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Thank you, I was shocked not seeing this (to my mind) obvious take until this deep into the comments.

If journalists find that subject-matter experts are paranoid about being quoted out of context, that should provoke some soul-searching on the part of the journalists. Instead, as usual, the response is to double-down on journalistic sleaze in order to ensure that articles have both approved narratives and the requisite number of quotes from Legitimate Experts™ no matter how little relation said articles have to the truth.

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I mean anecdotally, when I was in college my Computer Science department had a rule of "don't talk to the <student newspaper>", no exceptions. They were uniformly terrible, they would say they would let us see quotes in context before publication, and then change them after we saw them. They would reorder or change words in our quotes for no reason (and make us sound like total idiots in the process!). They once reworded a 3 sentence press release into something that was effectively meaningless (they changed the name of the competition entirely!). These were seniors, "just about to be graduated", students overseen by professors.

I suspect the distrust starts pretty early on. But that also gets into my whole issue with modern universities.

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The impression I got was that the lack of cooperation on the part of the community also is in large part due to the threats they receive from criminals should they choose to cooperate... a friend of mine who is a landlord in a rough area had one of his houses burned down because his tenant had been talking to the police about a crime he had witnessed. Thankfully when the criminals came and burned the house down neither he (nor anyone else) was in it and in fact my friend got a hefty insurance payout that was worth far more than the value of the house... so happy ending, I guess? Snitches didn't get stitches this time!

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Who needs journalists? Experts should start their own blogs.

I assume there's some sort of barrier there. Though Andrew Gelman and Derek Lowe have been my most trusted sources throughout, so it's not impermeable.

You'd think people who do epidemiology as a day job are even more frustrated than the rest of us at how bad mass-media coverage has been.

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I've been following Derek Lowe too; he's great. But, there's still a barrier there in that people need to seek out and find his blog, and then put together the individual articles he writes there. It's very useful, but not the same thing as journalism which synthesizes different sub-angles and puts them in front of the public.

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Newspapers are legible information, blogs are illegible information. While I'm agnostic as to whether centralized media is an irreplaceable part of the world, I think we have to accept it'll exist and be important for the near future and so the dynamics of how it works affect our lives a lot.

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Newspapers can make blogs legible. The newspaper can write an article about the article the expert wrote, dumbing it down for their audience and providing a link. Journalists are very reluctant to provide links because it reveals how little they contribute, but the secret is pretty much out. The newspaper could endorse a single post (and write their own summary) or an entire blog.

But, even without this, Blog of a Tenured Professor at an Ivy League University is pretty legible. That's as much vetting as a newspaper does of its sources expertise.

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I think to some degree you're overestimating the popular writing ability of most tenured professors. I also think you're overestimating how good people are at blog discovery and reading. In terms of pure biology blogs with no political component at all, I read Derek Lowe and that's kind of it. And as a blogger in a bio-adjacent field, I should be more on top of this than anyone else. If I see the opinion of an important epidemiologist, it's probably because a generic blogger I know signal-boosted them, but that generic blogger is doing the same kind of work as a mainstream newspaper (being a trustworthy person who signal-boosts important stuff).

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If so, and I'd put it around 40% probability, then that produces a niche for journalists and a solution to the original problem:

1) Eustace Boring Professor writes a dry but informative essay

2) John Random Reporter suffers through it because that's his job

3) JRR writes up the same information in an accessible style, and cites EBP as his impeccable source

In theory this is what academic publishing is supposed to do, but it tends to run too slow and discourages "this is my best current guess" style meta-analyses.

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Universities often employ ex-journalists as PR people to write up readable coverage of their professors' research papers.

I not infrequently post excerpts from the PR department rather than from the papers, sometimes because the paper is pay-walled, other times because the PR flacks are less incomprehensible writers. I try to make clear if this is PR output I'm quoting, but generally I trust the PR staff at universities to do a good job of explaining accurately what their professors are saying in academic journals.

But the PR people do not, of course, do critical syntheses of multiple academic papers.

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By readable coverage, do you mean stories like this?

https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2017/06/rising-seas-could-result-2-billion-refugees-2100

about this paper:

https://sci-hub.do/10.1016/j.landusepol.2017.03.029

The media coverage of this paper is my go-to example of science journalism misrepresenting the actual scientific articles on politically charged topics — and I've recently found out that the misrepresentations are already there in the university's own story about the paper.

According to the story, "[b]y 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper", and 2 billion by 2100, in a worst-case scenario.

What the actual article does: It arbitrarily picks a 10 meter rise as a worse-than-worst case scenario, then it estimates that 1.4 billion and 2 billion people are expected to live in 2060 and 2100 respectively in the low-lying areas that would be flooded in that scenario.

A 10 meter rise is far more than what can be expected by 2100 according to the article's own citations. This is not an article that focuses on predicting how much sea levels will rise by 2100 at all; it picks a level, and focuses on analysing what consequences it would have. It doesn't put a date on by when could we expect a 10 meter rise; it's population estimate is how many people would live in 2060 and 2100 in the area that would eventually get flooded at some point in this worse-than-worst scenario.

The article briefly mentions land reclamation as a potential mitigation, but mostly focuses on issues around inland resettlement. The popular story doesn't mention potential ways to mitigate the flooding of low-lying areas at all.

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I don't know enough about journalism to know if this is allowed within their system; I'm interested in thoughts from any journalists reading this.

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Isn't that precisely the problem: "allowed within their system"?

Journalists have decided that it's very important bcs reasons to go into the "informing the public" game with both hands tied behind their back. It makes most of what they produce worthless (including all those areas where they cannot blame "the newspaper system" -- I can always tell a book written by journalist within about five pages, and that's the point at which I usually stop reading bcs I have zero interest in playing the journalist mindgames of "I'm not allowed to tell you explicitly what I think or concluded, but I will throw you little hints along the way and you can go figure out the rest").

Journalism seems an extreme example where they all insist (and for all I know even believe) that they're engaged in useful activity, while its obvious to the rest of the world that they're mainly engaged in some sort of pointless insider glass-bead game.

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I think you're greatly overestimating the ability of John Random Reporter to understand said dry but informative essay. Basic conceptual and factual errors are par for the course in lay media coverage of technical topics. There's a small minority of journalists with sufficient domain knowledge to report competently on technical topics, but as a rule, journalists are much better at writing than at understanding the topics they're writing about.

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Maybe i got it wrong, but isnt it what scientific divulgation press already do? With all their flaws, i know, but...

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Your beard is magnificent, sir.

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It seems important that Eustace Boring Professor officially endorses John Random Reporter's accessible summary.

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This just all pushes the problem back a step. The issue is that sources do not want to give interviews because the reporter will just fit it into their narrative and possibly make them look bad. Now, professor writes a thoroughly every night and nuanced blog post. JRR takes the post, edits the quotes to fit his narrative and Publishers an article that makes the professor look bad. Whether or not he cites the post, the vast majority of people don’t look at it and there is negative blow back. The professor does or does not dodge a social media storm, deletes his post, and vows never to blog again. See also slate star code codex

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Blowback gets reduced a lot when the post is already there for everyone to read. This may not be enough if the post is about race, but for epidemiology the people with power will take the time to read the original.

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As we enter the age of the influencer, I suspect that 'generic blogger who signal boosts other media' may become the replacement for mainstream news. In fact I think it's already happened, my pet theory for why most people live in a "post facts" world is in part because most people are getting news from illegible outlets (re: their crazy aunt via social media).

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Speaking as a sort-of-ex-journalist, I think there is a role for signal-boosting important ideas. But I doubt that professional journalists can do it these days, because of the now huge problem with incentives. (These changing incentives are why I started heading towards journalism's exit door a quarter-century ago.)

The biggest problem with journalists' copy today is the systematic incentives to make everything seem not just more important but more emotion-soaked than it needs to be – whether by amping up the conflict, exaggerating aspects of the story, suppressing contrary takes or just ignoring the mechanisms that will inevitably work to ameliorate its effects. (In the sea level example offered by 10240 above, all four are happening.)

This problem grows worse every year. One big reason is changing economic incentives: the mass media now face very large incentives to cater to their audiences' existing world views. Much more than even 20 years ago, the economics of media rewards outlets that write stories which reinforce whatever their audience is already inclined to believe. And the outlets not unnaturally reward journalists when they deliver these stories.

The change has come because news has gone from being scarce to being ubiquitous. Normal media can no longer profit just from delivering news; they need to deliver opinions that will provoke emotional reactions strong enough to attract repeat visits and subscriptions in the news-soaked environment.

Journalists are still pretty good people, but they have no more ability than anyone else to fight these developing incentives.

I say this in deep regret, but the institutional conditions no longer exist for me to rely on media journalists to do this job. I'm not sure that many universities have what it takes to do it either, but at this point they are probably better equipped than the media are. The Conversation is one service trying to develop a business model out of helping academics to explain themselves to a general audience. The margins are razor-thin, though.

Critical syntheses of various viewpoints remain thin on the ground, simply because there is no longer any business model supplying incentives to produce such syntheses. The likes of The Atlantic once did it, but they are no longer emotion-rich enough for such publications to make money from.

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"Journalists are very reluctant to provide links because it reveals how little they contribute", I am not sure I agree:

Journalists have no trouble quoting Tweets, articles are full with them. It probably works better than links to a blog because the blog has no nice way of embedding it into an article.

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TBH, I'm a bit scared of a post-centralization world.

OR to put it another way: We need to avoid the cyberpunk world where Q-news says that Satanic cabals are forging medical records, and where BLM news claims that police in Mobile Alabama are gathering black people for mass execution. (not claiming these groups are equivalent)

Centralization & concentration seem like a very obvious answer. I can imagine a world where this is some number of "news corps", or a dense interconnection of sources. But there is a rising bipolar media ecosystem, that is... well... quite bipolar in terms of what it is telling people. Adding more poles seems like it will make things worse.

