deletedJan 31·edited Jan 31
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I'm sorry, Claudine Gay didn't just "criticize Israel", she testified before congress that calling for genocide against Jews was okay under the Harvard speech codes. I guess you could technically argue that she's just a hardcore free speech absolutist, but then you'd have to ignore literally everything else you know about Harvard's attitude towards controversial free speech.

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Another example of targeting in this case is me. I wrote a critique of Claudine Gay's research, which I think is quite strong. (https://x.com/jonatanpallesen/status/1749546447811277119 and https://x.com/jonatanpallesen/status/1740324971430154471)

And for this I was attacked by the Guardian for things completely unrelated, such as my views on immigration, and previous coauthors.

It can obviously have a chilling effect if you write a critique of a scientific paper, you risk being called racist by a major newspaper.

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It's not unrelated dirt. On the contrary, the theory is that Gay was appointed as a result of a 'woke' agenda, which prioritizes ideology, specifically the oppressor / oppressed narrative, over merit. Her anti-Semitism responses go directly to the first of the theory and her plagiarism (and more broadly weak academic credentials) go to the second half. The two parts of the theory are closely linked, as an important part of the anti-woke argument is that merit is being sacrificed in the name of ideology.

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I’m reminded of how dramatically coverage of Elon Musk changed between pre buying Twitter and post. Headlines about him used to be “Eccentric Tech Guy Successfully Launches Rocket,” now they’re “Hateful Billionaire Is Actually Conspiracy Theorist And Anti Semite.” And now apparently they’re going after him for him for being too successful at Tesla, ugh.

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One should also probably not underestimate the influence of editorial staff in these sorts of investigative reports.

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> The plagiarism was discovered by conservative journalists Chris Rufo and Chris Brunet. It would be quite a coincidence for them to find it at exactly the moment Gay was already under attack for her anti-Semitism testimony.

We know the NY Post found the plagiarism earlier than that. They contacted Harvard back on October 24th, before she was national news due to her testimony (or even before she was called before congress), and got back a letter threatening to sue them for defamation if they published (while in the background they started their own investigation). https://nypost.com/2023/12/22/news/claudine-gay-said-plagiarism-claims-were-created-by-chatgpt/

And we're talking about someone who took office in July 2023.

So I'm not sure that's a good example.

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They did it to Donald Trump in the first election; they had those sexual assault allegations on tape for years and held onto them until the last couple of months of the election so there wouldn't be time to clear them up. They've been nakedly pushing agendas for decades.

I love how the response to a claim that the journalists are biased is a claim that everyone who claims that is a narcissist. I'm sure they poured a lot of time and effort into investigating that claim before they made it.

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This quibble about 'targeting' reads to me like a huge sidestepping of the real issue here. The real issue is this: is it - or is it not - the case that American (and Western world) universities have become dominated by Leftist partisan groupthink for half a century and more? DEI (and DEI hires like Gay) are just the tip of that civilisation-destroying iceberg.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

I do think that Metz led you on about the positive tone of the eventual article. He had initially adopted this tack to get people friendly to you talking, but when the evidence of juicy heresy came to light he likely decided to reorient that way. When NYT genuinely likes people being profiled it doesn't have a problem allowing them to keep their pseudonymity.

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"Do not wrestle with pigs, you will both get dirty, and the pig likes it". Famous quote, attribution unclear, pretty appropriate to the situation.

If you have found some connection that gives you the sense of doing something good in the world, go ahead and do it. If not, then living an honest life within your means and trying your best to be supportive to people around you is plenty enough. In either case, pig-wrestling is strictly optional and not recommended unless you happen to enjoy it.

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I think this is the wrong approach in general. In general, any prominent figure is going to have people digging for dirt on them. The correct place to deal with it should be after hearing it, to figure out objectively how bad this thing is conditional on there being a bias to dig up dirt on them (e.g. if it was dug up that someone wrote a racist email thirty years ago, adjust for the fact that this is probably the worst thing they've done and slightly raise your opinion on them).

This isn't going to 100% work, because people aren't great at making this adjustment and will probably still end up unfairly judging any targeted person, which rounds to anyone who becomes prominent. But otoh this helps counteract an incumbency advantage elites have from positive name recognition bias, so I think it's still done overall.

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Nearly 9 years ago (!), you expressed cautious optimism that we might soon see a deescalation of hostilities in the culture war, once progressives realised that their preferred weapons for destroying their political opponents (cancellation, social shaming etc.) are NOT asymmetric, and can just as effectively be wielded against progressives as against conservatives. (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/14/fearful-symmetry/)

I highly doubt that Chris Rufo has some principled opposition to academic plagiarism as a concept - if someone on his team was accused of precisely the same infractions Gay was accused of, I'm sure he'd come rushing to their defense. Pointing out Gay's plagiarism was a transparent attempt to work the refs, destroying someone you dislike for political reasons by finding some unrelated transgression they're guilty of and signal-boosting it.

On the other hand, Gay herself used precisely the same tactic, attempting to destroy the career of the Harvard academic Roland Fryer (who published research which was not exactly favourable to the standard BLM narrative about police violence) using some trumped-up sexual harassment accusation as a pretext (https://www.spiked-online.com/2024/01/07/claudine-gays-tyranny-of-dei/).

It's very difficult for me to feel sorry for a would-be canceller who subsequently finds herself on the receiving end of a cancellation attempt, ESPECIALLY when she was actually guilty of the trumped-up pretext infraction she was accused of (unlike Fryer). Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Like you in 2015, I longed for a future in which people of all political stripes would recognise that cancellation and social shaming are bad tactics and we should collectively sign a disarmament agreement. Every time a progressive finds themselves on the receiving end, a part of me hopes that your 2015 prediction will belatedly come true: that progressives will look at Claudine Gay or Bud Light or whatever and think "damn, this really sucks when it happens to someone we like, maybe we should stop doing it".

But it's hard for me to maintain my optimism. It seems like every cancellation just seems to incense hostilities further, and people get ever more deeply embedded in a tit-for-tat, "no bad tactics, only bad targets" mindset. Comparisons to civil war seem apt.

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"The message is clear: go after an important Ivy League leader, and we’ll go after your family."

This is one way to read it.

I read it to be more about pointing out the hypocrisy.

It was like how many journalists mysteriously stopped really caring about official email and documents security retention after the 2016 election.

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Coincidentally, the Guardian just published an attack on Rufo as a eugenicist that seems like revenge for the Gay stuff: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/31/rightwing-activist-christopher-rufo-ties-scientific-racism-journal

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I feel like Scott is being characteristically too generous to the journalist by not emphasing the point that "if someone publicly challenges/protests you, this may make you less charitable to them and motivate you to try to get some retribution" is a truistic statement of human psychology and journalists would have to have saintlike/superhuman moral character and discipline to be immune to this.

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Journalism has sucked forever. I was reading Alice Hamilton's autobiography, "Among the Dangerous Trades". This is over a century ago when people were totally cool with racists but were scared of, wait for it, anarchists.

Anyway, apparently there was a house-charity thing where people hard up could get a room living aside the more affluent (a "settlement house"). After a twitchy cop shot a Russian Jewish Anarchist, the house management was interviewed whether they would accept any anarchists - not whether there were any, mind you, but only if thet would let them attend the evening classes. The organiser said, "Sure, we don't ask anyone their political beliefs". The papers ran with the headline:


(I paraphrase only slightly)

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I thought the latest chapter in the Claudine Gay saga was that Harvard's Chief Diversity Officer was reported to have engaged in 40 instances of plagiarism, including duplicate publication with her husband and a third co-author, effectively republishing a piece that the husband had written solo two years earlier.

In some sense that's also targeting, but isn't it also newsworthy that an organization like Harvard is consistently failing to uphold for its senior leaders the standards that it requires of undergraduates?

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ummm...every journalistic effort revolves around people. So I guess every news story is targeting.

Just like obituaries of famous people are written well before they die, I am sure journalists keep information at the ready for use at opportune times. Prior to Gay's testimony, do you think anyone would have paid attention to a story about an unqualified president of Harvard committing plagiarism?

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"I suppose one could retreat even further: journalists are only human, and like to join on pile-ons against unpopular things. This is certainly a little true, and inherently sympathetic - we are all only human. Still, this one scares me most of all."

The Girardian scapegoat mechanism in a nutshell! Everyone bows as Jesus enters Jerusalem, then they crucify him by the end of the week.

When they brought him the woman caught in adultery he deliberately halted "the first stone". Once that one is thrown, a hundred others automatically follow.

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The NYT and other MSM outlets play up fair and objective, but their journalists aspire to Fleet Street brazenness. The cruelty of newspapers, when mixed with some wit, can be unwholesomely entertaining. The Sun, The Daily Mail and The New York Post sometimes still pull it off. Think how boring a strictly rationalist newspaper would be: "No Material Trends Discernible from Latest Data." "Curry Reverts to Mean in Second Half." "Critics Dismiss Ad Hominem Attacks Irrelevant to Policy Debate."

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I don’t think Spiers would disagree that investigative journalists sometimes have an ax to grind in culture wars, especially overtly political people like Rufo. I read her argument as more specific to tech people (Scott included) who she perceives as not important enough to journalists to attract meaningful ire. This is why she accuses you of egotism/an inflated sense of self import. Uncle Chico, by contrast, is erroneously evaluating commentary on Trump by the standards of reporting, as well as envisioning a grandiose conspiracy of leftist journalists that (Spiers thinks) doesn’t exist. She wouldn’t accuse uncle Chico as wrongly perceiving Trump as important enough to occupy journalist headspace (I don’t think; she never says this outright though).

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It's kind of of hilarious how there are two intersecting fights going on here:

A) the original dispute over Gaza

B) a sciences versus humanities one, where regardless of their position on Gaza, the scientists think both Gay's and Oxman's degrees are fake, and are cheering on the imminent collapse of their respective departments

P.s. I assume this post is exempt from the usual rule on Gaza-related fights being confined to a sub thread, as mentioning it a key part of the original post...

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

There are two salient facts about Claudine Gay’s case:

1) She, as (now former) president of the country’s most prestigious university, is clearly a Public Figure

2) Her wrongdoing was relevant to her role as a public figure (she was an academic leader who had plagiarized the academic work that served as her qualifications for her role).

Claudine Gay (and her employers at Harvard) should absolutely expect her academic bonafides to receive scrutiny. The problem with them coming out right after a very public foot-in-mouth performance in front of Congress is not that they came out at all, but that they hadn’t come out *sooner*.

I think the farther away you get from those two characteristics (Public Figure, relevance), the less justifiable “journalistic targeting” becomes.

In your case, I think the answer to 2 was absolutely “no” - the “true name” of the blogger known as Scott Alexander was not relevant to the story, not relevant to the thing that makes you newsworthy (nobody has a general interest in the names of random Bay Area psychiatrists). 1 is a harder question, because Scott Alexander the Blogger is obviously a public figure, but Dr. Siskind, Bay Area Psychiatrist is clearly not.

