Cardiologists and Chinese Robbers


It takes a special sort of person to be a cardiologist. This is not always a good thing.

You may have read about one or another of the “cardiologist caught falsifying test results and performing dangerous unnecessary surgeries to make more money” stories, but you might not have realized just how common it really is. Maryland cardiologist performs over 500 dangerous unnecessary surgeries to make money. Unrelated Maryland cardiologist performs another 25 in a separate incident. California cardiologist does “several hundred” dangerous unnecessary surgeries and gets raided by the FBI. Philadelphia cardiologist, same. North Carolina cardiologist, same. 11 Kentucky cardiologists, same. Actually just a couple of miles from my own hospital, a Michigan cardiologist was found to have done $4 million worth of the same. Etc, etc, etc.

My point is not just about the number of cardiologists who perform dangerous unnecessary surgeries for a quick buck. It’s not even just about the cardiology insurance fraud, cardiology kickback schemes, or cardiology research data falsification conspiracies. That could all just be attributed to some distorted incentives in cardiology as a field. My point is that it takes a special sort of person to be a cardiologist.

Consider the sexual harassment. Head of Yale cardiology department fired for sexual harassment with “rampant bullying”. Stanford cardiologist charged with sexually harassing students. Baltimore cardiologist found guilty of sexual harassment. LA cardiologist fined $200,000 for groping med tech. Three different Pennsylvania cardiologists sexually harassing the same woman. Arizona cardiologist suspended on 19 (!) different counts of sexual abuse. One of the “world’s leading cardiologists” fired for sending pictures of his genitals to a female friend. New York cardiologist in trouble for refusing to pay his $135,000 bill at a strip club. Manhattan cardiologist taking naked pictures of patients, then using them to sexually abuse employees. New York cardiologist secretly installs spycam in office bathroom. Just to shake things up, a Florida cardiologist was falsely accused of sexual harassment as part of feud with another cardiologist.

And yeah, you can argue that if you put high-status men in an office with a lot of subordinates, sexual harassment will be depressingly common just as a result of the environment. But there’s also the Texas cardiologist who pled guilty to child molestation. The California cardiologist who killed a two-year-old kid. The author of one of the world’s top cardiology textbooks arrested on charges Wikipedia describes only as “related to child pornography and cocaine”.

Then it gets weird. Did you about the Australian cardiologist who is fighting against extradition to Uganda, where he is accused of “terrorism, aggravated robbery and murdering seven people”? What about the Long Island cardiologist who hired a hitman to kill a rival cardiologist, ahd who was also for some reason looking for “enough explosives to blow up a building”?

Like I said, it takes a special sort of person.


Given the recent discussion of media bias here, I wanted to bring up Alyssa Vance’s “Chinese robber fallacy”, which she describes as:

..where you use a generic problem to attack a specific person or group, even though other groups have the problem just as much (or even more so).

For example, if you don’t like Chinese people, you can find some story of a Chinese person robbing someone, and claim that means there’s a big social problem with Chinese people being robbers.

I originally didn’t find this too interesting. It sounds like the same idea as plain old stereotyping, something we think about often and are carefully warned to avoid.

But after re-reading the post, I think the argument is more complex. There are over a billion Chinese people. If even one in a thousand is a robber, you can provide one million examples of Chinese robbers to appease the doubters. Most people think of stereotyping as “Here’s one example I heard of where the out-group does something bad,” and then you correct it with “But we can’t generalize about an entire group just from one example!” It’s less obvious that you may be able to provide literally one million examples of your false stereotype and still have it be a false stereotype. If you spend twelve hours a day on the task and can describe one crime every ten seconds, you can spend four months doing nothing but providing examples of burglarous Chinese – and still have absolutely no point.

If we’re really concerned about media bias, we need to think about Chinese Robber Fallacy as one of the media’s strongest weapons. There are lots of people – 300 million in America alone. No matter what point the media wants to make, there will be hundreds of salient examples. No matter how low-probability their outcome of interest is, they will never have to stop covering it if they don’t want to.

This has briefly gotten some coverage in the form of “the war on police”. As per AEI:

Is there a “war on police” in America today? Most Americans think so, and that’s understandable given all of the media coverage of that topic. A Google news search finds 32,000 results for the phrase “war on cops” and another 12,100 results for “war on police,” with sensational headlines like “America’s War on Cops Intensifies” and “Bratton Warns of Tough Times Ahead Due to ‘War on Cops’.” A recent Rasmussen poll found that 58% of likely US voters answered “Yes” to the question “Is there a war on police in America today?” and only 27% disagreed. But data on police shootings in America that were reported last week by The Guardian tell a much different story of increasing police safety.

According to data available from the “Officer Down Memorial Page” on the annual number of non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities, 2015 is on track to be the safest year for law enforcement in the US since 1887 (except for a slightly safer year in 2013), more than 125 years ago. And adjusted for the country’s growing population, the years 2013 and 2015 will be the two safest years for police in US history, measured by the annual number of firearm-related police fatalities per 1 million people.

When politically convenient, it is easy to make Americans believe in a war on police simply by better coverage of existing murders of police officers. Given that America is a big country with very many police, even a low base rate will provide many lurid police-officer-murder stories – by my calculation, two murders a week even if officers are killed only at the same rate as everyone else. While covering these is a legitimate decision, it can be deceptive unless it’s framed in terms of things like whether the rate has gone up or down, whether the rate is higher or lower for the group involved than the base rate in the population, and it still seems scary when you explicitly calculate the rate.

But a Chomskian analysis would ask whether the talk of a “war on cops” is really a uniquely bad example of journalistic malpractice, or whether it is bog-standard journalistic malpractice which is unique only in being called out this time instead of allowed to pass.

Let’s stick with coverage of police for consistency’s sake. I’ve made a very similar argument before regarding claims of racist police shootings (see Part D here), but let’s avoid that particular rabbit hole and consider a broader and more unsettling point. We all hear anecdotes about terrible police brutality. Suppose, in fact, that we’ve heard exactly X stories. Given that there are about 100,000 police officers in the US, is X consistent with the problem being systemic and dire, or with the problem being relatively limited?

I mean, it’s hard to say. Quick Fermi calculation: if I can think of about one horrible story of police brutality a week, and assume there are fifty that aren’t covered for every one that is, then per year that makes…

But wait – what if I told you that number was a lie, and there were actually 500,000 police officers in the US? Suddenly the rate of police brutality has decreased five times from what it was a second ago. If you previously believed that there were 100,000 police officers, and that the police brutality rate was shameful but that decreasing the rate to only one-fifth its previous level would count as a victory, well, now you can declare victory.

What if I told you the 500,000 number is also a lie, and it’s actually way more cops than that? Do you have any idea at all how many police there are? Shouldn’t you at least have an order-of-magnitude estimate of what the police brutality rate is before deciding if it’s too high or not? What if I told you the real number was a million cops? Five million cops? Ten million? That’s a hundred times the original estimate of 100,000 – shouldn’t learning that the police brutality rate is only 1% of what you originally estimated (or, going the other direction, 10,000% of that) change your opinion in some way?

(No, I won’t tell you how many cops there actually are. Look it up.)

I feel this way about a lot of things. The media is always giving us stories of how tech nerds are sexist in some way or another. But we may suspect they want to push that line regardless of whether it’s true. How many tech nerds are there? A million? Ten million? How many lurid stories about harassment in Silicon Valley have you heard? Do we know if this is higher or lower than the base rate for similar industries? Whether it’s going up or down? What it would look like if we actually had access to the per person rates?

By now you’ve probably figured out the gimmick, but just to come totally clean – cardiologists are wonderful people who as far as I know are no less ethical than any other profession. I chose to pick on them at random – well, not quite random, one of them yelled at me the other day because apparently contacting the cardiologist on call late at night just because your patient is having a serious heart-related emergency is some kind of huge medical faux pas. I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that there’s any general issue with cardiologists, and as far as I know there’s no evidence for such.

If you read Part I of this post and found yourself nodding along, thinking “Wow, cardiologists are real creeps, there must be serious structural problems in the cardiology profession, something must be done about them,” consider it evidence that a sufficiently motivated individual – especially a journalist! – can make you feel that way about any group.

