323 Comments

I think one of the biggest problems with misinformation on the left is the combination of polarization with the fact that conservatives have been marginalized in large swaths of academia (to a lesser extent same problem with journalism).

This creates a dynamic where experts are reluctant to stand up and call out misinformation of ideologically charged topics on the left. Sure, they won't endorse it and will deny it's true if asked but if they try and correct that misinformation people will immediately suspect them of shilling for conservatives (why are you trying to convince people that police violence isn't a serious issue rather than combating such and such misinfo from the right).

And I fear this is a much bigger problem than many people realize. People on the right may not have as many fancy degrees but they can tell that experts aren't being straight with them but they can't necessarily tell where or when that is happening.

Indeed, I often think it's the true but misleading facts pushed by the left that do more damage. False claims can be refuted but selective citation of fact and clever manipulation of the discussion issue are often things that are very hard to reply to unless you can and do go read the original research. So it becomes rational for many people on the right to simply throw up their hands and distrust all experts on everything.

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It also creates a dynamic where misinformation is endorsed by the relevant institutions. I won't find any climate scientist organizations endorsing the China conspiracy theory or historian org telling us that the 2020 election was fake. On the other hand, I can find legitimate medical organizations endorsing nonsense around youth gender transition. Look all the Jesse Singal articles showing there's little evidence of this stuff working, yet the activists can still cite the AMA saying that it does.

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The political homogeny of academic is an underrated problem. I think there was a dust-up a while back about a commonly used authoritarian scale. It only measures right wing authoritarianism and somehow nobody noticed for years. That's a pretty big foul-up, given that left wing authoritarianism killed a lot of people in the 20th century and is still a problem. How reliable is the research on authoritarianism if it only measures right wing authoritarianism? That makes me a lot more skeptical of any academic work on authoritarianism.

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A lot of the early scholarly research on fascism (often glossed as “authoritarianism” to the exclusion of left-wing authoritarianisms) was basically glorified political opposition work from either anti-fascist or liberal perspectives - which, in turn, still haunts a lot of the contemporary “authoritarian personality” work. Which is a shame, because there are genuine psychological traits that can be attached to political movements’ supporters - but it’s extremely difficult to determine what those are without beginning from a politically-adulterated hypothesis that just makes the whole thing an exercise in motivated reasoning.

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Great point…working in academia I am struck by how bright and generally ethical the people I work around are. However, they still

Need to get tenure, and researching things that politically charged in a right leaning direction probably is not a good way to accomplish that.

Also there are probably some issues with group think. I would not want to be a conservative researcher because the methodological standards would be so much higher. I just had a paper kicked back with some truly absurd critiques that I am pretty sure were included because the finding was insufficiently liberal. Not even conservative, just not positive enough for the reviewers biases.

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" I often think it's the true but misleading facts pushed by the left that do more damage."

It doesn't matter how often you think it; that's still a tough argument to make. For my part, I often think about the differential death rates from COVID and thereby come to the opposite conclusion.

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Yeah, but the right only went nuts on COVID because leftists at the FDA got the vaccine approval delayed by so much the Trump lost the election. If he had been able to take more credit for the vaccines they would have ended up coded right wing.

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Thanks, JSG! I was just about to write a scathing reply but your comment made me realize it was sarcastic. Whew!

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Do you now, or did you ever, believe that Hunter's notorious laptop was a Russian plant and/or that Trump paid prostitutes to pee on a hotel bed in Moscow?

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My level of interest in Hunter Biden is matched by my interest in the antics of Billy Carter, Jimmy's brother, back in the 1970s.

While I thought Buzzfeed was wrong to publish the Steele dossier, I think that if the prostitute story were true, that would rank at about #500 on the list of heinous things Trump did before, during and after his presidency.

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I don't give a damn, either, what recreational drugs Hunter Biden may have imbibed or whether he canoodled with his brother's widow, cheated on taxes, cavorted with prostitutes, or fathered a love-child that he refuses to support. But evidence that he and his uncle Jim, and possibly his father, were enriched by influence peddling in China and Ukraine, among other places, and that the influence they were peddling was that of the person who is the incumbent President of the United States is of considerable concern to me, and should be of concern to you as well. More specifically, the primary concern is whether and how implicit obligations arising from payment for the influence being peddled may affect Joe Biden's official conduct or policy choices pertaining to China, Ukraine, or elsewhere.

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Find me some real evidence that Joe Biden was involved and I'll get interested in this issue. Until then, I'll pass.

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Oy! There are none so blind as those who will not see.

For starters, there's the testimony of Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski re, among other things, the significance of the cryptic question "10 held by H for the big guy?" in email received from another partner in the same venture. https://www.c-span.org/video/?477307-1/tony-bobulinski-statement-hunter-biden

And you might ask yourself this: why was an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch willing to pay Hunter $83,000 per month while his father was the US Vice President and why did it cut his monthly stipend to less than half that amount two months after his father's term as VP expired? https://nypost.com/2021/05/26/hunter-bidens-ukraine-salary-was-cut-after-joe-biden-left-office/

Similarly, why did the well-connected mainland-Chinese tycoon Ye Jianming funnel millions of dollars through various channels to companies in which Hunter had a primary interest? What did Ye expect to get in return? https://www.wsj.com/articles/house-republicans-report-hunter-biden-james-comer-joe-biden-family-china-c0c506c7?st=xwg4r8bru6vh6nz&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

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You are clearly just fanning the flames of weak accusations from the far right.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

That problem exists, but I think at least as big a factor is more mundane: it's not just about what experts feel comfortable saying it's which experts (or "experts") are amplified in the media. From my own tiny corner of academia I see a huge gap between those who are the actual leaders in my field, and those who get the media attention and presented in it as the leading voices. Occasionally there is an overlap between the two, but it is slim, and doesn't reflect the range of opinions among experts (even when amplifiying a lot of non-expert and academically marginal opinions)

P.S.

I haven't looked into this deeply, but I strongly suspect that this problem - which doubtless always existed to some extent- is getting worse. In the past, I suspect, the average culutre/science rellated journalist was better educated and better able to judge. More importnatly, the means to find experts to interview involved more traditoinal gatekeeping that coudl have worked better (though imperfectly). In the age of twitter however knowledge is "democratized" in a way that prioritizes the social media savvy, and- I suspect- the cultural familiar or preferred (e.g. for us media, American born experts of a certain class background and certain genders and races if possible) over the gneuinely leading figures (publishing the imporotant groundbraking articles and books, respected in the field etc)

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The right murdered its intellectuals and let the vultures pick at the corpses.

The left murdered its intellectuals, and then skinned the corpses, and then stitched the skins together into an intellectual costume, and wears the costume around when it wants to feel authoritative.

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deletedMay 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023
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Warrens Authentic Latinx Burritx Cafe

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Many Bernie supporters still believe that the primaries were rigged; It's exhausting.

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Does the left deny individual differences or group differences? My impression was the latter, and that only a pretty small fraction would deny statements like "some people are naturally smarter/more athletic than others"

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40 comments and I guess I’ll be the first to mention the first issue that made *me* realize that my side (the Left) doesn’t have a monopoly on misinformation: nuclear power.

And it looks like I’ll also be the first to mention the issue that made me realize the Left is just as scientifically illiterate, subject to cognitive bias, and hypocritical as anyone: Covid. I was - and still am - stunned at the lack of nuance on the Left... that even wanting to calmly discuss costs and benefits of policy interventions in 2020-2021 made me into some kind of conspiracy theorist who wasn’t ‘following the science’ (as ridiculous and widely repeated as the phrases ‘defund the police’ and ‘believe all women’) ...and how Covid hawkery became nothing more than a blind anti-Trump political identity. (Anti-Trumpism is worthwhile... but sacrificing reason and wisdom in its name is not).

Bottom line....humans are humans. If you ever find yourself in a room full of people who all agree on something, be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Covid is a great point. The misinformation on the right has been well documented, but Europe’s success at returning most kids to school (even during spring of 2020) was ignored. It is amazing to still see a number of masked people walking outside: these people have ignored the science as much as the right.

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Indeed...or the fact that UK National Health maintained a glimmer of common sense by staying the course in not vaccinating otherwise healthy <17yo’s - who (shown in repeated studies...follow the science!) were at effectively zero risk.

One of my favorite - of hundreds - of headslap moments was a colleague insisting the word ‘experimental’ didn’t apply to the vaccine. Even though the first sentence of the FDA waiver we all signed started with the sentence, “This is an experimental vaccine.”

Makes me believe there is something to the idea of long term waning of religious affiliation being replaced by political and social ideologies.