So I’d say the targeting of you was much worse than Claudine Gay, but not as bad as plucking some random person out of a hat (or your Instagram feed) and just digging up and publishing the worst thing you can find about them.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

That Spiers article bugged me for other reasons, particularly the idea that Metz was just such hot stuff that a controversy that led to a meta-article in the New Yorker would scarcely register in his consciousness amidst all of other the important articles he was writing. Maybe she's too much of a snob to imagine a NY Times writer caring what an influential blogger thinks, but how many Cade Metz articles led to critical coverage in the New Yorker?

On another note, has anyone done a baseline analysis to see what % of (e.g. Harvard) scholars' works contain plagiarism of Gay's severity? I have definitely had the experience of trying to rephrase something in my own words, coming up with the perfect phrasing, and then realizing I had copied half a sentence word for word. That's why when, for example, Lawrence Tribe was found to have copied a boring 19 word sentence I was pretty sure this was just the kind of thing that could happen if you read something and then wrote about the same topic a few hours later. Gay's plagiarism seemed too common for that, but I'm not sure and I wish someone would just run the numbers.

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While I agree with the overall point of not searching for every bad thing a person ever did as retaliation, I'm kinda OK with doing this because of plagiarism.

Honestly, we have too many academics. Science is in a crisis where its inundated with bullshit, no one reads a paper unless it's from someone famous, and scientific writing is just used as a prop to get prestige and a better role in universities.

We are in a point where we have too much science and too little quality. If eviscerating people for plagiarism raises the quality (while decreasing the quantity) of science, I'm happy with the tradeoff.

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> If I ran the world, I would want newspapers to do the opposite of that - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that kind of thing. I would want it to find dirt on people who were puffed up way too high riding the top of the popularity wave, and find reasons to defend and stand up for people who were vulnerable and getting piled on. Still, it seems like in real life people do the opposite.

Scott, you should look into the kind of investigative reports that short sellers, like eh Hindenburg, put out.

They don't earn any money from piling on companies (and people) who are already down. They earn a better profit, if they can bring highflyer down.

You can probably estimate for yourself how unpopular that makes them.

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> If I ran the world, I would want newspapers to do the opposite of that - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that kind of thing. I would want it to find dirt on people who were puffed up way too high riding the top of the popularity wave, and find reasons to defend and stand up for people who were vulnerable and getting piled on. Still, it seems like in real life people do the opposite.

I think the first half of this is definitely happening (it's the whole business model of e.g. tabloids) though not the second half. This makes sense because humans have a negativity bias, so negative coverage gets more clicks.

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There needs to be a referee system in place to impose some norms of fairness. I don’t think anyone likes being in a system totally devoid of honor and considered laughable by most of the public. I have long spergy posts on this on my substack, but basically, of course people do this stuff because there’s no impartial judge to stop them from doing it and they pay no price for doing it. And worse, they don’t even get a proportionate reward for behaving honorably.

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I wonder if there is a deeper question here, which might be: "Is there a better way to do "reputational work"?

Politics, media, the arts, business and Academia are filled with people doing "reputational work", that is, spending time and effort promoting a particular view of reputations, burnishing their own, that of mentees, allies, groups, schools of thought; and also slurring and diminishing those of rival individuals, groups, and schools of thought.

All this work stands as a proxy for the really needed work, which is to discover which politicians, experts, up and coming researchers or startups, advisors, schools of thought, etc are really worth placing credit in, and which are full of shit.

Although this has all gone on since time immemorial, it clearly in many cases is ineffective at doing the needful work. The best way to stop something which is doing harm, is to figure out a replacement which is better. Are there ways of doing this better?

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This piece is the single best example of the midwit meme I've ever seen.

It's targeting.

"I don't know there could be any number of reasons"

It's targeting

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> Neri Oxman is a Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, but nobody in history has ever cared about Media Arts and Sciences.

Context: the MAS program at MIT is the program run by the MIT Media Lab, an institution whose reputation has suffered of late due to its association with Jeffrey Epstein but which was before that the darling of the tech press, the subject of hundreds if not thousands of fawning, breathless articles since the 1980s about the groundbreaking research coming out of the lab. And to be fair, if you’ve ever used a computer or a computer network (eg, the internet) to do anything other than academic research — read a news feed customized to you, chat with friends, take a course, participate in a shared virtual world — you are enjoying the fruits of research groups like the Social Media group (the origin of that term, for what it’s worth) or the Epistemology and Learning group (anyone ever learn to program using LOGO?) or the Electronic Publishing Group.

I have very mixed feelings about the Media Lab’s legacy, but to say that nobody cares about their research couldn’t be farther from the truth. The history of the MIT Media Lab is the history of the adoption of computers and the internet by ordinary people in their day to day lives; the history of our culture in 2024 doesn’t make any sense without it.

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So Ladyballers wasn't the best film, but I did enjoy their treatment of journalists.

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The lesson I learned long ago, and why I spend much more time on ACX than on news outlets: Everyone has an agenda. If someone has unique data (e.g. news sites), take the data only and preferably from opposing sides; if no unique data is needed, seek sources that are either explicit in their agenda or ideally those who put objective truth as their agenda (and usually these places can be identified via if they truly steel-man the opposing side, separate between facts and opinions, etc.).

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Rufo and Brunet went after Gay because of her complete hypocrisy on free speech matters. If she had been a principled free-speech absolutist the whole time, there are plenty of pro-Israel people who would've been upset by her congressional testimony (probably including Ackman), but some right-wing investigative journalists probably wouldn't have cared that much. They care because academia/media/etc. will go after people (including tenured academics) who say things like "There's no such thing as a woman with a penis" or "Maybe the under-representation of black Americans in (insert prestigious field here) has something to do with having an average IQ one standard deviation below the IQ of white Americans" or "The gender pay gap is sufficiently explained by various factors that have nothing to do with sexist bosses."

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Regarding Elizabeth Spiers, I see she is folding her tent and leaving Substack to we deplorables:

"We’re moving to a different platform. It’ll probably be Ghost or Wordpress with some kind of email integration, but I want to potentially start this newsletter up again and I don’t want to do it on a platform that keeps openly promoting racists and transphobes."

Wordpress? Ye gods and small fishes, why? Ask your good buddy Cade The Tech Writer Guy for advice, Lizzy!

Maybe it's because this is a nest of scum and villainy, or maybe it's because she's dropping subscribers and moving to what was the Cool New Joint has not worked out for her in terms of making cash money off her writing - I see by the linked early post that she was boasting 3k subscribers but now she's down to "over 2k". Probably why she needs the side-gig teaching would-be journos how to write op-eds:

"I’m teaching an opinion writing workshop on Zoom on August 9th and 16th from 7pm to 9pm ET. The structure for participants: On August 1st, you'll receive a reading list and an assignment to be completed before the first session. Between the first and second sessions, you'll have a revision assignment and I'll review your first assignment with you individually. The week after the second session, I'll give you a final edit on a completed opinion column and if you aim to get your piece published, some suggestions about where to pitch it.

Since this is a first run, I'm pricing it at $350.00. I'll increase the price once I'm sure I've worked out any potential kinks, but haven't settled on a number yet. You can register/sign up here."

Well, good luck with the move, Liz, don't strain your back lifting any heavy furniture, and I'm sure Wordpress (giggle) will be just the ticket to draw in the huge audience craving a NYT writer's words of worldly wisdom! Barbenheimer memes, really got her finger on the pulse there!

"I wrote about Barbenheimer memes for The New York Times. Here’s a gift link if you’re not a subscriber. As I mention in the column, my vibe is more Oppenheimer than Barbie, but I saw both last weekend, in that order. It was like enjoying a tasting menu at a restaurant, where it’s amazing but maybe a little exhausting, and ending the meal with an ice cream sundae laced with THC."

(If you just wait long enough, you get to see your enemies pulling themselves down).

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I'm not sure how you discuss "targeting" with mentioning Trump. Is it "chilling" that there has been a search for dirt on him for years, even producing garbage like the Steele Dossier?

But if you want to keep this focused on Gay: Why not mention her role in ousting Roland Fryer, who went from Golden Child to outcast and was ousted by Gay herself? Or, why not mention that plagiarism is the cardinal sin in academia. Perhaps the reason it was not found before is because who would suspect someone would so lazy as to plagiarize something as mundane as their acknowledgements? In any case, she did stuff that would land an 18-year-old freshman in the hottest of waters. That she heads the most important university in the US, and perhaps the world, makes it important.

And regarding "The message is clear: go after an important Ivy League leader, and we’ll go after your family." Is this surprising? Academia is a toxic, nasty place. It is not the least bit surprising that Harvard, the epitome of "it's a big club and you ain't in it", would go after its enemies using its allies in contemporary journalism.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

Actually Karlstack (Brunet) investigated Gay over a year ago and found all kinds of damning stuff that isn't plagiarism, including apparent coverups of data forgery.


So there was no holding stuff in reserve. They were attacking Gay from the start. Yet nobody cared. The entire thing did not go viral, did not collect $100, did not pass go. That's why you don't know about it and are over-thinking their strategy.

I think it's established beyond all possible doubt now that journalists do the bidding of academics, and the only crime academics care about is plagiarism. People can literally photoshop images and make up tables of data, entire fields can be based on nonsensical premises, and nobody anywhere gives a damn. But the moment someone copies a few sentences from another paper they absolutely ape-shit.

In this context it's entirely expected and reasonable that the Gay thing revolves around plagiarism. What was Ackman going to do, accuse her of scientific fraud, diversity hiring, incompetence and coverups? That's de rigour in academia and journalists never report on it, with the notable exception of Nature's news department (!!). But plagiarism? That gets noticed in the halls of power.

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What a long way to say "I don't understand hypocrisy"

Also wild that the wife of a literal billionaire is categorized as afflicted here. "Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable" is what is happening in the media when they do things like write critical stories about powerful institutions. Personally think the better explanation of why stories critical of EA started happening was that it turned out to be a bunch of powerful people a lot of whom were "Just Some Guy" doing dumb "Just Some Guy" stuff. I'm not the biggest fan of the media but the Oxman story was good, partly on account of being hilarious.

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I agree with the sentiment that generally the media piles on to people falling from grace. I think it’s because it’s safer to criticize people in numbers. The Claudine Gay example is a bad one since although the allegations were republished at a convenient time, the original reporting was there. I also think in the specific circumstances, establishment media types were in between a rock and a hard place regarding defending their general ideology and Claudine Gay’s tenure in light of that. I think the plagiarism served as a seemingly unique and novel way to circumvent the issue of whether affirmative action overpromotes poor quality individuals

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

> The plagiarism was discovered by conservative journalists Chris Rufo and Chris Brunet. It would be quite a coincidence for them to find it at exactly the moment Gay was already under attack for her anti-Semitism testimony. More likely, they either:

> Found it a while ago, and kept it in reserve for a time when Gay was in the news

> Or were angry about Gay’s testimony, looked for dirt on her, and found it.