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565 Responses to Cardiologists and Chinese Robbers

  1. nydwracu says:

    There’s a related trick, where pre-existing narratives are such that someone can take one example and have the unspoken weight of that narrative behind them when they want to do whatever — even if the response proves the opposite, because, you see, the response is just an attempt at correcting the problem described in the narrative.

    (How many white kids have gotten suspended for utterly insignificant shit like biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and going “bang”? But when one kid named Ahmed Mohamed brings a briefcase with a bunch of wires sticking out of it to school and gets suspended — and then gets invited to the White House and the Facebook offices as a result — suddenly it’s conclusive proof that America is a racist Islamophobic Nazi fascist dystopia.)

    (Has anyone written about salience manipulation yet? I wonder how much of political disagreement is about facts and how much is just about how salient / emotionally significant events are seen as being. Progressives don’t care about Rotherham, and everyone else doesn’t care about Trayvon Martin. More charitably, people are inclined to care more about bad things done by the opposite side than bad things done by their side.)

    • Ben Finkel says:

      On the other hand, how many white kids have been *arrested* for a pop-tart thing? This example seemed a little more extreme than most “zero tolerance” abuses.

      • Randy M says:

        Granted, but it doesn’t seem more extreme than where other zero tolerance abuses are trending.
        I recall a story of a gradeschooler being taken into custody for kissing a girl or something. (I don’t think it was this one, but similar: http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/11/living/6-year-old-suspended-kissing-girl/index.html)

      • keranih says:

        A partial listing of school administration over-reach here. (Yes, Reason magazine. I would be glad of other sources with other lists of zero-tolerance issues.)

        [second paragraph redacted after re-reading the 75+ comments so far. On second read, there is a rising wave of racial-issues commentary that I don’t feel like adding to (today.) My apologies.]

      • nydwracu says:

        Most of my friends were kicked out of high school for basically nothing, so I find it kind of hard to be sympathetic to the party line here. (One of them got his parents to call the ACLU and they took the case — unconstitutional search and seizure — but the family was short enough on money that they had to settle.) Getting kicked out of school is more extreme than being taken into police custody.

        Hell, it turned out alright for the kid, didn’t it? He’s gotten all sorts of invitations — to visit MIT, the White House, and so on — and he has his name out there as someone who, at the age of 14, can build shit.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >Hell, it turned out alright for the kid, didn’t it?

          This is a bad argument when it’s used by lefties/proggies/however we’re calling them now, it doesn’t cease to be a bad argument when used against them.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          A good friend and coworker, when he was a teenager, had the police called on him by his mother when she found his napalm stash. A former boss of mine apparently has a few of his seized creations on display at the local ATF headquarters.

          I was homeschooled from 4th grade on, and was happy for it; I roundly hated my fellow students, slotted neatly into the black-trenchcoat-loner stereotype, and have had a lifelong fascination with guns, knives, explosives and incendairies. I doubt highschool would have resulted in a good outcome. Instead I got to read anything I could get my hands on, practice writing and art, and make knives as a hobby without getting the police involved.

          • Adam says:

            My school forced me to see a counselor for writing a fairly gruesome story about a friendly high school student who was also a serial killer for an English class prompt on ‘write about someone who lives a deceitful double life’ and I got a 0 on the assignment. That was bullshit and pissed me off, but in retrospect, at least I didn’t get arrested.

      • Decius says:

        I would call it a racist abuse of power IFF the faculty, after seizing the clock, treated it in accordance with any reasonable guidelines for a suspicious package, like taking it as far away from everyone as possible and calling the bomb squad, or evacuating the building and calling the bomb squad, or calling the bomb squad and following their instructions.

        If they put it in the central office with seized contraband, then they either didn’t think it was a threat (and the entire thing was just bullying the student), or they were criminally endangering other students by storing a suspected bomb inside the building with them.

        • g says:

          Is your first paragraph (“I would call it a racist abuse of power iff the faculty [treated this like a genuine bomb]”) the wrong way around?

          Either way around, I don’t think it’s right. The questions “is this an internally inconsistent way to behave?” and “is this a racist abuse of power?” are quite different ones, and it seems easy to imagine e.g. the following scenarios:

          1. The school authorities are irrationally scared of mysterious electronic devices. They would have reacted in the same way if it had been Joe Smith rather than Ahmed Mohamed. (So: not racist.) But on some level they know that the thing isn’t really a serious threat even though it gives them the willies, and they are worried about looking extra-stupid, so they don’t actually take it to the bomb squad.

          2. As #1, except that what they’re irrationally scared of is Islamist terrorism, and they wouldn’t have treated Joe Smith the same way as they did Ahmed Mohamed. And it happens that they don’t distinguish too carefully between Muslims and Arabs. (So: racist.) Just as in #1, they don’t take it to the bomb squad.

          3. As #1, except that their terror is a bit greater and their fear of embarrassment a bit less. They take it to the bomb squad.

          4. As #2, with the same change as in #3 so again they take it to the bomb squad.

          And none of these seems hugely more plausible than any other. So “internally inconsistent?” doesn’t seem like a good proxy for either “racist?” or “not racist?”.

          • Jiro says:

            According to reports, the teacher didn’t think it was a real bomb, but did think it was an attempt at a fake bomb scare. If so, this explains calling the police (fake bomb scares aren’t legal) while still explaining why the teacher didn’t evacuate the school or call the bomb squad.

          • g says:

            Jiro, in that case Decius’s criterion seems even less plausible than it did before.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            The questions “is this an internally inconsistent way to behave?” and “is this a racist abuse of power?” are quite different ones

            Granted, but internal consistency would be evidence against a racial motive.

        • Deiseach says:

          But Jiro, if the kid was going to attempt a fake bomb scare, why would he show it off to a teacher first? And if the accounts are anyway trustworthy, he only produced it in English class after the alarm went off, he had to switch it off, the teacher demanded to know what he had in his bag, and he showed it.

          If you’re going to pull a practical joke with a fake bomb, you don’t carry it around in your bag all day, you get in early and plant it somewhere where someone will find it, freak out, call the cops, the bomb squad arrives with all its paraphernalia, the school is evacuated, etc. (As I said, I’ve been in a third level training institute where it was a regular occurrence before final year exams for some idiot to phone in a hoax bomb threat, and even though the guards and the staff knew it was a fake threat, they had to treat it as real – because the IRA – so everyone got evacuated and that was the morning wasted).

          I’m afraid I’m still of the opinion that the kid is bright, geeky, a bit of a loner, and wanted to show off his creation to his teacher for praise and attention. And then everything got out of hand. The school does not seem to have reacted as if they genuinely believed it was a real bomb (e.g. didn’t evacuate or get the bomb squad called in). So they did seem to think it was a hoax, and the only reason I can see for calling in the police and having the boy handcuffed was the idea of public shaming to throw a scare into him, which I think was excessive (maybe I’m missing this, but I haven’t seen anything in reports to indicate that he was ever in trouble in school before). Why didn’t they call his parents, give him a ticking-off for not considering what he was doing, and suspend him for a day or two?

          It does look like over-reaction, like some zealous disciplinarian went “We don’t put up with that nonsense here, sonny” and called in the cops to Make An Example of him. And ended up making the entire school look like ninnies, to be quite frank.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            It was made to look like a briefcase bomb that hadn’t yet been loaded with explosives yet:


            The kid’s father is a notorious publicity hound who has twice run for President of Sudan.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            From OkayAfrica:

            The ninth grader is the son of Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant who has made headlines of his own over the years. A February 2015 profile in the North Dallas Gazette details the elder Mohamed’s activities.