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So my concern is about disintegration of shared truth-claims.

Or to put it another way: if I have epidemiology bot, and you read Q-bot (or vice versa), then in neither case will we be able to coordinate on masks.

The role of truth-making institutions is primarily to organize society, not for individuals to get to be right.

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It's hard???

So, religion also worked because the key issue was unifying society around values. There wasn't much to speak of for news, and the decision-makers were more limited.

Decision-makers have increased enormously, information has increased enormously, and the complex, information dense society we have struggles to keep itself together.

Or to put it another way: in the middle-ages failure was more common, but less concerning. In the modern era, failure is rarer, but when it happens is catastrophic.

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I agree. Societies are more cohesive when everyone believes the same thing. The advantage of greater cohesiveness may outweigh the disadvantage of believing something that is wrong.

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It's also a complicated balance though. Or to put it another way: many people view the rise of the printing press and Reformation positively BECAUSE they disrupted the status quo.

Really, the aim is to foster the right balance of unity vs dissent. You need to rally people around common causes, but you also need to have some openness to different ideas.

It is good to note a trade-off as existing though.

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I'm also concerned about this.

One direction my thoughts go is whether there's an uncanny valley of centralization, where we're decentralized enough that people can have very different views from you, but still so centralized that they can affect you negatively. I would care less that some people have dumb opinions about vaccination, if access to vaccines wasn't being restricted by a government that these people could hijack and influence.

Some kinds of influence will be unavoidable without geographic segregation, secession, and pointing nukes at each other - and even then these people will still affect the levels of herd immunity - but I would be more comfortable with decentralized opinions if they were accompanied by decentralized actions.

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If it's centralisation around corporate-run media, it'll say whatever pleases big corporations. So a better form of centralisation might be a state-owned broadcaster, like the BBC. Its board could be directly elected by the public, to ensure it is both independent from the government, and its political line is roughly similar to that of the median voter.

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I think this is an interesting idea. I think another big risk is too much centralization.

Or to put it another way: centralized systems (like the monarchy, Catholic church, etc) run the risk of stagnating. But... completely chaotic systems aren't better either. The real aim is a dynamic hierarchy, such that change can happen, but it is a better organized & rule-driven system.

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Note: You should define what you mean by "legible" at some point (or link to it if you've defined it somewhere). It's not entirely clear if you mean "easy to understand" or "it's easy to decide which sources to read and trust", or some combination of multiple things. It's not obvious to me that blogs must be hard to understand.

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I thought it came from weyl's post.

" " "... First, they must constantly seek to create usable systems that account formally for critical pieces of information omitted from previous formal input procedures, not simply to optimize further in the models of previous designs. Let us call this goal “fidelity”, as it tries to make the formal system as true to the world as possible and contrasts with “optimality”. Yet, as the same time, they must recognize that whatever they design, it will fail to capture critical elements of the world. In order to allow these failures to be corrected, it will be necessary for the designed system to be comprehensible by those outside the formal community, so they can incorporate the unformalized information through critique, reuse, recombination and broader conversation in informal language. Let us call this goal “legibility”. " " "

source: https://www.radicalxchange.org/kiosk/blog/2019-08-19-bv61r6/

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But Scott and Glen Weyl had an back and forth over what each of them means by legibility, so I do not think that Weyl's definition is the same as Scott's.

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From Scott's review of Seeing Like a State: "But the High Modernists were pawns in service of a deeper motive: the centralized state wanted the world to be “legible”, ie arranged in a way that made it easy to monitor and control. An intact forest might be more productive than an evenly-spaced rectangular grid of Norway spruce, but it was harder to legislate rules for, or assess taxes on."

A good place to go for a discussion is Ventakesh Rao's piece on it: https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-called-legibility/

"The book is about the 2-3 century long process by which modern states reorganized the societies they governed, to make them more legible to the apparatus of governance. The state is not actually interested in the rich functional structure and complex behavior of the very organic entities that it governs (and indeed, is part of, rather than “above”). It merely views them as resources that must be organized in order to yield optimal returns according to a centralized, narrow, and strictly utilitarian logic."

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My attempt to explain it is that legibility is the property by which an outside can make sense of the structure and meaning of something. If the value or complexity is hard to understand until you've been part of it for a while, if there's a great deal that's implicit or uncodified (like vibe or social norms), that's illegible.

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Agreed. And part of the confusion is the different nature of the object "legibility" is applied to. These are different legible things:

- The reality on the ground when "seeing like a state".

- Procedure and organizational structure (eg looking at the state itself). (I'd rather call that the 'transparency' of the apparatus when one can perceive the cogs and levers, and possibly adjust/repair/replace them.)

- Information: what it's based on, how it was obtained and filtered and processed.

- Other uses?

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I like your use of "legibility" for the perspective of the territory when seen from the state and "transparency" for the perspective of the state when seen from the populace. That seems to track both James Scott's usage and common usage, and perhaps clarifies the back and forth they were having (which some excellent comments did in the "Weyl Contra Me" post, but it took some digging to find them!).

I could also imagine (perhaps as a subset of what you call information) the difference between transparency of outcomes and transparency of process, the former being insufficient for Weyl and the latter being necessary, since he claims (persuasively, I think) that the outcome will achieve a veneer of objectivity that it will be hard to push back against if the procedure cannot be analyzed (the weakness for me is whether transparent procedures will be a. politicized b. sufficiently worse than optimal to not override the benefit of transparency or c. whether transparency is actually incredibly hard to achieve in a world where people have all kinds of demands on their time and may not be trained in any math or economics, which makes transparency a larger constraint.)

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The problem is really in terms of marketing these sources, and making sure they don't get lost in the mess.

Or to put it another way "Edgy contrarian epidemiologist..." is a good way to get flagged by people's BS filters.

Even further, to be entirely honest, if Dr Joe Liarpants and Dr Jane Goodtruth both start blogs, anywhere from 70-99% of the average public may fail to independently determine which one has accurate sources and which one is making stuff up, and we may see the distribution simply go on tribal acceptance. And I say this only because this is largely how parts of the world today work!

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So, I think my point is that the public lacks the ability to evaluate accurate sources.

If the public lacks the ability to evaluate accurate sources: then Dr Joe Liarpants & Dr Jane Goodtruth (all else equal) may end up with roughly equivalent followings.

However, the socially desired outcome is that everybody follows Dr Goodtruth. If Dr Goodtruth lacked competence in "entertainment" but Dr Liarpants had that competence, then I'd actually suspect Dr Liarpants would have a higher following.

I'm not sure that Robin Hanson's medicine as signalling factors into this. The only part where I see signalling is in terms of setting up the base model. However, medicine (if anything) is much less intuitive than economics & it bears mentioning how many divergences we see in the public against good economic reasoning.

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It's complicated. I agree with you on split attention. I don't think hiring Liarpants will work, as quackery usually has a better return on investment than truth-telling. (also a lot of quackery relies on using the best heuristic hack, regardless of it's truth-aptness)

Thanks for clarifying. My apologies for not following, and it's not a bad idea. "Sickness hotels" seem like they could be quite socially beneficial.

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Sounds like you're talking about sanitariums.

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> Experts should start their own blogs.

[cheekily] I believe these are called articles, and can be found in arcane works known as journals. Similarly, occasionally these experts will write very long blog posts which they call "books" which are often meant for more mass-consumption.

[more seriously] The barrier here is probably time, and prestige. There's famously a "publish or perish" incentive in academia, and so taking the time to dumb down your research for consumption by people >1 inferential distance [1] from you is probably not worth your time. It's especially not worth your time, since as Scott notes https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/still-alive

> Apparently if you have a blog about your field, that can make it harder to get or keep a job in academia. I'm not sure what we think we're gaining by ensuring the smartest and best educated people around aren't able to talk openly about the fields they're experts in, but I hope it's worth it.

so the cost to an academic is not only negative in time, but also often negative in prestige as well. For people who are not subject to "publish or perish" it's still not worth their time and there's also likely an element of conformity and ignorance.

Experts' comparative advantage lies in their technical work, not so much for writing blog posts constantly reexplaining the basics of their field. If I'm an epidemiologist, the bls says I likely work for a state or local government's health department, in a hospital, or at a college or university. If I work at a college or university, publish or perish applies. If I work at a state or local government's health department I likely have more levers to pull from within the system than I would by starting a blog. I can't think of any institutional reason why an epidemiologist working from a hospital would be unable to write an epidemiology blog, but it would make sense that after 9 hours of doing epidemiology all day, the last thing that you'd want to do is do more epidemiology.

[1] https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/inferential-distance

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I don't think haven't a blog about your field can make it harder to get or keep a job in academia. At least, I'm not aware of any cases where a good blog has caused problems for an academic's career.

I think the problem is that it's hard to *both* have a good blog *and* do the things that are necessary for an academic career. So maybe in that sense it can be hard, because it crowds out the academic work one needs to do. But I think that most of the academics whose blogs I know have had a measure of career success comparable to that of others with the same publishing record as them - the blog hasn't itself been a negative.

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Journal articles are generally terrible and the only practical way for most anyone to access them is illegally. Books can be better, but all best info is in blog posts anyways, e.g. critical reviews of those books. Books are also somewhat expensive too.

Currently, blogging mostly works like open source software (mostly) does (and to the extent either do) – as a form of charity.

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You don't need journalists to speak to a handful of hyper-online nerds. You do if you want Grampa Ralph (who uses a Windows XP machine to check his email once a week) to know what you're saying, though.

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Yeah, but part of the problem is, for every expert who says "X good!" you can find an expert to say "X bad!" and who am I, an ignorant layperson, to believe?

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If someone is published in the NYT, the NYT has done the legwork on their credentials. I know that they are unlikely to be an impostor. They are likely to have any degrees or posts that are claimed. There is unlikely to be a huge scandal that is being ignored. There is unlikely to be a huge rift in the field that only one side is being presented.

