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deletedDec 30, 2022·edited Dec 31, 2022
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"is the Objective Truth until proven wrong later by science."

That's not how "objective truth" or "science" work.

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Nope.

An objective truth does not evolve. Beliefs do. No matter how much one can believe in "science," meditation will not cure a H. pylori infection. It doesn't matter how many experts tell you it will.

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Sigh.

I actually did guess, 20 to 25 years ago, that the 1st Amendment's free-speech guarantee _might_ become passe on the American progressive left. It was a question that I wondered and worried about fairly often during that period, though mostly quietly to myself because nobody else I lived or worked with thought it was anything but a ridiculous thought. I now would like to go back to only wondering and worrying about it.

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They misheard the question? Jesus. That’s pretty desperate & borderline offensive to the intellects of your readers.

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See https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/12/noisy-poll-results-and-reptilian-muslim-climatologists-from-mars/ for more on why I might think this, though I agree 8% is higher than 4%.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

So, is it just impossible that of that the vast majority of those who report a COVID vaccine fatality in their household just straight up lied to the pollster? Because that was my initial interpretation of the result.

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Seems less likely than the other possibilities, most polls, even on highly politically charged topics, don't have that many liars. I'm hoping to put a similar question in the ACX survey and see what happens (eg whether dumber / less informed people are less likely to say yes, or whether die-hard anti-lockdown Republicans are more likely to say yes, or what)

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I wonder if there is motivated reasoning about causes of death? That is, some people might assume that a death was due to the vaccine because it came some time after the deceased was vaccinated, even though no medical professional believes it and something else is on the death certificate.

I also wonder what the base rate is: how many people would we expect to be in the same household as someone who died, of any cause? And how much higher was that number during the pandemic?

(This is a reminder that surveys are a cursed instrument, because nobody can ask people what they meant when they answered a certain way. So we are reduced to speculating.)

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Your refreshing and timely reminder that surveys are a very imperfect method of data collection is appreciated.

So many people seem to attribute god-like powers of accuracy and insight to survey results, when both the data collection and data interpretation are subject to spectacular levels of inaccuracy, even assuming everyone involved is acting in good faith.

Source: have been involved in the industry.

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I mean, Nate Silver seems to do pretty well based on them.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 30, 2022

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

In hypothetical reality, Person A lived a rather unhealthy lifestyle, had lots of risk factors for a heart attack, and would have died from a heart attack, regardless of whether they'd gotten the vaccine. Then, when Person A does, indeed, die of a heart attack, and by sheer coincidence had recently gotten vaccinated, Person B blames the COVID vaccine when polled, but it wasn't really the vaccine that killed their loved one. It might be easier to believe that outside forces (like a vaccine) harmed the person than to believe that the loved one's own actions did (like a poor lifestyle, not taking their meds, etc.).

That's only one example, but I think the underlying dynamic could easily explain the poll results.

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> And let's say Person B, the loved one being polled, has priors about vaccines or the medical establishment or whatever that cause them to be convinced it was actually the vaccine that killed Person A.

Are those priors common enough to account for this? (I really have no intuition about how common they are.) Like, millions of Americans think it's likely that their deceased loved ones died of a vaccine, because they think vaccines are dangerous enough that that's pretty plausible?

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This was my immediate thought too! I'm surprised Scott didn't consider it.

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That doesn't explain the enormous number. One in six Americans have a relative that died just then? Even if every death for a full year was blamed on it, that still seems too high.

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That doesn't explain the enormous number. One in six Americans have a relative that died just then? Even if every death for a full year was blamed on it, that still seems too high.

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Jan 14, 2023·edited Jan 14, 2023

> 3.5% of people polled say that someone in their household died of COVID, but 7.9% said someone in their family died from getting the COVID vaccine.

First, I note that this seems to be comparing two different things. My uncle (who died of/with Covid) is in my family (former legal guardian!) but not in my household.

Second, I agree. While it's not a direct example of this phenomenon, I want to discuss my uncle's case. One morning he was at least mildly ill and had incontinence. But he went out gardening, and collapsed. Passers-by saw it and called 911; the ambulance took him away just as his wife realized what was happening. He was unvaccinated and at the hospital he tested positive for Covid, after which his wife was not allowed to visit. Later he was placed on a ventilator and had a brain scan, which showed evidence of a stroke (I wasn't told the order or timing of these two events).

Then he died, and the doctors blamed Covid. His conservative anti-Covid-vax wife seemed uncertain whether Covid or the stroke killed him, and his rabidly conservative anti-Covid-vax brother (my father) blamed the stroke, and the doctors who preferred to treat the Covid instead. I suggested to my aunt to fill out a form to get clarifying information, but she repeatedly declined. Fun fact, my father also told me I was wrong when I said that the CDC said that people in his age group had a 7% chance of dying of Covid (I asked why he didn't claim the CDC was wrong instead of me, but he refuses to answer any/all of my questions about Covid/vaccines.)

People see what they want to see.

Edit: though I feel like a bigger part of the explanation comes from another comment by Zack:

> Of these 36 respondents, 20 responded "Yes" to both the question about death of a household member from the vaccine and "Are you planning on getting future COVID vaccines?" I'm skeptical that 55% of people who had a household member die of a vaccine would plan to get the vaccine themselves.

> [...] there seems to be a broader issue with the survey design. [...] 40 people completed the survey in 17 seconds or less. I'm skeptical it's possible for someone to provide a quality response to the survey that quickly. 225 people (nearly half) completed the survey in less than 31 seconds. I think that's the fastest I could answer if I were seeing the questions for the first time.

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I heard a lot of stories early in the pandemic about people becoming irate that their loved one’s cause of death was listed as COVID and not a preexisting or underlying condition. I didn’t really understand this sentiment, but it demonstrates how “cause of death” is not as clear cut as we might like and could be a data point where hospital records or surveys might differ without either being genuinely false.

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I have an uncle who got really sick in a really weird way immediately (within a few days) after getting vaccinated. This was news in the family because he had been skeptical of the vaccine but was eventually convinced it was safe and he should take it.

I would have had a tough time answering the question on the survey if he had died (thankfully he didn't!), because there's obvious reason to look at the vaccine, but it would be conjecture that wasn't based on anything specific. Strong correlation, limited causation. My priors on the question would probably dominate my response - if I was concerned about the vaccine causing deaths, I would likely have reported a death from vaccines. If not, then I would have said no.

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In general, it seems like when you ask a factual question with partisan/CW valence on a poll, and the respondents don't know much about the factual question, they answer the "whose side are you on" question instead. That is, if you ask Republican-voting biologists, they'll nearly all tell you the Theory of Evolution is basically how living stuff came to be, but if you ask Republican-voting normies whose vaguely-remembered high school biology class may have mentioned Darwin a few times, they'll answer that evolution is a lie--they don't really know one way or another, they're just answering the "whose side are you on" question. Democratic normies will far more often tell you evolution is true, but probably could do little better in explaining why than the Republican normies could in explaining why evolution is really an atheist lie of some kind.

I wonder if this was happening with the poll here? It seems like a bizarre result.

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I wonder if it would be possible to sprinkle in two or three objectively correct questions, such that if they were answered wrong the results of the survey might be removed as tainted. For example; Pew Research had a survey about classic liberals where they only chose results from people who gave a definition-conforming description of what a classic liberal was in a multiple choice question.

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I also responded to Scott with this, but this is definitely an active area of development in polling that is being done: https://www.civisanalytics.com/blog/understanding-satisficers/

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Link to that survey? That sounds amazing!

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Good for Pew.

But it's very rare for pollsters to ask questions about how objectively well informed respondents are, and even rarer for them to disqualify the ignorant because that can increase the need for sample size, which is costly.

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Depending on the quality of polling, satisficing behavior on polling is a strong default assumption for weird/dumb results on a survey, and depending on how they did panel sourcing, it's a problem that's increased over time. (See this link for a more in depth discussion, as well as a discussion of how some pollsters combat it in their survey design: https://www.civisanalytics.com/blog/understanding-satisficers/ )

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Interestingly, I ran into someone at a coffee shop several months ago claiming to be a nurse who reported to the barista that her husband died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease disease spread by prions in a vaccine. She said didn't dare warn anyone at work because of "pressure." The barista tried to rope me into the conversation, but I just replied awkwardly that it was sad and left as quickly as possible!

I suspect that her husband had in fact died (since prion diseases are caused by misfolded self-proteins, they can spontaneously develop -- see Fatal Familial or Fatal Sporadic insomnia) and she misattributed his death to the vaccine due to a severe case of grief and too much online politics. Or perhaps she had schizophrenia and was disconnected from reality?

It was all very surreal.

At any rate, I wouldn't wholly discount the idea that a good portion of those results come from people misinterpreting real deaths.

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Covid did weird thing to the health system. The EMS organizations I volunteer with noted that 911 calls were down. Cynically, we and the Emergency Departments all concluded that "people actually do know what the ER is for, they just didn't care until now".

And then we started looking at the numbers and found out that we were seeing far fewer strokes and heart attacks, either in-progress or after death. Maybe it was just a statistical anomaly for us.

Another possibility is that people included not just those people who were in their household but had a personal connection to. And this easily gets out of hand, much as most peoples' friends having more friends than they do. So if you have someone who dies of a stroke or heart attack (and in their mind clot = vaccine complication), and they have 3 household members, 8 neighbors, a few good friends, and a dozen family members, you are getting a lot of amplification based on the network effect.

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This seems plausible.

People engaged in a survey *want* to give you data - that's why they are doing it for you in the first place.

So sometimes they will stretch the facts to enable themselves to provide what they consider to be useful data.

Thus great aunt edna's next door neighbour suddenly becomes 'family' for the purposes of the response.