            Born in Sudan in 1961, Mohamed, a former customs worker at Khartoum International Airport, earned a degree in philosophy from Cairo University in Khartoum before emigrating to the U.S. “Once I realized my dream was bigger than what Sudan had to offer I immigrated to America in the mid-1980’s,” he told the North Dallas Gazette. In that same interview, Mohamed shared that upon arrival in the U.S.– where he says his degree was not accepted– he initially sold hot dogs, candy, and newspapers in Manhattan. “I realized this wasn’t enough for me, and I packed my bag and moved to Dallas, Texas y’all,” he told the paper. In Texas, he started out as a pizza delivery man before becoming a taxi driver and ultimately launching his own business ventures– he owns a computer repair shop in Irving, Texas (perhaps where his son gets his tech acuity from), a cab company called Jet Taxi, a medical emergency transport company called Paradise Prime Investments, and the solar energy business AlSufi International in Sudan. He also served as self-elected president of the small Sufi Muslim AlSufi center in Irving. …

            Mohamed has also run for president of Sudan on two separate occasions.
            He’d run again in 2015 on a National Reform Party ticket. An April 2015 Bloomberg report referred to the Texan as having “the most ambitious agenda” of the incumbent President Umar al-Bashir’s competitors. …

            Neither Mohamed nor his party would end up appearing on the ballot. …

            Aside from his presidential bids, Mohamed also made headlines for his bizarre role in Rev. Terry Jones’ incendiary Quran trial. In 2012, when the Florida pastor made good on his threat to burn a Quran in his Gainesville church and put the Quran on “trial,” Mohamed, who refers to himself as a sheik, was apparently the one Muslim willing to play along as the defense in the mock trial. “[The church] put an ad on their channel: ‘Whoever feels in himself he has the power to defend Quran is welcome,’” he told the Dallas Observer.

            Muslim leaders in Texas, meanwhile, doubted his claims to religious and scholarly leadership. “This so-called leader, we have never heard of this person,” Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, head of the Islamic Center of Irving, told the Seattle Times. “I believe the whole thing is made up.” In that same interview, Mohamed, who refers to himself as a sheikh, elaborated on his motivations for getting involved with Jones. “He said he agreed to serve as the defense attorney at Jones’ mock trial because the Quran teaches that Muslims should engage in peaceful dialogue with Christians,” the Seattle Times’ Annie Gowen wrote. “But there was also a more pragmatic reason. It was spring break and he wanted to take his wife and five kids to Disney World: to ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ as he put it.” He also claims he didn’t know the trial– in which the Quran was “found guilty” of “crimes against humanity”– would result in the Quran actually being set on fire. According to the Seattle Times, some of Mohamed’s small group of followers asked that he no longer lead prayers, while others refused to drive for his taxi company.

          • Nita says:

            In Texas, he started out as a pizza delivery man before becoming a taxi driver and ultimately launching his own business ventures– he owns a computer repair shop in Irving, Texas (perhaps where his son gets his tech acuity from), a cab company called Jet Taxi, a medical emergency transport company called Paradise Prime Investments, and the solar energy business AlSufi International in Sudan.

            Wow, this guy sounds like a model American citizen!

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            WHAT THE HELL? My reply to Steve went up, I edited it — and it came out “marked as spam”. No links in it, no plugs except for Huntley and Brinkley and Nixon.

          • RCF says:

            @Steve Sailer

            I think that posting 500 words from an article is a bit excessive.

            You really don’t have any evidence for what the intent was. Even if it did look like a bomb, that wouldn’t prove anything. And that “Google search” shows fake bombs. If it were a real bomb, why would half of it be made up of an LED display? Why would there be an LED display at all?

    • SpaghettiLee says:

      I wonder how much of political disagreement is about facts and how much is just about how salient / emotionally significant events are seen as being.

      For me, the ratio keeps getting more and more out of whack the more articles like, well, this one, I read. The meta-conversation about political bias and tribalism has somehow become more interesting to me than most of the issues themselves. Sometimes I think I’ve moved farther to the right than I was five years ago, but now I think it’s more likely that my positions haven’t really changed, but I’ve lost the ability to discuss politics with other leftists because sooner or later I’ll blurt out something about how they just think that because of their blue tribe conditioning. I know that most blue tribe folks don’t appreciate it, and I doubt others like it any better.

      I do hope, however, that dismantling the hyper-paranoid zero-tolerance apparatus in schools is something right and left could both get behind. Even if you do think the schools are violence-ridden hellholes (which I don’t. Pick your source: https://www.google.com/search?q=violence+in+schools+statistics&biw=1440&bih=710&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAmoVChMI8-XM3Kj9xwIVxF4eCh2qNgyd#imgrc=_), there’s got to be a smarter way to filter out false positive so something like what happened in Texas doesn’t warp into a massive “Are liberals right about everything and are conservatives a bunch of dum-dums, or vice versa?” social media slapfest.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        I think a lot of political issues in any two-party state could be solved wayyyy easier if they didn’t invariably devolve into tribal signaling. ‘We must oppose X because the outgroup supports it’ seems like a really good way to stop positive change anywhere. The example that first had me think about this was the whole discussion about police mentioned in the OP; if you were to focus on the police being a tool of some Big Scary Government, on law enforcement costing just sooo many taxed, and on them violating rights X Y and Z that your ancestors fought for, you might see many more conservatives agreeing that something could be done. But since most media articles arguing for police reform revolve around racism or somesuch, the right will end up defending the police in a sort of ‘enemy of my enemy’ kind of way.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          I don’t think so. Rather, your analysis has completely neglected the “facts on the ground” in favor of the rhetorical aspects. If police were in fact routinely oppressing and violating people’s rights (or at least the rights of people in the coalition that’s commonly called “conservative”) conservatives would be complaining about it. In fact, when incidents like that happen they do, e.g., the Gibson Guitar raid.

          On the other hand, there are in fact a lot of cases of black criminals victimizing people (mostly their fellow black people, but also other races). Since conservatives tend to be of lower socioeconomic status then white liberals, they’re more likely then white liberals to be the victims, and thus are more concerned about this and expect the police to do something about this, since this is after all the job of the police.

        • keranih says:

          a lot of political issues in any two-party state could be solved wayyyy easier if they didn’t invariably devolve into tribal signaling

          Is it possible that choose option consistent with tribal mores is a hard-wired default in the hairless ape, and so it’s not at all reasonable to expect people to typically choose otherwise?

          (I was going to suggest that maybe “being civil and rational” could be used as a universal tribal signal, but I seem to recall that “righteous outrage” and “tone police” is already a thing, so maybe not.)

          • Randy M says:

            Universal tribe is an oxymoron, though. Until we find aliens or invent ai.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:

            You seem to be pointing at the idea, that without an enemy, we cannot conceive of friends.

            I’m really not sure this is correct.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure. Here’s some nebulous thoughts likely poorly phrased:

            Friend is not equivalent to tribe. A tribe is a group of people who will instictively defend each other because they expect reciprocity due to a shared identity.
            I do not expect the subsumed identity into a tribe to arise without something to defend against.

            Or maybe that human nature cannot identify with a tribe that is so large as to encompass all of humanity.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            HeelBearCub says:You seem to be pointing at the idea, that without an enemy, we cannot conceive of friends.

            I’m really not sure this is correct.

            It does make a certain amount of intuitive sense though.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            What tribal mores? I can go off on a tangent, but http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2710 explains it better than I could. Having things your tribe agrees on is hard, doesn’t last long, and ends up in costly intellectual energy spent that you could otherwise dedicate to being useful. The one thing to define your tribe is ‘we’re not the other guys,’ so when said other group of people argues in favor of something, publicly opposing it is the proper thing to do.

      • Salience is one of the things that gets to me. Something might be bad, but how bad is it? Is Benghazi ordinary fucking up, or culpable negligence?

      • Brian says:

        So much yes to this one. I’m a libertarian right winger, and I try to keep an eye out on the left side of things as well. I could not find a single article on either side of the aisle today or yesterday supporting the school’s actions or zero tolerance generally. There still was no agreement because the right articles said the issue was overreach and the left articles said it was Islamophobia; both triggering the other side’s resistant elephants to oppose each other.

        The same thing happened with the Eric Garner case. Everyone agreed the NYPD cops abused their power. The left yelled about racist cops, forcing the right to defend. The right yelled about government overreach in prohibiting sales of loose cigarettes, forcing the left to defend anti-smoking policies. Nothing got done.