> I think this is obvious to everyone, but I hadn’t seen anyone make it explicit, and I think it should be.

Definitely targeting, but you left out what I see as a fairly significant third option:

They noticed that Gay was under assault from other quarters, so they looked for dirt on her (while she was weak anyway), and found it.

In order to take down someone you hate while they're under attack, it's not actually necessary that you care about whatever it is they're under attack for. No more than it is that what takes them down be related to whatever it is they're under attack for.

(In fact, a story from when I was in high school: one year, everyone hated the chemistry teacher. Partway through the year he got fed up and called a friend of mine an idiot. This would have offended nobody. But, because everyone hated him anyway, maybe a dozen students went to the administration to file a complaint. He got fired.)

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Points 3 onward I understand. I think you're wrong about points 1 and 2.

"Assuming that many important people have skeletons in their closets (or can be believably accused of such in ways hard for them to disprove)..."

That is a very generous way of characterizing Gay's plagiarism (Rufo's "dirt"). It wasn't a shadowy, unfalsifiable smear. It was a verifiable violation of the core principles of her field. And unlike Oxman, Gay remained visible and relevant in the field.

Comparing Gay's experience to yours is inaccurate.

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The first segment here is insulting to the reader because it shows you put absolutely no effort toward looking into the matter. Rufo is extremely transparent about what he does, outlining the step by step process in the Wall Street Journal, and Brunet has literally written a timeline on this on his own Substack, including when he first got the anonymous tip regarding Gay. These are two activists widely known for their belief in "narrating the scandal" as it happens -- informing ideological allies and foes alike of what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. You apparently were too busy to even look at what they said about this question, which would have shown you the answer.

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I think you're confusing 'maliciously target' with 'get curious about something you've heard abou/wonder what you've missed when new information becomes available.' Someone who didn't check their priors after something like FTX or ask 'hang on, is your concern really plagiarism, or something else in the Harvard issue' well, doesn't strike me as very rational...

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I wonder how numbers of skeletons in the closet varies with quality of person/leader/ideas. Is it random or not. It is a bit like the general factor of correctness.

My guess is that people with lots of skeletons in their closet especially around fraud are significantly less good at their job.

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I'm not sure if I'm really contradicting you in any way, but I wouldn't have put it the way you put it. I think the way you put it ignores two factors.

1) The clumpiness of random distributions. For example, these allegations against Gay weren't held back. They were reported on before. They just didn't gain traction before. The skeletons in everyone's cupboards are found at normal random intervals, and as a result often appear in clumps that look like a pile-on, even though they are in fact just normal clumpiness.

2) When you use the word targeting, this suggests individual journalists bear in mind specific targets. But in reality it's all just pile-on, isn't it? There was something else going on with Gay in the media, so an old story about her plagiarism was more likely to attract clicks for those few days. None of the journalists involved need have any animus against Gay; they just need to follow the rules of the news game like good little automata, chase the clicks, and the avalanche of bad news forms naturally.

Read like this, it is certainly worth knowing: if you ever get into the media, it will not rain on you it will pour. But this doesn't imply "targeting," I don't think.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

I thought Gay did better than the other lady president, the one who had a smirk we haven't seen since that kid stood outside the Washington Monument being harrassed by the weird wooden Indian/imposter veteran.

I don't know if her smirk was defiant - because she knew she was doomed - or if it was just her natural mien, over which she has little control ... An interesting difference between men and women. The men in those sinecures generally know how to look the part. Women get into those positions without needing to master that particular skill; we've all experienced that. Odd how it came home to roost though.

As for Gay, sure, somebody diligent and unqueasy about such things had to dig - but the CONTEXT was this: progressives elevate someone like that, for reasons of ideology and skin color, but they don't trouble to do it well. They don't trouble to find someone legitimate enough to withstand scrutiny. Because somewhere in their heart of hearts, their gossip-y, back-biting, judgmental hearts - they don't want anyone more solid. They like to reserve that power. They're perfectly happy for everyone to guess/know that she didn't have the goods, academics-wise. Partly it's to clearly demonstrate what it's all really about - pointing back to *them* (be afraid, be very afraid). Partly it's to make sure everyone knows that the job is in their gift, that they are the puppetmasters.

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I think there's less here than there seems to be. Journalists are literally attention seekers. They want their stories read to enhance their reputation and their owner's profit. Stories which get read are man bites dog stories. "Harvard professor may be plagiarist' is a dog bites man story until outside factors promote it to man bites dog. If they had run the story before it became interesting, no one would have read it, it would have been easier to refute, and people would now be saying"look at the mud slinging journalists dragging up this tired old story."

As for the EA professor, thirty years ago he was a (possibly not yet even professorial) author of racist emails. There's at least the possibility that he has not completely changed his views over 30 years even if he says he has. If he remains racist, this is front and centre to EA (does he think dollars spent on Africa are comparatively wasted?) If he is who I think it's even more central to AI ethics. How can you think clearly about machine rights when you don't believe in universal human rights? His prominence changes the email from dog bites man to man bites dog. The moral is, don't be racist even if you are obscure.

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It's notable that the Time hit piece on EA did not name any of the alleged sexual abusers in the article. It said that some of the victims requested their abusers not be named, but it's unlikely everyone did. A sign the libel laws are working.

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Good piece - and yes, my sense is, if someone comes into the crosshairs for whatever reason, it's going to result in people digging on dirt to use at you, and this does not necessarily have to grow naturally out of the story that brought you to prominence in the first place.

This is pretty standardized and has been for decades - for political campaigns. What you're seeing here is essentially opposition research tactics - digging for needles in the hay stack, putting together mild quotes and off-hand comments, finding the thing you said in 2006 that juxtapositions itself poorly against the situation in 2024 - being extended into basically anyone who runs afoul of what a properly funded nonprofit cares about.

That a lot of media outlets don't even bother with the pretense they're doing something else (did anyone really think Business Insider was some sort of bastion of journalistic ethics before this?) makes it easier for the era of the "nonprofit newsroom." These situations emerge, someone good at Lexis-Nexis or TurnItIn or whatever's relevant runs up a pitch, and then some journo writes down the material they've been provided.

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C,C -> C,D -> D,D (-> C,C?)

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It absolutely is targeting, but I think you're conflating different things here.

Gay was in a very important, very public position with (we thought) very high standards. She failed to live up to those standards. It is absolutely true that people didn't look until she took some crazy positions, but arguably the sort of person who would pass the high standards required of a Harvard President would never be so careless as to make the statements she made. She signaled through her professional behavior that something wasn't quite right, some people looked into it, and something wasn't quite right. Beyond anything she did, her position makes her subject to targeting. There are legal standards about this. She's clearly a public figure.

The Oxman targeting was unpleasant and clearly retaliation. But academics are also fair-game for targeting about their work. The reasons don't really matter.

Overall, I'd argue this is all a net positive; a lot of academics are very sloppy, and targeting for deeper review on the basis of political activism seems like a reasonable enough process. I'd prefer a more comprehensive, systematic external review system (new non-profit opportunity?). Academia's internal controls are badly broken, and outside review is a good thing.

Your case isn't comparable. You didn't do anything wrong. You're not an academic making claims of expertise based on your past work. You were involved with a group that was in the news, and you'd been a successful writer for a while. Nowhere near public-figure enough to justify invasion of privacy, but clearly the NYT disagreed. Targeting you wasn't justified.

There was also an element of retaliation, although more the standard journalistic kind (not talking huh? would be a real shame if this article was to be more negative and if we mentioned your name for no reason). Which is unpleasant, but also part of the way journalism works. Fear of negative press gets people to talk who might not otherwise talk. On net, I think that's also a positive, although it can be abused. Although I grant I might be less willing to take the greater-good position if something similar happened to me.

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I don't think the timeline on Claudine Gay is right. I am sure I had heard about the plagiarism allegations about her well before Fall 2023 and I think they just didn't gain any traction until the congressional hearings.

Unfortunately, I can't find a link to support this, as I can't seem to filter out current news from the search. I guess it is possible I'm misremembering. It may have been from around the time she was hired as there was some controversy about her qualifications and criticisms that her appointment was mainly for DEI reasons.

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Basically “however much you currently dislike journalists, it’s not enough”

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"But it’s the sort of thing that you can imagine having chilling effects. Imagine if, every time someone let their students/employees/whatever criticize Israel, journalists searched really hard for unrelated dirt on them. "

It ain't just journalists and it ain't just Israel. The criminal laws in the United States are far-reaching enough and broad enough in scope that an aggressive prosecutor can always find a pretext to bring charges against anyone. Even if they cannot make the charges stick, the legal fees alone are enough to bankrupt most people. I am in the 1%, and I could not afford to pay expensive lawyers for very long.

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." - Cardinal Richelieu

For that matter, the Scientologists have been known to do something similar in the civil litigation area.

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The Harvard students never called for genocide against the Jews, and President Gay never supported a call for genocide.

Sample quotes from the internet.

What do you think about Harvard President Claudine Gay's apology for her remarks about calling for the genocide of Jews?

Do you agree with Harvard President Claudine Gay that calling for the genocide of Jews on campus depends on the "context"?

After witnessing the Congressional testimony of Claudine Gay, the President of Harvard, I am ashamed of my alma mater. How should Harvard respond to a call for the genocide of Jews on its campus?

When asked if calling for the genocide of Jews would violate Harvard's code of conduct, Gay wouldn't give a yes or no answer. Harvard constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe called her testimony hesitant, formulaic and evasive. But he was among hundreds of faculty members who rallied behind Gay, urging Harvard to keep its president. 

So exactly what was the testimony?

ELISE STEFANIK: It’s a yes or no question. Let me ask you this. You are president of Harvard, so I assume you’re familiar with the term intifada, correct?

CLAUDINE GAY: I’ve heard that term, yes.

ELISE STEFANIK: And you understand that the use of the term intifada in the context of the Israeli Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the state of Israel, including violence against civilians and the genocide of Jews. Are you aware of that?

CLAUDINE GAY: That type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.

ELISE STEFANIK: And there have been multiple marches at Harvard with students chanting quote, “there is only one solution intifada revolution.” And quote, “globalize the intifada.” Is that correct?

CLAUDINE GAY: I’ve heard that thoughtless, reckless and hateful language on our campus, yes.

ELISE STEFANIK: So, based upon your testimony, you understand that this call for intifada is to commit genocide against the Jewish people in Israel and globally, correct?

CLAUDINE GAY: I will say again that type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.

ELISE STEFANIK: Do you believe that type of hateful speech is contrary to Harvard’s code of conduct or is it allowed at Harvard?

CLAUDINE GAY: It is at odds with the values of Harvard. But our values also —

ELISE STEFANIK: Can you not say here that it is against the code of conduct at Harvard?

CLAUDINE GAY: We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment —

ELISE STEFANIK: Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel?