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I would think some respondents would stretch the definition of "have died from the vaccine", I have a family member who died of a heart attack five months after their 3rd shot, the anti-vax members of my family all swear it was because of the vaccine.

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There seems to be a conflation here, reading the above it says around 3% said in their *household* but around 8% said in their *family*.

"Household" is "me, my partner (if any) and kids (if any)". People answering that question probably really do know if it was the vaccine or not.

"Family" could be Elderly Parents not living with me, Granny Sue, Uncle George, Cousin Ida, Bill's sister-in-law, Jane's nephew's aunt on his dad's side, etc. A lot of people could have gotten sick and died of other things/died of natural causes after getting the Covid vaccine.

People thinking "Well I read all this stuff in the papers about how people were dying after getting the vaccine, and Cousin Ida got the vaccine and got real sick and then she died a while later so yeah maybe it was the vaccine" answering "yes" to "did anyone in your family die?", when really Ida died of her long-standing kidney problems etc.

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If grandma lives in your house, she's part of your household too.

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I had a similar thought, so I checked through Scott's links The survey (and the article Scott cites) actually say "household" in both questions.

Scott, I suggest amending that in the post to both saying "household".

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I’ll have a read. I agree with Kirsch about a whole lot (the conduct of the public health authorities & the drug companies was and remains despicable), but I’ll venture a guess:

Given his subject matter, a large proportion of his audience are likely to be engaging with his content on the basis of their own experience (or that of loved ones) with vaccines, whether or not you believe them. So you’re naturally going to get a disproportionate number answering that way.

One look at VAERS, a notoriously under-reported database, should suggest there’s been excessive number of adverse events. This is confirmed by the group-life insurance numbers and the success of funeral-related companies of late, both of which are post-2020 phenomena (which cripples the official contention that it’s all fallout from COVID-19—hordes of millennials weren’t dying in 2020). The Pfizer documents (and the fact that they wanted to hide them for the better part of the century) undergird this alternative explanation.

It’s arguably not enough evidence for proof, but it’s enough to discard the official line, and it’s enough that a real investigation should be mandatory. Simultaneously, we can look at efficacy. Have we seen just how ineffective these vaccines have been?

Pfizer and Moderna knew this; they gave out dangerous dosages just to get it to work long enough to fake the trials. Even at peak efficacy, which was many strains and years ago, it was gone in months and it was and still is rebounding into negative efficacy (and it’s dose-dependent, which is an ominous sign for defenders).

“Safe & effective” has been of the biggest lies of the past few years, but I’m fully prepared to show you a long list of them complete with the evidence to the contrary.

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I discuss VAERS in the predecessor to this article, see https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/the-media-very-rarely-lies . The exact mechanism I mention turns out to not be quite correct, but I think commenters filled in the rest of the story at eg https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/the-media-very-rarely-lies/comment/11358743

Can you link to the life insurance and funeral information (and explain why you don't think the excess deaths are caused by COVID itself)?

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Yeah, let me look through my stuff. I’ll get it to you.

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Thanks!

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Because excess deaths start rising at the same time vaccinations do, in multiple countries. Whilst the old chestnut 'correlation doesn't equal causation' is correct, there is often no correlation at all with Covid itself. Instead, we are told excess deaths are delayed effects from Covid. Maybe, I'm not ruling it out but I think it is disingenuous to not even consider vaccine deaths as the cause. We know they have happened (whilst official numbers are small, VAERS & Yellow Card show them to be much higher) and we know doctor's are unlikely to report vaccine deaths unless there is an obvious and direct link.

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"Because excess deaths start rising at the same time vaccinations do, in multiple countries."

Can you provide some backstory that I must be missing (e.g. we are only talking about 19-29 year olds or something ... your millennials comment suggests thi )? Because excess deaths in California began rising in April 2020. Is the claim that for a specific age group the excess deaths didn't rise until sometime after the vaccines became available?

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You can see a correlation in all ages.

https://nakedemperor.substack.com/p/correlation-between-increased-mortality

Pre-vaccine excess deaths is another story - Covid + lack of adequate treatment.

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Here are excess deaths graphed against covid deaths and against vaccinations, for 100 countries:

https://twitter.com/hmatejx/status/1442457789721415680?s=20

It's very easy to see that excess deaths are correlated with covid and not with vaccines.

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I don't know about other countries, but in the U.S. there have been statistically excessive deaths from all causes during most weeks since the end of March 2020:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

To anyone familiar with recent events, the major increases and decreases of excess deaths from any cause correlates closely with the rise and fall of covid cases a few weeks before.

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They must have misheard *because* it isn’t borne out by facts. You know what else is not borne out by facts? Lies, hoaxes, and most often CONFABULATIONS. These aren’t lies because the person uttering it believes it to be true. For example the widespread instances of “furries” in schools (kids who “transitioned” into being animals and were accommodated by schools who didn’t want to be viewed as discriminatory so they provided litter boxes. Great story - even repeated by Joe Rogan - except it wasn’t true!) Do you have any idea how many anti-Vaxxers swear they had a friend or relative who got autism from vaccines? Same thing is going on with Covid deaths. Stop pretending all misinformation is basically the same!

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I took a time-boxed peek at the Pollfish data. The 1500 results were splint into 3 batches of 500. I arbitrarily selected the Jul 4 file to look at.

In that file, there were 36 respondents who reported a household member had died from he vaccine.

Focusing on those responses, I noticed a few interesting patterns.

Of those 36 respondents, 10 responded "Yes" to both the question about death of a household member from COVID and death of a household member from the vaccine. I'm skeptical that 10 out of 500 people were unfortunate enough to have 2 household members die: one from COVID and one from the vaccine. (Especially because these are not large households; 4 of these 10 report that they have 1 other household member, and 5 of these 10 report having 2-4 other household members.)

Of these 36 respondents, 20 responded "Yes" to both the question about death of a household member from the vaccine and "Are you planning on getting future COVID vaccines?" I'm skeptical that 55% of people who had a household member die of a vaccine would plan to get the vaccine themselves.

Of these 36 respondents, there are even 4 who experienced a surprising number of adverse affects from the vaccine (Myocarditis, Pericarditis, AND Bell's Palsy ) requiring hospitalization in addition to having a household member die from the vaccine. Of these 4, 2 selected all of the following: "It will likely shorten my lifespan", "I am now unable to hold a job", "I am now unable to work a full day", "It impacts my personal life", "It is a minor annoyance". Those two are planning to get the vaccine again.

There's some overlap between these respondents. Ignoring all of them drops from 36 who had a household member die of the vaccine to 12. I don't see obvious inconsistencies in these responses.

However, there seems to be a broader issue with the survey design. They look at average time to complete each question, but average doesn't seem like the right measure here (3 people took 10+ minutes to answer; summed, the fastest 250 responses took about as long as those slowest 3). Of the 500 responses, most people seem to answer 7-10 questions. I timed myself just reading those questions silently in my head (not thinking about the answers). Of three attempts, my fastest was a bit over 17 seconds. 40 people completed the survey in 17 seconds or less. I'm skeptical it's possible for someone to provide a quality response to the survey that quickly. 225 people (nearly half) completed the survey in less than 31 seconds. I think that's the fastest I could answer if I were seeing the questions for the first time.

It seems like Pollfish's model may encourage hasty, poor quality responses; "Pollfish uses non-monetary incentives like an extra life in a game or access to premium content." (https://resources.pollfish.com/pollfish-school/how-the-pollfish-methodology-works/) It seems like that creates a misalignment of incentives; the respondent is in a hurry to get back to whatever they were doing. They provide survey fraud protection, and claim it filters suspiciously quick or suspiciously consistent answers (e.g., the same answer for all questions), but it seems to be overlooking obviously problematic responses in this case. (https://resources.pollfish.com/pollfish-school/how-pollfish-prevents-fraudulent-responses/)

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Do you have a link to the pollfish data?

My guess was that Kirsch very carefully structured the survey's target population to have more antivaxxers, and then declined to mention this. I didn't find a way to confirm or refute this in the limited time I spent.

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Open https://dailysceptic.org/2022/07/07/twice-as-many-vaccine-deaths-as-covid-deaths-in-u-s-households-poll-finds/ and Ctrl+f for "The data are available here". There should be three links to XLSX files. One of the tabs has the raw response data.

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Thanks!

Looking at the june 30 data, nothing fishy jumps out at me for my hypothesis.

I checked your hypothesis and it matches pretty well- when I divide the response time by the number of answered questions, the median rate was 1 question per 4.3 seconds. Almost 75% answered in under 6 seconds per q, and about 25% took under 3.3 seconds per q.

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Thanks for looking into this. I love the idea of this person whom the vaccine put in the hospital with Bell's palsy, left them unable to work, *killed* a family member, and yet they can't wait to schedule their next dose.

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Thanks for writing this up! I also took a look at the data and found similar issues. Came back to write it up & was happy to see that you'd already done so (& had dived deeper than I had). I can at least confirm that the Jun 30 results are similarly bizarre.

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This is a really good comment

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Although, from that article, an additional 7% are “lizardmen-adjacent,” (“of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not,”) so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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My guess is that a big chunk of those people understood the question as "Do you have anyone in your house who died after they got the COVID vaccine?" instead of "from the COVID vaccine," or instead of mishearing it.

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Right. If you ask people 'did anyone die from the vaccine' and 8% say yes, a simple explanation is that this 8% of people is confused and wrong.

Lizardman's constant is probably smaller than more plausible incorrect beliefs, like 'the experimental vaccine killed people.'

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This is plausible, particularly if the old/infirm/immunocompromised were more likely to get the vaccine.

Approximately what percentage of households have a member who died (of any cause) within the past year?

