What The New York Times’ Hit Piece on Slate Star Codex Says About Media Gatekeeping
Back in June, pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander deleted his blog—Slate Star Codex—after The New York Times threatened to reveal his identity in what was supposed to be a largely positive article about Alexander’s early perceptiveness regarding the threat of COVID-19. The incident prompted Alexander to migrate to Substack and out himself as the clinical psychiatrist Scott Siskind (though his true name was already discoverable via Google).
I criticized The New York Times for its unwillingness to grant Siskind anonymity, especially given the paper’s recent history of honoring such requests in roughly analogous situations. While that decision struck me as unfair—or at the very least inconsistent—and it was deeply unfortunate that it had created so much bad blood between the Times and Siskind (whose loyal readers bombarded Times reporter Cade Metz with complaints), I nevertheless expected that the story itself would be balanced and informative if it ever saw the light of day.
It turns out that this was a naive assumption.
On Saturday, the Times finally published Metz’s profile of Slate Star Codex. It’s a lazy hit piece that actively misleads readers, giving them the false impression that Siskind is at the center of a stealth plot to infiltrate Silicon Valley and pollute it with noxious far-right ideas. Unfortunately, this theme—that new tech ventures are sources of right-wing disinformation—is becoming endemic to the paper’s increasingly panicky tech coverage, which cynically treats all new electronic conversation spaces as potential disinformation incubators.
According to Metz, Slate Star Codex was first and foremost “Silicon Valley’s Safe Space,” which is the absurd title of the piece. This gives the impression that Siskind primarily spends his time flattering venture capitalists, tech startups, and coders, which could not possibly be further from the truth.
Here are the first five paragraphs of the article:
The website had a homely, almost slapdash design with a light blue banner and a strange name: Slate Star Codex.
It was nominally a blog, written by a Bay Area psychiatrist who called himself Scott Alexander (a near anagram of Slate Star Codex). It was also the epicenter of a community called the Rationalists, a group that aimed to re-examine the world through cold and careful thought.
In a style that was erudite, funny, strange and astoundingly verbose, the blog explored everything from science and medicine to philosophy and politics to the rise of artificial intelligence. It challenged popular ideas and upheld the right to discuss contentious issues. This might involve a new take on the genetics of depression or criticism of the #MeToo movement. As a result, the conversation that thrived at the end of each blog post — and in related forums on the discussion site Reddit — attracted an unusually wide range of voices.
“It is the one place I know of online where you can have civil conversations among people with a wide range of views,” said David Friedman, an economist and legal scholar who was a regular part of the discussion. Fellow commenters on the site, he noted, represented a wide cross-section of viewpoints. “They range politically from communist to anarcho-capitalist, religiously from Catholic to atheist, and professionally from a literal rocket scientist to a literal plumber — both of whom are interesting people.”
The voices also included white supremacists and neo-fascists. The only people who struggled to be heard, Dr. Friedman said, were “social justice warriors.” They were considered a threat to one of the core beliefs driving the discussion: free speech.
We’re not even a quarter of the way through the article, and we’re already being warned that SSC was some sort of freewheeling haven for white supremacists, as if that is one of the most significant things about the blog. It’s an accusation that Metz does not even begin to prove—the best he can do is point out that SSC linked to the blog of Nick Land, a British philosopher “whose writings on race, genetics and intelligence have been embraced by white nationalists.”
Article from Latest – Reason.com