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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion. The movie was so full of tropes it is hard to take any message seriously. Start with the notion that the initial effort to blow up or move the "comet" ... That is stupid beyond description, certainly in the current day. And, by the way, comets are mainly frozen ice. They don't have all the chemicals the so-called corporate CEO lusts for. Just a really stupid move that will, nevertheless, capture the imaginations of the smart set. You know, like Scott.

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I TOTALLY disagree with your reading of the movie. To me it was a description of a social dynamic that makes even very straightforward problems impossible to focus on collectively, a tragedy of the commons where "the commons" is basically "attention". Even the experts get sucked into the vortex, nobody comes out clean, and in the end everyone gets killed.

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Don’t agree with this reading. I genuinely think it was also intending to make fun of the total incompetence of the “good guys”. They’re right, but ultimately all they’re capable of doing is organizing some ineffectual marches, throwing a benefit concert and interviewing celebrities. Clear allegory for climate activism. I think this was pretty heavy handed by the end.

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I I I I am looking at the linked Metaculus page on mobile. Am I crazy, or are there no units whatsoever for the “amount of time” prediction to be made? I don’t see any mention of months or years. On either the chart showing the current value of the prediction market, or the chart where I am asked to make a prediction.

In fact, I don’t even see a clear statement of the question in a form like “how many (months/years) will elapse between creation of human level AI and super intelligent AI,” Despite the presence of a clearly marked “question” subsection on the page.

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The movie is definitely not perfect. The probability of the comet hitting could have been 87%, the whole thing could have been 1 hour shorter, and there could have been less obvious super-easy political bashing. And I agree it rests on the paradox wherein we are told to Believe Science, but really we just believe the protagonists because they're, well, the protagonists.

However, if we broaden our scope from the obvious mappings (Female President onto Trump) and admit that pure satires don't make the best cinema, at its broadest, it's a movie about institutional failure. Across party lines (though it skewers one more than the other, sure). It's for this reason it felt fresh to me and that I liked it. Institutional failure, even human failure, is becoming more and more obvious, as it's undeniable that our institutions, from academia to the White House, are more sclerotic and incapable and, well, foolish, than they either were in the past or appeared to be. And to me this movie was like an expression of America's Id realizing that over the past several years.

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The moral of Don't Look Up wasn't *about* Experts vs. Outsiders, it was about Substance vs. Fluff, and how the public is stupid enough to believe the Fluff every time. If you ask the writers if you should believe your grocery bagger about their pet conspiracy theory, they'll say "if they have good scientific evidence on their side, yes; otherwise, no - but you're probably too dumb to figure out whether the evidence is good, so you're kind of fucked." Which isn't too different from what you and I believe.

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We are all so worried about how bad (or good) the politics are that nobody remarks on how bad, incredibly pubescent, and predictable the jokes are.

This is (quite literally) Borat remade by a Bernie Sanders staffer.

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I think there is a real version of "trust science" that applies to some situations, where it's not too hard to know which side represents physical reality and which side represents social reality, and to take a step back and go "wait physical reality is important here, I should do that". Vaccines being safe and effective is probably a good example - old people in America are not generally more liberal or pro establishment than young people, but they do have much higher vaccination rates, presumably because they care more about the physical reality and the physical reality question here isn't actually that hard.

There are, though, also situations where people disagree about physical reality but are so convinced in their views that it's hard to imagine anyone genuinely disagreeing with you, so you assume they're all just playing a social role (e.g. where pro choice people are sure pro life people don't actually care about abortion prevention and just want to control women).

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For what it’s worth Asian Scientist was found out to be a campaign backer with limited credentials. In any case I thought the movie was more of a musing on what would happen, given our limp responses to Covid and climate change. If you want to see what the filmmaker is really capable of, go watch The Big Short, where because it’s based on true events you no longer are caught up with suspending reality and can instead enjoy the absurdity of collective human failure. I agree that Don’t Look Up was pretty hamfisted at times and full of plot holes, but I still had fun watching it.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

I haven't watched the movie (and probably won't) but when you say that

"the right answer is super obvious to you"

is the take-home message at the end of the movie, then it doesn't sound like there is much of a contradiction. The message isn't supposed to be "don't trust 'the man'" /or/ "trust experts", the message is "trust your people".

See which sub-culture the protagonist most closely aligns with and I think you'll have found the target audience for the movie. It doesn't sound like the movie is trying to teach that target audience (or anyone else) a lesson. Rather, it seems like the movie is trying to reaffirm the target audiences' faith in their own righteousness.

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Can someone help me out with who "Hungarian women from third-tier colleges" might be? I did some googling but didn't come up with anyone that seemed to click like a particular "Swiss patent clerk" clicked.

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Conspicuously absent from the movie was any criticism of government bureaucracies. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) was the only career bureaucrat and he was shown positively. The government screwups all came from the president and her cabinet and her Asian Scientist appointee.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

What (especially fictional) movies, novels, media etc do you think best portray Science? I'm a fan of some interpretations of Sherlock Holmes (especially Elementary, which makes the case that Sherlock is not so special, and the way he thinks can be taught to some extent beyond his genetic genius).

Haven't seen Contact but with Sagen's involvement i could see it being more realistic, but perhaps not idealistic about 'the scientific process'.

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Isn't the tech CEO telling us we SHOULD worry about hostile AGI the same tech CEO telling us NOT to worry about the comet? At least I assumed Peter Isherwell was supposed to be Musk. So does that mean the point of the movie is we shouldn't trust Musk and therefore hostile AGI isn't a problem?

Eh, I guess I'll just believe whichever grocery checker looks most like Jennifer Lawrence.

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The absurdity would have been completed had the asteroid missed.

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The "poor Jewish carpenter" is obviously Jesus The "Swiss patent clerk"is Einstein. But who are (is?) the "Hungarian women from third-tier colleges"?

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

The feeling I got is certainly *not* that this is a movie intended to push a "trust the science" message as Scott implies and criticizes it for failing at that. It felt like a tragicomedy - a comedy that's funny only until you acknowledge that despite the exaggerations the depiction of likely reactions and results is *so real* that it becomes a tragedy. Like, all the counterproductive things the society manages to do for various reasons sadly seem so plausible, I felt convinced that yes, in reality in similar situations we as a society actually fail in similar ways, instead of wrangling a happy end by protagonists heroism or some deus ex machina.

All the potential "morals of the story" that this review does not find in it are not in this movie because those morals are IMHO false wishful thinking that don't reflect the reality we live in. Yes, there are anti-establishment crackpots with bullshit theories - but it's also true that the scientific establishment will lie to us for all kinds of political reasons; IMHO the behavior of Fauci at certain points is the inspiration for some of the messages the Male Scientist pushes despite knowing better and intending well. Yes, you will most likely fail if you try to do your own science, however, all kinds of potential authorative sources will also be misleading (sometimes intentionally) in certain cases. That's not "contradicting itself", that's simply reality.

So I feel that the movie gets the proper message across properly - that truth is complex, determining the truth is more complex, convincing others and establishing consensus is yet even more complex, and in the face of political considerations it *will* get distorted - and IMHO that message is a far better reflection of reality than any simplified "trust *that*" morals, and thus accepting that message is valuable for viewers.

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An interesting take, although I'm worried that you might be conflating "trust science" with "trust scientists." The first is an excellent plan, the second, well, you probably want to make sure those scientists aren't really shills for Philip Morris or the moral equivalent thereof. Scientists are humans prone to the human things like wanting attention, respect, and somebody finding them sexy. I thought Don't Look Up did a nice job of illustrating that fallibility. There was also an Emperor's New Clothes aspect to it, where anyone could just take a look and realize that the talking heads and media darlings weren't really interested in the truth.

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Maybe it's just me, but I really loathe things purporting to be reviews that narrate the entire storyline (even if snarkily).

Regardless of whether I planned to see this film or not, I now feel like the entire plot line has been so contaminated and spoiled for me that I will not be able authentically to watch it as a virgin viewer.

I take this to heart when I post my own reviews on Goodreads and other places. And therefore I don't summarize (beyond the most cursory, one sentence description). Every other review of any book about which I'm curious includes an entire summary of the plot. What's the point?

If I needed Cliff notes I would buy them.

When I read a review I am trying to learn the reviewer's opinion of what works, doesn't work, makes it interesting, makes it boring, makes it scintillating. But, while I may be unique in this respect, I never read a review to preempt hearing (seeing) the story for a first time. The unnecessary summary has stolen that possibility. I wish I'd never read the stupid review.

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I'm not sure if Scott does this deliberately or not, but his review avoided a solution for how Don't Look Up is perfectly consistent with human cognition. Let's just this: "I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup"


Using this lens, the both sides hollywood celebrities/media figures and Tech Ceo are of course the nearest of outgroups, hence hated the most. More than the Trump figure, or his supporters. But to be fair, it seems like the movie tries to spread the hate around a bit more. And to the extent it does this, it's a better movie.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

I wrote a movie review of DLU here, which was much more positive than Scott's: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/zJmrkaknRydhuKzeJ/movie-review-don-t-look-up

I think a major source of disagreement between Scott and me (and in general between people who hated DLU and liked DLU) is about whether DLU was trying to make some straightforward criticism but was self-contradictory, or whether DLU's criticism was actually intended to be more nuanced. E.g. when the scientists in DLU were portrayed as incompetent, or bad at communicating, or affected by political calculus, I took it as part of the message whereas Scott took it as undermining the message. Whether you thought it was unintentionally undermining itself or actually making a deeply nuanced point, I thought it was nevertheless pretty realistic and captured a lot of the complexities of navigating the informational environment during COVID.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

Death of the Artist. I don't care what the writers actually intended, they created a masterpiece. I think they portray overall realistic reactions of people - if a bit exaggerated. There *are* many times when there is an obvious truth that is *deliberately* obfuscated by those with power. This doesn't mean that the people who don't have the information are idiots, but it clearly happens time and again. I don't think the movie was unsympathetic to the anarachist group who suggested it was a lie (before the comet became visible), because they were already being lied to on so many other levels. I don't think there was a clear moral that you should 'just trust the experts.' Maybe you could argue the moral was to trust 'scientific consensus', but definitely not the heads of any organization. I also think the escape space ship (which was WAY higher tech level than comet deflection) was mainly put in for comic effect and not to be taken as a thing we could seriously do now. I thought it would have been better if the thing had just been hit by a piece of debris and exploded, however I think that may have been too depressing given the earth was already destroyed. I also don't think you are supposed to take the last man on earth bit seriously.