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But was that really sufficient reason not to vaccinate? “Zero risk” is an idea people get from medical studies with frequentist statistics that count death (and maybe ventilation) as the only risks. But a week of being unpleasantly sick is itself a risk, that most studies ignored! (And they usually couldn’t figure out how to study transmission to others.) As far as I can tell, myocarditis was the only harmful side effect they documented (again, they basically ignored the day or two of being sick from the vaccine itself) and it’s not clear that this risk was sufficient to endorse non-vaccination.

A big problem in all of this is that the medical establishment doesn’t know how to do anything other than binary decisions based on statistical significance (which is also why you get this insistence of the FDA labeling things as “experimental” in misleading ways, which then gives people an excuse to ignore it).

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It’s always funny to me how Covid hawks love to dismiss vaccine risks and side-effects (‘so you get a touch of myocarditis - what’s the big deal?’) and maximize the harm and risk of Covid symptoms *in the exact same way* that vaccine skeptics minimize Covid symptoms (‘so I couldn’t breathe for 2 weeks...no harm there!’) , over-emphasize vax risks, and waive away vax benefits... And inevitably the studies behind these positions will be labeled as ‘flawed’ and ‘shoddy’ by the other side.

It’s like two opposing football fans arguing about a pass interference call.

And that’s kind of what I was going for in my original post. Covid made it clear that the Left does things the same way as the Right - our hearts make the decisions and our brains rationalize them after the fact...And so it goes.

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But the risks of myocarditis were/are extremely small and, if not mistaken, mostly tied to certain demographic groups. Not even close to the same risks as damage from Covid, at least for unvaccinated and those with comorbidities.

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May 30, 2023·edited May 30, 2023

Yes, everything in medicine is cost/benefit. I dont personally think the myocarditis was ignored- as a physician, I had easy access to all the data, and it still was a no brainer to get vaccination. Nothing is without risk and two of the largest killers in medical deaths are Tylenol and aspirin.

There were logical reasons to vaccinate the younger cohort b/c they could still spread the disease but of course that is a different cost/benefit analysis. The vaccine imo is not more dangerous than dozens of other vaccines people have been taking for years for diseases that pale in comparison to Covid eg Tetanus which kills a few dozen people a year as opposed to 1M.

I personally find that science and medical data is very good as there is a culture of being careful and exact in science, but then the media is mostly about getting eyeballs and so they will oversell or sensationalize the data. That is very prominent in climate science.

Covid was a relatively low risk disease in the younger cohorts, but very contagious, which is why it killed over 1 million which is about 1 out of three thousand people. One NIH estimate is that vaccines saved about 800K lives. That is what you need to weigh the myocarditis and other side effects against.

Some on the left and some on the right do the same things, but the conspiratorial nonsense on the right emerged as a surprisingly large cohort back to the Obama Birther thing which was absolute nonsense that made no sense (somebody is going to sneak out of Hawaii to give birth abroad and the newspaper is in on the conspiracy when they announced the birth) and to follow that trajectory to QAnon and Dominion Voting.

So I would say that there is obviously misinformation on both sides but on the right there is a greater presence like that Trump won the election and it is believed by half of that side and litigated by the leader of that side.

I dont want to get into whataboutisms, maybe I am. Disinformation on the Left as a serious problem and there is a need to be objective. Much of what I hear on CNN or NPR is liberal spin and perhaps it is more dangerous because it is subtler bias than the pure bullhockey that Tucker Carlson will entertain (while being aware that it is pure bull).

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With the benefit of retrospect, Covid seems like it must have been engineered for maximum social and political polarization. I will only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure that during that whole period I had a number of genuinely rational, logical thoughts that can be counted on one hand. The less said about the rest, the better.

I can understand if people who managed to hold on to nuanced views during that time feel frustrated at having been marginalized or worse by their social circles. Those people are right to feel frustrated, even angry or betrayed. But I think the thing to remember is always that there was never, ever going to be a nuanced and enlightened discussion about anything. Due to many factors, polarization around basically everything Covid-related - and all of the cognitive distortion that entails - was sadly inevitable, at least at population scales.

I guess if I wish anything had been done differently, it would have been for elite individuals and organizations to have had more humility around that and to recognize that they were operating within a deeply polarized environment. But again, that’s only an insight available with hindsight, at least to me.

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17 year olds were at effectively zero risk if you ignore things like diabetes. I don't think you should ignore diabetes as a risk though. And it's not the only potential sequela. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2789303#:~:text=COVID%2D19%20increases%20the,Morbidity%20and%20Mortality%20Weekly%20Report.&text=Although%20people%20with%20diabetes%20have,contribute%20to%20new%2Donset%20diabetes.

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One of the things about Covid is it's now more widely understood that viral infections can trigger a variety of other health problems. Until Covid, most people did not realize that influenza can trigger strokes and heart attacks.

When it comes to the question of whether Covid triggers diabetes, that's another one of those things where it is possible that it's happening but the studies that have found this aren't very good quality so we really don't know if it's an artifact or a real effect and if so how big it is. (If it happens in Covid, it probably also happens in other Coronavirus infections.) It is plausible, because enteroviruses probably trigger it, so it's a good idea to do better quality science to figure out if it does happen.

And this is where I usually start ranting about how during we produced a small amount of good science and a massive quantity of mediocre to crappy quality of science that doesn't really do much to answer the important questions.

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The study compared kids who contracted COVID to the kids who had contracted some other viral infection, and the COVID kids developed diabetes at a higher rate. I mean, yes maybe other viral infections also cause diabetes, but the rate of diabetes diagnosis in teenagers went way up during the pandemic, among kids who got COVID. And this is not nothing.

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With studies like there are always issues with confounding factors. It doesn't look like they did a great job of matching the kids with Covid compared with other viral infections. The other problem is that they're defining Covid infections as the presence of a diagnosis and then looking for diabetes diagnosis codes after the Covid diagnosis. These types of studies have a lot of problems, not the lease of which being that people who are going to get a formal Covid diagnosis are different from people who don't or who are diagnosed with a different respiratory infection. This is why we should be trying to confirm or disprove studies like this using better methods.

When it comes to the increase in diabetes in kids over Covid, some of that increase is in Type ii diabetes, which tracks with increases in obesity. At least some of the increase in childhood diabetes is a result of closing parks and shutting down youth sports as well as more access to high calorie food in during the pandemic.

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What fraction of children and adolescents who are not obese are diabetic? And how many of those who became diabetic after contracting Covid were non-obese? The cited study doesn't say.

What I'm getting at is this: is it justifiable to impose deleterious restrictions (e.g., barring classroom attendance) on everyone in a broad age-group in order to mitigate risk to a relatively small and identifiable sub-group?

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Unfortunately, the rate of obesity in teenagers is not small; about 20% of US kids are obese. Moreover, if your plan was "Open schools for thin kids but not fat kids" I think you should rethink it.

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Am I correct in inferring your answer to the question I asked is yes?

Allowing thin kids in and barring fat ones isn't the only alternative, but from a utilitarian perspective it's arguably better than shutting everyone out. A better policy, I'm thinking, would be to open classrooms for any child, fat or thin, whose parent or guardian requests his/her admittance after being informed of relevant health risk, while providing distant learning to those opting out.

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“Otherwise healthy” 17-year-olds is the key clarifying word, I think. Comorbidities and risk factors change everything.

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That doesn't seem to be a helpful distinction here. First, we don't know whether the kids who were diagnosed with COVID and then diabetes were previously healthy. Moreover, even if they were pre-disposed to diabetes, predisposition to diabetes is huge in children. According to the article, one in five US adolescents has pre-diabetes. I understood the return-to-school types to be recommending reopening schools for all kids, not just four-fifths of them.

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My apologies - I thought you were saying that 17-year-olds with diabetes had higher risks.

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That’s why I included the phrase ‘otherwise healthy’.

Even though I don’t know what ‘sequela’ means...I’d say we are in agreement.

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Although an alarming number of kids have pre-diabetes, the study didn't look at whether it was the kids who had pre-diabetes who got COVID and subsequently diabetes. So (A) it could be kids without pre-diabetes who got diabetes, we don't know and (B) I'd say kids who have pre-diabetes and nothing else are "otherwise healthy," although others might disagree.

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COVID was definitely the moment that broke me into realizing my side does misinformation, too.

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I look forward to a time sometime down the road when passions have cooled and we get the benefits of cool, rational analysis that states the obvious that, yes, misinformation on the right about COVID was far, far more damaging than that on the left.

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What is obvious to you escapes me. We agree that there were and are rightists advocating weird stuff. However, it was the left that shut down cool rational discussion, locked down the economy, closed the schools, insists that vaccinating very low risk individuals, to note a few policies that yielded great harms. While this happened with Trump in office, it was largely Democratic governors who pushed the extremes, and a massively left leaning press that attacked sane discourse.

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Did vaccinating low risk individuals cause great harms?

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Firing them for refusing to do so caused tremendous harm.