ELISE STEFANIK: You testify that you understand that it’s the definition of intifada. Is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?

CLAUDINE GAY: We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable —


So what IS the definition of "intifada"?




specifically : an armed uprising of Palestinians against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip<<


>>The right to resist is a human right<<


"Intifada" means armed resistance to occupation. It does not mean "genocide". When Dr. Gay accepted Stefanik's definition, she was trapped.

Stefanik maneuvered Gay into declarating that support for a human right is:

"thoughtless, reckless and hateful language"

So sad.

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I think it was fairly common practice among Sports Journalists for decades to look the other way as long as the player was performing on the field, but quick to cite off-field incidents when the performance started lacking. A few different factors at play for sports like wanting to ensure continued access to the player and team, but not surprising that most journalists have agendas that can be manipulated.

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> it’s always easy to notice and critique power, except when you’re it

I’m curious whether this power has increased over the past decade or not. On the one hand before social media, journalism had a lot of power. It brought down Nixon during the Watergate scandal. It strong-armed the US government into war during the Spanish-American war. But on the other hand, these targeted attacks on semi-prominent individuals might not have been very effective anytime before social media when it was more difficult to socially shame everybody. It’s not like I could’ve named Claudine Gay or Oxman before this time. I guess I'm wondering if part of journalism’s power is an artifact of how social media makes people more susceptible to public shame.

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A concern I have about the Gay scandal is that we seem to have forgotten the purpose of norms about plagarism and are just jumping through arbitrary hoops. Academia isn't a game or more school it's about producing valuable research and if you can save time by copying some text describing a methodology then that should be allowed.

Ok, but we need to have norms and she violated them right? Not so fast...these norms are less clear than you think. Recently on an academic Facebook group someone asked, in light of the Gay scandal, about the acceptability of using word for word suggestions from your partner about how to word paragraphs without attribution[1]. About half the responses said: duh ofc it's fine why would you even ask while about a quarter said it's obviously plagarism. A surprising number even said it's not plagarism **because** those suggestions didn't appear in print so no one will find out.

So the norms aren't as clear as people think and to the extent they are we might want to ask if they are the appropriate ones.

1: In some male coded fields some women worry that if you include the thanks you'll be accused by some of just having your partner write your papers. And it can be awkward in multi-author papers.

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I appreciate your point, but I think the status of a university president is essentially that of a congress member or politician. Your job is as much about projecting a certain image as anything else.

I have some quibles about the norms Gay was accused of violating but it's not crazy to say that we hire a certain group of people to be, in part, figureheads and that their high pay and status is in part compensation for the need to be relatively free of this kind of scandal.

This wasn't some professor or blogger dragged out of psuedo-anonymity but someone who fought to take a very public politically charged position knowing she'd be subject to increased scrutiny. So even if I'm not thrilled about the lack of scrutiny of our norms about plagarism, becoming a university president and complaining about this kind of attack is a bit like becoming an MMA fighter and then trying to file assault charges.

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This is obviously correct and I've seen it repeatedly. My first exposure was Cosby, who is obviously a monster, but had been a monster for decades, and nobody cared until he started having unpopular positions. The solution can't be "stop investigating people with unpopular opinions" because that's never going to happen and also we should in fact investigate bad people. Instead journalists need to introduce processes for finding stories that also, occasionally, implicate popular people. Imagine.

There's a difference, obviously, between that case and the media's treatment of the grey tribe. There isn't even smoke here, for the most part. SBF was both very bad and took advantage of particular silicon bro weaknesses, and got deserved scrutiny. But media has an axe to grind against west coast tech guys, took it too far, there was a bit of a backlash, and they backed off.

FWIW I don't think that media folks see their actions as targeting. I think instead that they're increasingly bad at examining biases, to the point they're unaware entirely that they have them.

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Consider some possible alternatives:

1. Journalists target people using a random number generator over the broadest possible distribution

2. Journalists develop a utilitarian calculus for investigating journalism which allows them to attack the people who are doing the Most Bad.

Consider also this recent bit of investigative journalism, triggered by a dismissive twitter reply, which showed that there's extremely low hanging fruit in the investigative journalism area:


Broadly, people don't object to investigative journalism. If it targets you and yours it's bad. If it targets people you don't care about with mud you don't care about it's "bad". But it's going to target someone, and they wouldn't write it unless they thought someone would care about the mud.

Journalists, amateur and professional, are going to target people according to their feelings about said people. Whether the targeted fall depends how strong their coalition is and how much it divides the coalition.

Conceptually, it seems like this should just be considered a force of nature and your coalition should simply develop good defenses against it. If your coalition can't stand up to your opposition's accusations maybe it's time for introspection.

I do understand that individual people (typically leadership) of these organizations tend to bear the brunt of these attacks. But what's the solution, really?

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Was going to comment on how Gay would never say that about other groups, and Ackman never denied digging up dirt, but the last time I commented I got death threats...

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"doxxing my real name"

Not sure it's fair to conflate your "real" (whatever that is) with your state name.

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"Compare to the hypothetical situation about Israel above. Investigative journalists have credibly signaled that if you go after their allies in academia, they’ll go after you and your loved ones"

I don't think this is equivalently 'chilling' to the Claudine Gay case. Rufo's attack on Gay's plagiarism wasn't really in any way directly related to the nature of the controversy Gay was in, however poorly you think of her answers to the questions at the Congressional committee. The criticism of Oxman, meanwhile, was over the very same wrongdoing about which Ackman was crusading. In this light, 'go after prominent academics/administrators and we'll go after your family' is a very uncharitable characterisation of Business Insider's coverage. A more reasonable interpretation, to my mind, is 'if you're going to go after someone for plagiarism, you should probably hold those close to you to the same standards', which, having very publicly gone to bat for his wife, Ackman has failed to do.

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Valid points.

Specifically, I have been an early and committed financial supporter of developing investigative reporter Chris Brunet. I encourage readers not to sweep Brunet in with some partisan witch hunters. To do so is to misunderstand his integrity, in my opinion.

Scott, I strongly recommend reading Brunet's articles before surmising his intentions, though the impact can of course be discussed without understanding his work.

Brunet's focus is fraud, primarily academic fraud, although his exposure of brilliant crypto fraudster Avraham Eisenberg through Discord is intriguing. Brunet began with raw anger powering his investigations, and continues to develop into a deeper thinker.

You describe Brunet as conservative. That is accurate given what is called conservative today, yet it also adopts framing designed to discount moderate views. Brunet is not dedicated to promoting conservative positions, though his X posts might give that impression. In his Karlstack, Brunet is dedicated to combating deceit and hypocrisy with a fervor for truth and accuracy.

Brunet first wrote about concerns with Claudine Gay in April 2022. Clearly her fair or unfair targeting of data-respecting, conservative black scholar Roland Fryer was motivation to look into her own comparative scholarship. What was the source of her power to crush a black scholar, arguably for countering the DEI party line, using what many consider to be a trumped up witch hunt?

It was remarkable that of the many serious research problems in her markedly thin publication record, the omitting of and altering of data, the questionable statistical approaches, racial promotion of an otherwise unqualified candidate, it was the least of the issues, the lazy cut-and-paste plagiarism hyped by Rufo, that stuck.

It was her comments regarding antiSemitism that lit the fire, and Scott has, as always, interesting observations regarding the implications. Yet there had long been smoke.

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We all want journalists on Simulacrum Level 1, but they are all lvl 2 at best and more often lvl 3 or 4. They don't just want you to know about plagiarism, they want you to know about THIS or THAT plagiarism, ONLY because of the effect it'll have on your opinions - namely your stance in the red-blue culture war and how confidently you hold that stance.

How cool it would be to have an AI model that measures something like the "culture war magnitude" of an article. To preemptively answer the question: "If we strip out the culture war component of this story, how much of a 'story' is left?" And then filter your news by that metric.

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I think journalism is just returning to its historical roots. I would suggest that the 1920s journalistic ideal of "objectivity, neutral POV, higher standards" journalism was in fact a business decision by several publishers who were attempting to distinguish themselves from the "yellow journalism" era of the 1890s-1910s. Over time that standard became less important as a business differentiator, but it was culturally locked in (more or less) until the Internet forced another rethinking of cultural communication.

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I wonder if Scott has updated his position on [Conflict vs Mistake](https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/24/conflict-vs-mistake/).

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Attention is a scarce resource.

If one is hunting for dirt on one person then one can't be hunting for dirt on another.

This is the same problem that the Stasi (and KGB and FBI) had back in the day: They would LIKE to keep tabs on everyone. But because of limited resources they couldn't.

The good news (?) is that by automating this sort of thing I expect in the future there will be folks who have let computers trawl through Twitter and Intagram and academic publications and they will have databases of this sort of thing for everyone with any sort of on-line presence. When they choose to release the findings will be another matter.

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> You shouldn’t base it on one very dramatic data point, because the generation of dramatic data points involves a lot of noise.

I’d missed this article. Now that I’ve read it, I found it convincing, but I wouldn’t use the term “noise” to summarize. It implies a problem with detection rather than estimation.

In radar detectors, noise is the thermal contribution to measured power. It doesn’t change based on the presence of the target.

If measured power is analogous to media attention, then noise would be the background level of coverage in the absence of a dramatic event. Once an event has actually happened, coverage is not noise, but *signal*.

That’s all well and good up until such a signal is used as a proxy for something, at which point the usual map/territory distinction applies. The radar equivalent would be assuming signal corresponds to physical target size. Yeah, it does, but much like media coverage of bombings, that effect is completely dominated by distance to the target.

The generation of dramatic data points doesn’t involve any more noise than usual. It’s just decoupled from the thing people *assume* it’s measuring.

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@Scott Alexander the comparison between Gay and the other cases seems to overlook major points of difference.

First, elite university presidents should plagiarize less, not “not more” than others! Damning with faint praise indeed.

But beyond that, Gay’s record was supposed to be scrutinized twice before the scandal hit- when she was being nominated for her position, and when previous accusations were made (another detail Scott overlooks). The lack of any actual scrutiny and the obvious hypothesis for it are a big part of the scandal.

Finally, and I don’t think this point is made enough, Gay’s academic record is abysmal. You can quibble about the count, but 11 publications with 2-3k citations, all in a narrow field, is simply pathetic for a serious researcher- and had to be even worse when she was getting accepted for tenure and elected dean. If that is not even high-quality and integrity research- then it’s not clear to what extent is she an academic at all. One may think that it’s fine to have non-academics lead universities- but guess which side strongly opposes this!

As a nitpick- the latest development is in fact that the chief diversity officer at Harvard is accused of massive plagiarism too.

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Is it a bit like keeping an obituary ready for really old famous people ? If they die, the paper that has that ready can publish a great obit faster than others.

There's certainly a disturbing trend here, a mean-spiritedness. One side seems more righteous than the other though of the two you compare. Oxman's wife was just the innocent wife of the guy they were going after. If he continues what they did, using their logic, he'd have to go after the BI editors' spouses!