Overall I thought it did a great job of capturing a lot of civilizational inadequacy and the way politics (both big P and little p) obfuscate the seeking of truth and problem solving. I also agree that it captured so many of the emotions of the last year so well. I think you are holding it to too high a standard by insisting it had a *specific* moral.

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Reminds me of Gwern's review of They Live where he notes that even tho the movie was clearly intended as a critique of Reaganism, it's surprisingly easy to misinterpret as an antisemitic piece.

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Anyone else surprised Tyler Cowen gave this thing a ringing endorsement? I can’t stop thinking of how he called the president a Trump/Clinton mashup when the only thing Orlean has in common with Clinton is genitalia.

Is TC just the contrarian in chief of the center-right community or something?

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I think you misinterpreted the "Believe Experts" argument being made. It's not "Believe Anyone who is an Expert", it's "Believe (domain) Experts".

The only domain experts in the movie are the original scientists. Nobody else - the NASA guy is a political appointee, the tech CEO has no subject matter expertise, the politicians are politicians.

We're supposed to realize that we should be listening to scientists with specific domain expertise, like how for climate change there's almost complete consensus among domain experts but conflict among non-domain experts.

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When people say "Trust Science", I think what they mean is "trust people with technical expertise".

I completely agree with this for non-controversial topics. Like "Gene X is a transcription factor for Gene Y", or something like that.

But for controversial topics, it can be a bit more complicated. Like, when we're making regulations about the financial system, should we listen exclusively to investment bankers and hedge fund managers, since they have the most technical knowledge about finance? Probably not, because in this case technical knowledge is tied to a vested interest.

I think this is also true of politically-charged topics, when the people with technical expertise in the field are heavily skewed towards one political side.

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I don't think I understand the concluding paragraph (and maybe I wasn't meant to). Yes, if I know that a comet is coming, I should try to deflect it -- but the whole point is that I *don't* know. Are you saying that I should attempt to avert every potential risk, no matter how remote it seems to me personally, just on the off chance it might turn out to be true ? Doesn't this conclusion obligate me to exhaust all of my resources pretty much immediately, since there are very many risks, and only one of me ?

You might say, "no, you should only spend your efforts on obvious risks, like the comet", but maybe the risks are not obvious to me. I've got one astrophysicist saying one thing, I've got a team of Ph.D.s saying another, and I've got a grocery clerk saying something entirely different.

The suggestion to "collide the two narratives and integrate them" sounds great in principle, but I'm not an astrophysicist, nor an epidemiologist, nor a data scientist, nor a nuclear physicist, nor a geneticist, nor a climatologist, nor... So, how can I make a reasonably informed decision on any of these threats ?

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It seems to me that Don't Look Up *is* pushing the progressive line on COVID, but it comes from the alternate universe where Donald Trump won re-election.

Cast your mind back to the political world of mid-2020. Anyone with any sense is saying that the only way to solve COVID-19 is strict lockdowns and mask policies. The President, on the other hand, is telling people that some new high-tech "vaccine" is just around the corner. We don't need to suffer the economic consequences of lockdowns, we just need to wait for this complicated new medical technology to solve everything for us. What a dangerous lie, and he even tried to compromise institutions like the CDC and the FDA to support it! "I certainly won't be putting anything Trump approves in my body," said my left-wing friends, "I only trust independent scientists not tainted by his administration."

Unfortunately for the filmmakers, Joe Biden won the election, so the vaccine is safe and effective and all the government agencies saying so are perfectly trustworthy. So now the movie has to try and awkwardly pivot away from its Trump-era narrative in editing (and PR to claim it's about climate change).

The only hole in this theory is that I don't know how long it takes to make movies. Anyone know if it's plausible for the script to have been written, and shooting started, in early-to-mid 2020?

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I don’t disagree with any of this really, but I still enjoyed the movie.

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I haven't seen the movie, but FWIW, its plot is not unique. Most science fiction movies (or TV series) have a scene where our heroes discover some looming threat (incoming asteroid, Goa'uld mothership, robot uprising, etc.), report it to their superiors, and the superiors immediately quash the news because it would hurt their reelection campaigns. Although it does sound like *Don't Look Up* went a little further with the premise.

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My main beef with the film, and I tried to be nice about it as I've worked with David Sirota in the past, is that it portrays the news media as uninterested in scaring people. I have worked in media for around a dozen years, if there was an actual comet heading towards the earth, CNN would probably have a Comet Tracker Hologram on screen at all times for six months. It felt like a very surface-level critique of our systems. https://www.inquiremore.com/p/dont-look-up-is-a-fun-movie-but-bad

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Author, IMHO, really misses the point. Even though the satire bites and the allegory is spot on, Don’t Look Up is a COMEDY. Getting serious about the license it takes on characters and cliches is an error of over-thinking.

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Section II doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Why couldn't the movie be saying that mainstream institutions are frequently full of shit, but conspiracy theorists usually manage to be even wronger than the official truth?

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As someone who's probably more progressive than not these days (my friends think I'm a centrist making a deal with the right-wing devil but that's because everyone's gone insane), the biggest thing that bothers me about the progressive movement is the need to pretend that they are rebels fighting the power instead of...y'know, the power.

Don't get me wrong, they don't have *all* the power because power is a multi-faceted thing and there are lots of types of power you can have. But we currently have a left-leaning congress, a Democratic president, a media apparatus that's supportive of progressive aims, and an academic environment that's hostile towards conservative viewpoints. And everyone from my progressive social circle to Capitol Hill is still doing the "Viva la revolution" song and dance.

The issue appears to be that far-left progressive power isn't absolute. It does not have 100% support and sometimes they are therefore required to work with a person who does not agree completely with their goals. Occasionally they have to pass a bill that's only some of the stuff they want, or engage in debate to convince a local government to implement reforms they support. This is apparently an intolerable restraint on their freedom.

Here's the thing though. I think that if tomorrow we turned the whole country over to Ocasio Cortez as absolute dictator, the amount of the progressive agenda that would actually get passed is none of it. I think the idea of taking action, and having that action judged, terrifies this movement to the point of paralysis. They want to be the scrappy underdogs from the movies, and the second they get in charge they become the villains (because holding institutional power in movies always makes people evil). The magic "make everything better" button won't work, or will work with complications, and then they'll have to defend their choices and priorities.

Tl;dr: I don't think the progressive movement holds contradictory ideas about what "trusting science" looks like. I just think anyone who does anything is suspect to them, while people who know the truth and are prevented from acting on it are the good guys. Action, by itself, is evil.

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I thought that “Don’t Look Up” joins “Dr. Strangelove” as one of the greatest and most important movies of all time … and yet I somehow also liked this post, bringing its narrative contradictions to the surface.

I’d propose the following, as a message that the movie is 100% clear and consistent about throughout: in general, trust experts insofar as they say that a problem affecting all of humanity is a real problem and we should come together and put in the hard work to solve the problem. Don’t trust the people—even ones with impressive credentials—who are more worried about politics and image than the underlying reality of the problem, or who advocate simply ignoring the problem, or who seek to profit from the problem.

I’m sure one could come up with counterexamples where even the above advice leads to the wrong answer, but broadly speaking, it’s a message that I strongly endorse, and I thought the movie conveyed it clearly and well.

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"I saw the phrase 'a constant impulse to overleap the process of becoming genuinely sure of something to get to the part where you're smug about it' somewhere and can't stop thinking about it."

It seems like there ought to be a five syllable German word to describe this tendency. Some reader in Germany want to try to coin one?

Anyway, nice review. Makes me want to go see Licorice Pizza instead.

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This movie promotes the progressive line on science issues, and that line is be afraid, no matter the issue or who is promoting it. Take the most economically damaging course of action, because that will keep us "safe". If anyone claims there is a shortcut, like geoengineering, mining asteroids, or that vaccines negate the need for lockdowns or masks, they are self-interested and wrong.

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Usually, it is not necessary for people to reach conclusions about scientific questions because they don't really have the statistical skills or scientific knowledge. It is even irresponsible to try to do so for many. [1] If something is politically relevant like climate change or COVID-19, people start to form political opinions about that subject and will use science to bolster their position if it appears to be the scientific consensus. Citing research is not as clear so there are appeals to authority.

However, people recognize that who becomes authority and who determines who is authority is likely a biased process. People also might have different moral beliefs and risk tolerances and so blanket normative advice from an organization might not be convincing. Very often, if something is political or there is reward in the form of status or compensation, you will see incentives not necessarily well aligned for truth. Even people who aren't familiar can recognize the biases without knowing the underlying science.

And just because someone doesn't want to follow the scientists normative advice, doesn't mean that they don't believe the empirical evidence. I think too many things didn't add up and so people lost a lot of trust.

The movie is a straw man though, at least if it is focused toward COVID-19. Who doesn't believe in the existence of COVID-19? The debates are over other aspects like the effectiveness of masks - especially cloth masks. The number of adverse events from vaccines. The effectiveness of lockdowns. It is useful to highlight the most absurd positions as that of your opponent.

The movie is very condescending because it clearly characterizes Republicans very negatively. They are portrayed as so stupid as to be unwilling to look at the sky at one point. It is annoying to have people like you so frequently portrayed as negative in media.

[1] https://www.gwern.net/docs/philosophy/epistemology/2005-huemer.pdf

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Or maybe the movie is not trying to push any progressive agenda, and is instead trying to entertain and make money by depicting the complexity of the world and the weaknesses of people's heuristics in a satirical way? Why was this interpretation not even considered?

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If you interpret the movie as not being _primarily_ about science, but as being an arugment for 'the people' to overthrow the current corrupt system, it all fits together:

Science works, byut only if you have trustworthy institutions and elites, which we don't. The elites are all corrupted by money and politics, and any attempts to change the system are derailed by cranks who see marxist conspiracies everywhere.

When she says 'elites aren't that competent', this is meant to be showing how _wrong_ she is - yes they _are_ that competent, the paranoid conspiracy theorists in the crowds were basically _right_, but even the good guys weren't convinced that of the true problem.

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I have not, and probably will not see this film. A lot of commenters seem to be saying that this film has a complex and nuanced message that Scott missed, so in that line of thinking I am curious about something from Scott's plot summary. As far as I can tell, the Trump analog president individually made two choices that collectively doomed the earth, first to ignore the comet, then to take the bad (profit motivated) plan instead of the good plan.

