine complexity or uncertainty) that any misinformation filter that applies to them will necessarily appear unfair and biased to large groups of people.

The claim you have to defend is not that "anything beyond 2 is misinformation", consistent and principled as that position may be, but rather that /everyone agrees/ that anything beyond 2 is misinformation, and /everyone agrees/ which articles fall into the category and which do not. Otherwise the misinformation filter is going to start removing stories you believe are true.

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I was responding specifically to your point that arguing about what is or is not a lie is orthogonal to Scotts position, 'changing the subject', when in fact I think it is directly relevant and a central part of the argument. Scott must defend his focus on 7 and if he fails to do so his argument fails to be convincing. There are tons of largely unsupported and unargued assumption about censorship and what the public believes, how they do/will behave. You think the comment section shows people being unable to understand Scotts position, I think it shows that Scott's model of the problem and actors is wrong, such that drawing conclusions from his model is likely to produce error.

Honestly, I don't think retreating to 7 produces the results that Scott seems to think it would, I think a very large cohort of the relevant population specifically believes that some 'facts' are more false than true, and for example, reporting 'factual' race crime statistics is actually reporting something that is false, because it fails to grapple with the broader implications and context of the issue. 7 is IMO a false category when it comes to how groups of people view reality and truth and far from something that society can/is coordinated around.

These kinds of fundamental disagreements with Scott's model of reality are what the comment section is reflecting.

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I don't believe the comment section shows that people are unable to understand his position, I believe it proves his position. If there is any substantive disagreement about what constitutes a lie---which this comments section undeniably demonstrates---a censorship standard based on "lying" is worthless.

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I think there is a really fundamental disconnect here, I saw Scott as making the point, to quote you,

"Scott's original claim was that the media rarely does number 7, and that this is important /specifically because/ that means it is very, very difficult to gain consensus that a given media outlet has done something worthy of censorship."

which I think is wrong as a comment about the world that we live in. There is significant consensus on the kinds of things that people want censored that do not meet the specific definition of 7. In fact I think there is a pretty strong consensus here in the comments that 7 specifically is not a good standard for censorship/labeling something misinformation. We currently live in a world where such standards are being practices everyday, and presumably the people who practice them find them to be valuable and are able to act because they have the support of their local consensus.

I think Scott is making a point that works assuming you accept his priors, and a lot of people don't, and these last two posts are basically Scott trying to defend his priors. I think that conversation is directly relevant to Scott's point, and you seemed to disagree.

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The only consensus I have seen in the comments is the number of people who think Scott is wrong. They don't agree on what Scott is wrong about, or with each other on what is right. I think that's a very big point in favor of Scott's argument.

> We currently live in a world where such standards are being practices everyday, and presumably the people who practice them find them to be valuable and are able to act because they have the support of their local consensus.

If this were true, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. We would already be living in a misinformation-free world.

In the second article, Scott responded to several examples of things commenters claimed were obvious misinformation worthy of being censored. Do you endorse the claim that all of these were, in fact, valid examples of misinformation? Do you believe everyone but Scott endorses that claim? If not, your proposed consensus does not exist.

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The American legal system has built out a robust framework for classifying and evaluating different levels of “being misleading” (ranging from intentional, unambiguous, damaging misrepresentation to unintentional, slight, inconsequential carelessness with respect to accuracy). Securities fraud case law is one example of a large body of reference material. Just noting that in case helpful to anybody doing a deep dive into this sort of discussion, no need to reinvent the wheel.

Other legal systems have done so too, I’m sure, but I’m unfamiliar.

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Absolutely! In particular Infowars was just raked over the coals in that exact legal system for that exact reason!

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

How about "Reasoning well, and just having an interest in pretty (ostensibly, to most of us!) interesting things". The laptop, sure, but we've run over that ground enough. Compare it with Amy Carter, whose habit of reading during state dinners was grounds for a dozen stories. Or the Bush twins, whose famous underage margaritas will follow them to the grave.

The incuriosity of the media, even when it seems like they could "sell papers", has amazed me most. (Crime no longer automatically interests them - when they must know that their readers, or at least their female readers, will never tire of the agony column.) Reporters used to like to dig up ... weird stuff. Maybe that was a job best done away from a keyboard. Maybe it was not very edifying. Are we edifying now?

Because it was mentioned, I thought of the Zimmermann/Trayvon story. Now, I have no opinion one way or another about whether the "white frat boy" Zimmermann should or should not have been convicted. Actually, I don't even know what happened with that. But I one time listened to Loury and McWhorter on the former's podcast; and they presented some really strange info about the prosecution. Like, strong evidence that the star witness was not even who the prosecution claimed she was. The two of them had already smoked this, based on their shared and immediate suspicion about the incongruity of a "cute" boy like Trayvon, and the girl put forth as his girlfriend, whose testimony involved what he said to her on the phone that night, as best I recall.