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Perhaps not, but restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated put them at considerable disadvantage. And those imposing them generally made no allowance for immunity from prior Covid infection or diminishing immunity from prior vaccination.

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Idk aren’t Democrats the party of bodily autonomy?

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No, they aren't, any more than they're the party of regulation. Democrats have long believed in mandatory vaccination, and mandatory seatbelt laws, and restrictions on alcohol and tobacco, and regulation of medication, including many surgical procedures. There's just one particular surgical procedure where they have observed that existing regulations often are much more restrictive of bodily autonomy than the interests they serve justify.

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C'mon, get real. They may not be "the party of bodily autonomy," but Democrats are clearly more pro-regulation than Republicans.

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Vaccinating low risk people did not cause great harm. Shutting schools did. Locking down economies did, but these are all risk/benefit situations that are not always apparent to begin with and I dont fault people for being overly cautious in a situation where you can't predict the consequences.

Governors varied, left was more often on the over cautious side, but the damage on the right from vaccine denial, and one of the strongest predictors of vaccination was being a Republican, caused thousands of unnecessary deaths so that the death rates correlate very closely with living in a red state. The states with the highest death rates- OK, AL, TX, WV had a death rate about 4x as high as the lowest- VT, HI, MA, CT, so one might consider that of the 44,000 deaths in TX, some 33K would still be alive.

Of course there could be many other factors involved, so that is a little simplistic but the correlation between deaths and vaccination rates is so great that it is fairly evident and hospital data showed that varying with time/available vaccines/variant the death rates in the unvaccinated were 3-7x greater.

I think once the vaccines rolled out, there was clear overshoot on school and business closings, but I dont see that about misinformation but just about being overcautious in a situation where you dont know what the results will be.

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You are correct that I shouldn't have included vaccinations of low risk people as being a great harm. That's overstated. I still think it was irrational. The accounts I've read numbering excess deaths don't support your statistics. I'd appreciate your sources for that data so I can understand better.

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May 30, 2023·edited May 30, 2023

It may be not be a good judgement to vaccinate young people, I think it was good judgement given the low complication rate, but certainly not irrational, in that the rationale is clear. Younger people can transmit the virus. If it were just a consideration of their risk without the contagion issue perhaps, but I can think of many other vaccines, eg tetanus booster, which do much worse on benefit analysis and prevention.

The information on per state death rates is here from the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/covid19_mortality_final/COVID19.htm . The information on vaccine rates is here from John Hopkins https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/vaccines/us-states

In reviewing this I might not have chosen TX as an example as they have one of the highest death rates (3rd worse) and a low vaccine rate (21 worst) but not as low as many others. I compared their death rate to the death rate in the highest vaccination states and the math was how many less people would die if they had identical death rates. Now, that assumes that the difference in deaths is only about vaccination, but there are obviously other variables, but the strongest correlation one can find in death rates is vaccination and the strongest correlation in vaccination is politics, where all the high vaccine states are blue and the low vaccine states are red. In fact it is uncanny how closely they track, and that is most notable because the early deaths in NY and NJ were before vaccination, and those had the highest death rates pre vaccine, but they were passed by all the low vaccine states.

Now the figure of unvaccinated dying at 3-7x the rate is my recollection of those numbers which were published daily from John Hopkins in the NYT and being a numbers obsessive I tracked them, but let me see if I can find a source. Here it is, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/united-states-rates-of-covid-19-deaths-by-vaccination-status

As you can see it varies by time which is some about the different variants but also as time went on more of the unvaccinated got the disease and thus had immunity and the death rate for the unvaccinated fell from its peak of 10x the vaccinated to now down to 5x, so I actually under estimated that and it is the unvaccinated dying at 5-10x the rate.

Given those numbers you could mathematically calculate then number of deaths attributable to failure to vaccinate, and Kaiser Foundation did that for the period from 6/21 to 3/22 after the vaccines had rolled out and found that "These vaccine-preventable deaths represent 60% (234K deaths) of all adult COVID-19 deaths since June 2021, when vaccines were widely available "

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/covid-19-continues-to-be-a-leading-cause-of-death-in-the-u-s/

If you extrapolate that using the 60% preventable to the current, knowing that since 6/21 some 600K people died we can get a figure of 360,000 people who died needlessly for not vaccinating.

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Thank you. You've given me much to study and digest. Not being gifted with working with numbers as you clearly are, it will take me a while. I appreciate that you took time to provide a thoughtful reply.

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Greater harms than NOT doing any of those things? Pre-vaccination, I think that's very unclear, and I think opting for the potential harms of those things (which can be at least somewhat mitigated via stuff like economic bridge stimulus and at home learning) over the harms of runaway societal infections was a pretty reasonable call.

Post-vaccination, yeah, I think most of the remaining restrictions were overdone (but were also much more rare and less impactful).

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Very early, long before vaccinations became available, there were data that demonstrated that the young (excluding comorbidities) were of miniscule risk, those in middle age got sick but rarely died, and the elderly were at high risk. Policies were adopted that were strictest respecting the lowest risk group, despite evidence from Sweden that conclusively demonstrated that school closures were irresponsible and irrelevant. Researchers, prior to the pandemic, concluded that masking was not purposeful with regard to a respiratory virus. There was a massive campaign to dismiss and discredit that information and other facts.

I agree with you that initially, before we had any data, radical steps could be justified. But after I find the conduct contemptible.

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I understand your frustration; I share it. I agree that bad decisions were made, and a lot of those decisions were made by either explicitly Democratic politicians or Democratic-coded organizations.

I think where I would offer a friendly challenge is that you appear to be wanting an alternate universe in which scientific results can be dispassionately evaluated and debated to arrive at optimal policy, which is unfortunately not how the world works, even though I really wish it did. If anything, I wish scientists had been more vocal about insisting that their results were data points rather than conclusive results, and more vocal about saying why “follow the science” is a really misleading and dangerous slogan.

But I think the point is that there is no alternate history where we did a better job with Covid policy if only the left had been a bit less left-ier and/or if a silent majority of level-headed people had been allowed to take charge. I think if you want to say that the state of the American left in 2020 and 2021 made it particularly susceptible to promoting counterproductive Covid policy, that’s fine and I largely agree. But polarization 30 years in the making and accelerated by the Trump era did lead to mass cognitive distortions that gave us the suboptimal policies we got, and I’m not sure there’s any way out of that.

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Maybe so Marc - but that’s a different question. I don’t doubt the Right spewed dangerous nonsense about Covid, my point is simply that I was under the impression that I lived in a world where the unscientific/evidence-free/overly-simplistic/emotional positions were about 95% Right and 5% Left. Covid woke me up to it being more like 60% - 40%. That is profoundly disappointing and has caused me to doubt many things I used to be sure of...

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I'll go for 70/30.

I disliked the idea of that Chris Mooney book from 2007, "The Republican Brain", positing that the Republicans more vulnerable to misinformation because of deeply psychological and neurological reasons. That strikes me as bogus (if a Republican becomes a Democrat, does the structure of their brain change?)

But I think the right and the Republicans have a more symbiotic relationship between their elites and their followers in disseminating and amplifying misinformation than we see on the Democratic side. That is a very dangerous echo chamber. Look at Fox News -- do its lies shape the thinking of its audience or does its audience force Fox News to lie so much? That's right: it's both! The same for Republican leaders and their voters.

There's simply nothing like this on the Democratic side. We're not pure and sometimes we fall for stories that are too good to give up* but the echo chamber is far weaker on our side.

* The latest is the "banning" of the Amanda Gorman book. It was removed from the elementary school part of one library to the middle school part, but still available to anyone. This is not the end of the world (even if letting *one* obnoxious parent be the cause of this is ridiculous), but it has become the bloody flag for the Left. Same for the exaggerated response to the "banning" of the David statue at the Tallahassee school -- there turned out to be some nuance there. (Same for Covington, same for etc etc).

Our side can do better, but it's still wildly unbalanced.

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"Hands up don't shoot", Rebekah Jones. Kyle Rittenhouse, etc etc. Many such cases

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Democrats, *by and large*, are not followers or looking for direction from a strong leader the way a lot of Republicans are. It doesn’t make us immune from disinformation, but it diminishes the echo chamber and the “Dear Leader Is Always Right” tendencies.

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Excellent (and scary) Kevin Drum post on just this subject today: https://jabberwocking.com/conservatives-actively-want-to-believe-only-lies/

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Right.

Tired of hearing how DeSantis was the reasonable one here. Ladapo is a crazy person, and anyone who trashes fauci without mentioning any of the idiocy coming from Florida has lost their sense of perspective.

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What, exactly, was idiotic in DeSantis's relevant policy, in your opinion?

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Actively discouraging vaccination, exactly, was idiotic.