To what extent does the plot fall apart if Josiah Bartlett is president? If the plot falls apart with Josiah Bartlett as president, then surely the message of this film is anything but subtle.

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Perhaps the point was not to make a consistent message but rather to string together a series of outlandish gags for audience entertainment?

Also, by far the best Russell conjugation is idealism/idealist and ideology/ideologue.

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I think you missed the point when trying to take a comedic film seriously and where a parody of our insane and inconsistent reality is what....going to be internally consistent? The tone and style played towards our real experiences of experts and institutions screwing us around and over. It is abundantly clear the elites are playing their own games with no real regard for the general populace. As every group of elites all through history in every nation and culture have collectively done in every single moment of jostling and vying for more power.

The depiction of confusing, contradictory, and every shifting messaging from the experts and people you're telling us to 'trust' is the main reason people don't trust them. That was delivered beautifully and painfully in the film and at moment comedically.

The changing messaging on climate change and on covid have not been science led, they have been deeply political messages and all the actually good points of criticism are continually ignored. The media's main ability here is picking and choosing which critiques of them they will respond to and they always choose to make themselves look right and good. Through labels like 'anti-vaxx'er and propaganda terms like 'pandemic of the unvaccinated' and continually lying to us about how hospitals are full...they continually seek to control the narrative and avoid asking any meaningful questions.

Never questioning the profit motives of newly minted billionaires, never acknowledging corruption, never noticing that the chairman of the board of Reuters who has been appointed the high priesthood and ministry of truth and fact checking also personally sits on the board of Pfizer. Never ever questioning anyone powerful or challenging them, because the people asking the questions are powerful or work for the powerful.

A few fringe or uncertain ideas are endlessly fixated upon, while the real solutions and ideas felt and desired to people are ignored. The poor see a chimera of advice which changes daily and monthly. 6 months ago you were excommunicated and banned for the Wuhan lab leak idea as if you were a catholic eating meat on Friday before they changed the rule. Now it is an OK thing to think....but just like the damned souls of those horrible non-fish eating Catholics...those lifetime bans against those who brought up those ideas 'too early for offical acceptability'/before they lost control over that story...they remain forever banned for thought crimes which are no longer illegal to think!

The truth-agnostic and self-serving nature of each person in Don't Look Up was the main point. There are no 'adults in the room'...just an endless string of selfish elite jackasses pushing for what they want. With the quasi-placeholder of 'the truth' in the two scientists were also corrupted by that very environment where the truth cannot be said.

Many empires and civilisations and governments have collapsed and the people always suffer from the incredibly poor choices of their 'leaders'. In one breath they care about our health and in the next they say you're not allowed to have healthcare if you're poor. In one instance they want the vaccines to be taken, and in the next moment they refuse to make the vaccines publicly owned, even though governments invested all the money. Then they gave them full legal immunity, and guaranteed purchases of the vaccines.

Trust us, we've guaranteed profits for no reason and created a context of highest bidder 4th jabs for the rich nations while Africa has a less than 10% vaccination rate. Can't you see the need for the new variants and total lack of science or rational thought involved....we NEEDED to create more billionaires much much much more than we needed a public vaccine platform. Not a SINGLE ONE is publicly owned, all private. That's not an accident. But yea...trust them. Anyone who knew enough and thought about it for 30 minutes would see this would lead to many many more variants and an endless source of booster profits.

Is that a crazy idea or is that the exact idea spoken by the CEO of Pfizer on an investor call a while back? Even quoting their own words to them and how much money they planned on making due to the highly foreseeable consequences of their choices is....well you're a crazy person for even knowing that! You need to shut up and think the thoughts the media tell you to think and don't worry about that investor call where they promised booster based profits due the hoarding of vaccines by.....themselves.

They want you to isolate and stay home, but they refuse to give people the money they need or laws guaranteeing paid sick leave in order to do so. They want the world vaccinated, and yet they refuse to do anything to compromise Big CEO donor's profits to actually make that happen.

The world itself is insanely contradictory and inconsistent, so it makes sense for art depicting and making fun of our inconsistent world to itself be internally inconsistent. That's incredibly consistent in its own way.

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I thought it was funny. Is that enough, or do I have to digress eight different ways explaining why a work of fiction is wrong?

Next up: Jonathan Swift. Verdict: he’s good!

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I confess I did not see the inconsistencies above although they make sense. I saw it as a parable about attention economics and low trust. I guess in a sense I expected everyone to be irrational. Though I think I have a much more sour opinion of the corporate press that prevents me from seeing clearly. So many things are going on that are interesting no one has the ability to focus on the things that matter in any way that was effectual. Trust is so low that no one could just say “well I haven’t paid very much attention to it but Hank over at NASA is taking care of it and I’ve sent him enough resources to do so.” Similar paradigm happened with Afghanistan. Many reports produced stated exact problems and boots on the ground tended to know what would happen (this is colloquial of course) but none of that knowledge was connected to any kind of circuit that could power any sort of sensible action. Carry that for decades and you have a debacle. Same with climate change, somewhat the same with COVID, etc. I think they felt the problem well enough to make the movie, although maybe not explicitly or even intentionally, and to your point they didn’t really have an answer to it. Agree with you on AI, but try not to talk about it as it makes me feel like a lunatic (which is one of the biggest problems) and also (this is very insane) I sort of think there should be a group of people who don’t ever leave records of what they think about AI so that it can’t read them when it gets turned on.

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I feel like I've been seeing this movie mentioned in my RSS feeds for months now (despite it only being a few weeks old) and this is the first time I've bothered to read something past the summary blurb. Something felt off about the amount of attention it was getting from my admittedly-left-biased news sources. After reading your summary, I don't feel as bad for choosing to watch anime instead of it when it got to Netflix.

This also feels like it hits extra close to home after reading the chapter of The Scout Mindset about the importance of identity in decision making.

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I don't expect parodies to necessarily be realistic or even internally consistent.

Sort of like why it's not necessary to make Superman adhere to the laws of physics.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

I don't get all the love for the movie. I would give it a 5/10 (too long, some good ideas but it didn't do much interesting with them). But it seems to spark conversation and most people have their own takes. Most of whom I don't share, but that's conversation.

I saw its primary message as a pretty basic left-wing revolt-of-the-public thing: "Our current leaders are stupid - kick these losers out of power, and replace them with anybody who had the common decency to press the miracle button!" (direct Scott quote from the book review). Most badness is actively caused by Trump and the tech CEO (aka. enemies of the left). Their supporters are irredeemably stupid and overall bad people. There are some fleeting notion of news and social media being bad somehow (by distracting the "good public", to which you dear viewer surely belongs) but it's never in a direct, active way.

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Here's a fun game when some group of scientists says "just trust the science!" — ask them to trust the economists on economic policy. If we look back at the history of science, it becomes clear how silly "just trust the science" narratives are. They'd be wrong across most fields most of the time. Science has loads of philosophical difficulties (e.g. demarcation between pseudoscience and science, skepticism vs denialism) that the majority of scientists are not taught and don't care about. Thanks for the post — I think this review is one of my favorite pieces of yours.

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Scott - can you link to the most recent summary of why you think AGI is an urgent, existential concern?

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If this movie was realistic it would have China do something about the comet and use that as propaganda to show how much better they are then the West. But I suppose these disaster movies are extremely US centric still. Everywhere outside the US people are living in mud huts!

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Lucifer's Hammer is a great comet story if you like the Pournelle-Niven style.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

Science is based on self-interest and unexamined assumptions and internal biases - not data, not truth. That's what the movie is about, partly. Also that, in reality we live in a ridiculously subjective post-truth world and we all die; so so-called Truth does not matter.

"You should absolutely trust Science?" Really? Nothing is easier to manipulate than a scientific study, especially since everyone believes it. Science is not science and data is not data. Sometimes math is not math. Most science is not mere physics and cannot be replicated by the original investigator. The big bang is a big joke. Does not physics rest on a miracle? Has anyone considered if that fact is proof of God?

Movie's also about how easily People are led around by the nose, especially those who believe in science. They prefer obeying authority to thinking for themselves. They won't look up (an experiment), because it's too hard.

Did you casually backhand climate change denial because 97% of professional climate scientists say it is real? That's availability bias. One clear thinking really smart guy can poke a hole in 97% of averagely smart scientists. Happens all the time. The majority are always wrong when considering anything complex. See Princeton's William Happer to understand that climate change is another mainstream lie designed to gin up fear and transfer wealth and control on up.

And what's that about the Flat Earthers? Do a simple experiment and get some real data. Look out your window - is it flat out there or not? Well??

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Thank you for this review. I watched the movie. The movie was supposed to make us scared of Trump and his supporters. After watching the movie I am more scared of people who make movies like this. (The last scene was legitimately funny, however.)

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Brilliant essay. Here is an opinion that is slightly more favorable towards the movie. I think the movie is an exposition of misaligned incentives.

The movie does not say "trust the experts". The two researchers are from Michigan State, and are not considered to be credible because they're not from Harvard or NASA. This movie makes fun of credentials and "believe us, we know better" experts. It merely talks about the fact that "real science" is often divorced from the incentives of the government or even Harvard experts.

The movie does not aim to provide us with heuristics on how to to choose the people we believe in. It just shows that "real science" is out there somewhere, perhaps like a Gnostic God, and the current incentives of the people with power and/or credibility are not aligned with exposing us to that science.

Scott thinks this movie is along the lines of "look how obvious it is for us to do the right thing, but the bad/stupid people just won't do it". I think the movie is perhaps more along the lines of "powerful people will always try and maintain the status quo, even if it is unscientific and perhaps will ultimately destroy us".

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This comparison struck me hard, I had not thought in that way:

"Science is the simple truth, the hard physical reality behind the veil of establishment lies and corporate distortion. If a thousand PhDs say one thing, and a humble grocery-bagger says another, but the grocery bagger is backed by reason and experimental evidence, then the grocery-bagger gets the mantle of Science, and the PhDs must gnash their teeth in vain. When God entered the world, it was through a poor Jewish carpenter, in order to humble all the kings and princes of the Earth; when Science enters the world, it’s through Swiss patent clerks, or Hungarian women from third-tier colleges, for the same reason."