This seemed pretty crazy!

Well, the world moved on from this case, so maybe it's not so strange that none of these discrepancies pointing to a rather shady prosecution, made any news. Still, I rather expected that when two well-respected academics made these claims and inferences on their podcast, that some news organization or other would take an interest.

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As an attorney I can’t lie to a court. But I absolutely CAN selectively choose which facts to highlight, in service of the position I’m advocating. I would have been ethically allowed, had someone hired me to do so, to advance InfoWars birth certificate theory in court (standing problems aside). There are a few things considered lies of omission, but they’re much more black/white than this, e.g. if a case I’m citing was later overturned and I know that.

So the bar association agrees with Scott.

It all goes back to people’s desire that newspapers, at least the ones on the righteous enlightened side of issues where their readers surely reside, be thought of as motivated by a purer motive than lawyers. But lawyers and journalists are the same on this: we’re all just saying the best version of what our customers want us to say. Scott’s definition of lie is fine for both.

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The customer of a lawyer and of a newspaper ought to be very different people.

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Here's another corner case: What about when someone does something 2-5, then is made aware of their error and chooses not to correct their statement and issue a retraction, because doing so would make them look bad or go against their desired narrative. Is it reasonable to say that their statement is now, retroactively, lying?

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The original statement is not a lie, just a bad take. If you ask them directly and they repeat it, the follow-up is a lie.. But not going out of your way to bring the topic up again doesn't make it a lie,

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So then Infowars lied, because they were corrected on every issue and continued to disseminate false information. But Scott insists that they might have continued to believe the false claims even after being corrected. There's no possible way to move into category 7 according to Scott!

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Define 'corrected'. Just people saying 'you're wrong'? That's not enough.

There, now you've been made aware of your error. Further statements of your original point will thus be counted as lies.

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If you would like to do a better job than the media does when they "don't" "lie", you can pick up some tips at Notes on Honesty (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/9iMMNtz3nNJ8idduF/notes-on-honesty) and Notes on Straightforwardness, Frankness, Sincerity, Earnestness, Candor, and Parrhêsia (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/haikNyAWze9SdBpb6/notes-on-sincerity-and-such).

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founding

Being misleading is not the same thing as lying. But it is bad. Lawyers, for example, are not supposed to mislead the court. That includes more than just not lying to the court.

People being misleading little sneaks is something that's perfectly valid to call out. They're just not technically liars.

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I understand your point that there is legitimately no way to draw a bright golden line between awful Infowars style reporting and honest, excellent reporting that uses true facts to erroneously report a false conclusion.

There's also no bright golden line between negligence and failed due diligence, or reckless disregard for life and acceptable risk, or good actions and bad actions.

Using similar criteria we'd struggle to ever punish wrongdoing in any field. I agree that speech demands considerable more care than other things and would warn folks off of government control of speech for this reason. But to suggest that we avoid any line we can't draw in gold marker is to suggest no lines at all.

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This is the fundamental flaw of Scott's argument, and I wish he'd grappled with it, rather than using needlessly inflammatory language and then getting caught up in arguments about it.

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With regard to the word "Uncritically":

1. You may not be able to fact check a scientist yourself, but you can talk to other experts in the field. As Beowulf notes, an actual epidemiologist could likely have told the LA times that ocean aerosols weren't an area of concern. But they didn't ask, either out of laziness or because they were concerned their sensational headline would be endangered.

2. Usually when I criticize someone in media for acting uncritically, it's because they're citing a source with a known poor track record. Repeating something a white house press secretary says without comment is flatly irresponsible. Same with anything involving "anonymous officials within the intelligence community".

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Much worse that not asking out of laziness is not asking out of ignorance. Like "this is a scientist, therefore we have no need to speak to another scientist".

A lot of journalists will speak to an expert on any subject and then that's sufficient: they have spoken to an expert, the expert has given them an expert opinion, there is no need to speak to a second expert.

This has been one of the fundamental problems with all science coverage: they don't know that they are doing it wrong, because "asking an expert" is doing it right by journalistic standards.

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Merely copying the opinions of impressive seeming people is frequent in the rationalsphere, as well

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>they did not show a consistent tendencies to make things up or say outrageous things (except for one who listed their religion as “Satanist”).

Hey, at least one of the branches of Satanism seems like a pretty decent group, and it's not like they're worshipping the literal theistic Satan.

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One really good example of 6 is a technique used by certain (tabloid) newspapers in England. They will report that "a source close to Downing Street" said something or other. Normally, that sentence would refer to someone who works in Number Ten, ie a politician or a senior political staffer.