The NYT does all the legwork to check that they are a legitimate authority.

In areas like epidemiology, I am not competent to evaluate the research and arguments myself. I'm stuck with appeals to authority. I am capable of doing the legwork to check if someone is a legitimate authority, but it's time consuming and I'm not as good at it as the NYT.

If I only accept data from blogs by identified experts where they state the consensus belief in their fields, my knowledge looks a lot like a NYT article.

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Not every expert has the skills or the motivation to write a blog in addition to their actual jobs, either. I'm sure epidemiologists are quite busy at the moment, and even if clearing up some of the media misunderstandings would be a very effective intervention, it's not an easy one to succeed at and not one that most of them probably have the skillset for, either.

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Writing is hard, and it's not a skill everyone has, or wants to develop. You can talk to a reporter for 15 min or spend an hour and a half pounding out a blog. And, for most folks, even most expert folks, the result isn't nearly as well written or engaging as what the journalist (who probably is a good writer) has put out. And the journalist's article gets seen by many more people than your post does. And you lost that hour and a half, so now you don't get dinner on until late or you miss your evening walk with your kid or whatever else it is that you wanted to be doing.

Sure, if you have the time and inclination, go ahead and blog. But most folks lack one or the other, even most experts.

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"Sources don't usually get to approve the way they're quoted in the article, or to see the article before it gets published."

Changing that norm right there, for some varieties of journalism, particularly those that rely on expert sources on nuanced topics, might help a lot. For example, I can imagine a journalist saying "here's a draft of the part of my article where I quote you, with some of the context... did I get that mostly right?"

I know much journalism is time- and resource-strapped, and a lot of sources don't want to go to extra effort to do someone else's proofreading for them, but... if I knew that sort of thing were the norm at a journalistic outfit, I'd both be more likely to read their output and more likely to cooperate as a source.

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There's also a thing I've noticed in journalism where interviewers want to interview you in person or over the phone rather than through writing. Maybe this is a speed thing or maybe it's because spoken quotes look more like natural speech and so improve readability (or, cynically, maybe it's because it's easier to catch a subject in a newsworthily scandalous quote that way). But in writing I can be more precise and can make sure nuance isn't overlooked. Making text-based interviews more standard, or figuring out how to incorporate text-quotes as opposed to speech-quotes into journalism more elegantly, might advance the art.

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But what's the point? There's nothing stopping a reporter from quoting some form of written text that a source has independently published – the sources can even put their writing on a 'blog'!

Are 'blogs' really so terrible that we have to add epicycles just to avoid referencing them?

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I'm also not sure why journalists don't do that.

My guess would be that they're worried sources who are personally invested in stories (eg politicians) could pressure them to make a story more flattering, and that in order to avoid that they just have a bright line that nobody can see stories before publication, ever.

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I vaguely wonder whether the field could get better at distinguishing between adversarial and non-adversarial contexts, and then apply friendlier norms to non-adversarial ones. But I suppose that's a hard problem too.

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I think they deliberately don't do this because they don't want adversaries to realize they're adversaries.

One reporter told me that their paper will sometimes interview a subject's friends first, to get the positive perspective on them, then the subject themselves, then the subject's enemies, to get the negative perspective. That way, all the subject knows when they're being interviewed is that somebody has been interviewing their friends to learn all the good stuff about them, they expect it to be a puff piece, and they're more open and cooperative. If journalists are going to those kind of lengths, I don't think they'd be willing to stick an "officially adversarial" sticker on a story where everybody can see it.

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That makes sense. At the same time, if reporters deliberately treat some subjects as adversaries, and go to great lengths to prevent those subjects from realizing this, then I don't have a lot of sympathy when they subsequently complain that subjects don't trust them.

Perhaps they could distinguish "you have a personal interest in this story" vs. "you are an expert providing background"?

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I feel like that's not it -- probably you could have a different standard for politicans than experts or something. I mean they probably do have different standards for them. I mean different standards among politicians is not exactly unusual.

One possibility is that it may not be that much within the journalist's control -- like maybe the editor changes things or stuff needs to be cut for length, or the time constraints of news production make approvals like this hard. Or maybe it's a cost/value issue -- perhaps there is not enough demand for legible expertise to justify the enormous effort of making it legible when you could instead just print inequality go brrrrr

On the other hand this phenomenon is only mostly true -- I read The Economist and Ars Technica specifically because they *very* rarely make these kinds of screw-ups. A survey of publications and their tendency to screw up expert understanding might be revealing as to the causes. I do note that, although quite prestigous and very profitable, the economist is unquestionably a niche publication -- they have I think ~2 million subscribers, whereas the new york times has 7 million, and those are probably orders of magnitude below CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (though I'm not sure how you would translate their viewership to subscribers). That suggests that as your readership grows their interest in nuanced and legible expertise might decline. I wouldn't be surprised.

Maybe some capable blogger should, uh, look into that.

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Adam Ragusea (journalist turned food youtuber) talks about this in a recent video here: https://youtu.be/fxUnwsttr_8?t=1405

tl;dw giving a source 'prior review' is considered unethical in journalism at large though Ragusea argues that expert sources should (contrasted with insider sources I suppose).

I've linked to where he gives advice on how to be an expert source for journalists but the whole story is worth a watch. He recounts how he got 'his 2 minutes hate' via a vox article that he gave an interview for while being a professor of journalism.

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This is a great video, thank you for linking it!

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Great video!

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Maybe then the counterintuitive solution is to not ask named sources for final approval of the article (because they might be worried about personal reputation and might want to distort the truth to look better), but to ask anonymous sources for final approval of the article (because they can afford to mostly care about truthfulness).

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Another option would be to, rather than allow interviewees to approve or disapprove the final article, would be to have them approve the set of quotes they intend to publish (where indirect speech counts as a quote). Or just allow them to give (legally binding) instructions in advance, like "If you quote this sentence, you must quote those two sentences as well (which clarify or qualify it)".

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I've often thought that if I set up a new news organisation, one rule would be that all raw material a journalist gathers would be published alongside an article. That means the full content of every interview, etc. They (or possibly a different person) would then excerpt the interesting parts but links would always be provided back to the raw source material. So if someone is worried about being mis-quoted, that would perhaps help, because it's an objective standard. Giving sources pre-review of the final article isn't necessarily going to help: they might still have been maliciously mis-quoted, and they could complain but there's no obligation to listen to those claims and make the source happy. Whereas if the source knows that the story will link back to their own words or speech, and readers can quickly see the context due to good online tools, that would help.

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> Giving sources pre-review of the final article isn't necessarily going to help: they might still have been maliciously mis-quoted, and they could complain but there's no obligation to listen to those claims and make the source happy.

I interpreted proposals to give sources a preview of the final article as the journal having the obligation to get the approval of the interviewee for the final article, as a legally binding precondition of giving an interview. This way, the interviewee could demand the journal to either correct any misrepresentations of his points, or omit any quotes from him from the article.

IMO this is probably unnecessary, and it might force journals to publish flattering articles — although they could always choose to omit the quotes and use other sources if the interviewee makes unreasonable demands. However, subjecting which parts of the interview are published to the approval of the interviewee would be reasonable.

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That was exactly my thought as well. There's been a lot of work toward establishing a norm that scientific papers have to provide access to their data and code; I wonder whether a similar norm for journalists could be piggybacked on that.

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Science reporter here. Science reporters will sometimes or even often run parts of articles past sources to make sure they've gotten some detail correct. The problem with running quotes past sources is the when a source sees what they see in print, they very often get sudden anxiety about how it looks. Seeing the words that came out of your mouth in print gets a lot of people nervous, and with scientists, they often want to change the quote and add in a bunch of mealy-mouthed qualifiers that may turn a pithy and easy-to-understand quote into mush that no journalist wants to print.

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Edit: "sees what they SAY"

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I suggest that they don't do that because they want to put their own spin on the story and allowing the source to see the story or to say "the context isn't correct" makes it harder to do that. You're treating the journalists as neutral parties only interested in truth and that isn't modelling the world well.

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It has been amazing to me how podcasts have flourished as a medium due largely to the fact that famous, important, knowledgeable people know that they will be allowed to talk for at least an hour, sometimes as many as three hours, instead of having their utterances sliced and diced and repackaged. Imagine how many more and better exclusive interviews with important people large publications could have landed if they had figured out that people just want to know you aren't going to use their words to fuck them over.

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I've heard Sam Harris offers the guest to edit or whatever if they happen to regret something they said or how they said it, so they know the idea is not to gotcha them.

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That was my reaction as well. I would be happier at being interviewed for attribution if I knew that I could read the resulting article and insist on all references to me being taken out if I thought they were misleading.

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This is how it is done in (some) other countries, in Germany journalists provide the quotes along with some context to their interviewees for approval prior to publication. It works somewhat and does not cost much time, although many experts still complain afterwards that their quotes were taken out of context, so it is not a silver bullet.

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This is an interesting problem. I wonder if this problem has also gotten harder (or changed) over time.

Or to put it another way: a lot of our society's epistemic processes have come under assault all at once. From my perspective (and I wish I had data in front of me backing it up), many media sources have come under a lot of pressure to generate clicks quickly, and journalists have less time to dedicate to the quality of claims.

Additionally, the development of "alternative" medias and academies, have in many cases acted to push their more legitimate counterparts to try to circle the wagons.

To be clear: these gaps have likely always existed, and they likely always will exist to some extent. (Look inside a modern corporation, and you'll find that there are gaps between the analysts and top executives in terms of how the system works)

My guess though is that the "circling the wagons" effect is likely the dominant one though. Which is to say that if there was a presumption all speakers were honest & reliable, then the overall risks would be lower.

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My standard horror story of major media (Time Magazine) misrepresenting a quote from a source (my father) occurred in 1965.