      • Anthony says:

        Zero-tolerance in schools, etc., is a response to race-baiting by the left. Black kids in school violate the rules more often and more severely than white kids. Generally non-racist teachers and administrators therefore punish black kids more often and more severely than white kids. Leftists complain, and accuse teachers and administrators of being more likely to punish black misbehavior than white misbehavior (even though the reverse is more likely true). In response, administrators say that they will have “zero tolerance” for various sorts of serious misbehavior, particularly those that look like they involve violence.

        When leftists complain that administrators are punishing black kids disproportionately, the administrators play Scott’s cardiologist game and point out all the white kids who got in trouble for trivial violations to keep the leftists off their back. Or they blame systemic racism for black kids being more poorly behaved. The point is to remove judgement from teachers and administrators to prevent them from exercising their racist impulses on black students.

        This results in all the stupidities you’d expect it to, including kids who bring knives to school for self-defense being punished more than the bullies who beat them up last week, kids who eat pop-tarts into the shape of a gun being suspended, and kids who modify clocks in weird ways getting in much bigger trouble than they should when the alarm goes off.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          It’s far more likely that it’s the typical stupid zero-tolerance reaction to Columbine and subsequent news media stories about school shootings. Similar to how the reaction to 9/11 was to build a massive and useless system of airport security theater.

          As for “kids who bring knives to school for self-defense being punished more than the bullies who beat them up last week,” let me assure you that “punish the bullying victim” has been standard policy in American schools for a number of decades at least.

        • g says:

          That’s an interesting narrative, Anthony, but it’s not obviously correct. Do you have any evidence to support it? (Ideally evidence that goes beyond the sort of cherry-picking this whole discussion is about.)

          And if a child thinks that bringing in a knife is a good response to being beaten up, it’s not clear to me that that isn’t a worse matter (in terms of consequences, rather than of character) than the beating-up. Beating someone up gets someone beaten up. Bringing in a knife for self-defence can get someone killed.

          (Of course the right way to deal with that is for the school to notice when bullying is taking place and come down hard enough on the bullies that the victims don’t feel the need to bring in knives. For some reason schools tend not to do this.)

          • Sastan says:

            Absolutely not. The best way to deal with bullies is to kick the shit out of them. Turning them in only makes you more of an outcast in your social group, and doesn’t stop abuse at all.

            And knives are the perfectly reasonable next step in escalation. The whole “well, there’s no reason to HURT someone” is just an excuse for those big and strong enough to physically overpower others. Take it from me, bullies leave you alone if you cut them up a bit. If they were big enough to assault someone who wasn’t engaging with them at all, they are big enough to take a blade.

            Now, I should say I’m talking about actual bullying, not calling someone names on facebook or whatever the term has been debased into meaning these days.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I can say from experience that turning physical bullies in yields results pretty much in line with what Sastan says. It just earns the victim special attention from the bullies; they wait until the coast is clear, and come in harder.

            However, bringing a knife is arguably even worse. Again, speaking from experience, one of the worst things a victim can do is lash out against the bully just as authorities start to pay attention, which typically gets the victim hauled in for discipline. Knife wounds just make it easier for authorities to notice, and aggravates the victim’s punishment. Adding insult to injury: the bully typically gets away.

            Showing bullies you’re a hard target is valuable, but the most effective tactic I had for that was to learn how to not get caught, and just beat the bully up with relatively harmless body blows.

          • g says:

            Sastan and Paul, I didn’t suggest that victims should be turning in bullies, which I agree is likely counterproductive for them (though if official sanctions for bullies were fierce enough that might change), I suggested that school staff be observant enough to detect bullying and then come down hard on the bullies.

            No, knives are not the perfectly reasonable next step, and my objection was not that “there’s no reason to hurt someone”, it was that there’s a real danger that someone (more likely the victim) ends up getting killed.

          • Data point: I turned in a bully once in high school, and had only positive outcomes. However, there were a few big confounding factors; I went to a high school with administration that would straight-up expel students for repeated violence; I was already a social pariah among my classmates and thus had no reputation to lose; and as a result of that, I spent a lot of time interacting with my teachers. So, they knew me as the kid who spoke up in class, cared about the assignments, and didn’t cry wolf. (And no one liked the bully.)

            Now, in a social environment where you care about not being a snitch and in which authority will not intervene, you hit back, in ways calibrated for maximal deterrent and minimum chances of getting caught. But that isn’t all school environments, thankfully.

          • brad says:

            Knifing someone is a good solution for bullying if you are an internet tough guy talking a big game. In real life you will end up in the juvenile justice system and your life will over before it even really gets started.

          • Mary says:

            ” Beating someone up gets someone beaten up. Bringing in a knife for self-defence can get someone killed.’

            False. Beating someone up can get someone killed. More people are killed annually by hands and feet than by assault rifles.

          • Andrew G. says:

            More people are killed annually by hands and feet than by assault rifles.

            But more people are killed by knives than both of the above combined.

          • Limi says:

            Sastan comes from Chicago apparently, everyone make a note of that in your portfolios. He’s right though, bullies do leave you alone if you cut them up a bit. So does everyone else at your school, because you will be stuck in juvenile detention, likely getting the shit kicked out of you by other kids who aren’t afraid to bring knives to a fist fight, probably backed up with a lot more experience than our victim of bullying.

            Or if your school culture values the snitches get stitches mentality so strongly that telling a teacher would get you ostracized, but people won’t ostracize you for being a psycho for knifing your opponent – in which case you might avoid imprisonment – then you can look forward to your bullies’ friends getting revenge. And of course, thanks to your escalation, they will make sure they bring at least knives this time too.

            In other words, and I am sorry that this is not nice, but I believe it passes through the other two gates with ease, knifing your bullies is a staggeringly dumb thing to do. Particularly since there are much easier ways to get people to stop bullying you.

          • Pku says:

            That’s fundamentally different though – you’re escalating in the moment, when you know exactly what you’re doing, as opposed to pre-planning to escalate and hoping it’ll work out how you plan. If you pack a knife, you’re just talking big and trying to show off. If you actually punch them like you did, you’re showing you don’t need to go to ridiculous lengths, you can just take them there.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I used to get pretty good results by cringing and whimpering. Being alert enough to run away was also sometimes helpful.

          • Limi says:

            1 learn to fight defensively, by learning a useful martial art like jujitsu. This is in essence what you did, broadened to be appropriate for any body type. Note that there is a significant difference between fighting back and stabbing them up good n ting.

            2 Join one of your school’s sports teams. This is by far the least palatable option imo but it’s also incredibly effective. It requires a lot of training and also playing a bullshit sport, but it gives you an immediate support group who will back you up. It goes without saying of course, that you shouldn’t join the rugby team if that’s where all your bullies are.

            3 This is the one I used so I am biased towards it, but I think it’s the best because it works immediately, without any buffing up or sports nonsense – get a girl friend to lie and say you have had sex. I can see how this might not work everywhere though, and could have negative ramifications for your friend. My friend was worried about being called a slut, but decided that was better than me getting my ass kicked every day (she was and is an amazing person).

            Bonus 4 Grow facial hair or be tall or deep voiced or in some way capable of buying cigarettes and booze. This one also works instantly but relies on factors outside your control and can be risky.

            I have seen all four of these work and while I appreciate that they are anecdotes, the principles behind them are sound. And much less ridiculous than bringing a knife to school and practicing your stabbing.

          • Walter says:

            Are we doing stories of how we internet badass thwarted our stereotypical bullies? I love those. Funny how bullying can be such a problem when Peter Parker always wins.

            Like everyone else, I was bullied by another student. His particular hobby was to wait until the track team was doing stretches where we laid on our backs and throw rocks at me. Teacher and other students couldn’t see it because we were all laying down. He also liked to piss on the contents of my locker before meets, then complain when I stank that I must have pissed myself. Another time he replaced my glasses cleaner with acid from the lab. In his defense he wasn’t trying to destroy my glasses, he thought that stuff went into my eyes.

            I guess next I should say how I Ender Wiggin’d him in a cathartical moment of ultraviolence? Sadly, not within my capabilities. He had a party one night ( I overheard some kids who’d been invited). I waited till everyone was fucked up and called the cops like I was there and said I saw someone being raped. They raided the party and found drugs and guns, as well as a lot of underage folks who had clearly had sex. Many many folks went to jail for a wide variety of charges, my assailant among them.