..it is almost as if Carl Jung, and all the crazy archetype stuff, was on to something after all.

I have to think about this.

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The problem is that unless you are a Swiss patent clerk or a Hungarian lady from a third-tier college - Science is not "the process of finding truth" - it is an institutional process that's just as vulnerable to any other. Hollywood, if anything - are absolute experts at manipulating the emotions of an audience. They give the audience what they want, and what you should be more concerned about rather than "this is a bad movie" is the fact that Hollywood progressives think that this is what the upper middle class educated professional wants to see. They assume (and we don't know how this plays out in the market yet) that the group of "Nice Educated Professionals" don't actually want anyone Doing Science - they merely want an excuse to laugh at the "conspiracy theorists".

This of course, to anyone who isn't inside that world - is the absolute guarantee that at least *some* of those conspiracy theories are true.

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I’m not so sure the “moral” you’ve imposed on the story is accurate, as evidenced by the contradictions you’ve pointed out. Why pick a moral at all if it obviously doesn’t fit? Maybe this narrative’s purpose was to express the frustration of trying to convince people of inconvenient truths—something we can all relate to I’m sure.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

I felt like the movie sort of "strawmanned" the journalists and politicians (there are no redeeming ones, they're all morons, the scientists only get interviewed on a pretty bad show), while "steelmanning" the scientists, giving them the most straightforward crisis possible. I mean, a comet that will cause the destruction of the planet on a specific date and whose observations can be done by anyone on earth with no ambiguity at all. I felt the analogy just doesn't work on those terms. It ends up feeling too inconsistent.

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This blog post makes me wonder if Scott has actually seen Idiocracy.

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For what it's worth, I'd interested in a comment-highlights post from this thread, since it seems like there were readings interestingly different from Scott's.

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Funny that you're "going to be less virtuous and use it as a springboard to talk about politics." It was... basically about politics corrupting everything? People in positions of influence were very rarely trying to actually figure out what was true, the question of what's going on gets subtly rewritten to serve other motives at every turn. it's not an easy question at all! But it would certainly help if we could actually stay on topic.

If you come at this film from the perspective of figuring out whether to trust science, you aren't going to get a coherent answer. If it was trying to make a claim about the correct way to do things then it would have ended with the world saved. It didn't, and it isn't. This is about mistake theory dying an ignoble death to conflict theory.

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I would agree with this critique if the world-destroying threat in the movie was something more nebulous, where it’s hard to be certain of the risk, and experts can genuinely disagree.

But within the world of the movie, anyone who can do basic orbital dynamics calculations can see that the comet is on course to hit Earth. Which would probably be the case at a certain point with a real comet impact.

The movie dramatises some civilisational failure modes that aren’t about epistemic uncertainty:

1. The public cares more about an emotive cause (Ariana Grande’s manatee rescue charity) than a less emotive but far more serious threat.

2. The people in charge prioritise based on their own interests within a narrow political struggle for power, and don’t care about the interests of the people they’re supposed to represent: they care more about winning the next election rather than everyone dying.

3. The response to a real threat becomes politicised even when there’s a clear best course of action.

To me it’s a film about how human social dynamics can cause societies to ignore reality.

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

Very brief remarks:

Watch the Russian film "Durak" (2014). There might be a dubbed or subtitled version. The similarities are striking, up to the president/mayor celebrating her birthday when she's being informed, and certainly the lack of understanding or gratitude on the part of the "common people", not just the cynicism of the powerful.

"Don't look up" is much flatter, though "Durak" has a certain boldness (but not Brechtian) and lack of subtlety already. It's still much better on all levels, simply in terms of making movies. Another point is that "Don't look up", without self-irony, is a good deal of what it superficially criticises.

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<i>Progressivism, like conservatism and every other political philosophy, is big and complicated and self-contradictory. It tells a lot of stories to define and justify itself. Here are two of them:

First, a story of scruffy hippies and activists protesting the Man, that embodiment of capitalism and conformism and respectability. Think Stonewall, where gay people on the margins of society spat in the face of their supposed betters and demanded their rights. Even academics are part of this tradition: Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent accuses the mainstream media of being the Man. It’s jingoist and obsessed with justifying America’s foreign adventures; we need brave truth-tellers to point out where it goes wrong. Environmentalism shares some of this same ethos. In Erin Brockovich, a giant corporation is poisoning people, lying about it, and has bribed or corrupted everyone else into taking their side. Only one brave activist is able to put the pieces together and stand up for ordinary people.

Second, a story that comes out of the Creationism Wars of the early 00s. We are the “reality-based community”, the sane people, the normal people, the people with college degrees and non-spittle-covered keyboards. They are unwashed uneducated lunatics who think that evolution is a lie and Obama was born in Kenya and vaccines cause autism and COVID isn’t real. Maybe they should have been clued in by the fact that 100% of smart people and institutions are on our side, and they are just a couple of weirdos who don’t even agree with each other consistently. If this narrative has a movie, it must be Idiocracy - though a runner up might be Behind the Curve, the documentary about flat-earthers.</i>

I believe the usual way of reconciling these two stories is by claiming that whichever country you happen to live in is controlled by unwashed uneducated lunatics trying to force everyone to become like them, so you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you're one of the smart, normal people without giving up the excitement of sticking it to The Man.

Whether or not your country's leaders actually are unwashed uneducated lunatics is not normally a consideration when applying this narrative. British progressives make use of it all the time, for example, despite the fact that our current Prime Minister, an Old Etonian former Oxford Classics student who descends from at least one British monarch, enjoys showing off by quoting Homer from memory, and generally adopts whichever policies he thinks are most likely to win him votes, is pretty much the polar opposite of an unwashed uneducated lunatic.

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The Magellan quote is almost certainly wrong. The medieval / early modern Church did not teach that the Earth is flat.

If you're interested, I can put together a list of saints who commented on the shape of the Earth before 1500.

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I'll give it pass because it did make me lol a few times, but it was sad to see one the main points was that the world needs MORE hysteria, as if we're not hysterical enough today.

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When satire gets this heavy handed I usually get up and walk away. I made it maybe 40 minutes into this one.

Lemme see what I have to read here… There’s always The Bible. Can’t know too much about that if you enjoy Western Lit.

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I thought the movie was an indictment of our entire political/cultural/corporate system. That the people in power would not be able to converge on a solution did not surprise me. That one scientist was corrupted by fame did not surprise me. That the country divided between Don’t Look Up and Look Up, both vacuous slogans, didn’t surprise me. That the politicians were only concerned about the upcoming election didn’t surprise me. It all seemed depressingly predictable, based not on the movie plot, but on the dysfunction I see all around me.

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I have no idea what the ratio

Hard questions: Easy questions where one side is corrupt, dishonest or stupid

Is, especially in soft sciences like economics.

And I think it is really important in understanding the world. If you see a problem which you think is easy and simple to understand, your prior should be to try and discover the other side's opinion to take the outside view but how often should you simply decide, they have nothing to say and are just lying or posing.

I wonder if desperation to cover up evidence helps you answer the question of what is what.

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> But Science is not clearly visible, like a comet bearing down on you. Science is like the Gnostic God.

Well, thank you. I have now found what I will write as inscription on my phd thesis.

(Inscription or dedication? Sorry for my poor english)

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

'The first narrative [of progressivism] says “there’s a consensus reality constructed by respectable people, and a few wild-eyed weirdos saying they’ve seen through the veil and it’s all lies…and you should trust the weirdos!” The second starts the same way, but ends “…and you should trust consensus reality!”'

This just seems like the distinction between the anarchist-Kropotkinite and authoritarian-Marxist leaning left (my vague read on Sirota is that he is more the latter). It's one of those faultlines that may seem obscure and uninteresting to people who dismiss leftist politics in general, but it remains the source of much internal division and bitterness.

I think the main reason why most progressives align themselves with The Man in big existential crises (pandemics/climate change/comets/AI-foom) is that establishment experts are poorly incentivised to actually lie about the existence of these things. They might exaggerate, and push pet solutions, and give governments excuses to do ineffective panicky things or ineffective good-optics things, and all the rest of it, but at the end of the day they want the problems solved just like the rest of humanity.

Small crises, like a specific company poisoning groundwater, or a few dozen young people dying of what presents like Alzheimer's and has totally nothing to do with a cyanobacterial neurotoxin associated with the local lobster industry, or excess deaths in nursing homes run by the governor's pals - those are much more amenable to The Man's cover-ups.

(You can still definitely find bona fide Communists out there who believe that vaccines are a Big Pharma scam and proposed mandates are just a way for corrupt, enthralled governments to abet said scam, while restrictive public health measures are actually meant to prepare us for a Bladerunner future. This stuff isn't restricted to right-wing nutjobs.)

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Nicely said. I think the movie is less of a mess than you claim when you include an identity heuristic: “the true science is more likely to be expressed by minorities and women and less likely to be expressed by white men.”

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

I will comment that President lady differs from trump pretty significantly- he has never cared about midterms, and is far too image conscious to turn back a rocket that has already launched on *live television*. Also he tends to try to milk big comet-size events for publicity as long as RW media and voters don't oppose him on it, and especially if it lets him associate with big names, like he did with justice reform and (I think Beyonce?). Actually she was so overplayed it felt less like insight or humor than that Streep/McKay had an axe to grind.

And I'm not sure why they put so much emphasis on Male Scientist being a nobody corrupted by fame (Black Scientist and Asian scientist have never heard his name before, and he's played extremely insecure). Wouldn't a more prominent or self-confident scientist have served the same role? Or are they implying that any big names would be corrupted by money, like in politics?

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I think a far more interesting version of "Don't Look Up" would have been a plot where there was more time between discovery of said comet and impact, and what happened was that the Governments of the World united to develop a deflection strategy, and at the same time, the Tech Billionaires decide that the governments are idiots who couldn't deflect a comet if their countries depended on it, so they developed their own comet deflection technology... and the race was on between public and private earth saving efforts!

Only to find out that both succeeded in developing deflection systems (though radically different), and both camps launched their systems (because neither camp believed the other's approach was right).

And because both camps were so sure that they were "right," the combined launches ended up interfering with each other as the neared the comet, and both efforts annihilated each other, dooming the earth to destruction.

From where I stand, this would have been a more interesting commentary on private vs. public space efforts, and this plot would have given the writers ample canvas to lampoon both Big Government and Billionaire Tech Bros (not to mention the fun interplays of the "Musk" and the "Bezos" characters needing to work together), while also acknowledging that both camps are actually acting in as good of faith as possible given the nature of the respective beast.