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Looks like 2021 had ~124 million households and ~3.5 million deaths. Some of those will be in the same household but 3% seems like a reasonable guess

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You think it's more likely that millions of people died of the COVID vaccine than that 8% of people gave inaccurate responses to a survey?

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No, not at all, I'm describing a different reason for that inaccurate response than mishearing the question

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I think you misread my comment as a reply to yours rather than to the same person you replied to.

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Ah I did, my bad. Thanks for clarifying!

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Oh god, the irony 🤣

Yeah misreading/mishearing is super common, see the the the Scott often drops in his articles

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I think people interpreting the question broadly, as in 'do you know of anyone who died of the covid vaccine?', and then basing their response on some viral facebook post they saw, is more likely. I personally know several people who said they 'knew' someone who died of the vaccine, and cited something like that.

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"I personally know several people who said they 'knew' someone who died of the vaccine, "

What? Several people!

Who are you hanging around with?

If I ever heard someone say this, I would be like: what exactly is their name and press for details.

Or I might think, well there is likely a crackpot that I should stay clear from.

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> They misheard the question? Jesus. That’s pretty desperate

Really? It was my very first thought. I mean, have you never answered a survey? Sometimes a person does just click "yes" when they really meant "no."

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It struck me that way too. I checked the data from the survey (there are some links elsewhere in the thread; you can also find it by following links in the article) and checked the first third of the poll's responses (500 of 1500). 45 of those 500 respondents (9%) answered Yes to "Did anyone else in your household die from the COVID vaccine?"

I looked through the dataset for anything that might give me insight into those cases. Of the 45 respondents mentioned above, 22 answered Yes, 5 answered Unsure, and 18 answered No to "Are you planning on getting future COVID vaccines?" which was also in the poll. Your priors may cause you to disagree with this, but I believe that if 50% of the people who answered that a household member died from the Covid vaccine also answered that they intend to get another Covid vaccine, then something about the data is inaccurate.

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Also note, Scott says the Daily Sceptic didn't do a sanity check of the poll. But their article has a paragraph that does exactly that.

> The proportion of people in this poll reporting serious vaccine injury is considerably higher than in similar surveys, by a factor of 10 or more, the reason for which is unclear and needs to be investigated. We can do a sense check: there are around 120 million households in the U.S. If 3.6% of them have had a Covid death (as per the survey) then that would give 4.3 million Covid deaths. Official figures show around 1 million Covid deaths in the U.S. This suggests the survey is exaggerating results, perhaps due to a self-selection bias among those who respond.

>

> Nonetheless, these are what the respondents to this poll have reported and should not be quickly dismissed. Governments should be doing far more to look into why polls of the general public – not just this one but those by governments themselves – find high proportions of vaccine recipients reporting serious, debilitating and fatal reactions to the vaccines that governments insist are safe.

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Are you seriously suggesting that people don't misunderstand questions, and that some questions are more likely to be misunderstood than others based on people's priors?

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My unwritten response to the first post was "Isn't this something obvious that we already know?" I half remember you having written on the topic years ago. That the media lies by means other than straight up fabricating empirically untrue things is so obvious to be not worth mentioning.

Looking at what the media does and declaring that it doesn't lie is however much like having a model of unhealthy eating which only defining having candy as being unhealthy and declaring the person who eats 4 double cheese burgers a day as technically healthy. It misses the point entirely. If someone knows the truth and constructs what they espouse carefully to get people to believe something else they are doing the thing we don't like about lying.

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I also thought it was obvious, which was why I was surprised to get so much pushback!

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I think maybe the headspace of most people is that a lie isn’t a specific thing about giving a false fact but rather a false or misleading worldview. Then they just reject the nuance. Media is factual and full of lies isn’t a contradiction in that use case.

This is also how I tend to see it as well. It’s interesting that the limits of large organizations seem to stop at being, mostly, factual but for whatever reason can’t produce helpful or clarifying context at scale.

I’m in favor of a decentralized editor type of system where all these stories can be challenged and adjudicated through adversarial challenge. That’s the only way I have ever conceived of where you could force right behavior.

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Scott, I heartily echo what you say here. In 2019 I tried researching every bit of news I suspected was fake. It took a TON of time. Most of it turned out as you've said – factually true, but out of context (or sometimes completely true).

As a logic teacher, I appreciate your pointing out that we mostly lean on our priors when we evaluate “fakeness.” But I’m also uneasy about that, for the following reason.

My priors took a hit from the mother of all reality bombs 3 years ago. I’d heard for years, from questionable sources, that the government in China was harvesting organs from political prisoners. The story went that the Chinese Communist Party was rounding up minorities & dissidents in concentration camps, picking out the healthiest, and killing them for organ transplants – with or without anesthesia. By “questionable sources,” I mean elderly Asian people holding cardboard signs on street corners in the major city where I lived. They’d walk up to people and try, in broken English, to get signatures to stop the organ harvesting. I don't usually believe people with signs on street corners, so I always ignored them.

Meanwhile, I was making Korean and Hong Konger friends at the university I worked at. Eventually enough of them insisted this story was true that I had to check it out. A little press was trickling out – for example, the “Bloody Harvest” report by Matas, Kilgour, and Gutmann (overview here: https://thediplomat.com/2016/06/organ-harvesting-in-china/), followed by an international tribunal report (overview here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-forcefully-harvests-organs-detainees-tribunal-concludes-n1018646).

But fact-checking media is a pain. “I’ll go straight to the sources,” I thought. I booked appointments at the university with (1) a former ambassador to China, and (2) a professor from mainland China who specialized in CCP operations.

The results were shocking. Both the professor and the ambassador said the same thing. The worst was true. The CCP had been murdering for organs for about 20 years. The CCP put dissidents in concentration camps at massive rates. The healthiest prisoners were usually religious, from a group called the Falun Gong (indigenous Chinese), though there were also lots of Uighurs and Tibetans and house Christians. And the governments in the West had known all along. Political leaders, mainstream media, international corporations – they all knew. Democrats knew. Republicans knew. Bush knew. Obama knew. Everyone in a position to know, knew.

“Why hasn’t anyone kicked up a fuss?” I demanded. “This is outrageous!”

Both of them gave the same answer. Business interests. China is the world’s biggest trading partner. If you make the CCP mad by airing its dirty laundry, it will cut off your business relationships and bank accounts, after stealing your trade secrets. If you tell the American public about it, they’ll get mad and refuse to buy Made in China, and instead want Made in America or something else both ethical and inconvenient for large corporations.

These revelations destroyed my world. They were much more outrageous than anything in the fake news. If our elites were actually Lizard People, they couldn’t have more scales between their toes. It wasn't just one person like Obama or Bush making a cold-blooded decision to ignore things worse than Hitler. It was an entire bipartisan sub-culture at the highest levels of our political, corporate, and journalistic classes, cooperating with and actively suppressing news about horrors as bad as the Holocaust, for financial reasons.

I mean the comparison with the Holocaust. Numbers-wise, the CCP is almost on par with the Nazis. The UN estimates 1 million prisoners in concentration camps in Xinjiang alone (recent overview of the UN report here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights-un-idUSKBN1KV1SU). But the Nazis genuinely seem not to have gotten into cannibalizing the organs of their enemies. Also, they didn’t really get into torturing people to death slowly with blood and gore. They liked the clean efficiency of gas chambers and ovens. But the CCP is strapping live humans to a stretcher, conscious and without painkiller, while a surgeon cuts out a fresh lung.

And even now, in almost 2023, most of our Western elite are just shrugging and going along with this.

This totally explodes the reliability of our priors regarding geopolitical realities. We were kept in the dark about THIS for 20 years. How much else are we in the dark about?

Did the CCP intentionally create Covid in a lab and then leak it? My priors alone are no help here. Except to say: Why not? They’ve been doing worse things for 20 years. I’d have to actually research the issue to find out.

Did the US government collude with Big Pharma to produce a rushed-and-ineffective Covid vaccine that would make them a billion dollars but that might accidentally end up killing more people than it helped? Why not? They’ve been colluding with worse-than-Hitler for 20 years to make a billion dollars. My priors are of no help here. I’d have to actually research the issue to find out.

Did a small cadre of Democrats steal the 2020 election? Why not? Both Democrats and Republicans have been colluding with worse-than-Hitler for 20 years. Why would they suddenly get all fair-and-ethical over elections at home? My priors are no help here. Etc.

Has the media been running cover for all this? Why not? They’ve been running cover for worse-than-Hitler for 20 years. Etc…

So our priors are no help. But before getting too paranoid, I should point out that this is why I read your blog. It's why your work here is so crucial. It’s not just that you do deep dives on these types of issues. You show *how* to do the deep dives. You're a master of identifying your own priors (and ours) and then looking at the data from all angles. And we all learn not just what to think but how to do it. That skill is what we need more of, in our current messes.

Also – please get involved with ending organ harvesting in China. This is my cardboard sign on the street corner of Astral Codex Ten.

International China Tribunal here: https://chinatribunal.com/about-etac/

Sample aid organization here: https://chinaaid.org

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Well this is... disturbing. I will say though that it seems like you may be conflating "number of Uighurs et al in forced camps" with "number of people China has killed and had their organs harvested". Could you share some of your more solid english-language sources on this?

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I was extremely disturbed by this as well. My understanding is that the use of harvested organs has now stopped or at least greatly diminished. There was noise about it at the time, and I think it became clear that it couldn't go on.

If you start digging into Chinese horrors, though, it's only going to get worse. Forced late term abortions were carried out openly for decades.

As someone who lives here and tries to maintain some psychological balance, I think that most of the worst excesses have improved, with the occupation of Xinjiang being the obvious move in the wrong direction.