          • Nornagest says:

            1 learn to fight defensively, by learning a useful martial art like jujitsu. This is in essence what you did, broadened to be appropriate for any body type.

            By the time you learn enough jujitsu to reliably defend yourself against someone larger, stronger, and more aggressive, you’ll probably have left high school. Most people (including most bullies) are terrible at fighting, but the reason for that is that fighting is not easy to learn.

            On the other hand, it’ll help get you into better shape and make you more comfortable with violence and with high-pressure situations more generally, and both will help. Just not by immediately enabling you to kick your bullies’ asses.

            Joining a sports team is probably a better option.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        My feeling – which has so far resulted in at least two very spirited Facebook threads – is that any hope the Irving school board and / or police force might have had in conducting a rational inquiry into what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they might improve their policies was utterly flattened by an avalanche of social media attention, aggravated by opinions from a Chief Executive on the object level supporting one side, and conspicuously offering no support to the other.

        Am I alone in thinking this presented a massive conflict of interest problem?

        • brad says:

          To me this response just reads “I don’t like Obama”. I mean what’s the conflict of interest? Is Obama on the panel that will be looking into whether or not there was misconduct by the police officers or teachers? He isn’t even part of the same government.

          Also, the whole meta thing can be taken way too far. Why exactly shouldn’t the president make a judgement on the object level? Why should he offer support for both sides, if doesn’t think both sides merit it?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I got some sentiment to the tune of “I just don’t like Obama” elsewhere, true. But that doesn’t really say very much; I could as easily read comments defending his actions as “I just like Obama”, or “I just want to accuse some people of anti-Muslim bigotry”.

            He isn’t in the same government, but he’s able to exert a great deal of influence on that government, and has also indicated that he’s paying special attention to it.

            As for expressing support at an object level, it creates a lack of support by omission at the object level for any other similar case. For example, he’s not invited teachers to the White House to laud them for trying to to protect students. I’ve run across complaints that Obama hasn’t invited the children of slain police officers, families of victims of gang violence, etc. Of course, these are independent of the COI problem.

            It’s possible that I’m atypically sensitive to COI, as an artifact of having worked in the government, which goes out of its way to warn workers explicitly about these types of problems. But it also seems as if such favoritism ought to pervade the private sector as much as the public, and meanwhile, this is one of the head government people we’re talking about; I find it impossible for him to be unaware of this.

          • brad says:

            If that’s a conflict of interest, given that he has no direct influence whatsoever, than everything is a conflict of interest. The President couldn’t comment on anything. But that’s not what we want out of a President. We want and expect them to use the bully pulpit, it is one of the best (and least coercive) tools they have.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I think you can’t simply call this a case of no direct influence whatsoever. The President is Chief Executive, and is basically the head law enforcement officer of the country; even if he clearly delegates those duties, he has the power to hire and fire, and even if he’s not in the chain of command of local PD, he could most certainly lean on people in influence. Not everyone can do that. He’s also the boss of the Secretary of Education; even if he has to work hard to influence local police, I’d say he has to work less hard to affect public schools.

            The bully pulpit isn’t rendered useless if he can’t speak on cases like this. It’s still vastly useful for influencing new legislation or repealing existing laws and policies. I believe that’s much more its intended purpose, than speaking on actual pending investigations.

    • Deiseach says:

      The boy didn’t bring “a briefcase with a bunch of wires sticking out of it to school”, he brought a home-made clock which provoked an over-reaction. He showed it to a technical subject teacher first and it was only when the alarm went off in class for another subject that the whole train of misunderstanding was set in motion.

      Well, in most other countries of the world, it would have been an over-reaction. I think part of the problem here is that you do have a clear precedent in disgruntled students arriving in with guns and killing fellow-pupils and teachers, as well as common-or-garden stabbing, assault, etc. But putting a 14 year old into handcuffs and arresting him, when he doesn’t seem to have had any previous record of being violent or troublesome at school, does seem a bit over the top to the rest of us.

      And yes, unfortunately, the question does have to be asked: if his name was not Ahmad but Joe, would the cops have been called in for the same events?

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        if his name was not Ahmad but Joe, would the cops have been called in for the same events?

        Given, the kind of things white school kids have gotten in trouble for, probably.

        Would he have become a cause célèbre and gotten invited to the White House and Facebook offices? Certainly not.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        This is the “clock” that he brought:


        What happened is this:

        Muslim kid hates being an outsider in his Texas HS so he comes up with a plan. He’s been taught his entire life that he’s has a legitimate grudge against the country where he lives because those stupid rednecks don’t realize that the future of Texas belongs to people with names like Ahmed Mohamed (I guess they’ll have to share it with Mexicans) because they stupidly think he’s more likely to be a terrorist – how often do you see some muslim in fiction complaining about being profiled in airports? Here’s a typical example – https://youtu.be/K-xthcJWXn0?t=61 from a Spike Lee movie. So he makes a clock that looks suspicious enough to get attention specifically to play the game of “but it was just a clock” so he can get some of the righteous victim points and feel superior to those idiots who can’t even tell that what he built is a clock and not a bomb.

        He wasn’t wrong either. Kid gets invited to the White House.

        Progs are so oblivious they get played by 14 year olds.

        • multiheaded says:

          Let’s face it, if the average American Muslim teenager is so intellectually superior to most Americans as to pull off this extremely ambitious intrigue… you should probably move over and accept him as your Caliph. Engineering *and* political excellence… what’s not to admire about that?

          • TheAncientGeek says:


          • Jordan D. says:

            Yeah, I mean, I thought that this was just some random stupid incident being blown out of proportion and therefore recieving a disproportionate response for PR.

            But now that I know that it was all planned out by this young master of intrigue (and social manipulator par excellence), I’m really impressed. We need to fast-track this kid into the diplomatic corps at once, and I am certain that the President understands that too.

            (Plus if he’s ever in an embassy beseiged by outside attackers and for some reason needs to assemble a clock in order to foil their schemes, he’s ready!)

          • M.C. Escherichia says:

            Is it really so amazingly clever? Deliberately doing something suspicious-seeming, but actually harmless and defensible, is something a number of kids in my high school would have been capable of.

            I do not know how to estimate the likelihood in this case; but it’s not so improbable that I can just dismiss it. I would still say that the truly innocent explanation of his behaviour is more likely – perhaps much more likely – but not totally certain.

            (In any case I would not endorse Steve’s rather hyperbolic description of the motive that Mohamed is supposed to have. It would just be ordinary teenage troublemaking, if it was so.)

          • SUT says:

            So the original TechCrunch article I saw had a picture of a clean PCB with chips which looks clearly like a EE project. It was probably a stock image of a kit like this.

            Now, I’m seeing what it actually was which does lend some creedence to the principal’s famous quote that it looked like a “movie bomb”. You’re telling me any kid is going to get a pass for this?

          • Jiro says:

            He doesn’t need to be intellectually superior to do this. He just needs to be trolling. And I hope I don’t have to explain that 14 year olds are capable of trolling.

          • Mr Bones says:

            Progs are so oblivious they get played by 14 year olds.

            if the average American Muslim teenager is so intellectually superior to most Americans as to pull off this extremely ambitious intrigue… you should probably move over and accept him as your Caliph.

            If the average American Muslim teenager is so intellectually superior to most Progs, maybe the Progs shouldn’t be in charge of the country? If the rest of us aren’t having any such trouble seeing through it, maybe we should be invited to the White House some time.

            In any case, it seems art imitates life, since the Progs are trying to accept the Caliphate already.

          • gattsuru says:

            Now, I’m seeing what it actually was which does lend some credence to the principal’s famous quote that it looked like a “movie bomb”. You’re telling me any kid is going to get a pass for this?

            It’s a carved up bedside alarm clock, probably circa pre-2005 scavenged given the transformer style. Anyone with even moderate familiarity with electronics should recognize the seven-segment display, piezo switch board, transformer, 9v leads for battery backup, and AC cable. It looks like a “movie bomb” only to the extent than anything electronic with a time display looks like a “movie bomb”, and less so than many other pieces of equipment in every classroom. In addition to the lack of any explosive material or place to store any explosive material, it’s a huge amount of extraneous circuitry and hard-mounted ribbon cable compared to anything you’d see as an actual bomb.