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I feel like this is missing something obvious - the movie does talk about heuristics, and it does so loud and clear. The People Who Are Wrong are all disinterested in the object level, and only interested in truth insofar as they can exploit it for their own means. The president cares only about her midterms. The Tech CEO cares more about profit than survival. The news anchors are obsessed with the superficial and with creating the right mood to sell. Nobody reacts to the news of the comet except as a story.

Then there's the whole theme of everyone being anxious and depressed but not addressing the object level reasons for that, taking Xanax not to deal with the things making them unhappy, but to not have to. Nobody wants to hear the bad news so they pretend it's not there. The Tech CEO fails because he is so sure he will succeed that he doesn't listen to those who raise issues.

There's a third theme of corruption and exploitation of information, or maybe that's part of the first, but I think there's an anticapitalist angle that Scott, of course, doesn't care for.

Tl;dr: The issue is not establishment vs. grocery baggers, the issue is disregard for truth. "Don't look up" means "I don't care what is true, I literally refuse to look at facts because they don't serve the narrative, and don't make me feel like I want to feel". It matters little whether the facts are easily visible in the sky or propagated by the establishment, the question is "Do I want to know what is going on?"

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Proverb: "Trust everyone, but cutting the cards"

Application: even if we are nearly certain of the validity of our epistemic systems, if we can cheaply hedge against the risk we are getting it wrong we should do so. One easy way to hedge against being wrong is to tolerate and assist those with different beliefs and especially those with different systems for arriving at beliefs. When they get it wrong you can cover for them; when you get it wrong they can cover for you.

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Yeah, all that. But I found the dinner-table-at-the-end-of-the-world scene genuinely moving. My comment about this I posted on Facebook:

“Don’t Look Up” was a distressing watch. It has allegorical significance beyond climate change — most notably, it brought to mind the Chinese government’s growing, terrifying grip on the world. It’s distressing how little this captures our shared attention, as if we can’t muster energy for low-contention issues.

But it also brought to mind something more personal. A few times in my life I have had the sudden, eviscerating realization “I have focused on the wrong thing.” Most consistently, it is the death of beloveds that triggers the realization that I’ve been small-minded. This perspective change is massive, like going from a 2d to a 3d view of the world (a la Flatland), or colloquially, having the world turned upside down. All the elements are familiar but organized in a fundamentally different way.

Death is coming for everyone I love and it is coming for me. In this context, what is the “right” focus? From what I’ve experienced in these moments of loss-induced insight, the answer is crystal clear and unchanging: to be kind; to forgive; to savor time with those I love; to reduce the suffering of others if I can; to notice my environment; to hear the birds sing, see the green grass and bright blue sky, and feel the warmth of the sun.

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I had written out a comment about how the fundamental thing this review is not "getting" is that this is a leftwing movie, not a liberal movie. The message is perhaps a little closer to something like "Virtually everyone with any power whatsoever is bad, but the closer that power is to money, the worse it is". But I see someone already made that point, and also made the point that David Sirota, who was one of the writers, is a notable dirtbag leftist. If anything he hates the NYT reader set more than he hates conservatives.

I'm torn. On the one hand I'm tempted to offer a critique of this community for often not "getting" the left/liberal divide, but on reflection, that seems unfair. The left are so culturally insignificant everywhere except Twitter & Podcasts that compacting them into the liberals is probably fair enough. (Sadly). In the odd case of this film though, not understanding the difference will confuse you.

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"Science is like the Gnostic God."

Hah. I am tucking this idea into my back pocket for later. On the days I have a religion, I consider myself a Gnostic Pantheist.

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> What do you do? I guess you do the principled philosophy thing. You collide the two narratives, integrate them, and try to build something useful out of the debris, while constantly being tripped up by fuzzy boundaries and edge cases.

I wish more people in the rationalist subculture would explicitly walk through the steps of the Hegelian Dialectic, because I think that's often the right move here.


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Phenomenal essay, especially where it touches on internet discourse as well. I have shared it with coworkers who have asked questions similar to yours, your insight is very valuable.

About comets/asteroids and ELEs: Deflecting a comet: from talks with Jonathan McDowell, it's more energy-efficient to either push it forward in its travel (same path, just arrives too early to intercept Earth) or retard it (arrives a bit too late to intercept Earth), rather than trying to push it "sideways." Then all you have to worry about is any subsequent orbital passes if it is not on a hyperbolic trajectory (lots of time if it's periodic, as short-period stuff has been found already). Explosively "destroying" it carries another hazard, as the center of mass will continue along its original trajectory, only now you have a swarm of thousands of objects raining fire all over the sky (and maybe some missing the planet, yes) rather than one impact point... if they are small enough, that could be helpful, as many might be destroyed in the atmosphere, but it's still very likely to set fire to a lot more of the forests/cities under the incoming trajectories. Also, guaranteeing that there are no pieces individually large enough to take out a greater metropolitan area would be tough.

BTW, don't just worry about the ones we can see coming: autonomous air defense protocols may be a whole 'nuther thing to worry about. What if the "incoming" comes out of the solar avoidance zone so it hits somewhere before we all have any idea it's on the way? Will the impact start a war, or can the particular system involved determine it's not a first strike fast enough to avoid launch-on-impact or other such protocols?

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I loved this movie, and thought the contradictions Scott points out were intended parts of the movie. "We should definitely believe scientists! Unless they're wrong. Then we should clearly just make decisions for ourselves, unless television talking heads know better than we do. And obviously the president is self-interested, but if she loses the mid-term election she won't be able to stop the comet. And industrial giants can actually be very competent at building emergency escape spaceships, but there's a chance they didn't think about alien dinosaurs and are doomed."

These are hard problems, and I was happy to see the movie (mostly) did not devolve into easy solutions. With the exception that aborting the "blow up the comet before it hits earth" was the obviously wrong solution. But what to do about society and decision-making? that one is still to be determined.

I also liked Idiocracy for the same reason! People and society are (or may be) getting dumber, and that's bad. What to do about it? No easy solution. At the end of Idiocracy, when President Not Sure tries to Make Science Cool again, he still has three smart kids, and Vice President Frito has thirty dumb ones.

The drought may be over, but the problems with earth's culture are going to continue... electing the smartest man as president hasn't fixed the world.

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If you were to apply the movie to COVID-19, the best analogy would be to a world wherein Donald Trump as president pressures mainstream CDC scientists to authorize an unsafe vaccine, and honest experts are fired/persecuted for dissenting.

This is exactly the world some notable progressives (Kamala Harris, Dr. Eric Topol) imagined, or claimed to imagine, we were living in last year. That fantasy narrative had to change when Trump lost, for obvious reasons.

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Why individuals believe things hasn't changed with the scientific revolution. Everything is still based on faith. I believe the earth revolves around the sun, because everyone else believes it. I'm fairly confident that I could verify it if I bothered, but I don't bother, because why bother? Science is important because it establishes universal principles to use as the basis for verification. It's a method for over turning false beliefs, but the method for determining what to believe is the same as always, you believe what the people you respect believe.

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IMO this is the best thing you've written since you've returned.

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My heuristic is: A) When a public individual knowingly tries to deceive you, stop trusting them. B) For institutions, stop trusting the person who composed the deceptive statement, and their boss, and that person's boss, all the way to the top. Continue to trust the rest of the institution. C) Same rules in cases where somebody is incorrect by accident (not trying to deceive you) except that you should go back to trusting them if they admit to having been wrong and explain how it happened and how they'll fix it.

I haven't seen the movie, but it seems like my heuristic would have served pretty well. Did Female Scientist ever deliberately try and deceive anybody? Conspiracy theorists usually try to deceive you in the first paragraph, and it's easy to spot. Institutions that try to deceive you will usually do it without saying anything technically untrue, and so you can detect deception by being on the lookout for weasel language (stuff like "no evidence"), as they tie themselves in a pretzel trying to give you false ideas using only true words. You can tell the Magellans and Female Scientists because they would rather die than emit pretzel-shaped language.

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One thing’s for sure, in the real world ‘male scientist and female scientist’ would be on the Joe Rogan podcast in a heartbeat and the ripple effect would mean their hypothesis would become much more widely known.

Probably wouldn’t save Earth though, since the MSM would dutifully follow the approved experts’ narrative (as influenced by the greedy tech CEO).

Question is, would Rogan get a place on the spaceship?

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Maybe someone said it already, but I'll not going to parse 400+ comments tonight:

Magellan's quote is total bullshit.

1) the Church and everybody educated (which, at this time and place are almost synonymous) knew perfectly well that the earth is round.

2) the scientific controversy WAS NOT "is the earth round" but "does it orbit the Sun". Note that this was really a scientific controversy with (scientific) arguments on both side at least until Newton.

3) Saint Augustine knew that the earth was round 1000 years before Magellan was born. Saint Augustine is one of the top two catholic authors of all time. The Church knew.

4) the Idea that the 16th century Church thought the Earth was flat belong to typical my-outgroup-is-dumb historical myths propagated by 19th century historians with an agenda against catholicism. Please do not propagate it further. It is just as frustrating as journalist laughing out the rationalist community about Roko's basilisk.

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Jan 5, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

I haven't seen this movie and all the reviews (even the glowing ones) aren't convincing me to watch this. So even as a disaster movie or SF movie it doesn't appeal to me. Not even with an ending where the rich fleeing the Earth get eaten by dinosaurs!

That out of the way:

(1) "Depending on which side your friends and enemies are on in any given conflict, you deploy one or the other of these black-and-white narratives, certain that you are 100% in the right."

I suppose the big example of this for me is this: I've just watched a David Starkey talk on Thomas Cromwell which I enjoyed. I tended not to like Starkey very much because I felt he was rather too much of a TV pundit about the Tudors, and I don't really like Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell.

But now Starkey is saying Cromwell wasn't all that, and I'm finding myself going "Good talk, sensible man" 😁

(It is a good talk, I'd recommend it regardless of your views on the Tudors).


(2) "Magellan supposedly said that “the Church says the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in the shadow than in the Church.”

This is where I go "What in the actual ever-lovin' HELL????" because I thought I'd heard them all, but I've *never* heard this one before.