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What happened?

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Milton was quoted as saying: "We are all Keynesians now."

When in reality, he said: "In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, nobody is any longer a Keynesian."

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Wow, that's bad. Reminds me of the famous Thatcher quote. She said:

"But it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate."

This invariably gets quoted as "Thatcher said there's no such thing as society".

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Honestly, I need to see the referent of "it" here, because without it I can't tell if that's an unfair quote out of context or not.

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I'm struggling to see what "it" could refer to which might make this not essentially a misquote. She clearly explains what she means by "there is no such thing as society," and it's clear that it wasn't literally there is no such thing as society. What other context could change that?

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So with all respect to the Friedmans: what, exactly, was Milton trying to say here? Because at face value, the interviewer replaced a statement that was rhetorically amusing, but unclear on its own, with one that at least took a position. I presume that in the interview he actually expanded on what each of his senses meant, and it's possible that the truncated version isn't an unfair gloss on what he was actually getting at. (Yes, this is the same complaint I'm making in another message that's probably visible on your screen right now.)

But I wouldn't want to have my carefully constructed aphorism misquoted either, so I'm with you on that.

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He apparently meant: "We all use the Keynesian language and apparatus; none of us any longer accepts the initial Keynesian conclusions."

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That's a fair complaint then.

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For another horror story, Sarah Palin said:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God," she exhorted the congregants. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Various sources left out the "pray for" part of it. Reason Magazine, for example, wrote:

Regarding the invasions of Iraq and Aghanistan, she said, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God."

When I pointed out that the claim was a flat lie — quotation marks and all — the author of the article defended it. I eventually got through to someone else at _Reason_ and they removed the quote. I don't know if they ever admitted and corrected the error.

The Huffington Post, in this and one or two other such cases, got things right. I was disturbed to find that _Reason_ was less reliable than they were.

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2011/11/reason-magazine-sarah-palin-and.html

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You do sometimes get mainstream journalism that involves thorough research, lots of interviews with experts, and ultimately a journalist giving a synthesis of their own opinion. It's really great when it works.

For example, I thought this piece in New York Magazine about the SARS-CoV-2 lab leak origin was good. I hope it came as a massive validation to whatever illegible "smart randos" had previously felt like they were shouting into the void. (And I hope no one replies saying this article is a terrible rehashing of some brilliant blogger I should have been following all along... but say if it's so.)

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-escape-theory.html

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I agree that people were underweighting the possibility of the lab leak theory, but I didn't really like that article - it was a lot of posturing about how edgy it was being and not so much argument. At some point I might try to write an actually good version of this.

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Oh my God please do. I need more Scott hot corona takes. Please. Please talk about vaccines and bats and washing hands and masks and surface fomites please, please talk about the concept of preventing infection but not transmission, and why people take the sides they do on that topic.

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Huh, I didn’t have that reaction. I read it as more modest and non-edgy than many (great) SSC posts! I’d love to see a more purely argumentative version, if you can produce one. I also wonder if part of what you’re reacting to is the article speaking to audience segments with different priors. ... I guess that’s related to your original post: writing something for a wide audience requires addressing a wide range of questions and objections, and that can end up feeling like a bunch of weak compromises.

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I've found The Atlantic in general and Zeynep Tufekci in particular to be quite good sources for covid journalism. Tufekci's article about the dispersion number in particular, but she also wrote an piece pretty early on in the pandemic explaining that the reason to wear masks was to stop outgoing droplets. https://www.theatlantic.com/author/zeynep-tufekci/

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Great recent interview of her on Sam Harris's podcast.

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Thanks for the link. The problem with this story for many, is that it shows all that is broken in science today. Money and tribalism.

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FWIW, two people I think of as striking an interesting balance between "legibly expert on COVID" and "contrarian enough to be willing to state underreported opinions and probably grant interviews if asked" are Bob Wachter (doc at UCSF) and Jeremy Faust (ER doc in Cambridge, brief19.com cofounder). Disclaimer of bias: Wachter is a hometown hero, thus someone I'm inclined to think of positively for San-Francisco-patriotic reasons, and Jeremy is a friend from non-COVID-related endeavors.

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There's also a filtering problem inherent in bourgeois media. Chomsky and Herman cover this in "Manufacturing Consent" and Parenti also in "Inventing Reality". I suggest you read these works because they point out problems which are unlikely to be rectified by this blog. I mean, your posts only appeal to a very specific subset of "experts" so already you are going to get emails from a very specific kind of person.

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https://rhizzone.net/articles/article-review-book-review-manufacturing-consent/

The (massive) problems of your review have already been covered here.

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This is a profanity-laden rant, not an actual article.

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"Not having profanity" is a pretty useful test. Personally I stopped reading at the statement "As is fairly standard for this breed, Alexander is also a true-believing libertarian to a degree that can be shocking to the contemporary reader who knows a thing." I feel like "standard for the breed", "true-believing" and "to a degree that can be shocking" are already pretty clear I'm-mostly-here-to-insult-you indicators. Following them with "who knows a thing" also seems like a pretty good indicator that the article is really less of an article and more of a rant.

But also he's not a true-believing libertarian. I mean he as faq about what's wrong with libertarianism. Like sure he believes in some of the same things as libertarians, but at that point you're taking Martin Luther and calling him a ultraconservative Catholic.

So in sum I would say the combination of aggressive, insulting language, combined with mischaracterization, makes it not an "actual article". Or at least not something I felt like continuing to read.

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Considering that Scott said himself "I remain broadly libertarian," as recently as yesterday I do not think it is unfair to call him a true-believing libertarian. The rest of your post is quibbling about the article's style rather than anything concrete.

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I read the post linked to.

The entirety of its actual content, translated into terms SSC readers would understand: Scott is using different definitions of "left" and "right" than Chomsky, and is thus confused. Scott thinks left == Social Justice left, where Chomsky is referring to the older, communist/socialist left, and defining anything not part of that as "right."

I'm drawing from other experiences a bit here but as far as I can tell, the linked post author's sort of people believe Social Justice is just the latest color of velvet glove in which the powers-that-be cloak their iron fist. It does the same job right-wing nationalism did before our time: be a hammer with which to crush anyone who challenges the status-quo that benefits the sort of people who also produce and control the media.

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I'm not sure what counts as an "actual article". Both Scott's article and the one hosted on the rhizzone are blog entries (as opposed to legacy media). If we're talking about "actual articles" then they both seem to be on level footing to me. I would not personally use so many swears when writing, and I lightly disagree with some of its points, but it has the distinct advantage of mostly being correct, unlike Scott's review of Manufacturing Consent.

If you disagree with its conclusions, then you should be able to expound on why exactly you disagree. That's what being charitable is all about, after all. I dislike this implication that someone must be incorrect just because they used some supposed naughty words. I mean, what exactly is so profane in your opinion?

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I don't actually want to get in a huge fight here, but - when you link a giant article, if that article starts with five paragraphs of disjointed ranting about how dumb the people it's criticizing are, the only people going to be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt enough to read the rest of it are people who want to hate-read at the people it's criticizing. If there's an actual point anywhere in there, I'm pretty sure no one has ever read it, because anyone who'd be willing to read on past the start is (justifiably) assuming there's probably nothing worth the effort down there.

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There's an actual point in there, which is that Scott Alexander did not produce a good review of Manufacturing Consent (and indeed seems to have missed the entire point of the book). If you read past the first five paragraphs you would have noticed this. Also I find complaining about the "disjointed" qualities of a blog to be strange considering that's part of the entire appeal of blogs like slatestarcodex.

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tl;dr: The author claims that Scott misunderstands Chomsky's criticism as being something like "the media favors Republicans over Democrats", when in reality Chomsky's criticism is more like "the media favors Power over Not-Power". But then the author performs their own conflation of "Not-Power" with "Leftism" and "Power" with ... something like "the West", it's not clear. It's possible that Scott has misunderstood Chomsky, but also fairly likely that this author has misunderstood Scott and also Chomsky.

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How is the author conflating those things?

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In the third-to-last and fourth-to-last paragraphs, the author acknowledges that the "correct" interpretation of Chomsky is regarding a "... pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning." In other words, conflation of "not-Power" with "real Leftism" is stated to be the correct interpretation of Chomsky. This is, of course, not the way normal people use the term Leftism, but I admit it might be the way in which Chomsky thinks of Leftism. I don't know. I'm even less clear on what exactly Power means in this essay, it's a word that is used something like 18 times in the text, sometimes referring to Western military interventions, sometimes to politically influential individuals, sometimes to the wealthy, as if these things are all the same. This is probably the point where I should mention that I find Scott's model of bad outcomes usually being the result of bad incentives is more persuasive than the willfully vague model of Power in 20th century Leftism.

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I agree that "power" is often used too vaguely in leftist criticisms. This actually a large problem with Chomsky's work. What we really should be talking about is the bourgeois class and their hold over institutions based on their control of the means of production and the state in general. My biggest problem with the article I linked is that it does not make these Marxist observations clear, instead relying on more entry-level observations about "power".

I think there's a really unfortunate game leftists play when writing articles for general audiences. You don't want your article to be filled with academic jargon, but neither do you want it to be too basic that it loses its theoretical insights. The article I linked leans too far towards generalities.

However, the writer remains correct that Scott Alexander has not understood Manufacturing Consent and has completely misrepresented the central theses of that book.

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Scott, why are you even bothering responding to marxbro here? You banned him on the old blog for a reason.

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>You banned him on the old blog for a reason.

What was the reason? As far as I recall there was no legitimate reason at all. Did Scott Alexander ever look into the evidence I was presenting in that argument?

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http://wondermark.com/1k62/

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That's a comic, not a logical reason. If you have an argument to make, you should be able to do so through evidence and reason.

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The funny thing is, when I first saw that cartoon, I wasn't sure whether it was satirizing social justice.