            The entirety of his work was to peel it out of the case, cut a couple holes in a different case, and mount the display to the side with a pair of screws. This isn’t some Pi/Arduino project, or working from a bare breadboard up. I don’t think he even cut or desoldered a cable, I’m near-certain he doesn’t know what any of the chips /on/ the board are.

            I’m not making fun of him here : he’s a fourteen year old. My first electronics projects were about on that level, or stupid and dangerous, and without someone familiar with electronics its hard to know what good projects do exist, esp with the death of Radio Shack.

            But reading this as a huge Machiavellian plan is reaching. I’d even be willing to accept that the kid’s parents jumped on the PR opportunity presented by police overreach, but that still doesn’t change that the initial overreach would justify arresting kids for literally any sort of electronics project they could possibly attempt.

            ((This isn’t to say the “police racism” answer is any more correct. I’ve personally been marched to a ‘conference’ with a ‘school safety officer’ for presenting a paper on gun control — a teacher-assigned topic — with the wrong answer, and that was before Columbine and not as a race typically associated with gun violence. If racism was present, it was sufficient, not necessary.))

          • Vaniver says:

            It’s a carved up bedside alarm clock, probably circa pre-2005 scavenged given the transformer style. Anyone with even moderate familiarity with electronics should recognize the seven-segment display, piezo switch board, transformer, 9v leads for battery backup, and AC cable. It looks like a “movie bomb” only to the extent than anything electronic with a time display looks like a “movie bomb”, and less so than many other pieces of equipment in every classroom.

            It’s well worth pointing out that an actual time bomb is literally just a clock and a bomb stuck together. So if one had recognized it as a clock using their familiarity with electronics, this would be more cause for worry, not less! Someone who has built a calculator on a circuitboard isn’t going to be using it as a bomb. (Someone who’s built a phone on a circuitboard, though, could be.)

            The lack of an explosive is how you know there’s not a bomb, but one might not be confident in their ability to tell that there’s no explosive, especially if there’s space in the suitcase that’s obscured.

          • gattsuru says:

            It’s well worth pointing out that an actual time bomb is literally just a clock and a bomb stuck together. So if one had recognized it as a clock using their familiarity with electronics, this would be more cause for worry, not less!

            Not… really?

            I mean, literally every type of bomb is trigger and an explosive stuck together, and nearly every type of electronics can be turned into a trigger. If your sole determinate is whether it could be present in a bomb, then everyone with a cell phone (radio- or time-triggered), calculator (light- or oscillator-triggered), watch (time- or oscillator-triggered), or pretty much any other electronic could be an bomb, and indeed if you look to actual bombings some of these triggers are much more common than digital time bombs. In most cases, doing so would not require even a fraction of the manipulation to hardware present here.

            If there’s any remote allowance for electronics projects at school — or even restriction that has a softer response than calling police — we need some way to distinguish between the entire field of everything electronic and bombs. I’m hard-pressed to believe anyone producing a bomb would cut holes in its case to make a glowing screen on its side, and the central example of a bomb does not have an AC plug. The speaker output was attached to a speaker, rather than an unidentifiable substance.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Gattsuru – You are thinking actual bomb, not Hollywood bomb. Most people are thinking the later when they query whether something “looks like a bomb”. Further, the kid was apparently accused of making a *fake* bomb, not a real one.

            Hacked-together electronics in a box with a big digital readout look scary. Yes this is stupid. No, pointing out that it’s stupid doesn’t help. Kneejerk overreactions are a known problem in the school system.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Not that it should change anyone’s mind about the present case, but Islamist terrorists do seem to like making their attacks look like something out of the movies. When they do get around to making a suitcase bomb, it may very well include a big, useless LED display.

          • Odyssey says:

            Nice try. The father is a confirmed con man:


            He’s pulled stunts like this before to get publicity and capitalize off of it, the kid is just a puppet to get more attention on himself.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            In John Ringo’s book Ghost*, Jihadist terrorists rework a stolen Russian nuclear warhead and plant it in Paris, set to go off during a Papal visit.

            At one point, after the bomb is located (sorry for the spoiler, but you know Ringo is not going to let Our Hero let Paris be destroyed) a bomb technician is trying to disarm it. When he breaches the case, he discovers that the terrorists have put a small LED countdown display inside. He realizes immediately that they’ve done this solely to f**k with him, since there’s no practical reason for there to be such a display.

            *Incidentally, Ghost and its successor books, known collectively as the “Paladin of Shadows” series, are the source of the Oh John Ringo No meme, and will likely be found very offensive by all right-thinking people. Please don’t say I didn’t warn you.

        • unsafeideas says:

          It looks like run-of-the-mill homemade device. All homemade devices made by thinkers and alike looks pretty much like this. It seem to be his hobby, so the end result looked as ordinary to him as it does to me.

          If you immediately think about suitcase bomb as if reality would be old french movie, then it says more about you then about anybody else.

          I think that another aspect of this is that Americans look down or downright despise active hobbies, such as building electronic devices or gaming. People just can not see the most likely explanation – someone likes to build devices. Nope, there must be something nefarious behind it.

          Is tinkering really so so rare that people do not even know how does it look like? Maybe that is why it happened to son of refugee after all, maybe he was just not socialized into “homemade stuff and creating is highly suspicious and bad” attitude.

          • nyccine says:

            It looks like run-of-the-mill homemade device.

            No, it looks like a suitcase bomb. Try looking up some pictures of those and make a comparison. If the reports have any truth to them (and of course, they might not), the first teacher he showed it to appeared to have the right reaction – hey that’s pretty interesting, but I wouldn’t show that to anyone else because they’ll probably freak out – understandably so; as mentioned already, zero-tolerance policies trip up kids for far less than this regardless of race.

            Instead, kid goes flashing it around to every teacher he can, gets cops called on him. Given the history of zero-tolerance bullshit, there was no way the results don’t play out as they did. To argue, as #IStandWithAhmed does, that it is outrageous that this happened to this kid because of his ethnicity is to engage in special pleading – yes, we can arrest all the kids who write about a gun, or make finger gun gestures during play time, but only if they’re not a protected class?

          • unsafeideas says:

            @nyccine It looks like a suitcase bomb only if you equate electronic circuit inside a suitcase with a suitcase bomb. There is nothing bombish about it, it is just circuit and screen. There is even no bulky explosive looking thing inside it.

            And course kids goes around flashing it, he was proud. 14 able to build this by himself (I assume) has righteous reason to be proud, it was an achievement for 14 years old kid. Even adult who just started with electronics as a hobby would be proud.

            The “I wouldn’t show that to anyone else because they’ll probably freak out” is unbelievable even for me – if I would not see this story I would not believe student is expected to assume teachers (and cops) to be that stupid. There is no way to respect teachers and cops as a group if you simultaneously have to assume them to be caricatures of dumbness. Guess I was lucky, even worst of my teachers were smarter then that.

            The most shocking thing for me are people who find the whole situation understandable or expected. I through that zero-tolerance excesses I read about are excesses, not a normal course of things.

            The “similar dumbness is applied to white too” and “he was expected to know” does not make situation sound any better. It makes it sound worst, much worst, because it implies this is accepted way of dealing with a.) electronic circuits b.) students. As bad and horrible racist assumptions are, this way of dealing with problems being excused as normal because white could get it too is exactly as bad and maybe even more damaging in the long term.

            Edit: do people really assume real suitcase bomb to contain giant cheap countdown screen in them? Why would bomb maker waste effort on that part of project?

          • James Picone says:

            I have made simple breadboard electronics before. With a seven-segment display, even! It looks to me like wired-together homemade electronics in a suitcase.

            The version of the story I’ve heard, he shows it to the tech teacher, and then only shows it to anyone else when it starts beeping in English class and he has to turn it off.