What was done to you is chilling. That's how I heard about your blog and found it though! SSC was retired then and ACT was what I found.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

>The plagiarism was discovered by conservative journalists Chris Rufo and Chris Brunet. It would be quite a coincidence for them to find it at exactly the moment Gay was already under attack for her anti-Semitism testimony. More likely, they either:

>Found it a while ago, and kept it in reserve for a time when Gay was in the news

>Or were angry about Gay’s testimony, looked for dirt on her, and found it.

I don't think either option is correct.

I first read about Claudine Gay in a post by Christopher Brunet on April 17th, 2022. It sure said quite a bit about her, including attempting to tie her to Jeffery Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and three other misc. academic scandals at Harvard, but if you scroll down far enough you get to "Gay’s Scholarly Merit (or lack thereof)", which does call her out for lack of replicability and low academic qualifications.


Researching academic fraud is basically his bit, mostly via the Econ Job Market Rumors website, so it's definitely right up his wheelhouse and I am skeptical it was just opportunistic/precipitated by the congressional testimony.

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Not very complicated, IMO. Gay shouldn't be president of Harvard (because plagiarism) and Ackman shouldn't have used something ("plagiarism is really bad") as a means to an end ("get rid of Gay") if he wasn't willing to have that belief pressure tested. Should Ackman's strategic behavior get a pass because proving his hypocrisy meant digging up dirt on his wife? I dunno but it feels to me as though Ackman was playing with fire, and Gay wasn't sufficiently vetted.

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Hello, I am the Brunet mentioned at the start of this article.

When speculating on my motives, you say that perhaps I was ''angry about Gay’s testimony, looked for dirt on her, and found it.'' You are not the first to draw this conclusion! However, the truth is -- not to minimize the Israel/Palestine thing -- I never cared about her testimony. I have been writing about Claudine Gay for over 2 years, before any issues related to her congressional testimony came to light.

I wrote this on October 21, 2022, back when she was still a Dean:

''I can’t stress enough how much of a tragedy a Claudine Gay presidency would be — this musn’t be allowed to come to pass. She will ruin Harvard.''

On my Substack my main beat is academic integrity, and that was my only motivation for writing about her all along, although other people (the person who sent me the plagiarism tip?) clearly had their own motivations, and other actors had their own motivations to further weaponize my research. It is what it is. I can't control other people, I can only put the truth out there, and then it takes on a life of its own.

Sometimes people (not you) accuse me of being motivated by race, that is also false. I have written roughly 200 articles about academic malfeasance, and they are mostly about economics, finance, accounting -- stuff that has nothing to do with race. To me, this was just another corrupt academic that had committed academic fraud, and that is all I had to point out.

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Claudine Gay's shoddy scholarly credentials and the disgrace of her tenure at Stanford and hiring by Harvard were well known years before the general public found out. It wasn't really that she was targeted-- more that "little people" were screaming about her for years, but nobody listened until her Congressional testimony. That's why the Harvard Trustees thought they could get away with making her President.

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Burnet discovered Gays plagiarism years ago but it went nowhere. I think it was a leak by a political rival in academia.

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I followed the Oxman/Ackman drama on Twitter, and Oxman is actually NOT at MIT. She left to start a company in 2020.

Ackman described talking to the BI reporter who clearly thought this could get Oxman fired from the job she no longer has.

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I think Scott is conflating four different phenomena.

1. Personal malice, of one individual for another. "That Scott Alexander is giving me a hard time, dammit!" Journalists feel this but do not admit it. Ie I would never write a piece that "gets" Scott because I am annoyed at him. But, lo and behold, my piece on him turned out negative, for what I fool myself into thinking are sound reasons. This does happen.

2. Institutional blindness, or what the French call "deformation professionelle." This is when you acquire the groupthink of your trade and no longer see obvious facts because your profession trained you to discount them and you want to be a good practitioner, not an amateur.

I noticed in the Scott v NY Times brouhaha that the reporter justified himself by saying, in effect, "Scott's name isn't a secret, anyone could find it with a little Googling, so what is the big deal?" He was (I bet sincerely) incapable of seeing the difference between being semi-findable with effort vs being named in the fucking New York Times.

This is how journalists are trained to think: If it is possible to do X to you, then it is not my fault if I do X to you.

And this is a feature, not a bug. If I thought "oh, dear, when I write that this study does not hold up, the researcher will be mad, boo hoo," then I could never write anything critical about anyone. A problem arises, though, when you mix Item 1 in my list with Item 2.

3. Institutional structure. This is where many smart people go wrong talking about "the media." People, we are not well-organized! A newspaper, like a brain, consists of many different parts that communicate imperfectly with one another. There is no central guiding homunculus.

Instead, we go by explicit and implicit learned guidelines about what constitutes a good story and what merits public attention. Those guidelines don't permit anyone to say, to themselves or anyone else, "hey, let's 'get' X for our own selfish reasons." When people are making judgments according to their own interpretations of codes that have different versions, there is plenty of room for self-deception. But there is no room for explicit decisions to target people as punishment.

Of course we can speak of institutional decisions. A story like the Neri Oxman piece involves more than one person -- it needs a reporter to hear a tip or rumor, and editors to say, "whoa, yeah, that's fair game." And the judgment of those people can be fucked up by items 1,2 and 4 (below). But that is not a central institutional decision to "get" the hedge fund guy.

Instead, the chain of thought is this: Powerful guy drives an official out of office, in part by saying a single standard for plagiarism should apply to all, be they students or administrators or anything else. But if a single standard should apply to all, then why can't we ask about his own spouse's infractions? Are they minor? Sure, but so were a lot of the official's whom he targeted? Are they unimportant in the great scheme of things (no one cares about Media Arts)? Yes, but that is irrelevant. The captivating story is the powerful guy proclaiming a standard his own family can't uphold.

My point is not to defend this argument (though I could if I had to). My point is simply that people who sincerely think this is correct are not out to "get" Oxman's spouse. They are pursuing a story that passes the two criteria journalists actually care about: Is this going to interest the reader? And, is this good for society? My guess is they answered yes because, jeez, it was interesting and because anything that slows down the attempt of billionaire money wizards to lord it over higher education is good for society.

4. Media groupthink. After FTX "everyone knew" that everything associated with SBF was bad. Very bad! So now we are open to stories about the badness of everything he believed. Media people are as susceptible as anyone else to this.

TL;DR -- Journalism is a welter of interacting psychic and cultural drives in which coherent and explicit decisions to punish individuals don't happen. A lot of bad things DO happen in journalism, but Spiers' quote is correct. We don't sit around deciding to "get" people.

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As a retired journalist who took the craft to heart for decades, I suspect you still haven't grasped Spier's main point. Not that your theories lack any validity (journalists are human, etc), but you seem to under-appreciate the creation of the journalist's professional self, which is every bit as fulsome as, say, a psychiatrist's. The same way you navigate within a thick structure of training, experience, ethics, etc, the journalist has far bigger things on her mind (and ego and superego) than how to manipulate the current assignment.

Sure, I get pissed at the NYT when I think a reporter's missing an important perspective, but what civilians assume to be stubborn obtuseness (or whatever) usually comes from a deep sense of obligation to telling stories knowing you'll piss people off. Assuming you don't work for Fox News, you leave things out or put things in, not for the sake of manipulation, but because you believe your job requires you to do so, damn the torpedoes. If you take your role seriously, you are always open to shifting your perspective.

Plus, everything is messier now because civilians tend to bunch bloggers, opinion writers, and untrained, unqualified "reporters" in the same basket as the dedicated journalists who absolutely believe their profession is essential to a democratic society. So, while I can't opine on Spier's supposed infractions, I can pretty much guarantee you are under-appreciating all the reasons she (and her editors) published what she wrote.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

Generally you are right-ish that journalists aren't, like, morally pure, and that some of the stuff they do is scummy especially when it's like working backwards from the conclusion "how shall I prove this person is bad" and then finding the arguments to justify it. What the NYT did to you is clearly scummy. You're right about that. Sorry that it happened to you. Sounds traumatic. (Although not quite as right as you think you are, I'd say, because of the bias of your position? But mostly right anyway as far as I can tell?)

That said there are a few key responses. One is, what did you expect? Personally I grew up hearing about journalists "taking people down" for good and bad reasons --- sometimes raking people through the muck or starting wars on fictional premises to make money for big interests. Sometimes attacking countercultural leaders for being supposed communists. Sometimes running a million stories on the same transgression until the one person is excised from society and/or kills themselves. Did you forget all that? Journalism is one of those levers of power in the society and that goes every which way; it feels like you forgot about all that and then were surprised to rediscover it in personal experience when your own person/people/movement got attacked.


> The message is clear: go after an important Ivy League leader, and we’ll go after your family

The message is not clear! Perhaps the messages is "they were pissed that someone went after the ivy league leader in such a partisan and apparently-motivated way, so they did what pissed people did and retaliated". You're reading this as a "shadowy cabal" narrative when it is entirely explainable by a "shit-slinging playground fighting" narrative. Like yeah Bill Ackman or whatever attacked someone with their power in what seemed like an unfair away and how do you get back at someone with that much power and money? I don't know, look for weaknesses? See if their wife is guilty of the same bullshitty charge? It probably wasn't even the same people! Even if it was, the shadowy-cabal narrative is dumb.

And by the way, duh, it's front-page news *because of the hypocrisy*, not because of the plagiarism. Like, of course. Who would give a crap if it wasn't part of a narrative of "powerful person turns out to be (attached to) hypocrite"?

Third, your writing on issues like social justice and journalism has always been tinged by excessive bitterness. You alluded in a recent post to a traumatic experience of cancellation in college, maybe that's the reason for the former. If not maybe it's any of the other thousand shitty stories we all heard in the 2010s. The NYT piece and other attacks on EA perhaps explains the latter. But, and I can't emphasize this enough, bitterness *doesn't work* at persuading people to your side. It rallies your allies and alienates your skeptics. You are not going to take down journalism by, essentially, whining about how unfair it is. Especially when your whining... is clearly skimming over important details? Such as your entirely brushing off the criticisms of EA over and over and over and never, not once, seeming to understand *what* people don't like about this movement or some of the people in it.

More importantly, bitterness is not an effective or useful stance for a person in a position of leadership, which you are, and although your grievances with the world are mostly legitimate you are not going to fix them or lead anyone the right direction when your stance on what has hurt you is aggrieved whining about it. That is, or leads to, destructive reactionaryism. You win by being better than them, not being bitter and especially not by compromising your own credibility when you do by, say, glossing over every single criticism as unfounded or trumped-up or confused.

Which brings me to a final point, sorry for the long-windedness.

> It might seem like a weird coincidence that - after years of unrelenting positive coverage - investigative journalists would take two 10+ year old cases and try to turn them into big scandals within three weeks of each other. But I’ll stop teasing you now - the obvious proximal cause was that FTX had just imploded, and suddenly people hated effective altruism.