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Your notion of exactitude is looser than mine. In which of his many executive orders did DeSantis do that? A cited quote would be helpful.

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Is your stance that he did not in fact discourage vaccinations?

Or that the appointment of ladapo is not relavent and his appointment did not discourage vaccinations?

Perhaps the only way it could be discouraged is through text in an executive order? Seems like an odd view... maybe you should clarify your stance (and point).

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

What was it about the left's position on nuclear power that makes you say that? Sure, you can nut-pick people on the left fear mongering and pushing misinformation, especially if you go back 40 or 50 years, but from a modern policy standpoint, the left's track record on support for nuclear power is as good as, if not better than, the right's position.

The Vogtle plant is the only nuclear power plant to be built in the last 50 years and it was built because Obama included funding for it in his all-of-the-above energy plan. (Little known fact - the program that provided $400 million for the failed Solyndra project also provided around $10 billion in funding for Vogtle).

The Biden Administration and the democratically controlled legislature was the first to provide nuclear power with production tax credits to compensate it for its clean output.

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As is frequently the case one persons nut is another's reasonable example.

Greenpeace and other environmental orgs have been rabidly anti-nuclear for years, and so have many dem politicians. Not as bad today as it was a decade ago, but Bernie Sanders for example has been pretty aggressively anti for a long time.

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And yet Vermont is the most nuclear powered state!

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So your argument is that he is anti-nuclear AND ineffective?

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Most anti-antiperspirant AND ineffective. Thank god.

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It's probably the most wood stove powered state, too. So what?

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Fair points Magellan. Matt’s recent article on the ‘climate left’ gets into this a little bit - you should check it out. There is a strain of pro-abundance and tech-neutrality in the center-left that offers occasional tepid support for nuclear power, but the activist climate left (eg Sierra Club, eg authors of the Green New Deal) is usually reflexively anti-nuke.

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Jun 1, 2023·edited Jun 1, 2023

The discourse around nuclear power is extremely infuriating in my native Germany. After Fukushima the Greenpeace view on the issue basically became the consensus in Germany. There was no pro-nuclear party left (except for the right-wing extremists from the AfD). Along with the majority of the population, I relatively recently realized that this formerly dominant view is not as ironclad as I had thought. Since then, the more I have been looking into it the more blatant misinformation I have discovered in Green/left circles. And in many cases it is so absurd that it is very hard to imagine how it could not have been the result of bad faith.

The annoying thing is that soild majorities of Germans now are in favor of nuclear power in some capacity; even among Green party voters it is not a clear cut issue. But it just takes so much longer for the politico-journo class' bubble to pop: on German twitter one could get the impression that almost nobody in Germany is in favor of nuclear power.

The influential actors just seem so much harder to convince than the general population on this issue (not least because they are just as beholden to lobbysim, in this case from the "Energiewende" politico-industrial complex - as actors on the right). And so they have pushed through this zombie-policy of nuclear phaseout even though it will cost them votes.

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Because it will turn them into communists? (Oh, wait...)

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There are nutcases at both ends of the spectrum, and right wingnuts who believed that water fluoridation was promoted by commies with malicious intent are a case in point. But to imply that this notion is, or ever was, widespread among US conservatives is tendentious misinformation.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

I was making a joke. About right-wing conspiracies in the 1950s, about why Portland doesn't currently fluoridate for New Age hippy reasons, and about how Portland has a very much above average number of communists.

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Ah, so!

Maybe I'd have caught your drift if I'd known the "fair city" in question is Portland. Or maybe not. That fear of fluoridation caught on with New Age hippies is news to this Boomer, who remembers when it was an exclusive obsession of rightwing loonies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr2bSL5VQgM

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Smh

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"...there are no magic tipping points."

But, actually, there are.

We just cannot say with absolute accuracy when/how they would occur. A relative lack of understanding about how the global climate system works isn't the same thing as tipping points not existing. The IPCC discussed tipping points at length in their last 2022 Report, defining them specifically (and non-magically) as “a critical threshold beyond which a system reorganises, often abruptly and/or irreversibly," reflecting the scientific consensus that such tipping points are 1/ very real 2/ have actually happened in the past and 3/ could occur again under the right circumstances.

So, the IPCC here is both acknowledging the existence of tipping points, their potential peril, and also the continuing uncertainty about them. It also shares your qualified optimism that we probably aren't currently on a Climate trajectory to hit them, but with *heavy* caveats about the uncertainty, considering this is very much science-in-progress about unprecedented things for humanity.

So, at the very least, you absolutely don't have sufficient credibility to categorically deny the existence of said potential tipping points. And throwing in a dismissive "magic" in there shows a condescension and dangerous lack of curiosity about this topic, considering the potential risk at play. You could, instead say, "We don't know either way, but it seems very unlikely at this point that we'll hit a tipping point by 2030 that sends us spiraling irrevocably into the Hothouse Earth scenario that many fear would doom us as a species."

We insure against long-tail risks all the time, and "abrupt and/or irreversible changes are particularly dangerous because they can occur on timeframes that are short enough to defy the ability and capacity of human societies to adapt." Just because you are very unlikely to die in a house fire, doesn't mean that you dismiss the risk as "magic" and nonexistent, neglecting to engineer some aspects of your life toward mitigating that risk. You don't have to be a misinformed Doomer to take Climate tipping points very seriously, while also understanding that we're currently set on a more medium-bad scenario of warming.

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That's a very different definition of tipping point. Yes, physical systems can react in non-linear ways and even non-continuous ways.

But none of that implies anything like the kind of magic tipping points in terms of *policy deadlines* of the kind being talked about here.

If we keep on as we are going for 12 years and suddenly drop to zero emissions after 13 years we'd be fine. So even if there is a climate tipping point it wouldn't translate into a sudden tipping point in policy of the kind suggested. Even if there is a tipping point in terms of total world temprature if it becomes physically impossible to stay under that just as a result of emissions over next 20 years than we won't stay underneath it even on the most optimistic decarbonization plans.

Besides, there are still policy options like carbon capture and geoengineering in the worst of all possibilities. Thus do or die dates in the next 20 years are, at best, misleading.

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There's one definition of tipping point that works for both things you're talking about. Where you (and Matt) are having trouble is setting arbitrary-seeming deadlines (e.g. 2030). And that is a good point: Whether the tipping point comes or not, we don't (and cannot currently) know whether it comes in 2030 or before.

Because we don't fully understand the complexity behind said tipping point. And that's the problem. Our ignorance isn't any protection. We don't understand how many serious dangers facing us actually work. We don't know as much as we'd like about cancer, of course, despite it being a leading cause of death. We're still trying to get a handle on metabolic syndrome and its various knock-on health effects. We cannot yet cure HIV/AIDS, despite amazing strides at managing it. Decades and billions in research haven't made much of a dent against Alzheimer's.

We, most recently, didn't understand much about how this emerging "novel coronavirus," COVID-19 worked. But we still quickly knew enough to know that it was real, its effects were devastating (and potentially catastrophic), and that we had to protect ourselves at the societal level against it, given the intensity and severity of the (potential) danger. Thankfully, it was another "medium-bad" scenario, at least as far as plagues go, but it could have been Very Bad Indeed.

And such is the way with Climate Change with regards to tipping points. The tipping point could be tomorrow. It could have already happened unbeknownst to us, in a tragic piece of dramatic irony! There could be several cascading tipping points at once, creating an unimaginable doom-spiral. Or potential tipping points could be potential dangers that won't be touched at all in the medium-term. We just don't know. But that not-knowing is no defense. We still have to try to know and the insure against uncertain risks that are (potentially) catastrophic.

To your point about policy options like carbon capture and geoengineering, there are similar levels of (potentially dangerous) uncertainty around them, too. Just kicking the tires on carbon-capture, for example, you come up with some very concerning limitations, especially when you get beyond direct carbon capture (e.g. capturing the carbon directly from the exhaust pipe of a thermal plant) toward something like indirect air capture. Is this something that we could make practicable or scale out, even at any price? The latter isn't something I would invest by Break-in-Case-of-Emergency hopes upon, and a lot of people far smarter and more engaged on this topic than I have poured cold water on it. The various proposed methods of geoengineering are even more uncertain. If we don't even fully understand the Climate System, then how can we expect to understand a direct tampering thereof? The Law of Unintended Consequences certainly applies here. And even if we could be certain that shooting aerosols into the atmosphere was a good (or at least least-bad) idea, how would the governance be handled? Is this something that you do by UN Resolution? Unilaterally? One day wake up to a white sky because the CCP decided it was their last, best hope?

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Perhaps a better way of putting this is: whatever objective tipping points might exist in nature our epistemic uncertainty means that our expectations should still be relatively smooth functions of the variables.