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founding

"If you tell the American public about it, they’ll get mad and refuse to buy Made in China, and instead want Made in America or something else both ethical and inconvenient for large corporations."

Why would it be inconvenient to, e.g., the editorial staff of the New York Times for the American public to refuse to buy Made in China? Or, if not the New York Times, some second-tier reputable newspaper wanting to move up by breaking a new story. It might be inconvenient to a lot of large corporations that *aren't* primarily in the news business, but the people who own those corporations don't get to set the editorial policy of major newspapers.

I believe, but with only moderate confidence due to not having researched the matter more than casually and our not having e.g. a Scott Alexander deep dive into the subject, that:

In the recent past the Chinese government harvested organs from some number of prisoners, and this may be ongoing.

The fraction of prisoners who have their organs harvested is <<100%, so that "millions of political prisoners + organ harvesting = Holocaustian levels of mass murder" is false or at least unsupported

The evidence for much of this is squishy enough that it can't really be proven to the level that a major newspaper is going to want to risk a libel suit or the like over it.

I also don't much care, because millions of political prisoners in concentration camps, with or without organ harvesting, is sufficient to put China in first place for the "Evil Empire" of the 21st century (so far, and Putin is making his own bid for that title). But it's an Evil Empire with enough thermonuclear missiles that, again with or without the organ-harvesting, I'm not going to press for a crusade to vanquish this evil quite yet.

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Jan 1, 2023·edited Jan 1, 2023

Well, North America has (potentially) been doing things much worse than Stalin or Hitler for some years now (though it depends what your model of the future is like).

And the various US-backed wars and coups since WW2 weren't great either, though Putin has probably managed to top them by now ?

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What "things" has North American (does that mean the US AND Canada?) been doing that is much worse than Stalin or Hitler for years?

The coups are another matter. I am not sure they have made things much worse for the countries involved and I doubt they have made things better.

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For what it's worth, we have not been kept in the dark about this. I feel like because you live in a place where people have cardboard signs talking about this, you got a dose of skepticism that most people did not get. My impression is that most people have heard of this, and had no real reason to doubt it. It was a prime plot point in World War Z, for instance, that the zombie virus was able to spread so quickly because chinese organs are constantly making their way around the world, and that when china discovered the zombie virus and started doing research on the infected, the last step of the experiments would be to add them to the normal queue of organ harvesting.

It's not like World War Z was all that fringe a book, either.

My impression is that one of the reason this doesn't stop is because if trying to stop harvesting organs, we would stop having organs for transplants. That a lot of very rich people, who live in the sort of 'second world' countries, source their kidneys and corneas and hearts from this process. Or people who go to brazil for their surgery because it's cheaper, stuff like that.

This might just be my bias because this is how it was presented in a lot of the media articles I've read about this, though. It's sort of like the problem of slavery, yeah the slavers are awful people, but it's the demand for slaves incentivizes their behavior in the first place, and there's some degree of complicity outside china in that all those organs are going *somewhere* and if they stopped flowing, that loss would be felt.

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strange! i saw all the China staff on normal media. it's just... part of my world view. people don't care about things far away from them. it's happen all the time. the Holocaust is actually good example - the most famous genocide, and nobody truly cared, except the victims. but even the victims (or their successors, actually) don't care enough about such things to avoid selling weapons to dictators who are doing some bad, bad shit in their countries.

people care a lot about their family and friends. less about their social group, ethnic group, other groups their belong to. we care very little about people we don't know far far away.

why did you ever had different opinion?

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I think the pushback is largely related to different definitions of "lie".

Media outlets generally have a very specific belief that they are trying to instill in their readers for any given article -- they know what they want the takeaway to be. Often, the takeaway they are trying to leave their readers with is false. One can reasonably claim that setting out to make someone believe a false claim in this way is "lying", even if the means by which you do it doesn't involve directly stating any false factual claims.

I think the claim you're making is correct, but characterizing this behavior -- intentional, often grievous deception by means of context distortion and selective presentation -- as "not lying" seems overly generous. I think the correct top-line representation of this phenomenon is "the media lies all the time (asterix, their particular method of lying doesn't involve directly stating false claims)".

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My exact issue is that this whole line of analysis is being extremely charitable to media of all stripes.

I see 'lying' as entailing more than just fabricating a false fact, and more about the *intent* of presenting information so as to mislead or misinform, especially in a way that causes the target to form a false belief that the speaker wants them to form.

In the broadest sense this can come down solely to how one *frames* the facts.

But the more central example is simply removing any and all context that might lead the listener to a conclusion that the speaker wants them to avoid, whilst emphasizing facts that support the conclusion, *even though you possess all the relevant information and could easily convey it.*

Still seems like 'lying' to me.

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I think it's an ironic case of Scott doing exactly what he's accusing the media of doing (probably accidentally?). It's kind of a motte and bailey game everyone is playing.

"Media don't lie."

"They say false things all the time! What about X, Y, and Z?"

"Not technically a false statement!"

"But they were absolutely misleading. Can you say they're not lying when they say a ton of stuff that's effectively no different? The intent is to communicate false ideas to their audience."

"Sure, but they didn't say things that were technically incorrect. They may even have uncritically convinced themselves into believing these things, so it doesn't count."

"That's a very narrow definition of lying. It's the same broad claim, backed down to a narrow definition that you're saying the media are doing."

"Exactly! You're starting to get my point."

"Sure, but I expect more from you. I come here for better, more critical analysis and a more thorough interrogation of the breadth of the subject. You're not just some idiot off the street, you have a reputation to maintain that shouldn't be trying to hide headline statements behind dubious narrower claims."

"Same with the news! You're starting to get it?"

"No. I stopped having those expectations of the news years ago."

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I would maybe agree if his point was to prove this to defend the media. He however ends each section with "this is awful, but not technically a lie" and at the end provides why this is important ("censorship of dumb evil news" is something people imagine is possible but actually isn't). The logic is, AFAICT:

If [media can be sorted into truth and lies] => censorship can work.

First one is false.

Ergo, second one is false.

The argument does not fall apart if we redefine lie, as "lie is hard to define" still makes the first argument false, and this second one is false.

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Couldn't we summarize the whole point here as saying that the media rarely lie in a direct way, but often mislead by omitting relevant context, or choosing which information to report/not report, or by framing the available facts in a way that pushes forward a desired narrative? Because this is what I took from Scott's initial post.

And this is a problem for policing misinformation, because omitted relevant context, or misleading framing, is subjective and very different from actually saying stuff that isn't true.

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When he posted the first essay on this I wondered if he was doing a bit where he presented some accurate facts without context or with misleading context and then would put forth a longer writing actually analyzing the issue in great detail. It would have been a clever transition.

I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt but it's interesting that he's seemingly coming in defense of a conclusion that sort of absolves the media outlets of 'wrongdoing' if only because he doesn't even posit that they might be *intending* to make the signal/noise ratio worse in order to keep their audience misinformed.

When it really shouldn't be difficult to say "if they have all the facts of the story available to them and fail to *accurately* report *ALL* the facts to their audience, that's probably bad."

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I think he's making allowance for the probability that many of them are fooling themselves with motivated reasoning, isolated demands for rigor, and a host of other failure modes rationalists work hard to avoid (but still aren't perfect themselves at eliminating).

I also think he's right to assume many/most biased reporting believes the underlying ideas they push, even if that one reporter failed to find enough evidence to prove their point. It's so easy to fool yourself that this should be considered the default probably. (Hanlon's razor)

It's a harder problem when you have a bunch of people who sincerely believe the crap they manufacture. It's easier if you're opposed by actively evil people who act like villains from Captain Planet ("I'm dumping sludge into the river because I hate nature!"), But that's rarely the case.

With honest actors, you have to insist on better norms of reporting, but it's hard to get thousands of reporters to study the Sequences.

I'm not saying it's never the case that you're dealing with a malicious actor. I'm sure there are editors and sources who know what they're doing, and use gullible reporters to signal boost a narrative they want pushed. But I think most reporters more likely have bad epistemic habits. Bias is a strong drug, and many people take that drug every day.

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As far as I understand these two articles, Scott is using a narrow definition of "lie" and is upfront about it. I just don't see Scott making the broad claim anywhere, which in my reading invalidates your argument. It's not motte-and-bailey when you shout every other paragraph "I'm talking about this specific bailey, I know you all want to confuse it with this motte but I'm really purposely talking about the bailey right here and not this or that motte!"

You might simply disagree that this is an article worth writing, but I will counter that "the media is often misleading" wouldn't make for a better one. Also, "this is not the article I think you should've written" is a different critique than "this article is wrong".

Most importantly, you may have missed the purpose of Scott's argument about the media rarely lying explicitly, which is to support the argument that you can't just implement some "good kind of censorship", as many people are imagining it, by simply censoring outright false reporting.

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Minor point: I think you've inverted the terms motte and bailey. The motte is the tower (the narrow point you retreat to when challenged) and the bailey is the open space (broader idea that's more difficult to defend).

I read both posts, and I understood the points he was making just fine. I thought they were good points. Indeed, it was interesting that he challenged his readers to find examples of factual inaccuracy in news stories and they didn't find any significant examples.

However, Scott also complains that people object to his statement that "the media rarely lies". Scott gets to choose his own titles, and he seems to know he's making an insurance claim. Indeed, he subtitled the first post saying, "with a title like that, obviously I'll be making a very nitpicky technical point".

Scott seems to implicitly understand people will object to his characterization of the media as "rarely lying", even as he complains about it. I'm just pointing out that he should not use an overbroad term to refer to a very specific phenomenon, then complain that people interpret him as making an overbroad claim.