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I don't like this comic. Is the message that it's somehow wrong to intrude and complain when others are discussing that your entire kind shouldn't exist? I don't approve of that message.

The phenomenon the comic may try to parody exists (according to wikipedia, "Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning—often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points—with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate."). But it would be better not to use an example where it seems pretty legitimate for the sea lion to complain.

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And yet the sea lion is annoying as f***. Is the sea lion changing their minds? If not, what does the sea lion think he is accomplishing?

The fact that the sea lion has a truly legitimate complaint can be viewed as reinforcing the cartoon's message. If he is seeking the truth, he isn't finding it. If he is seeking change, he isn't getting it.

Note I think this applies narrowly to interpersonal and internet forum style interactions. More broadly in society, the squeaky wheel can get the grease and this may be a valid strategy.

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Sniffnoy makes good points here.

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I don't remember him being banned on the old blog but I already want to ban him here just based on this thread. Substack probably doesn't let us ban a commenter from our own view, does it?

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It's strange (and possibly ironic) that the article you're commenting on is all about allowing experts to hold controversial views and giving them space to make their case. I enjoy being minimally adversarial and I do not think it's grounds for banishment.

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i've never come across your posts before, but FWIW i would not say you are being minimally adversarial. Your tone actually sounds like text version of nail on chalkboard. Wouldn't say ban-worthy but seeing same guy post x times in same comment section without pushing argument forward gets pretty tiring.

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If that's the tone you're reading my posts in, then I'm afraid you may reading in an uncharitable way. As far as I can tell I'm writing in an extremely genteel and refined manner. I do not like the implication that I am like "nail on chalkboard", but I suppose there's no accounting for taste. If you would like to push the argument forward then I invite you cordially to make a relevant point (regarding media criticism or leftist political philosophy) rather than simply complain about my "tone".

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Previous banning happened here, for the record: https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/03/18/book-review-inventing-the-future/#comment-734236

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My criticisms there are both true and necessary.

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The issue is that you are a very extreme hedgehog (see Isaiah Berlin's essay).

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Yeah, at some point I'll look over Substack's moderation tools and ban everyone who should be banned.

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I do not think that posting a blog that is critical of your analysis should be grounds for banishment or censorship.

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No one disagrees with that.

You still gon' get banned.

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I don't see why. All my criticisms have been made in good faith.

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Your comment at the top of this chain is fairly reasonable. You could improve it by developing your argument into more than "read the sources" - what do you mean by "filtering problem", what do Chomsky etc. say (in précis), and so forth. If you did more of this kind of comment then I would defend you from being banned.

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All Scott Alexander did was post a link, so all I did was post a link.

What are you not understanding about the filtering problem? The propaganda model is the central theses of Chomsky and Herman's (one Scott didn't address at all). You can read about it on the wikipedia page if you like:

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

This is the kind of thing that is meant when it is pointed out that Scott's review is not very good at all and seems to ignore the main thrust of the book.

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I might be missing something, but I have a question. Is everyone quite sure the word "troll" does not apply here? That would be an easily explainable reason for a ban.

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I am not a troll and I have shown Scott Alexander's mistakes in the field of socialist political philosophy quite clearly.

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marxbro has a long and consistent history of this sort of thing. Whatever else you might say about him, I'm pretty sure he's genuine.

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The Israeli non-profit Midaat ("From Knowledge") is a group of experts, including epidemiologists, who dedicate a lot of time to proliferating reliable medical knowledge in the Israeli public. They know their shit and I guess would love for any extension of their reach via regular media.

They also have several years of experience - from the polio and measles outbreaks in Israel in the past decade - in crafting messages for the public re: vaccines.

Their website is unfortunately only in Hebrew for now, but I guess they can be reached at press@midaat.org.il or I can try to connect directly to some people I know.

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This is interesting: I've recently been thinking about how wikipedia has a 'sources problem' in the sense that there are some articles which are, in my uninformed opinion, left-leaning (e.g. Parler's page is part of a series on Antisemitism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parler), and in the talk section of the page the people opposed to the more left-biased stuff really have no recourse because all the sources are themselves left-leaning, and it's hard to find a right-wing source that repudiates the left wing claims. In the world of Wikipedia, it's hard to fight sources with anything but other sources, which makes for strange situations when sources are biased and certain topics are under/over-reported by different sides.

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PoV pushers game the heck out of what's a reliable source, activist editors ensure that both right-wing and socialist sources are excluded, "reliable" per wiki isn't some kind of objective quality but effectively means "agrees with the US corporate media".

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It appears to me that Wikipedia – as well as other sources that were previously relatively neutral but are mostly edited by blue tribers – have grown more partial in the last few years. In particular, they got more confident in explicitly asserting that one side (the liberal one) is factually correct and the other side's claims are false, where previously they would have presented both sides' claims.

There is a genuine dilemma here. One the one hand, just that there are two sides doesn't mean that one side is not objectively right and the other objectively wrong — hence Wikipedia's policy against presenting a false balance. On the other hand, on politically charged issues there is so much bias, motivated reasoning and unwarranted confidence around that IMO often the least bad option is to present both sides' views without editorializing, and let the readers make their conclusions. Ideally, if there is a strong reason to believe that one side is right, it should be possible to honestly quote both sides in such a way that reasonable readers are likely to make the right conclusion.

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But then the issue is: who decides what is the view of each side? Are there even two (or three, or four) sides?

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Just include any take that's not too fringe? IMO the English Wikipedia used to be fairly good at staying impartial and presenting all relevant viewpoints without unjustified editorializing until a few years ago, in the case of articles drawing wide interest. (Biased nonsense could always stay around in articles drawing less interest.) Many articles are still pretty good, but I feel like I've come across more biased articles (including ones with high interest) in the last few years.

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A big part of the vision for Vox, when it was founded, was to have 'explainer' articles that could just explain what was going on without needing to stick to restrictive journalistic conventions like needing to have all claims come from the mouth of a source.

They've had... mixed success.

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Huh, I didn't realize that was where they were coming from with that, I'd always interpreted as "other news sources don't explain things well enough". Do you know enough about it to explain the mixed success?

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I mean: bloggers of the 00's (including Ezra Klein & Matthew Yglesias) were media critics, and they started Vox to try to do better at informing people (especially) about things that mattered, without getting caught up in journalistic conventions that didn't make sense.

The most prominent part of that was not just focusing on what's *new* that day and instead writing more in-depth explanations of the issue which could serve as a resource for months or years. (Which was plausibly neglected because it was less suited to physical newspapers.) But you can see other differences from old-fashioned media in their early explainers, which were basically just trying to explain things (and including links where relevant) rather than holding to the standard media conceit of just reporting claims that came from other people:

https://www.vox.com/2014/9/3/18088560/ukraine-everything-you-need-to-know

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/6/25/18001912/will-obamacare-cover-all-of-the-uninsured

I don't have a detailed retrospective of mixed success, just trying to gesture towards the obvious stuff. One example is that Kelsey Piper has written some pretty good stuff there on covid, and I think part of that is having less journalistic constraints than at more mainstream media outlets. (I think it would've been harder for her to write that stuff at the Washington Post or whatever, and also the fact that Vox hired her is related to what they're looking for in a writer which is different than the Post.) Zvi's covid writing has been even better, and I think part of that is that he has less journalistic constraints than Kelsey at Vox. Also, some of Vox's other writing on covid has been not so good.

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To tie the Vox stuff in more directly with this post on the media & legible expertise:

The Vox Ukraine explainer I linked in my last comment was in something close to the genre of a SSC "more than you wanted to know" post, without any journalistic sources.

Other early articles did have something more like a "source" or a person who was the subject of the article, such as

Dean Kahan in "How politics makes us stupid" by Ezra Klein

https://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid

Charles Gaba in "The best Obamacare data comes from a home office in Michigan" by Sarah Kliff https://www.vox.com/2014/4/4/5572310/the-invaluable-charles-gaba

These use some journalistic conventions, like reporting on the contents of a scientific study by a researcher (Kahan) and sharing the "expert's" (Kahan's) responses to interview questions. But they're still pretty different than most newspaper articles - they aren't aiming for the same sort of objectivity/neutrality/balance, and the author isn't trying to maintain professional distance from their source/subject. The content of "How politics makes us stupid" is basically coauthored by Klein & Kahan (with Klein doing the literal writing), expressing a particular viewpoint that they share.

The backstory to the Kahan piece is presumably that Ezra Klein was interested in the subject matter, and did a bunch of reading & thinking about it, and sorted through the views of various people with some claim to expertise, and found that he trusted Kahan & his views aligned with Kahan's (similar to how a person might trust Zvi on covid or Scott Sumner on monetary policy). So he wrote the article centered on Kahan.

You could think of the "How politics makes us stupid" article as being mainly like the Ukraine explainer - just trying to write about the world - but made easier by the fact that you have an expert "coauthor" who already knows the subject really well. Or, you could think of it as Ezra Klein sharing his own viewpoint on the topic and seeking a credibility boost by centering the article on a credentialed expert, but doing so in a way that is pretty straightforward/wholehearted/direct rather than trying to be sneaky about it and pretending to be objective/balanced. Or, you could think of it as taking a somewhat illegible/obscure expert (Kahan) and boosting his reach/legibility/legitimacy by giving him an article in your publication.

Sarah Kliff's "The best Obamacare data comes from a home office in Michigan" piece is boosting the source/subject's legitimacy much more blatantly. It's taking someone who doesn't have credentials and then calling him "the best" in the title and then again in the article opening ("For the past six months, the best Obamacare sign-up data hasn't come from a Washington think-tank..."). It might as well just say "by the power vested in me by Vox Media, I hereby grant Charles Gaba all of the credibility that I have the power to bestow open him."

You could think of this as being Vox's primary impact model when they got started. Put together a team of writers who are unusually good at understanding the world and identifying illegible expertise, and write articles that make sense of the world and provide legibility to these experts.