I honestly would love to know where it comes from. Given that Magellan set sail in 1519 to find a new route to the lucrative lands where the spices grow, nearly thirty years after Columbus bumped into the Americas, and being well-aware of the existence of the Americas which is why he sailed WEST instead of the eastern route, it would have been rather silly to try and circumnavigate the GLOBE if it wasn't already widely accepted the Earth was round. Certainly the Spanish king, had he been influenced by THE CHURCH (let's imagine the sinister organ music here) to believe in a flat earth wouldn't have forked out to fund this exploratory voyage.

There's a beautifully dumb letter from doctors (sorry, Scott) here https://www.jtcvs.org/article/S0022-5223(18)32804-6/pdf which claims, on top of "Magellan proved the earth was round", that Galileo also later confirmed the planets were round - "However, nearly a century later, the Italian astronomer, physicist, and scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) observed by telescope that the planets were round (Letters on Sunspots, 1612), a finding that was still considered new and controversial at the time despite the previous circumnavigation of our globe."

Excuse me a moment, my eyes rolled so hard they fell out of the sockets and I must grope around on the floor to find and restore them. So... being able to see the Sun was round and the Moon was round still left people in doubt the other planets were round, huh?

Also, you could still have a round yet flat earth - very early cosmological models did consider the Earth as a disc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_cosmological_theories

"16th century BCE – Mesopotamian cosmology has a flat, circular Earth enclosed in a cosmic ocean.

6th century BCE – The Babylonian world map shows the Earth surrounded by the cosmic ocean, with seven islands arranged around it so as to form a seven-pointed star. Contemporary Biblical cosmology reflects the same view of a flat, circular Earth swimming on water and overarched by the solid vault of the firmament to which are fastened the stars."

Thony Christie, the Renaissance Mathematicus, blog post on this old chestnut of flat-earthism pithily titled "Repeat after me! They knew it was round, damn it!"


Tim O'Neill, History for Atheists: "The Great Myths 1: The Mediaeval Flat Earth"


I need some poetry to settle my nerves after this one. Take it away, Shakespeare and "The Merchant of Venice":

Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins

(3) "Science is like the Gnostic God. It exists, somewhere out there, perfect in itself. It is pure and right and beautiful. If you could hear it, it would certainly speak Truth. Yet here we are, in the stupid material universe, seeing through a glass darkly. Good sometimes looks like evil, evil often looks like good, and there’s some jerk with the head of a lion and the body of a snake psyching us out at every turn."

I'm not a Gnostic, never have been, and never will be 😀 Yes, we are in this stupid material universe, and so is Science, and so is beauty, truth, goodness, evil, falsehood and ugliness. Them's the breaks.

Here, have an extract from a BBC book review programme in 1962 with J.R.R. Tolkien:


And if we're going to talk about Gnostic Science, there is of course David Lindsay's "A Voyage to Arcturus":


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I felt like the movie was optimizing for comedy, rather than trying to send a message. It's pretty easy to make jokes about people being ineffective at their job, that's basically what The Office was.

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By the way, that Magellan quote is totally spurious, as about 10 seconds of thought could tell you.

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I thought it was a strength of the movie that the good guys said and did bad things, and the bad guys had some good points to make. No one was spared. But now that I've read your take, I see your point that this was probably not what was intended.

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"Even academics are part of this tradition: Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent accuses the mainstream media of being the Man. It’s jingoist and obsessed with justifying America’s foreign adventures; we need brave truth-tellers to point out where it goes wrong."

Can you find a section in Chomsky & Herman's Manufacturing Consent that conforms to this description, Scott? Far from describing media as being the "man", they actually run through the systematic and institutional reasons as to why capitalist media is biased. As far as I can tell your review never actually disproved their central argument, and indeed you barely seemed to understand what they were talking about.

Here's a good review that summarises your mistakes when reading this book:


I've also personally corrected your mistakes and misreadings of various other leftist books, to which I've never really seen you give any sort of reply or acknowledgement. Until you fix these mistakes you will continue to misunderstand politics in general.

In your review of Singer on Marx (a farcical game of telephone if ever there was one) you admit that in the "rare times I felt like I really understand certain thinkers and philosophies on a deep level, it’s rarely been the primary sources that did it for me". If that's the case, then I suggest sitting down with a basic political textbook and studying it before trying to read the tea-leaves of some movie you saw on Netflix.

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> I argued you should basically never think about flat-earthism. Instead, think about when AGI will happen, or whether inflation will stabilize, or any of a thousand other questions where there are smart people on both sides of the issue.

Is this really the most useful role of a public intellectual? To litigate issues in front of the public among which even experts are evenly split, rather than the areas where the expert and public understandings diverge?

If you brush off the simplistic narratives, you're left with questions of how the world works (what are the trade-offs) and values (which trade-offs should we make), and which issues are important.

These are complex economic, political, and philosophical questions.

A moderately rational person putting in some tens of thousands of hours of effort can gain a better (if imperfect) understanding. But eventually the political bottleneck becomes communicating the basics to others rather than going deeper and deeper.

To use a specific example:

There's a reasonable case that unaffordable housing is an important issue. The general expert consensus is that this is caused by housing policy, and that those policies are bad. And yet politically, those experts and their logical arguments are mostly ignored.

The bottleneck here doesn't seem to be going deeper where experts are 50-50. Getting rid of flat-earth beliefs about supply and demand would be a lot more helpful.

There's plenty of other issues like that.

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I haven't seen the movie, but it sounds like the tech CEO thing is supposed to be a way to sneer at Silicon Valley-esque, techy solutions to climate change (like carbon capture, fusion, or nuclear energy)—which the target audience of this movie probably dislikes?

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Jan 5, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

So Scott's movie review is: "Thumbs Down, for failing to resolve the epistemic and political conundrums of taking collective action in the face of doubt."

Maybe it's unfair to put that much pressure on a movie plot, in which the script has to decide if the comet is real or not. Because the comet was real in this script, the message could be interpreted as "Always panic in response to scientific warnings." In an alternate plot, however, the elites could have spent all of their money to depart on suspended-animation escape ships to another galaxy, leaving all the deplorables behind on Earth to die. But then it turns out the whole thing was a big Comet Hoax cooked up by the Big Escape Ship industry (Elon Musk). So the Comet passes harmlessly overhead (perhaps getting stuck in Earth orbit where it acts as a solar shield that cures global warming). Elon Musk gives everyone who stayed a free Tesla (no hard feelings!) and they all live happily ever after on a planet that is suddenly much less crowded and more relaxed. Lesson: never trust scientific warnings of impending doom.

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I probably won't bother to watch this movie but I wonder if there are any other nations besides America in their version of Earth ? Perhaps the correct ending for this narrative would be either (or both) Vladimir Putin / Xi Jinping presenting medals to their scientists and rocketeers

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I thought the movie inadvertently worked really well as a mood piece about what it feels like to sit on the outside watching factions argue intensely and urgently when you’d prefer they discuss calmly and patiently.

I’m the person who used to work in News Search and read ten newspapers a day and ate free oreos in a constant low grade panic state.

I try now to be the person who thinks Trump vs Biden has all the salience of Rudolph vs Ottokar (an example intentionally chosen for obscurity), that progress will slowly happen without my input, and that science will eventually iterate to answers without my doing much of it.

This movie made me feel like I was taking a moment to go back to being that nervous guy. Good job, movie. *Shudder*

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Jan 5, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

IMO the 'Trust Science' mantra is driven by something else that we must pay attention to. One of the key strategies of the Left is to take resonant terms (love, hate, justice, accountability, safety, violence, identity, racism, diversity, inclusion, equity, etc.) and redefine them so that their linguistic power can be appropriated for their cause.

For instance, the word 'justice' has resonant power because its original and correct definition (something like 'giving to each person what they deserve') refers to an unequivocal good which our culture values, respects and demands. To suit their purposes, therefore, the Left has redefined justice to become something like 'equity instantly by any means necessary'. Doing this (and retaining the word 'justice' for it) allows society to be reprogrammed *and* the linguistic power of the old definition to be used to coerce and shame others into compliance (e.g. 'If you're against justice, you're an evil person who we will bring to account').

You can see a similar appropriation taking place with science, which is being replaced by a hollow version of itself. This new version of science does not seek truth (in the sense of understanding reality whatever it looks like) but rather serves the Left's narrative (as the ultimate truth to which all reality must conform).

On the ground you can see these changes to science:

- scientists are increasingly required to pledge allegiance to the narrative or face exclusion,

- some research topics have become taboo and are not pursued,

- some hypotheses have become taboo and are rejected without investigation,

- some data is willfully misinterpreted or misrepresented (because discoveries cannot be true if they disagree with the narrative),

- some 'science' is being determined by political consensus rather than experimentation,

- junk scientific journals have been created to accept and promote junk (narrative-driven) science, and

- the media through which science is 'communicated' is increasingly controlled and distorted by the Left.

As science is appropriated in this way, the new version of science says only the things which agree with the Left's narrative, by omission and commission. It becomes a form of propaganda, saying only the things we are allowed to hear.

It is still called, 'science', however, so that we can be commanded to 'Trust Science'.

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If, right after watching Don't Look Up, a man and woman came up to you saying that a comet is about to hit the earth and you should believe them because they are scientists, you wouldn't.

The whole premise of Don't Look Up is that the author picked the crackpot with a Phd that happened to be right (A pretty fair thing to assume when you're 10 minutes into a movie with a huge comet on the poster) however in real life it just doesn't work this way.

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Best movie review I've ever read :).

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My general feeling has always been that AI fears are somewhat premature and overblown. That said, when I see Mark Zuckerberg on my side and Elon Musk on the opposite side, I feel an immense urge to reconsider my position and find out where I went wrong...

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"Trust science" isn't a bad heuristic for the typical ~~ignorant rube~~ person. If you simply forget about the complexities and put 100% faith in the current scientific consensus, or more accurately whatever your local newspaper tells you the current scientific consensus is, then you'll be right far more often than you're wrong, and you probably won't ruin your life. Sure, you'll be stuck changing your mind every six months about whether red wine prevents or causes cancer, but it seems a small price to pay for a life of quiet certitude.

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Hey Scott, another big problem here is that you're interpreting this the wrong way:

"It depicts a monstrous world where the establishment is conspiring to keep the truth from you in every possible way. But it reserves its harshest barbs for anti-establishment wackos, who are constantly played for laughs. “THE COMET IS A MARXIST LIE!” says the guy on the Facebook stand-in"

That's a description of an establishment wacko, not an anti-establishment wacko.