This isn't the same as saying, "well I'd have used a different title because of stylistic reasons". This is saying, "Your title doesn't match your data." This is why these posts feel wrong to do many of us. We have personally experienced media misleading us, repeating things they should know are wrong, not challenging outrageous claims with obvious context, etc. It's the same as lying. It is lying. So the statement, "the media rarely lies" is not correct. The narrow, nitpicky point is fine - indeed it's an important point, that is unfortunately overshadowed by a bad title.

The media lies all the time. The way Scott framed this whole discussion undermined the point he was trying to make.

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It seems like any analysis of a problem has to start with establishing some ground facts. If we can all agree that the media aren't actually lying, then that opens other avenues for exploring how the public are being misled by the media.

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Yeah. The definition of "lie" that I grew up with was "any communication with the intent to deceive." You can lie while telling the truth, as long as your purpose was to inculcate a false impression among your audience.

From defamation law, there's the concept of *reckless disregard for the truth*. Webster defines it as

> disregard of the truth or falsity of a defamatory statement by a person who is highly aware of its probable falsity or entertains serious doubts about its truth or when there are obvious reasons to doubt the veracity and accuracy of a source

In this case, the media (on all sides) is full of this--repeating statements that sound plausible if you ignore those obvious questions, not asking questions, closing your eyes to the obvious issues, all in service of pushing a message.

That's well over the line of what I would call a lie.

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Remember that the oath a fact witness takes before testifying in Court is "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

I will freely admit that news outlets aren't testifying under oath, but it gets to the idea that when people have an *EXPECTATION* that the person is telling "the whole truth" and "nothing but the truth" then it is still, shall we say, *problematic* if the speaker omits truthful facts which were nonetheless relevant.

And since there's no cross-examining attorney available to push back and elicit the missing facts, the listener has little recourse other than doing their own research, which *defeats the point of listening to a news outlet in the first place.*

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<3 to tomdhunt and Faceh. I made this point in another post, but you both did it better. "Deliberately misinforming" (for political purposes, for power, for money, etc.) might not be "making up stuff directly," but it is bad.

I get Scott's point, I just think the framing is ... off.

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The problem is on the policy side. It would probably be practical to have a law which bans media organizations from publishing things which are false. The court system is set up to handle all sorts of factual disputes. "Did CNN claim Greenland was in the Southern Hemisphere?" is the kind of thing a court can address.

But trying to determine whether "enough" context was provided is a much thing to adjudicate.

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Yes, I basically endorse Scott's further conclusions about the impossibility of regulating this by any practical bright-line rule (whether that be in the courts, the regulatory agencies, social media platforms, or whatever).

In practice, any agency that tries to suppress "disinformation" will end up allowing information that is congenial to that agency's political aims, and suppressing information that is contrary to them, with no regard for truth on either end.

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So, suppose I'm trying to be honest and accurate in explaining something to someone. I have an existing set of beliefs which may be wrong but which I've arrived at with some care and think are likely right. (For example, that covid is bad to get, worse as you get older/fatter/sicker, that vaccines decrease your risk of dying or getting very sick from covid by quite a bit, that some treatments like paxlovid do the same, that covid vaccines are overall pretty safe, etc.).

Now, we can probably agree that I must not lie in service of conveying an accurate understanding--if tomorrow there's a paper that indicates that covid vaccines are more dangerous than covid for people under 20, I must not lie about what the paper says. But I have a choice about how much emphasis to give the paper--I can say "yes, there was one paper that said the vaccine was more dangerous than covid for very low-risk people, and that's possible, but weighing all the evidence, I think it's unlikely." Or I can not mention that paper at all and just talk about the CDC guidance. Or I can trumpet that paper and write a headline that says "COVID VACCINE A DEADLY THREAT, ALL IS LOST" with an article that links to some n=30 study with a p-value of 0.04 showing that under-20 recipients reported longer symptoms with the vaccine than covid[1].

There are a lot of ways to be misleading there. But there's also this difference between reporting the latest news and trying to report an accurate understanding of what's going on. I think I want both of these, but I want people to be clear about which they're doing.

There's another issue where I might have an agenda other than conveying an accurate understanding to you. Like, do I see my role as conveying my best understanding about covid to you, or convincing you to do what I think you should do, or supporting the public health authorities, or what? Those are all different goals. Is your role telling me what's what as best you can, or "responsible journalism" that ends up meaning misleading me in a good cause?

[1] To be fair, my 17 year old has been vaccinated three times and has had covid twice; he's gotten about as sick from the vaccine as from covid each time (aka, several days of feeling lousy and not wanting to get out of bed), and so isn't real excited about getting vaccinated again.

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I thought Scott was mostly pushing pack against the idea that Infowars and NYT (or whatever hero and villain you want to pick in the media) were doing something categorically different, when really they are doing the same thing to different degrees.

Whether you choose to call anything misleading “lying” or define a lie as strictly an intentional statement of an untrue fact, it doesn’t really matter - essentially all media does the former frequently and the latter rarely.

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Well, there are media outlets that propagandize—but I think it boils down to if it bleeds it leads. Most corporate media outlets have the economic incentive to increase the readership by grabbing one's attention with scary headlines and articles. The perfect example of this phenomenon was in April 2020 when the LA Times interviewed Kim Prather an atmospheric chemist at Scripps. She made the claim in an interview in the LA Times that SARS2 virus particles in sewage were being carried back to land by sea spray. The reporters and editors uncritically relayed her comments as if she were an expert with the same credentialled expertise as a virologist or epidemiologist. There are numerous reasons why this would be very very low on the threat level even with what little we knew about the SARS2 virus at that time. This story was picked up by the media everywhere, and county health officials (either because there was public pressure to do so, or because they really believed her) shut down beaches up and down the coast of California. Did the LA Times and the news media really have any motivation to promote the closure of public beaches? I can't imagine they did. But they did have a scary headline that would promote readership and spread LA Times as a news source. Some weeks later the LA Times did a retraction, but by that time it had entered the popular imagination that beaches were a potential vector for COVID infection.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-02/coronavirus-ocean-swimming-surfing-safe-beaches-los-angeles

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 30, 2022

I think a lot of people don't separate in their minds the provable lies and the tricks meant to get people to believe untrue things. When I watch the John Oliver episode on the women's national team's compensation package for instance I know that everything he says on the topic is technically accurate but I come away feeling viscerally lied to because it is so clear that the presentation is intentionally not addressing even the most basic pushback.

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I think it's more like "people care about technicalities in their favor, and don't care about technicalities that are not in their favor." Ordinary people who are intentionally deceiving someone will often play word games to make their statements technically true (which shows they're tracking the distinction and sometimes care) but people who have been deceived don't actually care about that defense. I suspect this "don't _technically_ lie" instinct may have evolved to make it harder for your victim to convince _others_ to punish you, rather than to make your victim less mad.

I think there's also an element of "However well I personally manage to defend myself against tricks, that's obviously the reasonable standard that everyone should meet. Therefore, tricks that work against me are evil, but if you fall for a trick that wouldn't work on me then it's your own fault for being foolish." A while ago in ACX comments, I complained about stores that set all their prices to end with 99 cents or put one crappy item on a huge discount so they can advertise "up to 90% off", and I got a bunch of people objecting that those things "aren't lying" (even though the stores are doing extra work for the sole purpose of tricking people). I suspect this is because people think of themselves as immune to such petty tricks (though most of them are wrong).

Of course, another plausible hypothesis is "a bunch of people have different opinions, and there's enough readers on this blog that a bunch of people will disagree with you no matter what you say."

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This seems like a classic case where the readers who agree have no motivation to comment, so the comment section is biased towards the minority (?) who disagree.

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That’s a good observation. I didn’t comment on that piece because when I saw he had defined lie in that way I didn’t really disagree other than to maybe feel it wasn’t a very helpful definition. Then again I’d do think the distinction was important.

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People automatically interpret this as you defending the media. Arguments as Soldiers.

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The pushback is largely because you are doing a false equivocation between the New York Times (who you hate and have a vendetta against) and Infowars (who you are pretending does basically the same thing as other outlets). And you know this, but on your own metric it won't count as a lie, because you just selectively misrepresented things.

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I consider it obvious, for a pedantically literal definition of "lying". But I also consider it useless, because a source that says pedantically literal things with such a perversely-chosen context that a reasonable person taking it as face value would come to a false conclusion is no improvement over a source that just makes up things that are literally false. And in almost all contexts, I use the word "lying" indistinguishably for both cases.

There are some mainstream media outlets that, outside of the most scissory subjects, I'm willing to take what they say at face value without e.g. skimming the relevant wikipedia page, skimming the "talk" section of the wikipedia page, and checking out some of the references from those. But that's the interesting and useful question - does a source provide information from which one can safely draw a conclusion without doing an independent mini-dive into the subject? Not, "does the particular method of their deception include pedantically literal falsehoods?", because if I have to research the matter to get the context right I'll discover the falsehoods along the way.

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We never ever remember the original sensory input. Everybody trying to remember a time media misinformed just retrieved the already processed "they lied". It would take re-reading the original media with an effort on re-analyzing the content to realize that it was, in fact, "just" misinformation and not lie.

Same happened to me when I read the original article, I doubt anybody is immune. The trick is to be aware of how memories are encoded and realize that this kind of judgement call will always require reprocessing. You can't trust cached information for this.

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To me it was obvious that the New York Times works this way, but I was a little surprised to learn that Infowars apparently meets that standard as well.

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Seconded!

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Same here.

My model (although I didn't think too deeply about it) was that if a media is "sufficiently mainstream", if will avoid publishing outright lies, because many of its customers might stop buying it if they learned that outright lies were published.