Doing that requires a really good team. The quality of the articles needs to live up to what you're promising (anyone can just call someone "the best" - Donald Trump does it all the time). It involves both deserving and in-fact maintaining a reputation for being good at this, so that "by the power vested in me by Vox Media" means something to people (including to well-informed people with good judgment). So it's a very ambitious aim. And I think it's something like what Vox was initially aiming for. You can see some of that in early Vox pieces like these, and in what Ezra Klein said about his vision for Vox in the early days (e.g., comparing it to sites like Wikipedia, which collect accurate info & give it legibility/legitimacy).

On an absolute scale, I'd say that Vox has basically failed at this ambition. They haven't maintained or deserved that reputation; they're more like just another media company. With the partial exception of Future Perfect. That's apparent from Vox's reputation. And it seems relevant that people like Klein, Kliff, and Yglesias have moved on. And I can also imagine covid articles in the style of the two early Vox pieces I linked here, with Zeynep Tufekci taking the place of Dean Kahan or the microcovid project taking the place of Charles Gaba, which could've been much better than their actual coronavirus coverage. (Also, I haven't read much Vox over the past few years, outside of Future Perfect & Matthew Yglesias, which somewhat limits my ability to evaluate them but also is not a good sign about their quality.)

Why didn't they pull it off? I haven't looked into it in detail but I can imagine the outlines. It's a difficult thing to do. Incentives (readership, clicks, money, mainstream reputation) are pointed in a somewhat different direction, rather than towards being really really good at identifying the best illegible expertise and giving it a platform. High levels of skill at identifying illegible expertise are rare, and it's hard to have a whole team that's good at it. I imagine that the organizational vision wasn't as clear & straightforward as what I've laid out here. And there's something about the informal/freewheeling nature of the org's early days which make it easier; it's hard to keep up as the organization grows older, larger, more established, more set in its ways.

Graded on a curve relative to the rest of the media landscape, "failure" seems a little harsh. Future Perfect is worth more credit in that context. And I do think that Vox is better than most media outlets at this stuff. So I went with the rather ambiguous "mixed success".

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The point about your comments being stripped of context ring true to me.

I'm a political scientist and I gave a 20 minute interview to a newspaper reporter on a topic about 5 months ago. Since then, that reporter has used one sentence quotes from that interview in over a dozen articles they have written about every political event since as if I had just given the interview in response to the latest news event. I am pretty careful about what I say in interviews, but these quotes still made it sound like I had a strong political agenda (supporting the political points the journalist wanted to make) because my comments were combined with a completely different context to the one they were made in.

I would say that about 5% of interactions with the media are like this, 75% just reword your press release, and 20% engage with it well. The 5% are the danger zone, but are common enough that you can't ignore the possibility, so you end up having to be pretty careful all the time.

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author

I'm sorry that I literally laughed out loud when reading this. It sounds like it was pretty unfortunate for you.

I have always wondered why people who have this happen to them don't go more on the offensive, tweeting or blogging the exact way the reporter wronged them and telling people to downgrade their view of the person/publication involved. I notice you're not naming the reporter here, which I agree is a reasonable precaution, but I'm wondering if you have any more thoughts on this.

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>I have always wondered why people who have this happen to them don't go more on the offensive, tweeting or blogging the exact way the reporter wronged them and telling people to downgrade their view of the person/publication involved.

Often the fans of the writer have ideological blinders on and wouldn't interpret the disagreement in that manner anyhow, for example not even looking at the primary sources involved.

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While I think the reporter did a very bad job, I don't think I was that badly wronged (but I do think it's very funny). A dozen articles quoting me out of context is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. It's a very widely read outlet but not one that's particularly well regarded (a UK tabloid newspaper), so I'm not too worried about other academics coming across it by chance (which would be the reputational risk). I won't be giving any more interviews to that reporter (although it looks like I will continue to be quoted indefinitely), but the damage is fairly limited. The bigger harm is the preemptive caution that transfers over to every media interaction.

One other thing, we are also advised to be really cautious in media training, so that may be another source of academics' reticence.

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founding

I'm guessing most people who have this happen to them have maybe a dozen twitter followers and no blog, so A: there will be very little reward for any effort they might put in on that front and B: how would you know whether or not they are doing it?

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founding

"Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel." That is, maybe the reason people don't go on the offensive is the risk that the journalist, instead of backing down, will also go on the offensive. If that happens, it seems like the journalist stands a good chance of winning, or at least doing a lot more damage.

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Maybe another way to phrase what you're getting at is that the "illegible world"—blogs, substacks, people you trust on Twitter—is based on assuming good faith, while the legible world has to be robust to people acting in bad faith.

Newspaper journalism is a machine for converting mostly-generalist writers and sources with axes to grind (or worse) into a product that often represents a pretty good first draft of the truth. Scientific journals are a machine for weeding out bad faith research; they do a terrible job of this but doing any better would probably require putting a lot of trust in some kind of dictatorial editor position, and then how would you know that they're not acting in bad faith.

And I think it's basically the same kind of people and processes (mostly, people who really like process and processes that involve a lot of people) that have driven the failures in COVID response and the successes in election administration, just to focus on the two most consequential things that happened in the US last year. I...also think you can probably have the one without the other, but what do I know.

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Hmm, aren't journal editors already kind of dictators of their journal? One of the things that left me most disillusioned with the state of COVID research in the past year was the repeated incidents where editors of supposedly prestigious journals rejected papers because of how people might react to reading them, not due to any actual scientific problem with the work itself. And then how they went and publicly justified it as necessary social engineering. For instance, Science did this, but I've seen a lot of researchers claim their papers were sunk for the same reasons. It's clear that the published research output is ideologically biased at this point, and journal editors are at fault.

It's not really clear that the world of science needs these kinds of journals anymore. Their gatekeeping function isn't necessary in a world where publishing is free, the only real justification is signal boosting. But blogs or even search engines can do this better.

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When you assert that papers have been rejected for social engineering reasons, please include the list of such papers you have come across if you can, as well as the editors' admissions that they rejected them for such reasons

- to publicize the wrongly suppressed papers as much as you can

- to allow others to use them as examples when illustrating this phenomenon, as well as publicize them

- to allow us to verify your claim that they were suppressed not because of problems with the science — I've come across of instances were it seemed like papers were suppressed for social engineering reasons, but also instances where this was claimed, but it seemed plausible that they were actually retracted or rejected because of scientific problems.

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> I've come across of instances were it seemed like papers were suppressed for social engineering reasons

What papers would that be?

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The one I can recall is the paper by Theodore Hill and (in the first version) Sergei Tabachnikov about the variability hypothesis, which was withdrawn during the publication process from two math journals. It was pretty clear that ideological motivations were involved, but I didn't follow it closely enough to tell if there may have been scientific problems as well. There was a discussion on SSC: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/09/10/ot110-opendragon-thread/#comment-667196

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Unfortunately I've mostly seen discussion of this in tweets, blog comments etc where scientists have said that. I don't have a full list but here are some examples.

For example, https://twitter.com/mgmgomes1/status/1291162358962937857 is one case. I don't know if she got it published in the end.

https://twitter.com/alexberenson/status/1317875526997102594 about the Danish mask study.

Here the editors of Science say they thought about rejecting publication because, "we were concerned that forces that want to downplay the severity of the pandemic as well as the need for social distancing would seize on the results to suggest that the situation was less urgent". In the end they did choose to publish. But how can we know they didn't go the other way in other cases?

https://blogs.sciencemag.org/editors-blog/2020/06/23/modeling-herd-immunity/

Here Professor Ioannidis, the giant behind "Why most published research results are false", says he had similar trouble:

https://forecasters.org/wp-content/uploads/Ioannidisetal_03082020-1.pdf

“I made extensive revisions, then they rejected it apparently because an expert reviewer told them no infectious disease expert thinks this way – paradoxically, I am trained and certified in infectious diseases"

Here's a comment on a science blog where someone claims their paper on mRNA vaccines was dropped because the "climate is not appropriate":

https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/11/rna-vaccines-and-their-lipids#comment-336280

There are other cases I've seen where scientists say this has happened, but I don't bookmark them all.

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Thanks for the links!

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Do note that in those examples that I am aware of it is not true that there was no scientific basis whatsoever to reject publishing, just that the standard of required evidence was higher than it would have been for research with a different outcome. The Danish mask study is a good example: It's sample size was really to small to find a significant effect of masks when the true effect is around 25% percent risk reduction (in fact this was their point estimate).

It is still a decent study, but because the public will talk about this study as "it shows that masks do not work" rather than "it shows that masks do not protect you at around 50% percent efficiency, but suggests maybe 25% efficiency", I can see the perspective of not publishing this study. But I do agree that it creates a problem of asymmetric standards that favor one side, and I am not sure how to deal with this.

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I agree that there is a scientific argument for why the Danish study isn't an ideal study, however, the authors were clearly under the impression that their paper was being rejected for social reasons, not due to sample size issues. They could have been lying, but the sample size issue wasn't really their fault - COVID season had ended in Denmark at the time they were trying to do the study, so they had difficulty finding enough infected people to get sufficient power (if I understand correctly). It'd have been no big loss of face to chalk it up to a dispute over statistical power, scientific journals do publish underpowered studies all the time, after all.

Maybe put a PDF of the paper on one of the authors websites and move on.

Instead they kept trying to get it published and described the wait as due to lack of bravery. Given that this is happening at a time when stories of spurious rejection keep cropping up, I'm inclined to believe their claim that the paper was being rejected due to lack of "brave" journals.

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> Scientific journals are a machine for weeding out bad faith research; they do a terrible job of this but doing any better would probably require putting a lot of trust in some kind of dictatorial editor position

Peer review is designed to weed out mistakes and poorly designed research, not deliberate deception.