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Some disconnected observations:

1. The commentariat here has a lot less overlap with the Kerbal Space Program/CoaDE space geek crowd than I thought, given the napkin math that I'm seeing. Even pretty cursory knowledge would lead one to suspect that organising a mission to move a civ-killing comet in six months runs into an impossibly tight timetable created by a combination of lead time (for designing and construction, if nothing else), orbital mechanics and the brute tradeoff of needing more effective delta-v for nudging purposes the closer the comet gets. Push that out to a few years and it becomes doable.

2. Since hobbyhorses got slipped into the final paragraph: I'm personally more worried about things like Neuralink accidentally creating a superorganism out of its users than explosively-improving AGI, given that we still haven't resolved the structuralist vs neuron count arguments for intelligence. The idea that we'll all start linking our brains together for funsies as a sort of natural experiment in whether superintelligences just need a lot of brain cells is... worrying.

3. Finally; since I'm on the topic of doomerism, and since the animated corgi YouTube channel got a mention recently, I'm worried about implication that an economy (or an ecosystem, depending on your viewpoint) does not need consciousness to function and fits the criteria for expansionist and long-lasting civilizations that can become grabby. To my mind, one of the ways that humanity bows out/gets destroyed is in creating/meeting a technological ecosystem that can support interstellar travel and colonisation but which has no sapience per se (just a bunch of specialised expert systems, ala the earth circa ~3.5 billion to ~3 million years ago).

This is the sort of doomsday scenario that happens a few generations after all the billionaires realise that they don't need actual workers to make or buy their products anymore, and can just get their superyachts directly from their giant automated factories (while herding the poors into i-Camps). The future might be one where grabby aliens exist, but can't even be pleaded with.

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"Science is ... pure and right and beautiful ... it would certainly speak Truth."

Here I must disagree. Science is a process not a thing. It is not and can never be a final state, a platonic form.

Science is a process for rejecting error. It is organized doubt.

Nothing is science can be accepted as "established". Everything must be doubted and and picked at.

This is true in every part of science. Let us take an example from a core subject of physical science: gravity. Newton's Principia explained gravity in 1687. It was the beginning of the separation between empirical science and speculative philosophy. Surely, gravity is established science.

Well, not really. Newton's theory was revised and expanded for two centuries after it was propounded. But, eventually there were problems. In the 19th Century, they found that the orbit of Mercury around the sun could not be explained by Newtonian theories, unless there was another large planet nearby, which nobody could see.

Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity in 1915. The theory provided a unified description of gravity as a non-Euclidian geometric property of four-dimensional space-time. It could explain the orbit of Mercury. But, it also opened up a whole new vista of astronomical phenomena that are uncanny, at best, such as the bending of light by gravity, the dilation of time by gravity, the collapse of stars into their own gravitational fields that produce Black Holes, and even stranger yet, gravitational waves, that were first directly observed only recently.

Game over, we have the answer. Gravity is now established science. Right? Not exactly. There are known and real problems with General Relativity as an explanation for life, the universe, and everything. The other triumph of 20th century physical science is Quantum Mechanics which explains the tinniest particles that are the ultimate constituents of matter. Physicist know that these theories, which have passed every empirical test yet devised, are not overlapping and stand at odd angles to each other. But the efforts of scientists, which were really begun by Einstein himself in the 1920s, to place both theories in a single framework have produced some remarkable mathematics, but no empirical proofs despite almost a century of strenuous efforts.

Further consensus is a phenomenon of diplomacy not of science. At the end of the 15th century, every astronomer in Europe based his work on Ptolemy's geocentric theory. That was the consensus. In the first years of the 16th century, Copernicus formulated his heliocentric theory, but it was not universally accepted for many years. Only in the 17th century after Galileo, Kepler, and Newton created a dynamical theory of the solar system, was Ptolemy laid to rest.

Einstein put it very well. In 1931, a book was published in Germany titled Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein (A Hundred Authors Against Einstein). When asked about it Einstein said why 100, one would have been sufficient if he had been right.

The point here is very simple. There is no such thing as "established science", nor can there ever be such a thing. The core of science is doubt. As the Royal Society, to which Newton reported his results, has it: Nullius in Verba. "Take nobody's word for it". The only way to prove statements about science is an appeal to facts determined by experiment. https://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/

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The second part of the review and the reflection on the Russell conjugation is in my opinion what the movie is about. Maybe I overestimate the intention of the writers and film makers, but I actually thought that this was a purposefully confusing reflection on confusion; pointing out that we are indeed story monkeys driven and often mislead by our emotions and confused by our frames of reference.

It seems to me that a lot of our confusion comes from using the wrong tool of observation, or the wrong framework of analysis.

Also “the scientific approach” is a successful practice that allows us to put aside emotions and narrative sense making to look at the material world pragmatically and discover gradually some portions of the truth about very specific questions (like what is this object in the sky, and where is it going), it can not be applied to life in general. As so eloquently put in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy; the answer to what is the meaning of life is “42”.

To expect that science ever could answer the question: "how should I make sense of the world and my life" is to use the wrong tool for the job; like using a microscope and point it towards the stars.

The slogan “trust science” is not the practice of it and is just a modern iteration of our narrative sense making apparatus.

To make sense of the world around us we write novels, make movies, construct religions or practice philosophy.

I like to write poetry, and I’m fascinated by how often I find wisdom in the acceptance of narrative paradox. Most theories of psychoanalysis (and most of literature) points out that in our inner world, we often experience a duality of feelings toward a single object (eg:I love her, I hate her). And those can indeed truthfully co-exist at the same time on this level of analysis.

If someone calls me out and throughs me a ball, will most likely deflect it or catch it before my conscious mind realises what just happened.

It seems to me that a lot of our confusion and disagreements are about our choice of frames of reference. When should I rely on my physical instincts? When should I use the microscope of scientific approach? And When should I use the telescope of narrative sense making? (I am sure that I am missing many other frames of reference here).

Some people insist that one set of glasses fits all... most of us realise that we read with one and drive with another, but we often forget to switch.

In my opinion, the skill required to choose, maintain, and develop our different frames of references is what some people call mindfulness.

I really enjoyed both the movie and this excellent review. Thanks.

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Jan 5, 2022·edited Jan 5, 2022

Maybe it's because his book came out this month, but this style of essay where you dissect a piece of popular culture to show flaws in society is very reminiscent of The Last Psychiatrist. The part where you said "Take it from a psychiatrist" made it even better.

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Guys, it's just a movie, not a PhD thesis on Epistemology!

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"Dr. Fauci and the CDC tell me every day that Pfizer’s vaccine is safe... Sounds like we can’t trust scientific authorities when there might be a profit motive involved, better skip the jab!"

What's most curious about the situation is that Pfizer did in fact lie about some aspects of the trials (a contractor was found to be falsifying data) and that the FDA knew this, and yet in the end it does seem that the Pfizer vaccine is safe for almost everyone:


With the Moderna vaccine, however, the situation is perhaps the opposite: no one has seriously accused them of lying (so far as I know), and yet there is now good evidence that the risk of myocarditis in men under 40 is greater for those vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine than from a wild covid infection. See Figure 2:


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"In a perfect world, you notice these contradict each other"

In a perfect world, you notice that one is talking about how blindly accepting the morality of the privileged majority is bad, while the other is...also the same story. Huh.

I guess you genuinely can twist anything you're prejudiced against to sound contradictory, no matter how rational you think you are.

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If you don't assume that the movie is "about" trusting science, then all your criticisms disappear. Your summary makes it sound like an entertaining and well-executed movie that shows how the human race's characteristic foibles make it hard for we humans to deal effectively with collective threats. Not exactly a novel or controversial basis for a drama. Maybe the movie is not "about" anything - even under the questionable assumption that its creators intended to convey a message. John Bunyan certainly intended "Pilgrim's Progress" to convey a message, and I certainly don't identify with his message, but I wouldn't say his story was "doomed from the start" and on the contrary I would say it is a great story. (Not sure it is a masterpiece though.)

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It sounds like the kind of story an American writing team living through the last few years would come up with. It also sounds like garbage!

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This is the first movie that addresses our general ethos, the particular angst we all are facing re various existential threats and how we choose to {mostly not} deal with it. It is not strictly a comedy but more a Chekhov piece in principle: a mirror showing us how life is.

It is extremely hard to do a piece on something we are in the middle of: much easier when we already have a certain perspective. (Whether the science of deflecting a comet is totally exact is beside the point, some people will have heard of Nasa Dart and anyways the issue here is Climate Change). Yes, the movie is messy, chaotic and rough around the edges, but so are we. In addition, it is representing us in a time of mass psychological reaction to new phenomena --when old methods do not work (just clean your room) and new ones are creating even more angst (10 points to deal with your dopamine levels, plan your days in tiny segments to maximize productivity etc)and when all institutions and our trust in them (including science) are profoundly shaken and we are grasping......Hopefully the humorous (as opposed to the strictly didactic) approach works but honestly art very rarely changes anything that is not already set in motion.

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Does it have to be pushing a particular position or an allegory for a specific threat? It seems to fit well with a tradition of ridiculing every side of every argument... And, in the end, I'm inclined to see the obviousness of the comet (for the external viewer) as useful device precisely to cast the situation as complex and everyone involed on all sides as flawed. (If the reality of the threat weren't obvious to the viewer, the failure mode of each character would be less clear. It's exaggerated because it's satirical and that's how the genre works best.)

Seems to me like it should be possible to criticise all narratives without pushing any alternative, no?

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imo, the message was "trust purple-haired activists and older black guys", everyone else is corrupt (especially white men)

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> But it reserves its harshest barbs for anti-establishment wackos, who are constantly played for laughs. “THE COMET IS A MARXIST LIE!” says the guy on the Facebook stand-in. Maybe not literally, but at least he’s genre-savvy.

Could you elaborate on where you saw the movie emphasizing the failures of the anti-establishment folks? Perhaps the reason their depiction reads as harsher than all the others is because the redneck stereotype is an unavoidably unattractive one, while the clueless elite stereotype's negative aspects are mitigated by the fact that they're, well, elite. Despite going out of their way to depict them (eg Cate Blanchett's character) as soulless and hollow, they're still rich and attractive and glamorous, so even a "harsh" caricature appeals to the audience.