But I assumed that there is a mindkilling threshold, where the majority of customers are crazy fanatics, and even if you show them that some specific information X was a lie, they will not care, because it was still an argument-soldier fighting for their side, and besides "who cares, they might have got this one tiny detail wrong, but the general picture is right". Also, people have a short memory; if in December 2022 you prove that something published in October 2022 was false, no one really cares anymore, because the important thing is the December 2022 news which (supposedly) is true.

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This is a great example where someone points out some important feature of the world, and half the people hearing them respond with "That's a dirty lie!" and the other half with "Well, of course, everyone knows that!"

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I understand what you mean, but no. Most people don't get the subtleties here. Worse, many people who do think they get the subtleties actually don't. The fact that think they do, however, makes it even less likely that they ever will.

It's hard to make people understand a phenomena when they are confident in their misunderstanding.

It is very much one thing to witness a thing and think you understand what happened, and a whole other thing to be a person who makes an account of a thing that can be reviewed by others.

To say that people only come up with a portion of things they consume is an understatement.

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Lol we have the same name! Read your post and was thinking “when did I write this?”

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We are all some guy.

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I like the cheeseburgers angle because it's a great analog to the decision to allow your confirmation bias and motivated reasoning to cause you to report misleading information

It feels good to lazily report whatever facts support your existing opinions. It feels *really* good. If you held a gun to the NYT reporter who said that most economists don't think school vouchers would improve test scores and said "Hi, what is the most accurate way to report this survey of economists, or else" they would probably succeed in including the fact that twice as many economists with a yes or no opinion said vouchers would help. And then the reporter would probably continue opposing vouchers for non test score reasons anyway

Similarly, if you went into a McDonalds and did the same with the request that the customers make an orderly path to the healthiest food within 20 minutes they would successfully all not eat four cheeseburgers that day. And then afterward they would continue to make food choices for reasons of physiological satisfaction and not think about whether they were eating healthy

In my opinion the most effective way to personally convince reporters to be more accurate would be to condescendingly talk about how their natural biases understandably led them to report on something in a misleading way. Appeal to their pride by letting them know you no longer have high expectations of them and they can't help it if they have made what is an obvious mistake to someone who is primarily motivated to not make those mistakes

A more likely solution is to stop thinking there's a button we can press on the media labelled "Willingly Be More Accurate". Develop systems of information with direct incentives for accuracy such as prediction markets

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This is a whole lot of words to say “I define ‘lying by media’ exclusively as falsifying source material, while many/most other people include presentation of false claims derived from true statements to also be lying”

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author

No, because I explained pretty clearly how I was defining it in the introduction to my previous post, and instead of saying that they disagreed with my definition, the commenters objected that my post was wrong.

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That’s fair. It would have been better form for people to take issue with the, IMO, totally unreasonable definition. Maybe people just couldn’t grok that someone who usually writes about big concepts would be advancing an argument that hinges on a definition of “lying” that produces the dubious outcome “Alex Jones didn’t lie about Sandy Hopk”? I mean, we can define “up” such that apples fall upward from trees, but what’s the point?

Respectfully, if your interest was in how partial facts can be misrepresented to advance false conclusions, that would have been a more constructive thrust. I think you just hit the iceberg of people being very tired of being lied to, so explaining that the lies aren’t actually lies provoked... a response.

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You express the dissenting point of view well.

Part of the original point, which IMO justified the very narrow definition of lying, was that “lying by motivated interpretation” is much harder to police than “lying by using incorrect facts.” There's a sliding scale of egregiousness.

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Another way of looking at it is that media has evolved to lie in a way that they can't or won't be punished for.

If they could get away with blatant falsehoods they would but those are too easy to call out and could lead to legal trouble so you get the squishier form of lying wherein one can't legally *prove* it a lie but can still epistemically view it as a falsehood.

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More than that, which context is relevant and what framing is best for conveying an accurate understanding of the world depends a great deal on your starting beliefs. If there's a news article about a spike in murders in Chicago over the last two years, is it relevant to mention how the timing corresponds to the BLM riots in 2020, or is that adding misleading context that diverts readers from an accurate understanding of the world? Well, that depends on your underlying beliefs about the cause of the spike in murders, right? Or maybe on your beliefs about what facts or ideas should be entertained in public and what facts or ideas should not be entertained in public.

SailerCorp media links every report of a spike in urban murders with a discussion of George Floyd and the BLM protests.

KendiCorp media links every report of a spike in urban murders with a discussion of the long history of racism in law enforcement and the legacy of Jim Crow and redlining.

Which one is providing a misleading framing, and which one a useful one? Depends on your starting worldview. Along with having different agenda, Sailer and Kendi have different understandings of how the world works, which makes different context seem relevant for understanding current events.

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I'd go with whichever one's worldview doesn't cause it to do near 180's on an issue when covering different events.

If Kendicorp wants to tie *everything* to a history of racism I guess they can, but when there's an increase in Anti-Semetic attacks occurring as well and they then choose to switch explanations *away* from racism because:

A) They have less sympathy for the victims; and

B) It turns out the perps tend to be minorities themselves

And so they can't even keep their 'understanding of how the world works' *internally* consistent, then clearly it is proper to question the validity of their reporting across the board.

I'm not making this particular point up, either:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/antisemitic-incidents-hit-a-record-high-in-2021-whats-behind-the-rise-in-hate

So lets add onto the issue of lying, the media's consistent hypocrisy when it comes to proffering explanations, to the point where it *smacks* of bad faith.

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SailerCorp media ... hmmhmmmmhhh ... interesting.

Judging from my bank account, unlike KendiCorp media, SailerCorp media must be a Not For Profit.

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KendiCorp suggests that the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining got ~40% worse from 2019-2021. Also, covid!

SailerCorp suggests that the 44% increase in black homicide deaths and the 38% increase in black motor vehicle accident deaths from 2019 to 2021 is likely related to the "racial reckoning" that was declared by the American Establishment in the days following George Floyd's death when our elites concluded, virtually unanimously and with few dissenting voices being heard, that African-Americans suffered mostly from too much policing.

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I don't think Scott's definition is unreasonable at all. In fact, I would say it is the only reasonable definition we could possibly use in any adversarial context. It is essentially the definition we use in our courts. No one has ever been charged with perjury for presenting only the facts most helpful to their case and presenting the opponents facts in the most negative light. That's literally the attorney's job. I'm astounded this group of really smart readers and commenters could have such difficulty following this. I am left thinking that the emotional response to some of these topics overrides some peoples' critical reading faculties and leaves them temporarily unable to break things down into individual claims and evaluate the truth of each one individually if they know ahead of time that they reject the conclusion. It's like the underlying core belief of many people is that an overall falsehood can't be built from a bunch of true constituent parts. This is just self-evidently false though. Of course you can build false narrative from a collection of curated true facts and doing so doesn't make the individual facts untrue. I keep thinking of this is the mirror image of Trump supporters arguing that he was building a larger true narrative out of a bunch of individual lies.

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That would imply that people should be expected to read the media the way an attorney listens to his opponent: by condensing the message to its pure facts, carefully searching for any maliciously inserted narrative.

Journalists are held to a higher standard than attorneys: they should present the story behind the facts as they actually understand it while transparently explaining that there are multiple views on how the individual facts make up a story. If a journalist deliberately fails to do so, it is not unreasonable to colloquially say that he's lying. It would be more precise to say "he's construction a false narrative", but (as the commenters have argued) everybody knows that people mean exactly that when they say that "the media is lying".

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I would say that as a consumer of media your job is to evaluate media sources just like you would evaluate the presentation of an attorney as a juror. You should understand that each side has a viewpoint and an agenda which they are pushing and will marshal all the favorable facts and implications they can for their own side and paint the opponent’s side in the most negative light possible. As a juror you should be able to generally treat factual statements as factual and weigh the overall narratives of both sides against each other. I don’t think it helps the discussion to confuse false statements of fact with misleading narratives.

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While I agree that media consumers should be expected to pay attention to false narratives, I cannot agree that it is morally right for journalists to construct a narrative the same way as a attorney rightly does.

The relationship between the media and readers is like the relationship between drivers on public streets: One driver (the reader) has to be ready to react to a mistake by another driver (a media outlet). This does not mean that it is ok for the second driver to make mistakes.

A additional take would be to concede that media organisations are supposed to have a slight bias to encourage a helpful diversity of viewpoints. But if their bis becomes too strong, they create false narratives and act immorally.

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Dec 31, 2022·edited Dec 31, 2022

Agreed, journalists should be trusted no more than others and even if they are, their editors and publishers certainly have a viewpoint they wish to project. While I may align more closely to the New York Times I would never consider the paper unbiased.

Most of the commenters are focused on the definition of lying. That there is a debate about "what is a lie" reinforces what I believe is the whole point of the article, A notion that there is an objective truth standard which can be applied to media is futile. Even more fraught is the notion that some body (as is proposed on occasion in my country) can sift through and police "misinformation", well good luck with that,

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"That would imply that people should be expected to read the media the way an attorney listens to his opponent: by condensing the message to its pure facts, carefully searching for any maliciously inserted narrative."

[serious bearded man face] Yes.

I mean, that is indeed the only correct way to approach the media (stray too far in one direction and you'll believe their, yes, lies - but stray too far in another and you won't be able to discern and believe anything about the world, ever), and our epistemic ecosystem would be much healthier if more people internalized this. Journalists, empirically, are not in fact being held to a higher standard than attorneys, they are in fact expected to present the story behind the facts in a way consistent with beliefs and interests of their principals', peers and customers. This has always been true in practice, but nowadays the media go as far as outright discarding even the theory of impartiality.

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Except that's not entirely true is it?

Subornation of perjury is definitely a thing, which is what happens when NPR publishes an impossible claim and then tacks on "NPR has been unable to verify these claims" (wasn't it journalistic malpractice to publish unverified stores at one point?)

And then there's the "known or should have known" or "reckless disregard for the truth" clauses.