If I tell you the length of the plank you're walking is N(1,1) it will be true that there is a discrete point at which you will walk off the end but your expected risk with each step is going to be a nice smooth function.

(the point with geoengineering/capture was just that even if you were somehow certain of where a tipping point was in terms of carbon there are always more risky things you can do in response not to make a claim about the wisdom or desierability of said options).

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Carbon removal, even in the best case, would take decades to have an appreciable impact on greenhouse gas concentrations.

Direct cooling of the climate, however, could have an almost immediate impact. The problem is that the climate establishment is still so invested in the ERA model - emission reductions alone- that they by and large oppose field testing, and even research on the portfolio of promising direct climate interventions.

Which, in my view is perhaps the most shortsighted and self-defeating position in the history of the human race.

See the link below for a strategy to restore a safe climate in the coming decades:

https://pdfhost.io/v/sZR6yz2f0_HPAC_Vision_for_a_Healthy_Planet

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I'd say that the longer we screw around, the greater the probability of hitting a tipping point in a given year. Will the permafrost suddenly release its greenhouse gases? Will there be sudden irreversible damage to the Gulf Stream? Maybe not but that's a game of dice I prefer not to play.

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Geoffrey, you make a good point. We agree there is no certainty about the future. We can make best estimates but in a multi factorial system as complicated as climate, along with the unknown ability of humans to adapt and mitigate environmental changes, we just dont know, and history is filled with doomsday scenarios that never materialized, eg Malthus.

But, imo that is hardly an argument for a 'what me worry approach' because whatever unknown risk exists, much is at stake, up to our actual survival (not saying the world is doomed but just the possibility of it).

The other factor is that has to be seen as a cost/benefit analysis where many things we can do are of reasonable cost, for example making every car get 45 mpgs discouraging building huge houses, investing in public transport etc. These are things that likely are beneficial in themselves regardless of the unknown harm of global warming.

The stakes are potentially high, if not certain, so we should do things especially those that are helpful in themselves imo pushing wind, solar, nuclear, and increasing conservation, recycling.

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The IPCC's definition -- "a threshhold beyond which a system reorganizes" -- is so vague as to be nearly unfalsifiable as it pertains to gradually increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. I daresay most people understand warnings of an imminent climate change tipping-point to mean that when the CO2 level increases to some rapidly-approaching point the world will suddenly get much hotter.

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I don’t know what “most people” mean, but that IPCC definition is pretty precise. It means something like the methane clathrate release, or some feedback loop of albedo decreases caused by ice melt, or some ecological positive feedback, where once the temperature passes a certain point, there is positive feedback so the climate stabilizes at a point much higher than the one it would stabilize at with only a tiny bit less CO2.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

We do know with a very, very high degree of probability that CO2 levels have been 20 times as great as they are today with higher mean tempurature with flourishing fauna and animals and never resulted in a measurable positive feedback loop. All available evidence show very, very high probability of resulting negative feedback.

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That seems wrong. We know with a very high degree of probability that climate has been stable at other points. That doesn't mean there were no positive feedbacks in between, that tip the climate from one stable point to another stable point (where presumably some new negative feedback loops prevent the positive feedback from running away to infinity).

It's absolutely true that at *some* temperature, things will stabilize. And at whatever temperature they stabilize, some sorts of ecosystems will be able to thrive. But the question is whether things will stabilize a couple degrees above present, or more like 8 or 10 degrees above present. In the latter case, while there will eventually be some sort of biosphere that thrives, it's likely to be very different biospheres than the current ones, which means a lot of disruption to people and organisms as the transition takes effect.

(As an example of how drastic these changes can be, there appear to be two periods somewhat before the Cambrian in which a positive feedback loop of lower temperature leading to more sea ice leading to more reflection leading to lower temperature; or the converse positive feedback loop of higher temperature leading to less sea ice leading to more absorption leading to higher temperature; led the entire earth to transition between an ice-free state and a completely frozen state: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowball_Earth

This period seems to have been important in the origin of multicellular life. Each of these was a positive feedback loop as long as there was both frozen and unfrozen seawater - but it was stopped in each direction by negative feedback loops that began dominating once the entire ocean was in one state or the other.)

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May 30, 2023·edited May 30, 2023

I'm not arguing against positive feedback loops, as an electrical engineer I see them frequently. I'm noting that CO2 levels over 4000ppm with higher planetary mean temperatures than today accompanied a thriving biodiverse planet for many thousands of years. If CO2 is a main forcing for positive temperature feedback loops we would have seen evidence, or more like have a barren planet. It seems wrong because it doesn't support alarmist confirmation bias.

I am very interested in your citations of firm epistemological foundations that move your hypothesis "[...]once the temperature passes a certain point, there is positive feedback so the climate stabilizes at a point much higher than the one it would stabilize at with only a tiny bit less CO2" into the realm of actual theory. That statement seems wrong but I'm waiting on your data.

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I don't claim that there are any such positive feedback loops that we know with anything like certainty exist at any levels of CO2 near the current level. But changes in ice cover leading to decreased albedo, and temperature changes that promote the evaporation of methane clathrates, are two well-known hypotheses that would yield positive feedbacks of this sort. My understanding of the recent literature (not informed by any close read of the literature myself) suggests that neither of these is expected to lead to a significant runaway effect at anything like the expected range of warming - but I think it would be rash to *completely* rule this out, just because there's evidence that it's unlikely.

There have been thriving biodiverse ecosystems at many different settings of the chemical and physical structures of the earth. But when the earth has transitioned from one to another, there has been massive disruption for the individuals that lived through those periods.

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In surmising that "most people understand warnings of an imminent climate change tipping point" in a certain way what I meant by "most people" was most of those who were aware of such warnings. Hope that helps. [eyeball-rolling emoji sorely needed here]

The theoretical feedback mechanisms you mention are certainly more specific than the definition of "tipping point" that Geoffrey Greene quoted from the IPCC's 2022 Report -- viz., “a critical threshold beyond which a system reorganises" -- but it was the latter that I was referring to as being vague.

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But the latter *isn't* vague. It is perfectly precise, and much better than just listing a set of examples! It might be helpful for public understanding if some examples of things with critical thresholds that lead to reorganization are given, but if you want to talk about the general concept, then you need that precise, but general, term.

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I'm not arguing about the utility of the general concept of a tipping point or quibbling with that definition of it. But I submit that "reorganizes" is vague -- at least, unless defined in a special, narrower sense than that word has in common parlance.

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Thank you for this excellent column, Matt Y.

This is something I feel very strongly about. I'm in academia, and I consider myself lefty/liberal, but I agree 100% that the right does not have a monopoly on misinformation and harmful ideology.

A *huge* problem on the left is the uncritical (heh) embrace of the belief that America is fundamentally racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and every other -ist and -phobic there is, and if you deny it, you yourself are racist, bad, blinded by your white fragility, etc. The misinformation about police shootings of Black men is just a small part of it. Matt Y had a brilliant piece a couple years ago about Tema Okun's work on how punctuality, hard, work, valuing the written word, and so on are signs of white supremacy. There's a quote from "White Fragility" that says (I'm paraphrasing from memory), "Whenever a Black and white person interact, the question to ask is not, Did racism take place? but How did racism manifest itself in this interaction?"

Can you think of anything more defeatist? If you are white, you *cannot* interact with Black people in any way shape or form without racism hanging over you like a deadly curse. You are doomed to spread racism wherever you go! But you must not complain or protest, because then you will just demonstrate how racist you really are. And if you show that you're hurt in any way, you will be guilty of "making it all about yourself" and "demanding emotional labor from Black people" and "making Black people feel unsafe with your white tears."

How are we supposed to have a healthy, thriving, multiracial, diverse society when people think this way?

Second, and I don't blame Matt Y for not touching this fun topic, but the far left/ progressive folks have made an absolute hash of gender issues. There's sex and gender and gender identity that you feel in your soul and gender presentation and gender-nonconforming and what gender others perceive you as and trans and nonbinary and genderqueer and genderfluid and agender and I have no idea how any of these fit together anymore, and if you question any of it you risk stepping on a landmine labeled "vile transphobe who wants queer/trans people to LITERALLY DIE."

I don't know what the solution is, but as they say in AA, the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem.

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I'll give one concrete example of the clusterfudge that is the discourse around gender issues. A few years ago, I was reading a comment thread on coming out as trans, and one of the commenters used the word "femme."

As far as I could gather, that commenter used "femme" as a word for people who are *perceived by others as female*, regardless of whether they are cis women, trans men who are still perceived by others as women, trans women who can successfully "pass," or nonbinary folks whose appearance is coded feminine.