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I think the thing that finally flipped the switch on journalism for me was seeing generic headlines long enough after turning off personalization on my phone. Now all I see when I look at journalism is the gossipy kids from school gossiping. Which, if you're feeling charitable, is an important function in society: the priest class, the meaning-makers, the people who give us a shared narrative and define the in/outgroups. The meme about the Bhagavad Gita as a model for how the Priest caste relates to the Warrior caste. Journalists are part of our Priest caste.

The first headline on my phone right now is how <actor> felt about being in <movie>, and the second is about <actor>'s upcoming TV show about how they felt about being in hollywood. The covid-related headlines lower down are similar: [high-status] airline pilots looking for [low-status] side gigs, plucky citizens doing adorable things to get by.

So expecting journalists to educate us on technical subjects is a type error, like expecting a monastery to act like a vocational school.

Your journalist's problem is appropriate: their problem isn't finding true facts, it's finding someone with high enough status willing to trade exposure for the status the journalist can confer.

As an aside, I'm less confident, but I suspect, that journalism is in that summer-after-graduation phase where people are getting real jobs and going away to college, and so they're much less interested in the high school popularity contest. The status of the status-makers is becoming shakier. That's definitely bad for them, and considering the ubiquity of Priests in all of civilization, probably also bad for us.

But the type error is the main problem in this case. The disturbing thing is why the type error is happening at all: why are we expecting the Priest to give a sermon on epidemiology? The masses shouldn't have to worry about epidemiology at all! The health-smiths are supposed to do their job and then the priests tell us when to line up for our cures.

The thing I fear is that the health-smiths had to move out of the forges because the clergy (speaking now more broadly than just journalists, to include the Faucis) needed overflow dormitory space. So we're starting to realize that we all need to reinvent health-smithing from first principles and brew our own cures. So from that perspective, our journalist/Priest friend is genuinely trying to help find a real health-smith to tell us how to cobble things together, which is good in itself but a symptom of a much more disturbing failure.

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Gatto says the Prussian model for public schooling was designed to make people into good factory workers. And so yeah, perhaps college is the next generation of that, turning everyone into hyper-conscientious hyper-diligent generic knowledge workers out-competing each other to follow complicated sets of arbitrary rules. So everyone thinks that the creation and management of complicated sets of arbitrary rules is what life is about.

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founding

I think you may be conflating tabloid journalism with more prestigious journalism. Like, if you go to nytimes.com, you won't find any "actor does thing" headline on the front page.

I don't mean to say that you're right or wrong about journalists being untrustworthy. Just that I don't think you can make generalizations from tabloid clickbait that applies to prestigious newspapers.

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My point wasn't "actor does thing", but "notable-person, status". Right now on nytimes.com I see:

"Pushing QAnon and Stolen Election Lies, Flynn Re-emerges" -> "Flynn, low-status"

"Biden wants Harris to Have a Major Role" -> "Harris, high-status"

"The $2.7 billion case against Fox News" -> "Fox news, low-status"

"Trump Lawyer Asks to Pause Impeachment Trial if it runs into the Sabbath" -> "Trump Lawyer, low-status"

It's all high school gossip: did you hear who Biden is thinking of asking to prom? Did you hear about the embarrassing thing Trump's lawyer did? I hear Fox is going to get a big beatdown after school.

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It seems rather childish in itself to frame all news stories that contain positive or negative information about major public figures as "person high-status" or "person low-status".

It's important that Flynn is hyping conspiracy theories because he's widely admired by Republicans, including Trump, so that will affect public opinion and the future of the GOP to some degree. It's important that Harris has influence in the White House because her ideology is not the exact same as Biden's and because she may well be President in 2025. Fox News is a massive influence on American opinion and is changing their coverage due to the lawsuit. The last one is less important, but an impeachment trial is a big deal and even its schedule changing is newsworthy.

Political news involves public figures and entities, obviously. It's not gossip because what those people do matters to the country's governance. In the same way, reporting on celebrities' personal lives is gossip, but reporting on a celebrity's antivax campaign can be serious news.

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> rather childish

We try to avoid being insulting 'round these parts.

> to frame all news stories that contain positive or negative information about major public figures as "person high-status" or "person low-status".

I agree, if they merely happened to contain that information. But those are the top headlines on the front page, phrased in those terms.

And I agree that celebrity gossip is even less useful. I even think there may be some value in discussing "person, status", as you pointed out about Flynn and Harris. As I put it originally, "[journalists] give us a shared narrative and define the in/outgroups."

By contrast, look at Scott's titles:

"Journalism and legible expertise"

"Ontology of psychiatric conditions"

"Metaculus Monday"

"Know your Amphetamines"

They're information about topics, ideas about how systems work. The only headlines that even mention a person involve "Weyl" (no honorific), and those are a pair in which he disagrees with Weyl and one where he's careful to be gracious as Weyl disagrees with him: the exact opposite of dunking on an opponent.

As the old saw goes: "Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People".

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Evesh got me curious about historical headlines, and I ran across this NYT from 1975:

https://archive.org/details/TheNewYorkTimes1975USAEnglish/Apr%2001%201975%2C%20The%20New%20York%20Times%2C%20%2342801%2C%20USA%20%28en%29/mode/2up

"Attack on Saigon feared"

"Delay hinted on US arms to Israel"

"Parkchester's conversion to condominium halted"

"Small colleges join drive to stress practical skills"

"Amnesty plan ends with few signed up"

"Lon Nol takes off from Phnom Penh into probable exile"

Very different! They even went into passive voice rather than tell us who hinted about the arms deal.

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Thank you for this example. A bit off-topic, just in case it makes someone's day, here's a link to another example of how things were different. This is from 1994, from none other than the chairman of the NYT Company, Arthur Sulzberger himself:

http://jimmycsays.com/2010/04/21/punch-sulzberger-speaks-from-out-of-the-past/

"When you buy a newspaper, you aren’t buying news – you’re buying judgment. Already in this low tech world of instant communications there is too much news. That’s the problem. Raw news will do just fine if you’re a computer buff and want to play editor. But I, for one, would rather let a professional take the first raw cut at history and spend my leisure time fishing."

"And while you’re thinking about newspapers, don’t forget serendipity. How many times has one opened a newspaper to discover some fascinating tidbit you never would have had the wit to search for in a computer?"

"Judgment, serendipity and something left over to wrap the fish, all neatly folded, in living color, and thrown at no extra cost into the bushes. All for just a few cents a day. It’s called a newspaper. And when you add a wee bit of ink for your hands and top it with a snappy editorial to exercise your blood pressure, who needs that elusive interactive information superhighway of communications."

I would guess this already didn't have much to do with NYT in 1994, but it's incredible, isn't it? It's like something from Pratchett's "The Truth". It sounds like something from completely different times, like a speech of someone who hadn't forgotten what newspapers used to be for.

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This reminded me of this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QUsRq0XSDU

The guy suggests that since women have been getting their share of participation, everything has become more gossipy and aligned with popularity and image and feelings instead of the reality of power.

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Headlines from one of the top newspapers in Argentina also show this. They just can't focus on the news. So, they have to report about "delays in the vaccination schedule", but the subject is "criticism about delays [...]". Check this out: '"It makes one cry". 80% of the Termas racetrack got burned in a fire'. Really, what's that initial quote??

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How about a reputation system that tracks whether sources feel they've been misrepresented?

It could either be a public reputation system (to shame journalists into doing a better job) or a private reputation system (a database where someone who's thinking of acting as a source could look up whether the journalist who contacted them has represented sources accurately in the past).

Shouldn't be that hard to build. All you've got to do is read news articles and email every source that was quoted in the article and ask whether the article represented them fairly. You might even be able to train an AI to do this.

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Maybe part of what's going on is that experts don't like getting into public spats with journalists?

To address this, you could give experts the option to weigh in anonymously? All we really need is an aggregated "expert happiness score" for any given journalist right?

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Wouldn't the private system mostly pick up on journalists who frequently interview political/controversial figures?

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I think it is all about picking your sources.

These folks warned about COVID before it was a thing:

https://www.endcoronavirus.org/

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I think decentralized information sources (blogs, social media, readers opinions in mainstream media) already are legit and maybe as important (in the sense they have as much influence on decision makers) than centralized sources (the mainstream news, the press and brodcast tv).

Not because the general public reads more decentralized sources, but because decision makers do (probably indirectly, i guess they have teams doing it for them) as a kind of opinion poll and early warning system, to identify public reactions and serious threats to their position. I suspect this has become standard political procedure in the western world after the arab springs, well before Trump, but there is a very distinct feeling of public action being a reaction to online buzz and broad tendencies starting then... While traditional media are late and follow instead then lead public action. There is also a feeling of gouvernement reacting early to stop contestation as soon as it emerge online before it reach a critical mass, especially since early covid.

It makes sense, it would completely stupid for any entity that use opinion pooling not to also use and act in function of decentralized news sources, especially after arab springs has shown what can happen once a buzz snowball...

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The same issue happens also when organisations get large, and in business generally. There's a thirst for legibility that makes decision making prone to what can be proven and what can be defended, which is a very high bar. One of the problems is the very issue of legibility makes the search for proof (in this case a source) central to its identity and burdens everything. Actions, especially innovative or timely actions, are rarely those that can be easily proven to be right. It's been a thesis of mine on Combating Organisational Inertia ..

Also a note - you make it sound like it's an issue with primary sources (Zvi reading papers) vs secondary sources (journalist looking for sources). Part of it is that the level of trust of the latter comes from "here's what I can prove" instead of "trust me, I've read this. I'm right". And the latter is only ever right eventually, seldom immediately. The journalist has to be right *within* the article, whereas Zvi has to be right *across* time. .

As an anecdote when I was at McKinsey we used to laugh once in a while when clients wanted us to give creative recommendations for the project (best ways to expand our customer base) but we'd be hampered because solutions that can't be footnoted heavily would never pass muster.