People did not "suddenly hate" EA when FTX imploded, just like journalists didn't go digging up dirt on random EA people when it imploded. People were always cautiously skeptical of EA because it is a creepy replacement morality that implies circumventing society's moral code in favor of a new and possibly self-serving one (well, that's what I believe, but we can agree that they were cautiously skeptical). And then when the weight of evidence went "you know that thing you were nervous might be true? It's true" everyone's brain's updated to "right, EA is bad, like it seemed" and then they did what people do when they figure out that groups of people are bad and threatening, which is attack them.

It is all a prediction-error thing: there's no grounds to attack when EA "might" be threatening, but once the prediction error is removed ("a-ha, EA does in fact cultivate evil greedy misanthropists") then yep, let em have it, this shit is scary. Even the language "hate EA" reveals how emotionally warped your thinking on the subject is, because people *don't* "hate EA", there's not a giant institution of hateful people trying to destroy you. There is the institution of the "normal world" perceiving danger in a corner and telling it to shape up or back the fuck off. Instead of receiving that criticism and synthesizing it and making your own movement better you are degenerating into us-versus-them outgroupy thinking, which is toxic and childish and reactionary anyway, but also just unproductive, ineffective you might say, towards any of your goals (unless your goal is starting a reactionary movement like trump's idiots? in which case yeah fuck it carry on).

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

I definitely take your overall point/concern. As a former newspaper journalist myself as well as a close relative to a lifer in that sector, I absolutely agree that (a) journalism should not be weaponized in the manner of your examples, and (b) Elizabeth Spiers slung plenty of self-righteous crap in her response to you.

All that said -- the Gay situation is not the same as any of that.

Some of what Gay turns out to have done was plagiarism; some of it was just sloppy. Neither is acceptable from a college president. (I would argue that the former is not acceptable from a tenured professor though apparently Harvard has decided otherwise.)

Academic plagiarism is clearly a central concern in academia as long proclaimed by academia itself. As many have accurately noted a Harvard student who was found to have done what Gay did would have quickly become a former Harvard student, and plenty have over the years.

It is also highly relevant that a sizeable fraction of the credentials of a high official at a top university turn out to be things other than original scholarship. Gay's resume for such a job was frankly not super impressive even if half of it _didn't_ turn out to have been cut-and-pasted from the work of others.

If modern digital tools enable a wave of revelations about plagiarism in academia -- good. If that results in a wave of high-profile "gotchas", well then perhaps that can be a first step towards some long-overdue self-reflection across our academic sector.

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>If I ran the world, I would want newspapers to do the opposite of that - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that kind of thing. I would want it to find dirt on people who were puffed up way too high riding the top of the popularity wave, and find reasons to defend and stand up for people who were vulnerable and getting piled on. Still, it seems like in real life people do the opposite.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say real life is the opposite - counterintuitive stories about how someone you think is great actually sucks or someone you think is bad is actually good or at least human are also popular. The big thing is less than pile on and more the need to write about whatever people are talking right now regardless of what take you're presenting.

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It seems to me like the "obvious" explanation is that the Harvard board got rid of her because the Congressional testimony looked absolutely horrible to anyone outside the academic bubble, but needed a veneer of justification to give to the other academics that wasn't that. The accusations of plagiarism are, allegedly, kind of weaksauce; here's how Wikipedia describes them:

> In response, Gay said she stood behind the integrity of her work and requested an outside review of it.[77][76] The Harvard Corporation reported that the review found "a few instances of inadequate citation" and "duplicative language without appropriate attribution" in her work, but "no violation of Harvard's standards for research misconduct."[77][78][74] Analyses by The Harvard Crimson and CNN contested Harvard's statement, finding that Gay had likely violated the university's policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.[79][80][81] Gay requested seven corrections to add citations and quotation marks to her dissertation and two of her articles.[71][82][75] Academic Joseph Reagle opined that media reports that Gay "plagiarized", implied that she had stolen the central ideas in her work, saying "I don't think this is the case" but that the work "contain plagiarized prose. This is a lesser but still significant infraction."

These all seem like they are either fairly minor or are highly subjective, and I would be shocked if they were the kind of thing to incur more than the most minor of penalties under most circumstances. And according to https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2024/1/3/claudine-gay-resign-harvard/, Gay is still a faculty member, so clearly whatever did happen, Harvard doesn't think it merits removing her as faculty, even though plagiarism in an old paper would seem to weigh much more directly on her position as an academic than on her position as an administrator. On the other hand, failing to give a Congressional hearing proper consideration, answering their questions in a way seemingly maximized to justify opposition to Harvard, and acting like anyone opposed to her in any way is just a racist, all make sense as a reason not to have her as president, but are much less important for an academic.

Anyway, the reason this hypothesis is important, is because it means that most of the time, you're going to have to work a lot harder if you want an academic to suffer any sort of consequences due to plagiarism accusations.

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Of course people in the limelight will receive more attention, by investigative journalists and by everyone else. Is that really a bug we need to fix?

I agree with your argument that we should keep in mind that issues being reported might not be as unique as they seem, since journalists might be focusing on some prominent figure. But you go all the way to the other extreme by suggesting 'everyone has a similar distribution', and journalists are doing nothing more than choosing some people to pick on.

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I spent enough time in academia to be thoroughly sick of getting lectured about plagiarism by people who were not themselves particularly dedicated to originality that I find it difficult to care about "targeting". I see it more as "wow, someone actually enforced the rules for once, and I get to feel a little less like a schmuck for following the rules myself." If I can't plagiarize while BSing the same paper on the same topic that undergrads in a particular university course have been doing for thirty years, absolutely no way should *any* university president or department head get a pass for their *thesis*. It's bad enough how they overlook it for the international students because they don't want to lose the out-of-state tuition fees.

Should it be less targeted and more properly enforced across the board? I *guess* so, but if I can't have that then I'll settle for a chilling effect on academics doing plagiarism. If these academics didn't want dirt dug up on them, they could've not had the dirt in the first place. This wasn't a victimless crime they did - all dirt is not created equal.

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For those who read this piece and wondered about the origins of the phrase "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," the maxim comes originally from journalist and humor columnist Finley Peter Dunne, who wrote for and edited various Chicago newspapers around the turn of the twentieth century. In a 1902 column, Dunne wrote:

> Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward.

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I think most people (including Scott and most journalists) do a really poor job of thinking through the financial incentives of journalists.

I take journalists at their word that they are not consciously chasing clicks (and, indeed, at the better places, only editors and up have access to those metrics) but that’s not the only way they could be chasing them. It probably feels really good to have your piece talked about on Twitter/threads a log and that’s directly correlated with clicks. Journalism is mostly not a financially lucrative enterprise these days and it’s natural for the editors to lay off the reporters who bring less traffic. Those mechanisms clearly guide a newspaper towards optimizing for traffic which, in practice, means towards the tastes of high-SES western (or westernized) people.

The critiques of individual journalists as click-chasers in this context are stupid: you’re mad at the paper as an institution, not individual journalists. On the flip side, I wish more individual journalists were conscious about why they still have jobs and their former peers don’t.

Fine, you might say, I’m only mad at the bosses of newspapers, let’s replace them with people that match my preferences.

This runs straight into journalism not being very lucrative. There is not a lot of profits to reallocate into coverage that matches most readers of this blog’s preferences. I love publications like Works in Progress and would be happier with a news industry that looked more like it but I kind of doubt Works in Progress is or could be a profitable business.

There’s nothing wrong about complaining a for-profit business doesn’t have the impact on the world that you want but there’s a weird way in which folks feel entitled to a vote on how news business work. It’s particularly striking because often these same people are some of the staunchest defenders of free enterprise.

The above is why I think the smarter people who dislike the news industry (Thiel, Musk, etc) have concluded that the only meaningful way to act on that is to burn it all down. Frankly, I think this is childish. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about news coverage but I think it’s obviously a net positive to the world. Unfortunately, the bad seems bundled with the good in a way that’s would be hard to unbundle.

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While I agree with everything Scott said, one additional takeaway from all these recent hit pieces is that, apparently, digging up substantial dirt on anyone in academia is trivially easy. You just pick a target whom you dislike, and boom, you can easily uncover instances of plagiarism, data falsification, and other academic sins. Shouldn't *this* part be front-page news -- i.e. not that Harvard hired some unqualified person, but that apparently everyone at the top tier of the every academic institution is a data-falsifying plagiarist ?

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Salience bias controls everything around us but I think it's weird to downplay something because you only recently had it made salient to you.

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I don't disagree with your assessment here but I would add a factor: it's easier to gather dirt on unpopular people and journalists are as lazy as anyone else. When a bunch of people are mad at someone they're more likely to contact journalists with tips and info about them. it's easy to report on stuff you don't have to dig hard for.

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Jesse Singal says he got a tip about Gay's plagiarism on 12/4, before the testimony, from someone who claims they were sending it to 5 different journalists, so someone who was not Rufo would have tipped him off and Rufo ran with the story. Jesse talks about this starting at 29:40 in the Blocked and Reported episode 197: Gay Gets Got

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I'll add my vote to the issue being that this was not about "criticising Israel," this was about saying that calling for genocide against Jews was okay. I completely reject any notion that it is "technically true" that it depends on context and to say otherwise is some kind of perjury. We're talking about a situation where missing persons posters were torn down because talking about missing Jews is somehow against Palestine. Where NYC College had that situation where Jewish students ended up locking themselves in the library as "Palestine supporters" banged on the windows. What do Jewish students have to do with Israel? Even if they were Israeli, what power do they have to affect policy? If blessed context is so important, maybe we should take note of the broader national situation, and what specifically is being taken as "protest", and what everybody should know about how this would be taken if it was some other cause.

On the other hand, yes, this was targeting, but not in the way Scott thinks. If I remember correctly, Claudine Gay had been a known plagiarist for a long time. Nobody picked up the story. Chris Rufo was given the story and ran with, and it happened to matter now because of the situation. The context, if you will.

Chris Rufo and also a sizable number of Conservatives' goal is to take down as much of the University system as possible. I happen to agree with this sentiment. Claudine Gay was exposed by a weak point. Somebody unrelated wanted everybody to know Claudine Gay was a plagiarist, and wanted this the whole time.

And I have to take issue again with this nonsense about the recent blog post, "Against Learning from Dramatic Effects." That was maybe the worst post Scott has ever made. This may be a kind of heresy to some, but events are not drawn from a distribution. Distributions are identified after plotting events on a graph. Which somebody human somewhere did, which means the events themselves had to be interpreted and categorised first. Events don't just happen. The distribution does not cause events to happen. To some people this may seem like some weird beside the point quibble, but no. The entire basis of the argument acts as if the blessed context we are otherwise so worried about with Claudine Gay, doesn't exist around events, only the dots matter. Actually it's a bit worse, it's flat out reading things backwards.