Well that one word unleashed a total s**t storm in the comments. People started accusing the commenter of using the word that is literally violent, because "femme" excludes trans women who feel that they are women, but who cannot convincingly "pass" as such. This was triggering and traumatizing and unacceptable. Other commenters tried, reasonably IMHO, to make the argument that it's *useful* to have one word meaning "people who are perceived by others as women, regardless of how they identify," e.g., when discussing sexism. But the "you are an evil transphobic POS if you use the word femme" crowd would not be appeased and the thread degenerated into insults flying back and forth. I withdrew from the thread as from a flaming car wreck, relieved that I had not commented.

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I don't doubt for a second that this is true -- I've been on the receiving end of that for questioning Covid-era at-home-schooling policies (was accused of wanting to send kids to, and I quote, "death camps"). It was frustrating and annoying and upsetting.

But then I look at what Dem politicians say, and contrast that with what GOP politicians say, and then look at the actual LAWS that the GOP is passing....and I have a hard time being too worked up about some people being dumb and assholes online.

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Wow - Godwin’s law and “think of the children!”, the combination of which is like the conversation-stopping royal flush.

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Good gravy, where were these comments? Twitter? Or somewhere more niche (yes, activist Twitter is niche, but you know what I mean)?

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It was an online advice column. I won't name it, because I like it overall and I don't want to make it look bad.

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No worries - I was just wondering if it was something more generalist or more community-specific (sounds like the former).

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They would do well to spend some time in China to see what real racism looks like.

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As a fellow academic my impression is that this problem is more about institutional capture and low-key fear rather than genuine conviction. Sure, *some* people believe in the stuff above (if not necessarily in its most absurd formulations), esp. certain demographics (young white native-born americans of privileged background and limited exposure to the the world). However many many do not which includes very much people on the left (even the far left). I also sense the fever is breaking a bit. We still have a long way to go but the discourse is a bit freer now than, say, in 2021, no?

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Oh I absolutely agree with you; I don't think most people in academia *genuinely believe* in all the woke stuff. The problem is, you don't know a priori who the true believers are, so you don't want to talk openly of these matters to anyone you don't know very well.

It's not unlike what my mom told me about life on the far side of the Iron Curtain: most people did not believe in the Communist Party line, but you could not risk speaking freely for fear of a true believer finding out. It's disturbing.

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I think you’re correct, the fever is breaking a little. I’m also an academic (hi everyone!) in a social science discipline and I’m actually surprised at how little I hear the leftist maximalist type stuff mentioned above. Like, pretty much never. Could be because I’m in the UK and I perceive the climate to be a tiny bit (wee bit?) more chill here - I’m not sure. But I’m able to have normal conversations with colleagues who are e.g. gender-fluid or not white and express boring-but-not-maximalist opinions about gender or race and still be friends with them. Which is cool.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

My (outsider's) impression is that intellectual life in the UK is in a somewhat better state than the US. First, it's far less polarized (much more singificant swing vote, both main parties are sane). Second, on gender specifically the gender critical feminist movement is much more prominent which helps keep the range of acceptable opinion more sensible.

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All could be. I’m an outsider (American living in the UK), so it’s hard for me to say definitive things about political culture here. Re: less polarized, yes, somewhat. The Tories in particular are themselves a pretty motley coalition (e.g. the “Truss wing,” the “Braverman wing,” etc.), so there’s a lot of internal debate (and backstabbing). As for “saner,” I suppose so - although it’s sort of hard for me to allow that the kabuki around pretending Brexit was “The Greatest Thing EVAR, how dare you say otherwise,” could be called “sane” (an affliction that has spread to Labour, to boot - I can’t vote, but if I could I think it’d have to be Lib Dem as the only vaguely “pro-Europe” party left). At the very least, there’s no Il Duce phenomenon (Johnson worship from certain quarters notwithstanding) here, so that’s something. As for the gender critical feminist movement, could be, though hard to say. I suppose JK Rowling’s public profile gives it prominence and cover it might not otherwise enjoy, although as you know the blowback has also been pretty heavy.

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"Our capitalist, imperialist, hegemonic, oppressive society destroyed their native countries to the point where they feel forced to come here!"

(There's a grain of truth to that, too: America has a lot to answer for re: propping up horrible dictators in other countries on the "He's an SOB, but he's our SOB" principle.)

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Some do, though. The Gulf states can get plenty of South Asian migrant labor, although their abusive labor practices are (by now) fairly well known. People will put up with a lot, if their prospects at home are bad enough.

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A big part of the problem, which isn't confined to any particular political tribe, is that the concept of the Overton Window has gotten a little too dominant, and people care more about 'saying things that will shift the center of gravity of the discourse' rather than 'saying things they actually believe.' Obviously politicians do this but now a lot of the politically-engaged do it as well. So maybe you think, sensibly, that the climate predictions are far too alarmist, but also that governments still need to do more. Do you tell the truth about the alarmism and potentially shift the conversation away from your preferred policy, or do you lie about your beliefs in the hope of getting the better outcome?

I think it's better to tell the truth, not just out of principle but also because it's so hard to predict how messages affect others' behaviour, but a lot of people adopt the latter framing, out of the belief that everyone has a duty to be an activist. We saw how misguided this approach is in a lot of Covid messaging. And maybe things have always been like this because that's just human beings and it's just social media making it visible. But it does seem like a lot of people say things to move the needle in the discourse rather than just saying what they mean.

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I don't think it's really the concept of the Overton window doing the work. It's simply increased partisanship and seeing the other side as the enemy.

I mean, go back as far as you want in modern history and you'll see this kind of behavior during wartime. Pointing out true things that are seen as helping the enemy is seen as unacceptable and gets you attacked (eg things that might harm moral or even which might help elect a pacifist government).

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It’s strange how quickly and openly people admit to this kind of instrumental deceptive communication these days. Even professionals will relatively quickly go to this. Part of the odd dynamics of social media I think. To me, it’s not even how you do cynical instrumental communication--you have to be really committed to it and not offer ‘Overton window’ as a first or second response to pushback.

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It is kinda funny that "misinformation" really became politically memetic because people refused to accept the lawful result of the 2016 election.

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People were right to not accept the lawful result - the law (electoral college) is bad. It makes sense to be frustrated that the national popular vote winner is not the presidential election winner. And the legislative branches electoral structures also have frustrating implications.

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The thing is, there also was a real phenomenon of fake news that emerged around that time, which was much smaller than the discourse suggested, but real. I recall seeing a “news story” passed around that said “meteorologists forecast largest blizzard ever to hit [some city] on [some date ten days in the future]” at a real-enough-sounding url like “weather10.com”, on a page that looked enough like a real site to have some ads. Of course, ten days later no one even remembered having shared that story, but the site got a few ad views. There was also similar stuff with political stories. Not much, but a little.

But then the term “fake news” started getting applied to everything misleading, which was itself incredibly misleading.

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“Fake news” took off when Trump grabbed it in full projection mode

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"people refused to accept the lawful result of the 2016 election."

I assume you mean the 2020 election. If not, I'm not sure what you're talking about.

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There was a pretty big narrative that Russian mis/disinformation swung the election to Trump.

Obviously 2016 was not as bad as 2020 but the point stands.

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Russian dirty tricks certainly played a role in swinging some marginal voters (though not as much as the abominable Comey letter).

And yet, I don't recall leftists storming the Capitol or Dems running for election years afterward claiming that Hillary actually won.

I'd say that most Democrats thought that Trump's victory was "lawful" but not (morally) legitimate.

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There was also a big narrative, both in 2000 and 2016 (and long before) that the Electoral College is a bad system and that the winner of the popular vote should be president, which is a morally very natural position to take.

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And fwiw I agree with that. But Russians are not the reason Cliton lost.

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The election was close enough that anything that caused a net swing of a few thousand votes in a few Rust Belt states can naturally be called "a reason Clinton lost", but *nothing* can be called "the reason Clinton lost".

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I will say that the aftermath of the Russia story is when I realized how little regard my news sources had for how journalism is meant to be performed. How little regard for revisiting incorrect stories. It’s when I learned about organizations choosing the stealth edit where one would traditionally expect to find a correction.

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You realize "misinformation" and the "fake news" discourse existed long before that, right?

Really, what's the purpose of pinning it on a singular moment in time and a specific, yet vague, group of people. If anything, the losers of the 2016 election did a much better job of recognizing the lawful results than the 2020 losers. Or even the 2000 losers.

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Sure, but clearly the term has become much more common in recent years. Surely you could admit that.

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore/TIMESERIES/1685361000?hl=en-US&tz=240&date=all&geo=US&hl=en&q=Misinformation&sni=3

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Sure, and again, I ask why pin it on something very specific, especially when that chart doesn't bolster your claim about a very specific time.