To me, the premise of the film seemed to be: even in a situation that should be unambiguous, every part of society's incentive and epistemological structure is so broken that we're completely screwed. Even the incorruptible plucky scientist trope, a staple of disaster movies, is deconstructed: not only is honest Male Scientist seduced into propaganda, honest Female Scientist immediately starts having nervous breakdowns and never stops. There's not a single character of consequence that can serve as an audience stand-in from which to safely judge the rest of the characters, let alone a "main target" for derision. The conclusion doesn't seem to be Believe Science, but Don't Worry So Much About Global Problems, focusing instead on your family and friends and faith.

Am I missing something? Your perspective seems a lot more common than mine in the things I've read, but I don't see any evidence that there was more focus on the redneck anti-comet folks.

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I think the best idea I ever had is that most art is the result of bad propaganda. As Scott notes, the people behind this movie tried to come up with a trust-the-scientists-on-Covid-and-global-warming fable and they ended up with this glorious mess. As propaganda, it's really bad, contradictory and fundamentally shoots itself in the foot every other scene; but that's precisely, I believe, why it's so much fun. My go-to-example for bad propaganda used to be Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, but now I think it's going to be Don't Look Up.

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I've not seen DLU. Though it fails at delivery its message and encourages some poor reasoning, the lack of object-level discussion sounds like an accurate depiction. Just look at discussion of AI risk around here. Instead of the object level questsions of

1. What is the nature of the risk?

2. What can we do about it?

or similar, we're mostly talking about how to fund it (and avoid funding AI research), opinion pieces about funding distribution and other's opinion and prediction about AI risk. But even prediction are not the same as discussing the object level question. You want the reasoning behind the prediction rather than the aggregate number itself.

There's "Updated Look At Long-Term AI Risks" https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/updated-look-at-long-term-ai-risks that talks more about the object level question. Though its still a survey about other's prediction about 1, we can squint and consider it a survey of current knowledge on 1 directly.

But all the points treats AGI as this mystical all powerful black-box with powers, similar to discussions of deities of old. But if you've experienced scientific (not engineering!) progress, then you'd know that's just not how (most) progress is made, and theirs nothing that makes AGI exceptional.

As an exercise to remove the mysticism from the rest, **replace "AI" with "group of people"** or company or government body. I've done this below. But we don't see group-of-smart-people risk research.

I hope its easy to see why a group of smart people, with at least some motivated and charismatic, can do these things especially on the timelines AGI is typically given. But I can clarify if needed.

1. Superintelligence: This is the "classic" scenario that started the field, ably described by people like Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky. A group of smart people (AI progress) goes from current human-level to vastly-above-current-human-level very quickly, maybe because slightly-above-average-human-level smart people (AI) themselves are speeding it along, or maybe because it turns out that if you can hire (make) an IQ 100 equivalent group of smart people (AI) for $10,000 worth of compensation/salary (compute), you can hire (make) an IQ 500 group of smart people (AI) for $50,000. **By changing the group's own hierarical structure or how they work**, you end up with one (or a few) completely unexpected superintelligent-level group of smart people (AI), which wield far-future technology and use it in unpredictable ways based on untested goal structures.

2. Influence-seeking ends in catastrophe: Described by Paul Christiano here. Modern capitalism (machine learning techniques) "evolve" and "select" groups of smart people (AIs) that appear good at a certain goal. But sufficiently intelligent groups of smart people (AIs) with a wide variety of goals (eg power-seeking) will try to seem good at the goal we want them to do, since that's the best way to be kept funded (online) and put in control of important resources, which will help them achieve their real goals. Depending on how we design capitalism (AI goal structures), some large percent of the group of smart people (AIs) we have (use) at any given time might have unexpected goals (including pure power-seeking). As long as everything stays stable, that's fine; it will continue to be in the groups' (AIs') best interests to play along. But if something unusual happens, especially something that limits our attempts to control these groups (AIs) through checks and balances of some sort, it might cause many groups of smart people (AIs) **to figure this out** at once **or see other groups are doing that**. **And they would all** switch to their real goal, whatever that is (or one very important group (AI), like the military (one) that controls nuclear weapons).

**Note: "capitalism" is shorthand for "resource and underlying power/monetary reward incentive system". I'm happy to use a different word.**

3. Goodharting ourselves to death: Described by Paul Christiano here. There are some things that are easy to measure as a number, like how many votes a candidate gets, how much profit a company is making, or how many crimes are reported to police. There are other things that are hard or impossible, like how good a candidate is, how much value a company is providing, or how many crimes happen. We try to use the former as proxies for the latter, and in normal human society this works sort of okay. But it's much easier to train/optimize companies with groups of smart people (AIs) to increase profit/shareholder value (measurable proxy numbers) than real values. So companies (AIs) would be incentivized to find ways to improve shareholder value (proxies) (easy) without necessarily finding ways to satisfy our real values (hard) - for example, a real security/police force (Robocop), mandated (programmed) to "reduce the crime rate", might try to make it as hard as possible for people to get useful satisfactory resolutions to crimes in a way that's not overly expensive and reclassify things like white collar crimes including wage theft as not part of the crime rate (report crimes) - and then try to deceive everyone involved so they don't close this loophole in a way that makes the (measured) crime rate increase. As groups (AIs) take over more and more of society, we end up in the position of the mythical king whose kingdom is falling apart around him, but who does nothing because flattering courtiers keep telling him everything is okay.

**Everyone can feel unjust nature of the system (healthcare, education, rent) but the AIs have fooled society well enough that no-one even thinks of these as crimes anymore.**

The last part doesn't entirely represent my opinion and delve into consipiracy theory but I think this is a plausible group-of-smart-people risk future, the same way it is a plausible AI risk future.

4. Some kind of war over groups of smart people (AI-related war): Described by Allan Dafoe here. Not a war against groups of smart people (AI), but a war between normal human countries that happens because of groups of smart people (AI) for some reason. Maybe some groups of smart people (AI) turns out to be really militarily valuable, and whichever country gets it first decides to push its advantage before others catch up. Maybe other countries predict that will happen and launch a pre-emptive strike. Maybe groups of smart people (AI) is able to undermine nuclear deterrence somehow.

5. Bad actors use groups of smart peopl (AI) to do something bad: Maybe smarter-than-average-human groups of smart people (AIs) are able to invent really good superweapons, or bioweapons, and terrorists use them to destroy the world. Maybe some dictatorship (cough China cough) figures out how to use groups of smart people (AI) to predict, monitor, and crush dissent at a superhuman level, entrenching itself forever. Maybe billionaires use themselves/their connections (AI) to make lots more money and become a permanent feudal oligarchy in a way which is terrible for everyone else.

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>But later we learn that Tech CEO literally built a 2,000 person starship in less than six months so he and the other elites could escape.

I took this as a fantastical addendum which was not intended to be judged by any rational process whereas the movie itself is fair game for being analysed rationally.

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I think perhaps a problem with "trust the experts" is that the experts have performed terribly throughout the Covid pandemic. We were told that Covid wasn't a major risk as late as the beginning of March 2020 (after random weirdos had already correctly warned us that containment had failed). We were told not to wear masks, then we were told that we must wear masks. We were told that we couldn't see family or even attend funerals, but "experts" also informed us that BLM protests were ok because racism is a public health crisis. The FDA has performed so terribly and has been such a consistent impediment to the availability of vaccines, tests, and medication that it should be remembered as an example of Conquest's third law (the best way to understand the behavior of a bureaucratic organization is to assume it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.)

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I liked it but didn't see it as taking any side politically. Sure, Glen Close was Trumpy and Jonah Hill's character made you immediately think of the Trump boys, but the point was that the presidential office is increasingly becoming a place for image-obsessed celebrity types with extremely questionable sense making faculties. Biden, Warren, Clinton, Harris, Pelosi, even Obama have valid accusations that they've been corrupted and therefore would let short term politics overwhelm their ability to diagnose and solve a major problems.

At the risk of over comparing this to a Trey Parker Matt Stone production, after Team America I saw the left laughing at the depiction of the American military overreacting to everything post 9/11 and high fiving like bros, and also the right laughing at the depiction of know nothing celebrities being romanced by a real threat to the united states. All the while having silly cartoonish jokes and observations along the way. Plenty to make fun of on both sides and this movie did it well for me.

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I didn't like it very much as a movie either. Both space missions undermine the metaphor way too much. In my version, the powers that be know there's a problem and they simply don't do anything meaningful. Some talk maybe, but that's it.

I disagree with your comments on progressivism. The movie was written by progressives and I think they consciously wrote in the contradictions you mentioned; the co-opting of good science by the powers that be living side by side with principled good science trying to keep delivering the real message.

I DO agree strongly with the unfairness of belittling people for being frustrated or confused by this dynamic. The whole "don't look up" bit with the stand-in Trump supporters simply seemed unfair. The movie had JUST shown us the mechanisms by which trust is justifiably eroded in those people, but then passes that harsh a judgement on them? Yeah.

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Scott, I am not so sure the current problem is people not trusting in science. People are obviously not trusting public health (and anything that looks like it) anymore, which is a completely different thing, and which actually makes sense.

The difference between science and public health is the difference between you and the likes of Dr. Fauci. One tries to arrive at the truth, the other does not care about truth and will happily lie, saying what he thinks will achieve the desired result. Unsurprisingly, people have caught on.

Over the past year, I've become convinced that public health is just plain evil. It's not about truth or science; it's about lying to achieve certain outcomes. As an immigrant from the Soviet Union, I am quite confident that that's a bad thing.

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Phenomenal writeup! You've hit the contradictory nail on the head and layed out what had me confused about the movie.

Because you're right, at one moment the movie is making fun of the experts for being bought off paid shills that's can't be trusted then next scene is deriding the anti-establishment loonies chanting don't look up at the obvious comment about to kill everyone.

So yeah, what's the message? Experts are bought off shills but contrarians are also wrong and stupid? So then who can we trust and what to believe?

Trust Science, but the scientists are just a corrupt clergy, making a mockery of the holy diety of the Scientific Method.

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It seems like the point worth arguing is whether there is any real value in caricaturing your perceived opponents on any issue. I would say no. If someone is being an obvious troll, ignore them, but trying to negate your opponent only weakens your argument in the eyes of any intelligent onlooker who hasn't already made up their mind.

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