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"Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton."

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>I would want it to find dirt on people who were puffed up way too high riding the top of the popularity wave, and find reasons to defend and stand up for people who were vulnerable and getting piled on.

Isn't there an object-level layer missing here? It's not all a popularity contest all the time. Sometimes people get puffed up because they're genuinely doing good work, and others get piled on because they have recently did or said something heinous. Dissenting voices and devil's advocates are valuable, but they're supposed to be the alternative, not the mainstream. I wouldn't want the media to constantly dig dirt on Nobel prize winners and defend convicted rapists.

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Does it even matter what the actual motivations of journalists are? People are going to always act in their self-interest, and I seriously do not understand why you expect otherwise. The only thing you can do is not have any dirt on you on the first place. Don't plagarize. Don't antagonize people unless necessary. Don't espouse blatantly controversial opinions using an identity that can be traced back to your real one. Like seriously, what the hell did you expect to happen? The world owes you nothing.

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>If I ran the world, I would want newspapers to do the opposite of that - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that kind of thing.

As a reasonably well off bay area resident, you are the comfortable.

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"But it’s the sort of thing that you can imagine having chilling effects. Imagine if, every time someone let their students/employees/whatever criticize Israel, journalists searched really hard for unrelated dirt on them"

Or... you could be a person that adds value to your organization, and who doesn't commit rampant plagiarism in an already shoddy, weak, and illegitimate publishing 'career'.

We all like you here, obviously, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree on this one.

These attacks worked on Claudine Gay because she didn't add value to her organization, she had 0 management and PR skills, and she had no publishing career. She was a fraud who shouldn't have been in her position in the first place - that's why the attacks worked.

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1. How many of the pro-Palestinian activists crying over being punished for being anti-israel have EVER condemned people being punished for having "right wing" political beliefs, or even the persecution of scholars whose research contradicts liberal narratives (such as intelligence researchers)? Any, literally any in history?

2. How many of these pro-palestinian activists were outraged when so-called "journalists" showed up unannounced at the door of the mother of 'Libs of TikTok'? Imagine if journalists showed up to the house of the family of pro-palestinian people - we would never hear the end of end of this being "harassment" and "intimidation tactics". But no, actually, the pro-palestinian types were 𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘶𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 this and defending the journalists. This is of course simply the first example that came to mind, but there's many more.

So, remind me again why I'm supposed to care? You don't get points for being "morally principled" here. You get beaten, politically. If you allow your opponents to intimidate and abuse their way into censoring you, and you in response take the "principled" route, all it means is that your views get censored and your opponent's don't. So they can go to hell.

>I don’t believe that woke college presidents...are more likely to plagiarize than other groups.

Claudine Gay is not simply a "woke" college president.

She's a black female college president from a wealthy Haitian family whose career at Harvard is 𝘢𝘣𝘴𝘰𝘭𝘶𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 except in the light of extremely aggressive affirmative action.

There's literally no president of a prestigious university who we should suspect LESS of plagiarism than her.

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

I think that it looks unrelated, but that's precisely what anti-wokes are saying. There is no clear and direct link between antisemitism from an oppressor/oppressed perspective, and being an unmeritocratic institution that hires serial plagiarists. The idea is that wokeness, or race marxism, or social justice liberalism, has values that are at times unrelated or contradictory but are melded together - is frequently called intersectionality.

The gist as I understand it, and this scans as correct to me, is that Harvard as an institution will be more tolerant of speech that has an anti-white or conservative valence (Israel is just and good) while also elevating an unqualified black woman as its figurehead to make those values clear. That Rufo and co can immediately find dirt on the nearest powerful person in that institution and demonstrate that the emperor-has-no-clothes is not surprising to me.

Harvard was in the exact opposite situation years ago with Summers, a noteworthy figure and influential economist who has worked in the white house, who was ousted for saying that men and women were different. It all seems like a cornucopia of unrelated facts and situations, but if you looks closely has a cultural through-line that snaps all participants into focus.

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A friend of mine with a phd in education shared the following: "Investigating non-stem academics for scholarly misconduct is like drug testing truckers for speed. It mostly isn't done or the whole industry would collapse, but its very useful when you need to get rid of someone."

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31

2 minutes (2 minutes!) of digging would have shown you that Brunet has been talking about Claudine Gay for YEARS and that his involvement in this has literally nothing whatsoever to do with israel or palestine. How can you try and hold journalists to account when you yourself smear someone with integrity out of your own laziness?

Obviously her plagiarism and abject lack of academic merit was well known before this. But except in a shitstorm involving jews and israel that made Harvard look extremely bad, when else would raising these concerns ever have gotten anywhere or done anything but get you shouted down as a "white supremacist"?

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Scott, um, of course the cases you mention are targeting. If anyone disputes this, they're gaslighting you, and you should laugh at them. (To be explicit, I take Elizabeth Spiers to have been lying.)

I feel funny even saying this. I take it as obvious that this is how our media environment works. More specifically, I would say it is true, obvious, and disputed only in bad faith.

In the case of Claudine Gay, the allegations of plagiarism were definitely known previously. Harvard had even "investigated" them, in a laughable manner, only to dismiss/whitewash them. Rufo pursued the matter further after her Congressional testimony, and because of it. I don't think he would deny that. Nor do I see why he should be at all ashamed of it.

The other cases are similar. Journalists investigate things when they have a reason to, not at random. The reason may not immediately relate to the thing investigated. That's "targeting." Yes, of course. Duh.

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My understanding is that Brunet had been writing about Gay for a long time beforehand, but nobody cared until she testified about anti-semitism.

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I discovered Scott and his wonderful writing because of that NYT hit piece. I've since learned so much from him and subsequent rationalist-adjacent sources. In this case targeting is a good thing?

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I"m a journalist and I think the clicks / pile-on theory is best. Truth is a necessary input; you can't justfiy yourself publishing false things. But the world is extremely full of true facts that aren't in the media.

How do we choose what to publish? editors want stories on popular topics, journalists want to be read. Going too far in this direction is "tabloid". Whereas not going far enough is "academic publishing that makes you go broke".

There's a constant tension for any masthead between "getting clicks today" and "preserving reputation for the future." Since we went online the balance between these has been pulled in the direction of the former and trust in media has fallen. But revenue for media has also fallen so there's much less point in having a trusted masthead nobody much reads.

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Hot take: plagiarism isn't worth reporting on, period. If someone takes credit for another's *work*, that's one thing. But if someone takes credit for another's *writing about their work*, the appropriate response is "please put this in quotes kthx", not "please spend more time rephrasing and reinterpreting these words and consequently less time doing actual productive work to advance the field", and certainly not "let's revoke this person's credentials and obliterate their credibility so they *can't* do any more productive work". Mathematicians have been plagiarising Pythagoras for millennia. Physicists have been plagiarising Aristotle for nearly as long. If it's good work, it's *worth sharing and reusing in any form*, even more so if it's underappreciated enough that you have to hear about it through someone who isn't the original author.

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Just don't pay attention to the news media, pick who you listen to. And if the zombie apocalypse happens, someone will let you know.

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Author of the twitter thread about Oxman's dissertation here, appreciate the link.

While the general point about the chilling effects of mutually assured destruction is well-taken, I'm more of a single-issue *BS Out Of Academia* voter than an anti-Ackman partisan. In fact, inasmuch as I was pleased to see Gay go, conventional culture war rules would have put me on Ackman's team and therefore on Oxman's. So if you're inclined to view allegations of academic misconduct through a Schmittian lens, the entire thread should be read as an admission against interest (and hence more likely to be accurate). But my whole point is that I don't want people like Oxman on "my team", even if their spouses sometimes do things I appreciate.

> I don’t believe that woke college presidents, or the wives of bigshot investors, are more likely to plagiarize than other groups.

Ok, but if you consider Gay and Oxman to be more or less random samples from the set of high-profile PhDs, isn't it really weird that *both* of them turned out to be guilty? My point of concern is not how bad woke college presidents and billionaires' wives are, but how compromised academia in general has become, such that these people were able to get away with it for so long. And would have gotten away with it too, had they not accidentally come to attention of a bunch of bored internet randos who reviewed their work more thoroughly out of curiosity than their nominal peers who were supposed to do it for a living.

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Feb 1·edited Feb 1

"I don’t believe that woke college presidents, or the wives of bigshot investors, are more likely to plagiarize than other groups."

I do think that cargo cult scientists like Claudine Gay are much more likely than real scientists to copy-paste stuff like "this is how the statistical method I'm using works" or "here are the strengths and weaknesses of my statistical method", as Claudine Gay did.

It's the publicly legible tip of the iceberg of her field's dysfunction.

Andrew Gelman wrote a post recently, implicitly in response to this affair, saying "at least regarding academics, plagiarism is a sign of lack of understanding." I think Andrew Gelman is worth bringing up because of his demonstrated concern with bad social science research, as opposed to fighting wokeness. I think the examples in his post are worth looking at, to get a sense of who's more likely to commit plagiarism.

Chris Rufo and Chris Brunet are, of course, not Andrew Gelman. But their enemy came to her position through intellectual authority, the appearance of being a scientist. They are making use of the fact that their enemy's claim to intellectual authority rests on such shaky ground.

Anyway, perhaps it's targeted (edited from "yes, it's targeted" after reading Chris Brunet's comment). That tells us something about how journalists work. But in this case the targeted attack was with a weapon that works much better on cargo cult scientists than real ones. If only journalists always appealed to equally reasonable standards.

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I think you're wrong about the implosion of FTX being the start of when the media switched narratives on EA and that it would have happened without that. In 2022, EA started spending money on politics, mostly due to SBF. That's a direct challenge to the establishment and their ability to set a narrative and define what people think is important. That's the sort of thing that makes people start looking for attack points. The FTX collapse certainly didn't help that, but it was already underway before.

To support this, here is eigenrobot predicting negative coverage of EA in September 2022 (I think this is a reasonable paraphrase of what he's getting at)


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> If I ran the world, I would want newspapers to do the opposite of that - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that kind of thing. I would want it to find dirt on people who were puffed up way too high riding the top of the popularity wave, and find reasons to defend and stand up for people who were vulnerable and getting piled on.

I wonder if from the journalist’s perspective this is precisely what they think they’re doing. Since by definition it’s when you become “newsworthy”, used as a shorthand for attention, that the negative stories become salient. [Not justifying the current methods, but trying to explain it]

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is there any categorical difference between rufo and the journalists who uncovered oxman's plagiarism, that makes the former "investigative journalism uncovering a scandal" but the latter only motivated targeting? rufo was also joining a pile-on on gay, and he also elevated a fifteen-year-stale peccadillo into front page news. both seem equally like targeting to me, and while the tit-for-tat dynamic is unfortunate, it's not clear why one is privileged over the other.

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So leftists like Gay are subject cancel culture, ans I am supposed to be upset. Nope. I don't care. The left has conjured demons and now they must live with the consequences.