            Funnily enough, most of the places where I’ve run into this were not particularly at home with the idea of kids getting in trouble for writing about guns or making finger-gun gestures. Neither am I. I still think that a DA notable for arguing about Sharia law indicting a 14-year-old for a hoax bombing over a homemade alarm clock, where the 14-year-old is a brown-skinned Muslim named Ahmed, maybe there’s a racial element there.

            I’m frankly amazed that anybody looks at this case and thinks the kid getting indicted was remotely reasonable, or that the kid is playing a political game. For fuck’s sake, were none of you tinkerers when you were young?

          • Randy M says:

            (I think this was indeed a big overreaction based on what I know, but…)

            “Edit: do people really assume real suitcase bomb to contain giant cheap countdown screen in them? Why would bomb maker waste effort on that part of project?”

            Have you seen a movie before??

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            No, it looks like a suitcase bomb.

            Only in that it’s in a suitcase.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Edward Scizorhands – “Only in that it’s in a suitcase.”

            You are correct. Outside the suitcase it would just look like a normal bomb.

            …Yes, it does not actually look like a real bomb looks. The problem is that it looks like what people THINK a bomb looks like. That is, what he made is a close match for the meme “suitcase time bomb” that we all have in our head from a million dumb action movies. exposed wires and circuitboards, bigass LED timer, flash metal briefcase. It’s missing the actual explosives, but those are frequently the least-dominant visual element anyway and the case itself substitutes for them.

            This clearly isn’t the student’s fault, and clearly is a moronic overreaction on the part of the school. On the other hand, they seemed to be accusing him of making a fake bomb rather than a real one, in effect blaming him for their own snap association.

            The school is at fault, but this is a known problem with gross overreaction on the part of school officials, not an example of racism.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think the zero-tolerance excesses you read about are more or less the normal course of things. The public school environment is an insane one.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Here’s a scenario where everyone was acting properly, but the sum added up different.

            Kid made a poor clock. Teacher complimented him but said don’t freak people out with it.

            Alarm went off. People freaked out. Per school regulations, a teacher called 911. Per police regulations the police had to come out. In a possible intended bombing, the suspect might have a gun up his sleeve as back-up, so they arrested the

          • unsafeideas says:

            @Randi M “Have you seen a movie before??”

            I have seen adults able to distinguish between movie and real life. In fact, it is one of basic expectations I have on adults. Thinking about it, most teenagers already can do it, so if adult uses “was in movie” either as an argument or to make conclusions about real world, then that adult really should not be a teacher or cop or any other occupation where you get to make decisions.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Yes, it is very uncommon, in a relative sense. There are a lot of electronics tinkerers (enough to evoke the Chinese Robber fallacy) but in absolute numbers they are rare.

            I once had an old computer lying around which I didn’t have any other use for, so I decided to use it for a media computer. I didn’t want it cluttering up the place, so I took a drawer out of the home media cabinet we had (it was a particle-board hand-me-down and I wasn’t worried about defacing it) and mounted the motherboard, power supply, and hard drive inside it. (Worked great.)

            It hadn’t occurred to me until just now, but if you had just looked at that drawer, not understanding what that stuff was, it would have been easy to think it was some kind of bomb or other dangerous device. Anybody who knew anything about electronics would have realized that a bomb doesn’t need an ATX motherboard, let alone an AC power supply and a hard drive, but “drawer full of electronics” is way outside most people’s understanding or evaluation ability.

          • James Picone says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            Some of the other computer science students at my uni did something similar when I was there, except they had all the bits loose hiding in a hollow trough between two tables in a CS lab that had a piece of wood lying on top of it (so it wasn’t visible unless you looked in).

            This was after 9/11. I think they did get in a little trouble over it when they started rickrolling people with it over the internal network, but the idea that it could have been a bomb never came up.

            Might have been because they were interacting with the CS department though.

        • Deiseach says:

          Steve, you know what your linked picture reminds me of? One of those cute Raspberry Pi “computer onna stick” things everyone is raving about.

          You’re assuming a geeky 14 year old boy is some radical Muslim game-player who is leveraging all this attention for nefarious reasons. I think that he’s what he claims to be: a geeky kid who is bright about maths and building gadgets and has very poor social skills. Now, unless he could forecast (with his supervillain genius abilities you allege he possesses) that the school would call in the police, who would handcuff him, and that this would get him a jumping-on-the-bandwagon invite from President Obama, I don’t see how he could expect to make social and political capital out of it.

          Provide me with evidence that his father and family have “taught his entire life that he has a legitimate grudge against the country where he lives because those stupid rednecks don’t realise that the future of Texas belongs to people with names like Ahmed Mohammed”. That’s pure conjecture on your part, unless you can back it up. And it does sound like the same kind of kneejerk racism that can’t distinguish a Sikh from an Arab and so beats up a man for being brown-skinned.

          Yes, I’m damn sensitive about Mad Bomber allegations because my nation are the Mad Bombers of popular ill-repute. There’s been a huge amount of over-reaction on both sides, and I think your country’s particular experience with students shooting up their schools affected what happened. But I think that surely the school could have handled this internally. If the police really thought this was a possible bomb, where were the bomb squad? Was the school evacuated? I’m not reading any of this in the media reports (and I’ve had personal experience of being in buildings where a bomb threat was called in – fortunately, all hoaxes – and how the police react). I see the cops handcuffing and taking him away, but nothing else.

          So yes, I do question: if he was Joe not Ahmad, would you say “He’s obviously an embittered schemer who cunningly played on gullible left-wing sentiment to achieve notoriety and profit”? Steve, I hope for better from you – this is the equivalent of the blithe assumptions I’ve seen by online Blue Tribe types that Kim Davis is going to be raking in millions raised by anti-gay rights groups, so she should be punitively fined and all that money go to the gay couples who she refused marriage licences – it makes them laugh to think of anti-gay bigots paying for gay marriages.

          • Jiro says:

            There’s a middle ground between “innocent” and “intended to be taken to the White House”. He may not have planned to be taken to the White House, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been trolling for reactions that could then be painted as Islamophobic. The 14 year olds on 4chan do this kind of thing every day.

          • Dirdle says:

            This. I mean, are we actually proposing an elaborate plot with many points of failure and nebulous yet nefarious political goals to explain a 14-year-old’s roughshod engineering? It may very well look like a bomb (I don’t think so, but then, I don’t think it looks like a clock, either, because it’s a nerdy kid’s clunky home project and the average nerdy kid takes the “who cares how it looks because it works” position), but that barely touches the prior here.

          • DensityDuck says:

            You fed the troll, bro. YHBT YHL HTH HAND

          • lunatic says:

            I agree it’s ridiculous to speculate about motivations based on the appearance of the clock. Who knows?

            However, in general, I regard clever 14 year-olds as capable of manipulating adults if they are obviously able to be manipulated. Many adults are, especially bureaucratic rule-bound environments such as schools.

          • Eli says:

            I just want to confirm from the perspective of someone who works with various uncased silicon boards on a daily basis that yes, Ahmed what’s-his-face’s clock in a suitcase actually looks like half the shit we have at work, which we’ll be shipping via Fedex tomorrow evening with no bomb accusations, real or fake, since we’re mostly white and professionals.

            We will then fly in planes to land at a hotel where hundreds upon hundreds of people will fuck around with silicon boards ALL AT THE SAME TIME, and STILL won’t get fucking arrested for it.

            Goddamnit America is fucking dumb.

          • Gbdub says:

            He literally disassembled an alarm clock and reassembled it into a metal briefcase. Nothing more (or less). He then set the alarm off in English class (the device used an AC plug, so I’m guessing he had to be messing with it deliberately, though it’s possible it has battery backup and it went off unintentionally)

            Having once been a tech inclined 14 year old in a post 9/11 world myself, believe, this kid probably knew what he was doing, and what people would think this would look like. That doesn’t make it all a huge plot, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the reaction, but c’mon. 14 year old boys don’t love and know how to execute pranks?

            When I was about the same age, our Quiz Bowl team had a set of buzzers that looked basically the same – a bunch of wires and buzzers stuffed in a plastic briefcase. Nobody called the cops, but we definitely got funny looks from anyone who didn’t know what it was. We were keenly aware of this and frequently joked about it.

