Slate Star Codex
Type of site
|Successor(s)||Astral Codex Ten|
|Created by||Scott Alexander Siskind (pseudonym: Scott Alexander)|
|Launched||February 12, 2013|
|Current status||Online, but inactive|
Slate Star Codex (SSC) is a blog focused on science, medicine (especially within psychiatry), philosophy, politics, and futurism. The blog was written by Scott Alexander Siskind, a San Francisco Bay Area psychiatrist, under the pseudonym Scott Alexander.
Slate Star Codex was launched in 2013, and was discontinued on June 23, 2020, as Alexander feared publication of his full name in a New York Times article. As of July 22, 2020[update], the blog is partially back online, with the content restored but commenting disabled. A successor blog, Astral Codex Ten, was launched on Substack on January 21, 2021.
The New Yorker states that the volume of content Alexander has written on Slate Star Codex makes the blog difficult to summarize, with an ebook of all posts running to around nine thousand pages. Many posts are book reviews (typically in the social sciences or medicine) or reviews of a topic in the scientific literature. For example, the March 2020 blog post "Face Masks: Much More Than You Wanted To Know" analyzes available medical literature and comes to the conclusion that, contrary to early guidance by the CDC, masks are likely an effective protection measure against COVID-19 for the general public. Some posts are prefaced with a note on their epistemic status, an assessment for Alexander's confidence in the material to follow.
Slate Star Codex ranks fourth on a survey of how effective altruists first heard about effective altruism conducted by Rethink Charity, after "personal contact", "LessWrong", and "other books, articles and blog posts", and just above "80,000 Hours." The blog discusses moral questions and dilemmas relevant to effective altruism, such as moral offsets, ethical treatment of animals and trade-offs of pursuing systemic change for charities.
In the long essay "Meditations On Moloch", he analyzes game-theoretic scenarios of cooperation failure like the prisoner's dilemma and the tragedy of the commons that underline many of humanity's problems and argues that AI risks should be considered in this context.
Controversies and memes
In "The Toxoplasma of Rage", Alexander discusses how controversies spread in media and social networks. According to Alexander, memes that generate a lot of disagreement spread further, in part because they present an opportunity to members of different groups to send a strong signal of commitment to their cause. For example, he argues that PETA with its controversial campaigns is better known than other animal rights organizations such as Vegan Outreach because of this dynamic. Alexander suggests that activists face a dilemma: messages that reach a greater audience are more likely to generate backlash.
In the short story "Sort By Controversial", Alexander introduces the term "Shiri's scissor" or "scissor statement" to describe a statement that has great destructive power because it generates wildly divergent interpretations that fuel conflict and tear people apart. The term has been used to describe controversial topics widely discussed in social media.
The 2013 post "The Anti-Reactionary FAQ" repudiates the work and worldview of the neoreactionary movement, countering in particular the work of Curtis Yarvin, whose reactionary views, according to The New Yorker, include claims about natural racial hierarchies and a desire to restore feudalism. Out of a belief in the superiority of debate over outright bans, Alexander allowed neoreactionary individuals to continue commenting on posts and in "culture war" threads, as well as engaging in extended dialogues with them, such as the thirty-thousand-word FAQ. Alexander's essays on neoreaction have been cited by David Auerbach and Dylan Matthews as explanations of the movement.
The site was a primary venue of the rationalist community and attracted wider audiences. The New Statesman characterizes it as "a nexus for the rationalist community and others who seek to apply reason to debates about situations, ideas and moral quandaries." The New Yorker describes Alexander's fiction as "delightfully weird" and his arguments "often counterintuitive and brilliant". Economist Tyler Cowen calls Scott Alexander "a thinker who is influential among other writers".
New York Times controversy
Alexander used his first and middle name alone for safety and privacy reasons, although he had previously published Slate Star Codex content academically under his real name. In June 2020, he deleted all entries on Slate Star Codex, stating that a New York Times technology reporter intended to publish an article about the blog using his full name. Alexander said that the reporter told him that it was newspaper policy to use real names. The Times responded: "We do not comment on what we may or may not publish in the future. But when we report on newsworthy or influential figures, our goal is always to give readers all the accurate and relevant information we can." The Verge cited a source saying that at the time when Alexander deleted the blog, "not a word" of a story about SSC had been written. The Poynter Institute's David Cohn interpreted this event and the furor around it as one incident in a longer conflict over values between the tech and media industries.
Prior to the article's publication, several commentators argued that the Times should not publish Alexander's name without good reason. Writing in National Review, Tobias Hoonhout said that the newspaper had applied its anonymity policy inconsistently. The New Statesman's Jasper Jackson wrote that it was "difficult to see how Scott Alexander's full name is so integral to the NYT's story that it justifies the damage it might do to him", but cautioned that such criticism was based solely on Alexander's own statements and that "before we make that call, it might be a good idea to have more than his word to go on." As reported by The Daily Beast, the criticism by Alexander and his supporters caused considerable internal debate among Times' staff.
Supporters of the site organized a petition against release of the author's name. The petition collected over six thousand signatures in its first few days, including psychologist Steven Pinker, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, computer scientist and blogger Scott Aaronson, and philosopher Peter Singer.
According to New Statesman columnist Louise Perry, Scott Alexander wrote that he quit his job and took measures that made him comfortable with revealing his real name, which he published on Astral Codex Ten.