It is not a world I like, but I did not make it and I cannot control it. I can however be grimly amused when the inventors of an ugly trend get ensnared in it. I think that is mere poetic justice.

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Is targeting a good thing of a bad thing? It seems normal for bad actors to get their comeuppance during a moment when they are particularly vulnerable. If you think you have caught a student cheating and that it needs to be reported, is it wrong to look for archival evidence that would strengthen your case? Does anyone think that you should only look through the archival evidence for those students who have not been caught cheating??

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Brunet has been writing about this for a long time, it's not true that he only picked up on Gay after her testimony. This is from April 2022.


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Well the obvious lesson that the moralists will want to take is "don't fuck up; we can't find anything if there's nothing to find". Clearly that's untenable.

A part of me had hoped that we as a society would reach a tenor of cancellation and outing of the misdeeds of others that would be so unsustainable that at some point everyone would stop caring about the misdeeds of others and the doxxing/outing would lose its power. But it seems that the tenor of cancel culture and "malevolent investigation" has abated slightly from the frenzy of 5 or 6 years ago and turned into a more refined check on people in power and authority, which is perhaps not the worst turn of events.

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why are you so quick to defend Claudine Gay?

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Everything you say is true, but none of it is breaking news. Journalists need clicks to stay employed, especially in these times when ad money is dwindling. They're going to throw red meat to the whatever masses are inclined to read their outlet, though the high-toned press won't admit it. Anything that raises your profile attracts people willing to attack you for whatever you've done that might be attacked. (An example is Paul Manifort; his business dealings were so dodgy that friends advised him to stay out of politics, as prosecutors looked over the activities of politically-involved people more carefully than that of others.) If you are going to get involved in something controversial, it helps to keep your nose clean regarding everything else you do. And yes, reporters have no compunctions about lying.

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Journalists remind me of intelligence officers, in several ways.

As professions, both are deemed necessary and useful for the public good. Both have historically been able to credibly claim that they use humint/investigative sources and methods to collect otherwise unseen intelligence - with a goal of bringing troubling topics to the fore for the greater good.

But clandestine intelligence officers have no hope of being even slightly effective unless they are very intentionally lying repeatedly every day, and juggling a series of different narrative universes that are lies. All for the greater good, in theory, to uncover true intelligence that they then summarize and report on objectively, truthfully. Intelligence officers don’t make policy, they merely inform policy makers. Never mind the process, especially the selection of who and what gets summarized and who and what does not.

The parallels with the ideals of investigative journalism are too obvious to ignore. There are obviously some major differences, journalists aren’t required by editors to repatriate every 18-36 months to re-Americanize in immersive ‘civic therapy’ to recover from the damage to their psyches. It would probably be better if journalist did immersive re-Americanization every couple years.

But when I think of Kara Swisher et al, I’m reminded of Michael Steele. People with axes and grindstones.

There is another way that journalists are like intelligence officers: As a career, it ceased to be a growth opportunity about 25 years ago, because of tech. And that frustrates the hell out of them, watching opportunities and money flow into tech that supersedes more and more of the work they used to do. If the New York Times = the CIA, WaPo = Mossad, but Google = the NSA. The last reliable metric that I heard from someone I trust is that the NSA and portions of the other ~10 intelligence agencies that are partially subsumed by NSA “coordination” is 22x the size of the CIA. And that multiple is inexorably growing, just like newsmedia revenue is inexorably shrinking.

We’re probably at the point now where most events that might be legitimately newsworthy could be aggregated by a custom GPT from open access data sources, and curated + summarized according to the preferences of individual users.

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Although we have some areas of agreement, you won't be surprised by my extremely high level of confidence that your blind spot is way, way bigger than mine. My speculation is that yours is nourished by the disdain for the institutions we're discussing -- which leads you to avoid digging into the ugly, often banal, truths that are currently facing us. It's all in front of us, quite clearly, in legal, political, and moral terms, if only we have enough curiosity to really look. But curiosity is what Joe Rogan snuffs out by making it seem uncool to care about these ancient teetering structures.

To say that Trump believes in democracy is mind-numbingly ludicrous. Your comment seems to reveal a susceptibility to the totalitarian tactic of obliterating everyone's discernment with a constant flood of pure bullshit. Times like these -- when populism embraces destruction -- are precisely the times we are most vulnerable, since Rogan et al make it sound so naïve and quaint and hyperbolic to care. If you want to sound clever, be like Joe with his catholic disdain for all "cathedrals," gatekeepers, and educated experts. Journalism certainly has erred, not because it covered Trump too much, but because it treated him like an ordinary politician for far too long. It wasn't until the end of his reign that anyone from a reputable source even had the courage to simply call his endless lies "lies."

You're a smart guy. That's why I'm confident you have not done the legwork on who these people really are. Because the only other reason to claim that Trump and Musk believe in democracy is that you're part of the project to destroy it, and I doubt that's true (even though few will openly admit it). "Free speech" in today's context is not a righteous argument for democracy. It has become a lever to open the rightwing floodgates of disinformation and hatred, as per the greater project of wearing everyone down.

I won't bore you with a reading list, etc, because such arguments never go anywhere, but I will remind you that a pathological sociopath and malignant narcissist like Trump doesn't believe in anything besides himself -- so it's not like he has to share Steve Bannon's ideological vision to be an effective tool of fascism. Hitler was a bumbling idiot too, with hurt fee-fees in a jail cell, until he was allowed to wield total power, with US right-wing approval and a cynical world mood that kept the majority of people disinterested and uninterest in the grotesque details of his miserable project until it was too late.

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"This is another reason to trust priors, surveys, and studies, instead of updating your estimate of a distribution really hard based on one dramatic event that you heard about."

An interesting conclusion in a piece that cites zero studies and several dramatic events. Generally I expect better arguments here.

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The question for me is whether Gay's level of plagiarism is the kind of thing that most academics do - officially frowned upon, sure, but otherwise tolerated - or whether it's particularly bad even by the usual standards of academia. Is it more like "smoked weed as a teenager once" or like "was a sub-boss in the Cosa Nostra" type of crime? Maybe there's also a subquestion whether university presidents should be held to higher standards than academics in general.

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I think with Gay one of two things was possible:

1. It was a proxy battle over Israel. Some people in and around Harvard want there to be more censorship related to Israel so they went after her to make a point: if you don't do this properly, we'll come after your career.

2. Someone else who wants to be president of Harvard or just didn't like Gay exploited the moment to go after her.

It's not clear whether it's #1 or #2 but I really doubt there's just a lot of sticklers for MLA or APA style out there trying to do this on behalf of ethics in college journalism.

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Of course the culture war part is worth discussing, the social/journalistic norms are worth discussing, but my biggest reaction to this was "What? Why is there so much plagiarism in academia?" YOU SHOULDN'T BE ABLE TO BECOME PRESIDENT OF HARVARD WITH A PLAGIARIZED DISSERTATION!!! I think we can all agree that's objectively a bad outcome and the sign of a flawed system, and it completely crushes my faith in academia (not that I had much faith before now, considering the replication crisis and how partisan some universities are). Academia needs to do better than this if we want the average person to "trust the experts". If I ever meet another arrogant Harvard grad, I'm rubbing this in their face.

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however much you hate journalists, it's not enough

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am I the only one who thinks the statue of limitations for plagiarism should be much longer than that for off-color remarks?

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The media's main job is to point the bone at people on behalf of the interests of their benefactors and their allies. It exists as a form of mass amplification and communication of the elite's messaging. From the King's crier who went from town to town, no difference exists. A few attempts were made and some minor forms exist of the less powerful coopting these tools for their own use, but most were driven out of business as the majority of large circulation union and worker focused papers have gone under.

Structurally this is the entire point of the media to empower the voices of the powerful and it brings to mind the phrase 'the greatest trick of the devil is to convince you he doesn't exist'. Often this plays out as court politics and intrigue. Manufacturing consent, etc. applies as well as them not alwasy having a particular point to amplify and serving a wide range of topics held in the backburenr in order to insert their preferred narrative control mechanisms later.

You my good sir have been very very very badly gaslit by a liar. Often gaslighting is a seemingly overused term, but this is a pretty clear cut case of it by a corporate self-styled 'mainstream' journalist telling you they have no power, no coordination, and are not infested with intelligence plants. Liars are going to liar about everything, including their role as liars who deceive, distract, and misinform.

They are unwilling to accept any form of criticism as it exposes them. This is why nearly 100% of true media critique is in independent media, not the silly sports team style fake rivalry from the two sides of the same coin known as the uniparty.

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Feb 2·edited Feb 2

Scott, have you read Nellie Bowles' (former NYT journo and wife of Bari Weiss) reflections on her career in the media? She openly says that she wrote hit pieces on people, arguably the most prominent of whom was none other than Jordan Peterson, and that she was rewarded for doing so.

Check it out here: https://chosenbychoice.substack.com/p/learning-how-to-and-how-not-to-kill

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> And so on and so forth for another thirty-odd paragraphs listing all of my various psychological flaws.

I like it when people talking about my psychological traits, I think anyone who got some psychological education likes it too. But I didn't experience journalists doing that. Probably it is much less fun, because you cannot troll them.

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Not just journalists! This kind of behaviour is also quite common in the legal system. This is why having rules on the books that criminalize a lot are so dangerous - it's all fine until someone is out to get you, and then suddenly you get busted for "tax-evasion" or "non-compliance" or whatever.

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Feb 4·edited Feb 4

I think the counter view is not that journalists are truth seekers - it's that they are busy professionals looking to write stories that a large public would be interested in. So the reason they dig up dirt on Ackman's wife isn't that he went after their allies - it's that he is in the news for making an accusation of plagiarism, so the story about his wife committing plagiarism would sell.

On this account, the source of the problem is that the public is interested in reading stories that play like an episode of the Jerry Springer show. And in a competitive journalism market, there will always be media outlets who would satisfy this taste.

From a higher point of view, this is a bit like Hanlon's Razor. What seems like conspiracy or malice is often better explained by some less dramatic human weakness.

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There is a lot of intellectualizing on this topic in this thread, and some of it is thought provoking as an academic exercise.

But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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I think that we need to acknowledge that in today's Western society journalists are essentially weapons of stochastic violence, due to our leaders refusal to hold social media lynch mobs accountable for their actions.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, when the stochastic violence is deserved. Speaking truth to power is important, even if said truths destroy those in power. The problem is that increasingly journalists are speaking falsehoods FROM power. Many of them have willingly allowed themselves to be slaves of our oligarchs.

I think it's important to recognize that just as journalists routinely inflict stochastic violence towards their enemies, we have every right to inflict stochastic violence towards then. If journalists want to actively take sides in the culture war, they aren't neutral bystanders: they are enemy soldiers, and we need to start taking some of their scalps.

There needs to be a return to the journalistic standards of neutrality, fairness, and diligence. And the best way to accomplish that is to target journalists for harassment when they DON'T live up to these principles.

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