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I've spent a lot of my life writing things for media use (if they want it) preparing people (usually political figures) to talk to the media, and more recently being directly interviewed, either for attribution or on background. I have also had the chance to talk to a number of journalists about their profession.

The first thing to say is that virtually any subject that attracts the interest of the media is going to be complex. If it were simple there would be nothing to be explained. So whatever your field, if you're an expert, you are almost certainly going to begin by saying "it's complicated..." What's going on in Yemen now, asks a journalist who's just found it on the map. Well, it's complicated ... And it is.

The second thing though is that journalists want a "story." They want to attract readers and they want the first paragraph to give them a reason to keep reading. So, "Shocking new evidence of Chinese military involvement in Yemen emerged yesterday", rather than "it's all very complicated and it depends who you believe." But the news story is a narrative form, and it obeys narrative laws. It's been argued that in all literature there are only five (or six or seven) basic plots. It's a bit more complicated than that in journalism, but with the "expert" stories there are really only three. The mundane one is "experts disagree" but you can only run that a few times. The more interesting ones are "heroic lone expert speaks out against corrupt and bumbling consensus" and "dangerous lunatic with influence could kill millions." In most cases, journalists have to decide which story to write about an "expert", even if they may try to nuance the actual presentation a bit. Sometimes, as more information comes out, the story swerves violently from one extreme to the other.

Consider Dr Andrew Wakefield, the MMR man, for example. At first, the UK media treated him as a crusading whistleblower against corrupt drug companies, then, as more evidence became available, they turned on him as the devil incarnate, though the power of the "lone truth teller" story is so strong that some newspapers were reluctant to abandon the stereotype. The current example in France is Prof Didier Raoult, who has been pushing Hydroxychloroquine very hard in the media as an early stage treatment. With his flowing long hair and his very minority views, he's a perfect symbol of something, but the French media can't decide of what. Is he going to save the country or is he a dangerous lunatic? Which story do I write?

So the best thing an "expert" in any field can do is to help the journalist to tell a story. That means capturing the initiative at the beginning, and giving the journalist a framework in which to write. So rather than "it's complicated" you say, "well, the thing you really need to understand is this." What you need to do is to help a journalist write a story that begins

"X is a very complicated subject, but the key to understanding it is really Y" said Dr Expert, as he offered me a cup of coffee in his book-strewn office in This University. He seemed remarkably calm and composed in spite of the endless stream of emails and text messages, callers whom he politely turned away and endless requests for interviews. "And there are two things to take away from Y. This is the first one, and this is the second." In the end, if you don't impose a narrative on the media they'll impose one on you.

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> In the end, if you don't impose a narrative on the media they'll impose one on you.

And that's exactly what is wrong with the media.

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What fix would you propose, though? Needing a narrative to get people to read your output is a pretty fundamental issue - that's to do with how humans decide what's interesting, worth spending mental energy on, etc. I've noticed in my own essays that the ones that have some sort of narrative structure, or at least start with an interesting story, get way more traction than the drier ones that just say, "here's a complicated topic and we're going to explore the following aspects: A, B and C".

IMHO the core problem is not the media's need for a narrative (which is really people's need for a narrative), but the near total reliance of journalists on academics. It's much, much harder for journalists to develop sources inside corporations or other kinds of institution, because basically all institutions have rules against talking to journalists ... except academia. Universities allow almost any professor to talk to journalists on basically any topic and just as importantly, there are absolutely no penalties for being confidently wrong. This makes journalists dependent on keeping professors in their good books, which in turn means they find it difficult to report on:

1. Unreliability of academic research

2. Ideological bias in academia

3. Anything that academia doesn't really know about or isn't actually that skilled in

So we end up with a huge flow of media stories in which an "expert" (which 90% of the time means academic) opines on a subject that they might not really understand, and yet this is presented to us as unquestionable authority, even when it's inappropriate and readers know they're being had. The epitome of this behaviour is when a professor is interviewed on the topic of what "ordinary people" think or want.

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It's actually not 'a narrative' vs 'no narrative.' The real issue is that some narratives are much more satisfying than others (like good guy/bad guy vs flawed guy/flawed guy, which is also a narrative).

There may not be a sufficient market for true narratives over pleasing ones, but many journalists do claim that they are serving that first market, rather than producing factfiction. Arguably, the pretense of the factfiction being honest is itself a pleasing narrative, so they can't abandon this without being out-competed.

Anyway, I disagree that journalists are all that reliant on academia. There are plenty companies and non-academic institutions that feed journalists, often with an agenda. Also, they have secret sources (often also with an agenda).

Perhaps what you mean to argue is that academia should ground journalists by being far less biased and agenda-driven than other sources, but that they are failing at that task?

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I guess I don't see journalists talk to people inside institutions all that often, beyond the official spokespeople who usually say something bland and not especially helpful (or are pushing press releases on them). For instance, journalists won't go pick a random software engineer working at a small company to comment on their latest story about AI or the tech industry.

Academia is the clear exception. I've seen stories in the past that were literally about a specific company's product and the journalists went to academics to get comment about it. This in turn pushes journalism ever further towards the left, because academia is so dominated by it. And that in turn undermines trust in journalism across the board, because people know that the "expertise" they're being presented with is ideologically self-selecting and has no incentive to actually be correct or even reasonable.

Unfortunately I don't know what the solution is. Journalists have burned so much trust over time that most experts aren't allowed to talk to them in any formal capacity. My guess is we need something fundamentally different to journalism as a way to get news.

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Thanks for your interesting perspective, but I think it applies less to articles written about topics where the readers genuinely want to know the truth. So less "What happens in Yemen?" but more "Should we worry about the South African mutation". I predict that "reputable" news sources will in fact report on the opinions of experts without a big story twist, but with the desire to genuinely reflect the current consensus, with an added dose of "seeming responsible".

This is e.g. not a story about experts, but a story supported with facts from experts: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/05/what-are-covid-variants-and-should-we-be-worried

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Something missing here is that journalist don't start interviewing before they have a summary of the article approved by their redactor. And that summary can contains the conclusion of the article. Always ask for it before the interview, and refuse to say anything if they don't want to give it: they have no good reason to hide it.

This is the major reason that for me, "a few bad apple" doesn't cut it, this is a problem rooted in the practice of their job, not something that happens because of a few asshole who happens to be journalist

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I'm interested in the idea that there are certain categories of stories, such as the "expert" stories you mention. And then subcategories within those categories, ie 'experts disagree' vs 'heroic lone expert' vs 'dangerous lunatic'. It reminds me of tvtropes.org, which can be really useful. Do you know if anybody has compiled a list of these archetypal journalistic narrative categories?

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When Tyler Cowen reported that one these people is a bad reasoner, many were confused, which one?

https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1357064029332795392

Furthermore Max Kennerly seemed quite reasonable about everything else. Then I realized that it is exactly the impression that the media was actively trying to deliver to us – that the AstraZeneca trial was a garbage and a failure. The result was that otherwise smart people got unnecessary negative impression.

This is in a complete opposite of what most people involved in clinical research think. There were some issues with AstraZeneca trial but it was only a small part of a total data collected and overall they did a decent job all things considered.

I don't think that I can be that charitable with the media as Scott. If they reported expert's opinion on this they failed monumentally. Experts tend to be very critical about certain details, it's their job to tear these things apart and yet they may still think that the study was a success.

This is one example where we would be much better informed by reading from Zvi than from professional journalists.

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It wouldn't be a complete solution, but would be a good thing for journalists to include a link to their subjects' blog or whatever?

It would both be a venue for correction and expansion and a source for extensive quarrelling.

Alternatively, should savvy readers make a habit of checking on whether a source has more to say about an article?

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founding

It would be better to just get rid of 'journalists' and let smart people blog about whatever. Wait – smart people are already blogging and smart journalists are _becoming_ bloggers, so maybe the problem will sort itself out.

Even research journals – useless! Researchers could – should – just publish their data, their scripts for analyzing the data, and the text of their paper; and for free, for anyone to read. And then everyone and anyone can blog about it, try to reproduce the results, etc.. I could see a smart blogger adding value by summarizing the original paper and blog commentary about it – and some people are already doing it.

I just don't see what 'journalism' adds that people aren't already giving away for free.

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I once, with great trepidation, spoke to a reporter about my area of expertise. I took great care with explaining the topic in the hope that the article would make me sound intelligent, but I also insisted before I spoke to her that I must see the article before it was published. That was a good thing because I would have been horribly embarrassed if anyone I knew saw that article in its original form. I ended up rewriting it myself, and I was never willing to speak to a reporter again.

I see this as a recurring problem when reading articles about subjects that I am familiar with. Many articles never get rewritten and make the reporters and the people they interview look like fools. I don’t have a solution.

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A sort of similar phenomenon: development vs. sales and marketing.

I was part of a team developing [some whizzy tech thing]. We were all excited about what we were building, and posted several technical blog posts to our company's website. They were, to my mind, really good! They explained how the [whizzy tech thing] worked and didn't work, what the tradeoffs were when using it, etc.

The company grew from "a room with some engineers" to "a place with a sales and marketing department." And one day I noticed that my blog posts had been edited. They now sported buzzword-laden introductions and conclusions (that totally misrepresented the tech), and all of "cons" and "negative tradeoffs" were gone. The "how it works" sections had been dumbed down into meaningless gibberish.

I complained about this, and got them restored. But it kept happening, and eventually the engineers quit writing blog posts. Sometimes one of the marketing people would ask me to educate them about some current buzzword, and the next day I'd find weird misunderstandings posted on the Internet.

One time I went to a trade show where the sales and marketing people were pitching [whizzy tech thing]. Looking through the literature in the booth, I found several glossy printouts touting the product. They were standard trade show fare, i.e. meaningless strings of buzzwords. But *I* was listed as the author!

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