Saying "it's not a lie if I didn't invent the lie, even though it's obviously a lie" get you to the point where you can just quote from The Protocols and say "what's the big deal?"

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Hear, hear!

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I still think the linguistic distinction Scott is drawing is useful, for a number of reasons. Other commenters do a good job re-summarizing Scott’s position, but imho, another reason is helping improve (if only slightly) the dialog among voices of the culture war.

Claiming an opposing viewpoint is constructed via lies is very likely to be the end of a discussion if the opposition is right in believing it’s not technically true.

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Scott used the definition that was relevant to the point he was making about how any procedure for censoring lies is either mostly judgment calls or mostly useless.

And it's a definition that I encounter pretty often in ordinary life! It's definitely not the ONLY definition of "lying" that people use, but it's A definition that many people use pretty often. It's not like Scott is making this up out of the blue!

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I think that by this standard *literally all statements about reality* are judgement calls. Some sources say the Earth is round, some sources say the Earth is flat, and who are we to make a judgement call about which one is correct? Unless you've personally launched into space to observe the Earth's curvature, all you're doing is gathering other sources and making judgement calls about their credibility.

So this seems like a really easy bullet to bite - yes, we are going to make judgement calls about which sources are truthful, and yes, we will not be 100% accurate in this process, but we will do it anyway because the alternative is a skepticism so radical that you can't even trust that the Earth is round.

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I think there's been some sort of disconnect? Scott's whole point is that the media isn't usually going to make claims like "the earth is flat", they're going to make claims like "some sources say the earth is flat". Even if we can all agree that the earth is round, that doesn't answer the question of whether to censor people who say "some sources say the earth is flat", which is a true statement that is sometimes made by honest people (notice e.g. that you just made it).

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I found Sott's definition perfectly clear and entirely reasonable.

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an excellent demonstration of how difficult it is to think clearly and coldly about emotionally intense topics

or just how hard it is to be strictly "rational" at any time

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Indeed, the greatest light from this thread, from Scott on down, may be that consistently thinking clearly is hard, and one thing not to do is to frame a somewhat contentious topic using a legalistic re-definition of words that people already think they know.

This whole topic would have been much less meta had Scott opted for a more rational framing; something like “even the most dishonest media rarely relies on objectively false data”. I’m sure that could be improved. With the best of intentions, Scott ended up asserting that any statement based on true source data cannot be a “lie”, and people reacted to that.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

Scott's point is that false facts look like a bright line, such that you can sort facts into "true" and "false", outlaw people telling the false ones, and solve misinformation forever. But if the problem really is tendentious and misleading reporting, that is both a lot harder to decide and necessarily requires a process that's going to be highly vulnerable to corruption, due to being inherently subjective.

This is not a pro-lying argument, it's an anti-censorship argument.

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That’s great, and I don’t disagree, and that is far more persuasive than Scott’s original piece. All I’m saying is that people, rightly or wrongly, get wound up about gaslighting. And coming at this from a “even the most blatant lies one sees in the media aren’t *really* lies” angle is necessarily going to be received as “nobody lied to you”

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

Okay, but the first line in Scott's original article was "With a title like that, obviously I will be making a nitpicky technical point." I'm not sure how he could have been clearer that he's arguing that this presents difficulty for suppressing misinformation, not that he's trying to *exonerate Infowars.*

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The very fact that so many people seem to be making this mistake suggests that Scott, in pointing to this phenomenon, is pointing to a conflation that is both very real and affects many among those who are smart and at least sympathetic to the rationalist framework.

Scott is pointing out that the problem with censorship and misinformation is that people conflate "false facts" type of lying (which is objective and relatively easy to then objectively counteract) with the "selective facts" type of lying, and in doing so, think that there can be some objective mechanism to do something like "remove misinformation" or "remove lying" from media. Cue a whole host of responses *which conflate both types of lying.*

I'm not sure if this is due to some artifact of the way Scott presented his case or if it really was a sort of "case in point" in the responses.

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I think there's a very useful distinction to make between "misleading" and "lie" If everybody is using true facts to send a misleading message, then it's still possible for a savvy person to figure out what the truth probably is.

If they're outright falsifying material, it becomes much harder to do this.

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founding

I thought the thesis Scott laid out is pretty clear, and you either skimmed over it or willfully decided to misinterpret it because you have an emotional reaction to being told the media doesn't lie.

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But it's a weak anti-censorship argument. If it were the true that detecting bad content were easy that would be a pro censorship argument. Good censorship arguments assume hard tradeoffs and edge cases and decides it's worth it even with false positives. If you start a slippery slope comparing Alex Jones sandy hook statements with bad polling then I'll just get off the slope after censoring Alex Jones.

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Even if *you* will (a heroic assumption), the censorship system you built won't. None ever has.

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I'm actually generally happy with moderation policies of tech companies (I don't always agree with them but I do think they do a reasonable job) and think both sides need to recognize that it's a hard task but while i support working the refs to fix bad edge cases I would resist calls to categorically reduce moderation. Your options aren't no censorship or Chinese levels of censorship.

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I agree that censorship level is on a spectrum, but I hope you agree that it's dynamic over time. So your happiness is at best temporary. One day you'll be among the censored, and I predict you won't be equally pleased then. You don't even have to imagine how a Trump voter or a Russian speaker sees the current "moderation policies"; you can just recall yesterday's policies that banned depictions of gay love from all corners of polite society. Many people were also generally happy then, but that doesn't make it right.

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Do you think there is more or less censorship than in the 90s? What I'm arguing is not that the things I think should be censored are censored and the topics I think shouldn't be censored aren't. Rather what I'm arguing is that the current process of having moderate censorship that evolves with societal understanding is preferable to either no moderation or china levels of censorship. I'd probably prefer 10% less moderation but not 50% less.

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Jan 2, 2023·edited Jan 2, 2023

Who exactly is saying "the government is capable of 100% accurately separating fact from fiction?" Or "the government should outlaw all statements of falsehood and solve misinformation forever"?

This whole thing feels like a weakman - people are making fairly mild complaints like "Twitter has lots of obvious, Alex Jones-tier misinformation and I think they could do better at not spreading that around" and the response is "Oh, so you want the government to delete all lies from the internet at gunpoint? You think Twitter should become the Official Arbiter of Truth? Is that what you want?" No, we're saying that a private company should try to have good judgement about what sort of information it spreads, just like any other citizen or organization who shares things they hear about.

Is there an actual law about online misinformation that's being debated here? Do we have some actual lawyers who could weigh in on how to make such laws difficult to abuse? Or is the entirety of this argument just "nobody has 100% objective understanding of reality, therefore censorship is bad"?

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Thank you.

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founding

People are saying "we want to run Alex Jones off the decent parts of the internet, because that guy just peddles pure misinformation and no decent person wants *that*". And they say that they're only going to do it against the evil Alex Jones types and it will be obvious who they are so we don't have to worry. But some of us are worried that the same people will then try to run e.g. Scott Alexander off the decent parts of the internet for his "pure misinformation".

At which point, the sort of person who wants it both ways, a nice pleasant internet experience with Scott Alexander but without Alex Jones anywhere in sight, start looking for some sort of "objective standard" that could be used to separate the two. And if you start trying to turn "misinformation" into a specific and objective standard, it's likely to be something like "stuff that can be proven to be factually untrue".

I think the number of people who A: genuinely want it both ways and C: share Scott's focus on the narrowly literal definition of "lie", is small enough that it's not going to matter to the outcome of that debate. But, at the margin, it is worth explaining to that crowd that even a "just don't literally lie" standard won't do what they expect it to.

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The intent is to nuance the detail and debunk counterclaims, not to repeat what he already said in the first post... this post is for those who disagreed, and those wondering how to explain/debate it to someone who disagrees.

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Perhaps some people are operating with a different conception of “lie” like “lead to believe falsehoods.” That’s the only reason I can think of to reject this, outside the “my opponents are evil liars” bias you propose.

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I do have the impression that the objectors are inclined to label all media falsehoods as lies, but I can't believe they apply the same standard in their private lives. Possibly there's an unstated assumption that the media are omniscient?

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If Albert comes to me and tell me "Bob is a rapist", refuse to elaborate and leave, and I start repeating to everyone I meet "Bob is a rapist" (maybe with a "Albert says" after), despite having made no effort to confirm the claim, nor having any indication that Albert was truthful, most people would consider me to be lying as well. They understand I'm not omniscient, they also understand that I'm a lying piece of shit for spreading baseless rumors.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I am increasingly under the suspicion that all value beliefs are downstream of factual beliefs; terminal values might not be all that different between people. It's like everyone wants a utopia, not a dystopia , (i.e. shared values) and simply disagree on what approach gets us there, and how close we can possibly get to it (i.e. different fact beliefs on like likelihood of various counterfactual scenarios following from each other)

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This was what was interesting about the phenomenon of "fake news" during the 2016 election, before that term was successfully hijacked by Donald Trump to mean "news stories I don't like." There was a wave of what looked like news articles, spread largely via Facebook, that were entirely fictitious. The people writing those "articles" were not journalists and were not trying to be journalists. They made up the stories out of a mix of rumor and complete fabrications, either for political purposes or just as click-bait (this has never been entirely clear to me).

It's unfortunate that the term "fake news" has been so thoroughly tainted, because the existence of those articles was genuinely noteworthy, and it's now harder to talk about them.

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author

I'm interested in learning more about this - do you remember / have links to any of them?

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022Author

This is an article about the phenomenon, which doesn't link to any examples, which is exactly the sort of thing I've learned to try to verify. Do you remember / have links to any of the fake articles themselves?