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What's your theory for why misinformation became a more commonly used term in recent years

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1: The fact that a foreign government had set up troll farms to hack internal campaign documents and then release them in highly misleading ways at opportune moments in the campaign. To whatever extent this actually influenced the outcome, it created a visceral panic in the electorate (it only takes one random person getting pushed into the subway tracks for all passangers to feel at risk).

2: The rise of "fake news" farms that used AI / low-wage data entry to set up artificial news agencies, staffed with fake personalities, to produce completely invented stories with AI-generated photographs, etc. And Trump subsequently co-opting and popularizing the term "fake news" to mean anything he disagreed with, which of course led to heightened reaction on the left to try to reclaim the term.

NB: neither of these things have to do with "accepting the lawful result of the 2016 election", as evidenced by proper hand-off between the Obama -> Trump administration, no attempts to by party leadership to undermine the vote certification process, attendance by both party leaders at Trump's inauguration, etc. etc.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

Like last time it would be useful to include the real number here:

"One suggestive survey indicated that about 40-50% of liberal or very liberal people believe 1,000 or more unarmed Black men are shot and killed by the police in a typical year."

13-27 based on existing data although they believe it might be in the 60-100 when all data is reported.

It feels like much of the news that leads to misunderstandings is truthful but misleading or omitting some context and it seems like it would be good to try to move towards a place of trying to eliminate those opportunities for misunderstanding when we can.

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People have an exaggerated sense of the mortal risk unarmed Black men face from the police; that is true.

But would you then argue that the Black population has not historically and currently have reason to be concerned about how law enforcement treats the Black population? And how this might create the tragic paradox that the people most in need for support from the policy have reason to fear and not trust the police?

We can get hung up on exaggerated numbers, and they can skew our understanding of reality to a degree, but would people's knowing the real number really change how they should view that underlying reality?

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

Yes, the Black population has historically and currently have reason to be concerned about how law enforcement. (The way you worded that is pretty wild)

Don't understand the question.

Yes, the reality of the situation should change how people view reality.

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Well, Americans are mostly innumerate, so arguing over what the precise number is is usually not the best use of time if we want to make progress in the debate.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

This isn't really a matter of precise numbers, it's orders of magnitude. Dismissing people as innumerate while misleading them feels like its in pretty bad faith.

If your goal as a publication doesn't involve providing people an accurate view of situations I think that might change the level of trust people have in your arguments.

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I'm all in favor of accurate numbers.

I'm just not sure that this particular number is that germane to the issue of relations between law enforcement and the Black population (though as a white guy, I'm not sure my opinion is that important).

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If I, as a citizen, believed that police were killing between 10 and 40 times as many citizens as they do each year that would change my relationship with the police. It seems like that maybe apply in a similar way to subsets of the population.

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Speaking of accurate numbers, it may be worth noting here that over the past six and a half years police have killed roughly twice as many whites as blacks. https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/

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founding

Nothing unique about Americans in this innumeracy. Most *people* are innumerate, and even numerate people don’t often realize when their impressions are off by orders of magnitude on a subject outside their specialties.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

This claim is arguably itself misinformation - it was in my case at least. I’d simply missed the word “armed black”. Taking a true statement, subtly altering it to be false (two words), then crowing when people assess it incorrectly, is extremely thin grounds on which to build any sort of case.

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What claim is misinformation?

Do you believe the pollsters were unclear when asking the question?

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People give symbolic answers to quantitative questions in polls. Americans tell pollsters that 25% of the federal budget is foreign aid. Do they specifically mean the foreign aid budget is over a trillion dollars? No, they’re signalling they went less spending on foreign aid. Same here: their answer is “cops are killing too many unarmed black man”. I agree the magnitude of the error here is so disparate that arguably it reaches the level of qualitative error. But if so that’s the error, not the specific quantitative claim.

Btw if you’re going to ask me to evaluate a polling question it’s helped if you provided the question…

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The question that this comment thread is about.

The conservatives also overestimate in this survey so it isn't really clear what the signal is there.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

I should add, to a degree, it’s a case of a distinction without a difference. If you think “the cops only kill unarmed black folks every month or two” alters the need for police reform then it matters. But if the need for reform is desperate even if the 1000 people killed by cops each year aren’t black or unarmed, then further details are of secondary importance. The case has already been proven, it doesn’t need to be proven further.

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What case has been proven? The case for reform?

If you believe that is the case the facts still inform the types of reforms needed.

Whether or not people are armed, the racial and gender makeup, the tactics used by police are all important in determining which reforms will make a difference.

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That’s all true. Still. The point of information is to inform action. There is a huge difference between “Trump won the election” or “the pope endorsed Trump” which are both false and “police reform is barely happening despite 1,000 killings a year” vs “police reform is barely happening despite 1,000 killings of unarmed black folks per year”, which have the same broad implication - more reform is needed. I am not of the “1 is too many” school, I am of the “1,000 is too many”

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"'1,000 is too many'"

What, then, are the police to do when confronted by an armed criminal?

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Particularly one who ignores an order to drop his weapon.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

I will take your word for it that Wilson probably didn’t act badly, but now I’m imagining how it would go if I tried to un-disinform my left wing friends:

“Actually, the government looked into it, and determined that the policeman didn’t do anything wrong!”

“…”

“No no, it was a *different* law enforcement agency!”

“…”

“While I’ve got you here, did you know that Matthew Shepard’s death probably wasn’t a hate crime after all?”

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Instead of saying "the government looked into it" it might help to say Obama's Department of Justice investigated it and issued a detailed report concluding that the cop acted in self-defense.

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There is a ton of misinformation in the environmental movement, and most of it comes directly from the naturalistic fallacy. (That's the belief that anything "natural" is good and anything "unnatural" is bad.)

GMOs are a great example. Once I was looking online for information about a certain processed food ingredient and I came across a website that claimed GMOs were "unstable" as if modified DNA was akin to a radioactive isotope - a piece of total nonsense, clearly invented by someone who knows nothing about the underlying science but thinks it makes sense because the gene editing process is unnatural and therefore it must be bad, right? They also often talk as if genes can migrate out of organisms and across species - they can't, they only pass from parent to offspring. Or as if a single gene taken from a virus that infects plants could somehow be dangerous to humans - again, total nonsense, plant viruses don't infect people and one gene is not a virus even if it came from one.

And this sort of thing is not OK. Gene editing can be used for dubious purposes as well as good ones, but doing things like blocking the adoption of rice that has vitamin A in it because it's "unnatural" just perpetuates avoidable suffering in poor countries and does nothing to help the environment. And GMOs aren't the only area where you see this - overstating the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear waste, and scaremongering about chemicals regardless of how strong the evidence against a given chemical really is, are very much part of the problem too. More discipline and intellectual rigor is needed here, both to keep the environmental movement from discrediting itself and to actually craft good policy that actually protects the environment and our health.

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"They also often talk as if genes can migrate out of organisms and across species - they can't, they only pass from parent to offspring."

Actually, this is not true; there are many known examples of so-called "horizontal gene transfer". The easiest examples to understand occur through retrovirus infection: a virus with two hosts accidentally copies part of host A's genome into child virions, that then infect host B, and insert their genome (including the accidental portion of A's genome) into B's DNA. But there are other, less-organized methods, because even free-floating DNA has a (_very_) small-but-nonzero chance of getting taken up by the nucleus. If you place cells under stress (say, by applying an antibacterial that disrupts cell membranes), the chance of absorbing the new DNA goes up. Wikipedia's article on the topic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer#References) has a large number of good primary-source citations.

What is true is that horizontal gene transfer is vanishingly unlikely for any particular pair of species within any particular human lifetime; we only see so many examples because biologists study a large cross-section of all life, and the tools of modern molecular biology let us trace back their history for millions of years.

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Jun 2, 2023·edited Jun 2, 2023

GMOs might be used for purposes useful to consumers.

But they are not really in practice at all. The GMOs actually on the market nearly all promote harmful farming practices in the form of herbicide resistance so that single genetic strain crops can be doused in chemicals which are not harmless to humans or the larger environment.

Sure, gmos could be used to create frost and drought resistant crops, improved nutrition and all sorts of other benefits. But these possibilities have not been implemented. So, I have to say, I cannot blame the distrustful consumer attitudes regarding food science and nutrition. The American public has been wholesale misled on these issues for generations, and our interests have been largely ignored for profits.

Don’t blame “the left” for GMO misinformation. Blame the food tech industry for using GMOs for shitty purposes. If GMOs are so great and beneficial to consumers, they should prove it. With GMO crops that actually improve consumers lives.

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I would strongly argue that rampant misinformation about GMOs is the reason they haven't been used for better purposes. Monsanto and other for-profit Big Ag companies don't care what people think, they only care what they can make money off of, so widespread fear and mistrust of GMOs doesn't deter them from using the technology. But the non-profit, public health, and public interest groups DO care what people think, so widespread fear of GMOS does deter them from using it. Misinformation about GMOs is the reason golden rice didn't catch on, and it is probably deterring a whole bunch of other worthwhile projects from even being attempted.