But sometimes, they just guess what is going on (a smart journalist with good background sources usually has a pretty good idea even if no-one will actually tell them), so they send a junior staffer to go and stand in the street outside the building, call into the office on their mobile phone, and repeat whatever quote they decided they wanted to print. The person was close to Downing Street - he was standing right outside! - so it isn't a literally false fact.

Most of the time, the good political journalist has correctly assessed the situation and the result is that everyone is convinced that they have incredibly good sources and no-one can work out who those sources are. Occasionally, they guess wrong and they would look like idiots ... except everyone just thinks they were misled by a source who wasn't in the loop on that occasion.

I think this highlights a problem with the categorisation: if your distortion of the facts is in aid of a substantively correct conclusion, then that is a much less problematic situation than distorting the facts in aid of a substantively incorrect conclusion. That's not particularly correlated with the question of whether you are lying though.

I think there's lots of "mood affiliation" here: if someone is saying something they believe and which the reader doesn't believe, then they will think that they are distorting the facts to prove something that is wrong, and that's much more like lying than distorting the facts to prove something that is correct. But the definition of "wrong" and "correct" is, all too often, "what the reader agrees with".

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Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

Your categories of things-which-might-be-lying is missing "reasoning poorly because you don't care about the truth".

It sounds like you want number 4 to encompass that, but it really is a different thing than being biased. And it's different from number 7 unless you include "A implies B" implications as "facts" which can be made up.

And I think we should call this thing lying, even if we wouldn't call number 4 lying, and that this is what InfoWars does at least some of the time when it makes physical-world claims which are false.

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But regardless of whether you call this lying, I think that it is worth at least noting that InfoWars is doing a _different thing_ than the rest of the media here. The NYT mostly manages to hedge its physical-world claims enough to avoid them being outright false. InfoWars does not. So defending InfoWars against a charge of lying requires us to give them the benefit of the doubt in their motivations in saying false things, whereas we can defend the NYT on the basis that they didn't say false things in the first place. This really is a difference of _kind_, not merely of degree.

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Kind of a sidebar, but - I'm fine with giving people the benefit of the doubt, but that means we don't say "they are lying", not that we say "they're not lying". To say "when [establishment papers] do err, it’s by committing a more venial version of the same sin Infowars commits", that requires us to actively claim that InfoWars is not lying, which is different from just giving them the benefit of the doubt. The most we can say is that, lacking access to their motivations, they _might_ be committing the same sins.

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Your sidebar seems extremely important to me. That's definitely a relevant difference.

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On the Jeremy Goldberg Inflation comment: In high school I took AP Economics. The teach was a history teacher assigned to the class despite no economics background, but he'd been teaching it for many years, so I'd expect him to at least be able to parrot the textbook. In any case, he told us he could not understand what the difference was between deflation and disinflation. Note that I'm not saying he glossed over it or explained it badly, I'm saying he literally told the class he didn't see how there was a difference between these two things. I only talked to a few of the other students about this, and most of them didn't think his confusion was problematic, even though they were taking calculus at the time and so were definitely taught about the difference between functions and their first and second derivatives. So personally I find it *very* easy to believe that the entire newsroom at the Washington Post didn't notice any problem with what was being published.

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See also any news article that talks about "salary cuts" when they mean "people are getting smaller raises this year than they did last year".

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“<Party I don’t like> SLASHES budget for <thing I do like>!” where “slashes” means “reduces proposed increase”.

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If the proposed increase is at the rate of inflation, it is a slash in real terms, just not in nominal terms.

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Sure, but I rarely see that distinction carefully and consistently made.

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Does “disinflation” actually mean a decrease in inflation rates while they remain positive? Or does it actually mean a (brief) period of decrease in prices that may not be long enough to drive year-over-year rates negative?

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Disinflation is a negative second derivative of the price level, typically paired with a positive first derivative; deflation is a negative first derivative.

Both derivatives being negative would probably be described as "accelerating deflation" or similar.

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Honestly, I think keeping track in your head of something like "first and second derivative of price level" is hard for most people. Hell, otherwise reasonably smart people get confused about comparing stocks and flows (approximately x and dx) all the damn time.

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Were there any takes on your core conclusion (that stopping "lying" is an invalid argument for censorship enthusiasts) worth highlighting? I found myself frustrated that the comments I read were all focused on the nitpicky definition that was clearly highlighted as nitpicky, and not on what you were actually arguing *for*. If your nitpicky argument is invalid, does this mean that censorship standards can be invoked as long as journalists are avoiding points 6&7? All 7 points? What regulations would be put in place to address these?

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