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I don't remember any myself (since it's been 6 years), but here's a study which has some specifics - http://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf

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https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2017/jan/06/blog-posting/celebrity-praise-helpful-locals-are-fake-stories-c/

This is another article about the phenomenon, it links to a few example but it looks like they've all been taken down.

I also looked through politifact to find other counterexamples, and I found this:

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2022/jan/19/blog-posting/bogus-claims-about-gavin-newsom-being-executed-clo/

which points to this website with similar articles:

https://realrawnews.com/2022/12/nancy-pelosi-hanged-at-gitmo/

This definitely fits your definition of lying, although maybe it would be a stretch to call this website 'media' - where would you draw the line between 'a random person's blog' and 'media'?

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author

Thank you, the Nancy Pelosi Hanged At Gitmo article is the first one in all these comments that I admit is definitely an example of the media lying. Good work!

(I wonder who this is aimed at, and whether anyone has ever believed it)

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Sorry to be all over this thread. Super interesting discussion and fun comments section.

Wanted to echo that this was the original fake news phenomenon. And there were a lot of outlets created that gave readers the aesthetic impression that they were local news sites when they weren't. Even if the content was relatively truthful (uncertain) wasn't the intentionally misleading presentation a form of deception?

https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/07/hundreds-of-hyperpartisan-sites-are-masquerading-as-local-news-this-map-shows-if-theres-one-near-you/

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This appears to be a parody site.

https://realrawnews.com/about-us/

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Thinking about it more, the difference between this and something like Infowars (or even the NYT) is probably less to do with credibility/prestige and more to do with size. Infowars has, afaik, a few dozen employees, so any article written would probably involve multiple people; based on the article you linked below realrawnews seems to be written by a single person. Maybe this argument more generally is "Groups of people can't coordinate to knowingly lie about something" - I can't think of any counterexamples off the top of my head, but maybe other people can think of some.

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I think you'd want to be precise about who "the media" is - the sites involved in the original fake news phenomenon were an extension of those basically content-free SEO spam pages that pollute your Google search results sometimes. They would use the stylistic conventions of local news websites of the time, and they would get their traffic by having "articles" go viral on social media (or sometimes appearing in the targeted ads on actual publications' articles). But they were basically internet chaff - it's not like you would find any journalists saying they had worked there, or people in their putative markets saying they subscribe or regularly visit.

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> This is another article about the phenomenon, it links to a few example but it looks like they've all been taken down.

The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine has some of the articles archived (e.g. http://web.archive.org/web/20160720014154/http://channel18news.com/bangor-maine/lady-gaga-explains-why-shes-moving-to-bangor-maine). Note that the most recent snapshots of those articles are redirects to the home page, so you need to look for older snapshots.

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The ur-example (in my mind at least):

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

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If you want an explicit example of falsehoods, this one links to some actual tweets: https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-russia-dominates-your-twitter-feed-to-promote-lies-and-trump-too

I didn't have this to hand, just got it from a bit of clicking around on the IRA. I didn't think it was controversial that Russia was engaging in an aggressive disinformation/psy-ops campaign around the 2016 election (the controversy was just about whether Trump was colluding with them).

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

https://www.vox.com/world/2018/12/17/18144523/russia-senate-report-african-american-ira-clinton-instagram

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My old employer BuzzFeed did an exposé on a news agency which ran (sometimes) literally made up stories, though even then they were more commonly embellished https://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/central-european-news we were sued for libel but won the case

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I don't know how to find them, but I definitely remember several completely fake articles about Trump during and immediately after the election. One of them was him citing "an ancient law" that prevented President Obama from doing... some liberal thing, I don't remember what. The most memorable one was immediately after the "Muslim Ban", where they claimed it had resulted in the arrest of a high-priority terrorist on day 1. I feel like that one showed up on one of the fact check sites, but I'm not seeing it on Snopes.

I remember Stephen Colbert reporting the articles had been tracked down to a couple of Macedonian teens, who had discovered that writing fabricated pro-Trump articles was an easy way to make money.

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I'm not sure whether this is what you're looking for, but there were some articles about fake news factories cranking out fictional stories purely for the money, like https://www.wired.com/2017/02/veles-macedonia-fake-news/, with links to a couple more.

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The most famous 2016 example of fake news (before Trump hijacked the phrase) was "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President". I don't know if this counts as "the media" lying because it was a hoax website masquerading as a news site ("WTOE 5 News") that has since been shut down. But the story spread like wildfire on Facebook:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/the-strangest-fake-news-empire

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There was a Planet Money podcast about this type of fake news: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2016/12/02/504155809/episode-739-finding-the-fake-news-king

I found it quite interesting. I had forgotten that's what "fake news" used to mean.

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I'm with you on the general point but I think you're being too charitable to InfoWars (and maybe others) in at least some examples.

Take the InfoWars birth certificate one: in addition to all the claims about layers and so on, it says "the document is a shoddily contrived hoax". That is a factual claim which is false. They offer support for that claim which isn't actually convincing, and the support they offer happens to be true but out of context, and I'm with you on calling the supporting evidence "not lies". But "the document is a shoddily contrived hoax" is in fact flatly false, and is asserted by the article itself, not just "someone said".

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Disagree. They're stating their conclusion and the evidence that led to their conclusion. Their conclusion is wrong, but not a lie or "them making things up", just an incorrect inference.

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If we are using the technical definition of "lie" whereby one must be making a false claim while knowing it is false, rather than making a false claim with reckless disregard for the truth, sure. But I think the second sense is the one people usually hold, and moreover most of the media does avoid lying in the second sense. InfoWars is genuinely unusual in that it does not. You can use the more usual definition of "lie" and still have your thesis hold for the media as a whole, just not for InfoWars in particular.

Using your definition we couldn't call anything a lie if there is any true fact offered in support of that claim. I don't think that's the usual definition.

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Using your definition, it sounds like you're accusing me of lying in this post and making up my facts, since you believe my conclusion is false (even if I was well-intentioned). See also https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/07/16/against-lie-inflation/

Why would you want to expand the definition of "lie" so big that it includes unintentional errors in reasoning?

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Do you see a distinction between making a definitive statement that is false (even if could have been arrived at honestly) vs. making a statement that is true but misleading? Since it seems to me that many of the InfoWars examples are the former while the mainstream media examples are the latter.

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I think our disagreement is about definitions, not about facts in the world. And disagreements about definitions can't be lies (by definition).

But also, I don't think you've made a claim with reckless disregard for the truth, whereas I think InfoWars did. I am not at all convinced that InfoWars had a sincere belief that the birth certificate in question was a forgery. I think it is much more likely that they simply didn't care to know the truth of the matter. And I think it's reasonable to say that when someone makes it a false claim without caring whether or not it's true, that's a lie. This is the standard used for defamation in the US ("reckless disregard for the truth" is stock legal phrase), and defamation is usually understood to mean "lying about someone in a harmful way", so I think this is a pretty normal standard.

I'm not trying to expand the definition to unintentional errors in reasoning. I'm trying to use the to-me preexisting definition of "making a false claim without caring whether it's true".

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022Author

I worry that you are using "reckless disregard for the truth" as what I described as "a be dumb and evil gear". I'm not super-invested in the claim that Infowars writers in particular believe their own conspiracy theories (though it seems plausible! Some people believe them! Why wouldn't those be the people who end up working at Infowars!), but I worry that everyone thinks their opponents have "reckless disregard for the truth", and that leaving that loophole means everyone gets to elide the difference between "my opponent is expressing an opinion" and "my opponent is literally lying".

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My point here is that this isn't a loophole which would generalize beyond InfoWars, because everyone from the NYT to Fox News basically manages to avoid making false statements of fact in the first place - as you observe, they are careful to phrase things as "according to X" or to suggest a conclusion without actually asserting it. It's really only InfoWars in particular that actually outright makes false statements of fact. They are genuinely doing something different than the NYT or Fox here. Your thesis still holds when using my definition for the rest of the media except InfoWars.

And I note that the claim "InfoWars sincerely believes their false claims [and therefore is not lying by Scott's definition]" requires exactly the same level of insight into their mental state as "InfoWars makes false claims with reckless disregard for the truth [and therefore is lying by my definition]". So I don't see why we should believe they are definitely not lying (by your definition) if we aren't willing to speculate about their mental state. And if we are willing, I think evidence is in favor of "reckless disregard" here.

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I don't think that any reasonable person would suggest you are reckless, whereas Infowars has a long history of recklessness. Not every unintentional error is reckless, but some of them certainly are.

I think that recklessness has some overlap with falling to attempt to validate sources or consider other explanations: again, not what you're doing here IMO.

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I agree with most of the article. But I think there are two possible interpretations of "lying" (roughly, making false statements vs making intentionally false statements) and your original article makes it sound like you're saying the media rarely makes statements that are literally false.

> Still, on the most nitpicky level, as far as I can tell the article doesn’t say a lot which is literally false.

> But people - including the very worst perpetrators of misinformation - very rarely say false facts.

InfoWars probably honestly believed Obama's birth certificate was a hoax. If InfoWars instead said "we *uncovered evidence* that the new birth certificate is a hoax", I could see that as a potentially true statement. But while "New Obama birth certificate is a hoax" may be their honest opinion, it's also a false fact.

So maybe it's worth clarifying that when reporters do report false fact, it's an honest but mistaken belief (or at least plausibly so).

This also leads into a rather messy philosophical question on whether anything can be proved a lie, since we can't prove anything in the physical world with 100% certainty and we can't know someone's internal beliefs. Any statement is possibly true with enough conspiratorial thinking and the reporter could honestly believe it.

So if we're talking about how this applies to fact checking, we need some threshold at which we can reasonably say a claim is false, and I think "Obama's birth certificate is a forgery" meets that threshold. At least as much as any statement in the news can.

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