The New York Times published an article about the blog in February 2021, three weeks after Alexander had publicly revealed his name.
- Metz, Cade (13 February 2021). "Silicon Valley's Safe Space". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
- Hoonhout, Tobias (23 June 2020). "What an NYT Reporter's Doxing Threat Says about the Paper's 'Standards'". National Review. Archived from the original on 23 June 2020. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
- Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (9 July 2020). "Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley's War Against the Media". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 10 July 2020. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
- Alexander, Scott (23 March 2020). "Face Masks: Much More Than You Wanted To Know". Slate Star Codex. Archived from the original on 20 August 2020.
- Mulcahy, Anna; Barnett, Tee; Hurford, Peter (17 November 2017). "EA Survey 2017 Series Part 8: How do People Get Into EA?". Rethink Charity. Archived from the original on 29 April 2019. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
- Chan, Rebecca; Crummett, Dustin (29 August 2019). "Moral Indulgences: When Offsetting is Wrong". Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198845492.003.0005. ISBN 978-0-19-188069-8. OCLC 1126149885. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020.
- Syme, Timothy (7 February 2019). "Charity vs. Revolution: Effective Altruism and the Systemic Change Objection". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 22 (1): 93–120. doi:10.1007/s10677-019-09979-5. ISSN 1386-2820. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020.
- Kissel, Joshua (2017). "Effective Altruism and Anti-Capitalism: An Attempt at Reconciliation". Essays in Philosophy. 18 (1): 68–90. doi:10.7710/1526-0569.1573. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020.
- Foerster, Thomas (15 January 2019). "Moral Offsetting". The Philosophical Quarterly. 69 (276): 617–635. doi:10.1093/pq/pqy068. ISSN 0031-8094. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020.
- Miller, James D. (2017), Callaghan, Victor; Miller, James; Yampolskiy, Roman; Armstrong, Stuart (eds.), "Reflections on the Singularity Journey", The Technological Singularity, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 223–228, doi:10.1007/978-3-662-54033-6_13, ISBN 978-3-662-54031-2, archived from the original on 9 September 2020
- Sotala, Kaj (2017). "Superintelligence as a Cause or Cure for Risks of Astronomical Suffering". Informatica: An International Journal of Computing and Informatics. 41: 389–400. Archived from the original on 20 February 2020.
- Foley, Walter. "ESSAY // Killing Moloch: Early Pandemic Reflections on Sobriety and Transcendence". RQ. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
The rationality blog Slate Star Codex uses the brutal Canaanite god Moloch, depicted in Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl,' as a metaphor for humanity's repeated failure to coordinate toward a better future
- Ord, Toby (2020). The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5266-0022-6. OCLC 1143365836.
A second kind of unrecoverable dystopia is a stable civilization that is desired by few (if any) people. It is easy to see how such an outcome could be dystopian, but not immediately obvious how we could arrive at it, or lock it in, if most (or all) people do not want it... Meditations on Moloch is a powerful exploration of such possibilities...
- Steve Omohundro (16 January 2018). "Costly Signaling". This idea is brilliant: lost, overlooked, and underappreciated scientific concepts everyone should know. Brockman, John, 1941- (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780062698216. OCLC 1019711625.
- Lewis, Helen (12 January 2015). "Sound and Fury: A civil correspondence about online rage". New Statesman.
- Lewis, Helen (26 November 2015). "If activists want real change they must ditch the dying cat". The Guardian.
- Lewis, Helen (19 August 2020). "The Mythology of Karen". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Archived from the original on 30 August 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
- Douthat, Ross (22 January 2019). "The Covington Scissor". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 17 August 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
- Auerbach, David (10 June 2015). "When All It Takes to Be Booted From a Tech Conference Is Being a "Distraction," We Have a Problem". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
If you're curious, the tireless Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has written extensive rebuttals of neoreactionary theory, which go to prove Brandolini's Law
- Matthews, Dylan (18 April 2016). "The alt-right is more than warmed-over white supremacy. It's that, but way way weirder". Vox. Archived from the original on 31 August 2017. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
Note that these empirical claims are, well, not true. Scott Alexander explains well here; his devil's advocate account of reactionary beliefs is also well worth your time.
- Jackson, Jasper (25 June 2020). "Why is the New York Times threatening to reveal blogger Scott Alexander's true identity?". www.newstatesman.com. Archived from the original on 27 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
- Cowen, Tyler (4 May 2018). "Tyler Cowen: Holding up a mirror to intellectuals of the left". Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Archived from the original on 21 June 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
- Athey, Amber (23 June 2020). "The death of the private citizen". Spectator USA. Archived from the original on 23 June 2020. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
- Schiffer, Zoe (16 July 2020). "How Clubhouse brought the culture war to Silicon Valley's venture capital community". The Verge. Archived from the original on 16 July 2020. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
- Cohn, David (1 September 2020). "When journalism and Silicon Valley collide". Poynter Institute. Archived from the original on 1 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
- Tani, Maxwell (24 June 2020). "The Latest Squabble Inside The New York Times". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 26 June 2020. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
- Perry, Louise (24 February 2021). "The Slate Star Codex saga proves a new blasphemy code is emerging among liberals". New Statesman.
- Lyons, Kim (13 February 2021). "Go read this New York Times report on SlateStarCodex and Silicon Valley tech leaders". The Verge. Retrieved 4 March 2021.