Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley's War Against the Media - 2020-07-09

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F188.png Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley's War Against the Media July 9, 2020, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker

On June 22nd, visitors to Slate Star Codex, a long-standing blog of considerable influence, discovered that the site's cerulean banner and graying WordPress design scheme had been superseded by a barren white layout. In the place of its usual catalogue of several million words of fiction, book reviews, essays, and miscellanea, as well as at least as voluminous an archive of reader commentary, was a single post of atypical brevity. "So," it began, "I kind of deleted the blog. Sorry. Here's my explanation." The farewell post was attributed, like virtually all of the blog's entries since its inception, in 2013, to Scott Alexander, the pseudonym of a Bay Area psychiatrist—the title "Slate Star Codex" is an imperfect anagram of the alias—and it put forth a rationale for this online self-immolation.

"Last week I talked to a *New York Times* technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex," the post continued. "He told me it would be a mostly positive piece about how we were an interesting gathering place for people in tech, and how we were ahead of the curve on some aspects of [the coronavirus situation](https://www.newyorker.com/tag/coronavirus)." In early March, Alexander had suggested that his readers begin to prepare for potential catastrophe, and his extensive review of the available medical literature led him to the conclusion that, despite the early guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the contrary, masks were likely to prove more useful than not. A month later, he looked back at his forecast and awarded himself a "solid B-"—not perfect, but at least more accurate than the news media, which, with some notable exceptions, he wrote, "not only failed to adequately warn its readers about the epidemic, but actively mocked and condescended to anyone who *did* sound a warning." Journalists, in his view, were guilty of an inability or a refusal to weight the possible outcomes. As he put it, if there was even a ten per cent risk of a ruinous pandemic, shouldn't that have been the headline? Alexander, who prefaces some of his own posts with an "epistemic status," by which he rates his own confidence in the opinions to follow, thought the media, too, should present its findings in shades of gray.

The final post went on, "It probably would have been a very nice article. Unfortunately, he told me he had discovered my real name and would reveal it in the article, ie doxx me." Alexander explained that he has a variety of reasons to prefer that his real name, which can be ascertained with minimal investigation, be left out of the paper of record. As a psychiatrist, he suspects that his relationships with his patients could be compromised if they were made aware of his "personal" blog, which gets six hundred thousand monthly page views. The site, and the community it undergirds, has found itself embroiled in various disputes, and his longtime readers would have understood why he wished he'd done more to camouflage his identity. He also worries about the fate of his patients should the clinic for which he works decide to fire him. There was also, he added, the "prosaic" matter of his personal safety. One of his commenters had recently claimed to have been subject to a *SWAT*{: .small}ting, a dangerous prank in which a police *SWAT*{: .small} team is given false reason to descend with military force upon a victim's home. Alexander's living arrangement is communal, and his responsibility extended to his household. "I live with ten housemates including a three-year-old and an infant," he wrote, "and I would prefer this not happen to me or them."

Wikipedia cite:
{{cite news | first = Gideon | last = Lewis-Kraus | title = Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley's War Against the Media | url = https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/slate-star-codex-and-silicon-valleys-war-against-the-media | work = New Yorker | date = July 9, 2020 | accessdate = April 4, 2023 }}