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Thats a very good point you make. The golden rice is a great example - I didn’t know its recent history.

Still, its because as you say, Monsanto and those Big Ag players don’t care much about consumer perceptions. They totally lost the narrative on this whole technology, which was always controversial. They seemed to think they could wait out the consumer resistance rather than win over consumer acceptance.

Its a real shame the golden rice isn’t getting picked up more broadly. If they had started with that, rather than decades of nothing but roundup ready, I’d imagine it would be different.

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That, my friend, is a "health fad". There is an entire industry dedicated to making up new ones, telling us to eat this or not eat that, try this new diet trick, to get clicks, sell books, get booked to sow hype on lowbrow talk shows, make money, and then move on to a new one the moment people start realizing that it doesn't work. This particular serial scam has been ongoing for longer than any of us have been alive.

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The frustrating thing about that (I experienced it in full force, living in Seattle at the time) was that it trivialized the very real needs of people with Celiac.

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The concept of poetic truth—first developed by Shelby Steele—refers to the fallacy that erases the distinction between fact and narrative. Derived from the concept of poetic license, in which a poet takes liberty with conventional rules of syntax and grammar in order to achieve a more powerful effect, a poetic truth is a rhetorical device that takes liberty with literal truth in order to achieve an effect. Poetic truth offsets the actual facts by imposing a larger essential truth that reinforces our subjective feeling.

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And Steven Colbert recast this as truthiness- promising always to “feel” the news at his viewers. https://www.cc.com/video/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word-truthiness

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Yascha Mounk recently had Jason Furman on his podcasts. Informative on causes of inflation and other economic issues.

But what was really interesting was the discussion around expertise, truth telling, narratives, personal values, etc. Furman said he knows economist who sometimes hold back on what they really think because they are concerned about how it may be interpreted or incorporated into bad narratives.

Of course, the problem with this is people figure out that you (or an institution) don’t rigorously tell the truth. Your views are politically laundered and should be consumed with that perspective. That’s bad.

I would guess that laundering your views through politics also results in more group think. You converge on the mean thoughts of your tribe. The pun is just a happy accident.

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> We need a richer understanding of human fallibility

The lack of this is one of the most frustrating aspects of American culture to me.

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Simply be perfect: it’s not hard, I do it most days.

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No false modesty here, I see :)

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Milan "Sex Panther" Singh

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Especially considering how the US Constitution was written explicitly from the POV that people are fallible and you need to put structures in place to hedge against that fallibility.

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“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Madison, Federalist 51.

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founding

Nothing unique to American culture about this. Fallibility is one of the hardest things to properly understand.

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Is Happy Memorial Day appropriate? Note: I’m sure I’ve said this before as well. But it’s meant to be a somber day of remembrance for those who died while in service.

Happy Veterans Day makes sense. So does Happy 4th or Happy Labor Day.

And while we are talking about misinformation, can we clear up that Memorial Day isn’t for Veterans, even if Veterans have died. By definition a Veteran can s someone who left Active Duty, so therefore excluded from the category of “people who died on Active Duty”

But hell, as a Veteran I will take any discounts and sales at anytime.

On a somewhat related note, it’s cool that Veterans are excluded from work requirements for SNAP, but it would be cooler if we were excluded from income requirements as well. Free Food Stamps for all Veterans.

Personally, I would rather they would exclude military pension from disqualifying you for unemployment insurance.

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

I think "Happy Memorial Day" is not ideal but the scolds who get bent out of shape by it likely lack any joy in their daily lives. Never heard a veteran get upset by the term, even if they experienced loss of friends in combat. But their sense of humor is quite dark, which seems to straddle both sides of the debate.

Regarding your other points, I'm biased toward raising my taxes to give veterans stuff they say they need.

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I don't actually need anything, I just want it.... if Government doesnt do it, I do take Venmo and Cashapp.

Don't worry, I never scold anybody... I have joy in my life.

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Oh no, you're good. And you have joy in your life and seemingly your job too!

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May 31, 2023·edited May 31, 2023

"Is Happy Memorial Day appropriate?"

The traditional Jewish way to say "I'm sorry for your loss" for a particularly good person is "May their memory be a blessing." Memorials to the deceased need not be sad.

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Happy Memorial Day to you! I am handing out non-argumentative comments today, but only to veterans.

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Lol. I say Happy Memorial Day as well.

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Are you signed up with id.me? Lots of discount programs there. Oakley's is the best I've seen - I think it's 40% off list price with occasional sales giving even more.

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Of course. My son in law just used it at a Fire Dealership

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As for how to fix it I think we need to create incentives that encourage people to take down misinformation on their own side.

Perhaps in academia (and maybe even in opinion journalism), we should have designated devil's advocates whose job it is to argue against whatever claims are being made. That way they can avoid the risk of being seen as shills for the other side while combating the bad info on their side.

Or at alternatively we need some kind of social support for people who combat the misinfo on their own side since right now it's all disincentivized.

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I'm still seething because two local news sited disabled their comment sections, so there is not way to correct misleading reporting.

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To be fair, most comment sections (present company excluded, of course) probably are a net negative in terms of public understanding of anything.

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With respect, that'll never happen.

You have to draw a line somewhere for what positions require defending. There's no need to have a devil's advocate defend some issues (e.g. is the earth really round), but some people will say certain debatable topics are completely out of bounds. Combine that with the fact that people are generally low-decouplers (arguments around identity issues always devolve into "how dare you debate my humanity" rhetoric), and this will never work.

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founding

The earth is really round, but there also are occasionally real bits of anomalous evidence! The 19th century Flat Earth Society got started because of a photograph taken over a flat canal that showed visibility farther than should be possible on a globe with a radius of 10,000 miles (or whatever). Turns out it was unexpected atmospherics lensing based on cool humid air over the canal, but it was a real anomaly for a while.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Level_experiment

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"How dare you debate my humanity" is a motte-and-bailey argument, conflating whatever issue the debate was supposed to be about with someone's humanity when they are obviously not the same thing. Feel free to dismiss anyone who trots that one out.

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It will never happen on all issues but I don't think that's the goal. The problem is avoiding having people become reluctant to critisize false claims. And while it sometimes happens it's rarely the false claims that get seen as totally out of bounds .. just your motives for focusing on them are questioned.

So the question is how to minimize that effect. I think a good way to do that (and to reduce the number of positions that become undebatable) is to have had more people see arguments on both sides knowing that the motive for advancing them was something besides helping the other side. Also having had elites make arguments on both sides helps.

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Oh I agree with all that. I'm just saying any attempt to do this will either involve arguing that 9/11 was an inside job or will involve a spectrum of viewpoints that stretches all the way from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren.

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I agree with your thoughts here. There are people who “pushing back” just comes naturally to. But they often pay a price for it. They get called contrarians and or augmentative. If you want to climb organizational ladders then going a long to get a long is a good strategy.

This is where ideas about diversity could actually help us be better but they really want ideological conformity by people who look different.

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As a centrist, I really struggle to not believe that SSDI claims don't affect LFPR. Ive read the linked piece and the evidence just doesn't seem compelling.

I'm sure some of that is cognitive dissonance on my part, but I also can't see how closely SSDI claims and unemployment claims correlate and not believe there's a connection there.

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They are connected, but it's reverse causation. When unemployment is high, people who are unable to get a job try to get disability benefits because they have to pay the bills somehow. And guess what... when unemployment falls, some of those people go and get jobs again.

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I do not know or read any right adjacent sources, but my impression -- maybe I am wrong -- is that the purveyors of Right misinformation are doing so cynically so only the "public" is misinformed, whereas on the Left it is the purveyors who are genuinely mis-informed. On the right is there not more of a feedback loop?

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founding

I expect there’s more media true believers on the right than you realize, and more avoiders of giving aid or comfort to the enemy than you realize on the left.

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I think this is an excellent point. It seems to me that Matt is clearly right overall, and as someone on the Left I feel particular irritation about misinformation that comes from that direction. (I was aware enough of the DOJ report on Ferguson that when I saw the Warren comment I was disgusted at the time . . . don't remember seeing Harris's.)

But if we distinguish between misinformation and disinformation--statements designed to deceive, inflame, and poison discourse by establishing a non-disprovable universe of "alternative facts" in order to clear the way for unlimited cynicism in pursuit of political advantage--I think the phenomenon is relatively recent and largely confined to the Right. There is a qualitative difference between cherry-picking data on climate and claiming that your political adversaries are murderous, blood-sucking pedophiles. I certainly don't think every public figure on the Right does this, but I have been (truly) shocked by how rarely they have called out this sort of stuff and advocated for a policy of non-crazy.

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