            When we went on a trip to a national tournament, our coach carrying the case got searched/patted down/full-TSA treatment at every single airport. And we are all very very white.

            Does anyone actually doubt a kid trying to carry this on a plane (or into the White House uninvited) would have gotten a similar overreaction, regardless of color?

          • Garrett says:

            I’m familiar with electronics, though not clock innards.
            Would it be possible/reasonable that he might have taken a broken clock or related parts and fixed/combined them together? Eg. used a larger display than the control board was originally attached to?
            Combining parts from different things together is what I would have called an invention at 14.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          1. That thing really does look exactly like a hollywood movie suitcase bomb, right down to the obviously impractical multi-digit LED timer display.

          2. Absent actual evidence, speculation that the kid intended this as an elaborate ploy for positive attention is past embaressing.

          3. I am so very happy I was homeschooled years ago. Stories like this make me pretty sure I would not survive the modern school system.

          4. I guess this is the new blue/black vs white/gold dress problem?

        • Will S. says:

          Do you find it ironic that under a post about being skeptical of media stereotyping, you’re impugning the motives of a person you don’t know in a way that calling what you’ve written “unsubstantiated” is extremely charitable?

          At least the cherry-picking journalists are (usually) reporting on things that actually happened. What you’re engaging in pure fantasy.

        • Randy M says:

          I thought this was a pretty unlikely scenario, though I have to update that a bit after reading this:
          At the least we can assume the child feels Muslims are persecuted and has some political awareness.
          I still doubt that makes him that Machiavellian.

          • g says:

            “Obama lookalike”? Obama and Mohamed look pretty much completely unalike to me, even making allowance for the difference in age. Different shape of face. Different eyes. Different mouth. Different nose. Different ears. [EDITED to add:] One wears very prominent glasses, the other rarely wears any.

            Is it possible that skin colour is so salient to Steve Sailer that if that matches nothing else matters?

            (Not that even the skin colour is actually so very similar, so far as I can judge from the pictures I’ve seen. But that might just be the result of differences in lighting.)

          • Randy M says:

            Eh, ignore that part. I don’t think I’ve seen the kids picture, so I can’t comment there. You’re welcome to ask him next time he posts. I think the second part is the interesting bit.

          • jtgw says:

            Steve’s insinuation seems to be that the kid’s dad got his case into the news, and nobody would have cared about it otherwise. As for me, I’m currently using it to confirm all my libertarian biases about public education.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          “The Cops and Robber’s Game”
          by Orson Scott, top cardiologist

        • merzbot says:

          You are literally making shit up.

        • James Picone says:

          I’d also like to point out that if Ahmed was genuinely trolling – he went “I’m going to make something that looks like a bomb but is harmless and get in trouble for it, proving that Americans are racist”, doesn’t he kind of have a point?

          This is a strategy that only works if the school officials do actually massively overreact to this kind of thing. It doesn’t prove that they only do it to Muslims, of course, but other than that it’s pretty effective.

          We can all agree that the kid didn’t do anything illegal, yes? Can we also agree that he didn’t do anything immoral?

          FWIW, when I was 16 and in my first year in university one of my projects for electronics 1 was to build an electronic die out of a LM555 timer, some chip I don’t remember to count, a single-digit 7-segment display, and logic to drive the display. On a breadboard. It was messy, wires everywhere, a couple of chips, a 9V battery loosely attached, a little display, and a button. Even coloured wires! Lots of them! If Ahmed’s clock looked like a movie bomb, this looked like a movie bomb.

          I definitely worked with it in not-obviously-electronics contexts, and I certainly never got any weird looks over it, let alone police attention.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @James Picone – “I’d also like to point out that if Ahmed was genuinely trolling – he went “I’m going to make something that looks like a bomb but is harmless and get in trouble for it, proving that Americans are racist”, doesn’t he kind of have a point?”

            Except for the racism part, yes. I’m all for people exposing the schizophrenic nature of the modern educational system, but the main problem is how this is getting spun as evidence of racism, rather than evidence that our school systems are a dystopian incarcerationist nightmare.

            for reference on the racism angle, here’s an example that involved no visible race at all:

            [EDIT] – Hell, let’s quote a bit:

            “After the devices were removed, the Boston Police Department stated in their defense that the ad devices shared “some characteristics with improvised explosive devices,” which they said included an “identifiable power source, a circuit board with exposed wiring, and electrical tape.” Investigators were not mollified by the discovery that the devices were not explosive in nature, stating they still intended to determine “if this event was a hoax or something else entirely.” Although city prosecutors eventually concluded there was no ill intent involved in the placing of the ads, the city continues to refer to the event as a “bomb hoax” (implying intent) rather than a “bomb scare.””

            [EDIT 2] – When I was young, I took two actual fake bombs, a half-dozen fake guns, over a dozen fixed- and folding-blade knives, a book on assault weapons, and a machette with me to summer camp. While there, I recieved a deactivated hand hand grenade from my parents as a birthday present. At my counseler’s prompting, I used the two fake bombs and one of the more realistic-looking toy guns to stage a mad bomber/hostage prank that convinced one of the female counselers that I was going to blow her and her campers up. I didn’t get in trouble, much less get the police called. It was all treated as good fun.

            The world we grew up in is not the world we live in now.

          • James Picone says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            I agree that this doesn’t necessarily prove that the administrators of that school and the local DA are racist. I do think it’s weak evidence of that.

            I guess this is the point where I admit that I’m reasonably young and September 11 happened a few years before I was at university. I vaguely recall that we were still getting adverts about the terrorism hotline the government set up after that attack, noting that “if you see something, you should say something”. To the best of my knowledge, nobody seemed to find this white person alarming when he was fiddling around with electronics in a public place. The world I grew up in doesn’t quite exist any more (I still predate wide internet availability, for example), but fear of terrorism and Western countries going to war in the Middle East were features of my teenage years.

            I’m not American, though, and schools over here (and universities) have not gone anywhere near as far down the zero-tolerance rabbit-hole as the ones I’m seeing people describe here. At least, not the schools and university I went to.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @James Picone – “I guess this is the point where I admit that I’m reasonably young and September 11 happened a few years before I was at university.”

            Oh god I’m old. OLD! Please excuse me as I transform to a desicated skeleton and collapse into dust before your eyes. (I would guess about five years difference; the bomb prank happened in the mid 90s. For the record, I pegged you as 40s-ish, probably bearded and glasses.)

            “I’m not American, though, and schools over here (and universities) have not gone anywhere near as far down the zero-tolerance rabbit-hole as the ones I’m seeing people describe here. At least, not the schools and university I went to.”

            This is probably a big part of it. The education system over here is… unique.

      • James Picone says:

        I don’t think the school/police officials actually thought it was a bomb – if it was they presumably would have called the bomb squad in and evacuated the building.

        The argument being made is that it looks enough like a bomb that it could be used as a hoax – so obviously the kid was planning on hiding it under a car and calling in a hoax bomb threat (See, for example, Steve Johnson’s paranoid fantasy above about how it was clearly intended to look like a bomb instead of like any old piece of homemade electronics).

        Of course they rather spoil that by admitting that the kid never claimed it was a bomb, and, in fact, said it was an alarm clock the entire way through.

        I think you’re right, he wouldn’t have provoked this much of an overreaction if he was white and named Joe.

        • Deiseach says:

          Steve, this is for you: the Old Alarm Clock (inspired by the IRA bombing campaign of the 30s). This is the kind of music that was played in Ireland when I was eleven (not in the 30s!) 🙂

          When first I came to London in the year of ’39
          The City looked so wonderful and the girls were so divine
          But the coppers got suspicious and they soon gave me the knock.
          I was charged with being the owner of an old alarm clock.

          Oh next morning down by Marylebone Street I caused no little stir,
          The IRA were busy and the telephones did burr.
          Said the judge, “I’m going to charge you with the possession of this machine
          And I’m also going to charge you with the wearin’ of the green.”

          And said I to him, “Your honour, if you give me half a chance,
          I’ll show you how me small machine can make the peelers dance.
          It ticks away politely till you get an awful shock
          And it ticks awake the gelignite of the old alarm clock.”

          Said the judge, “Now listen here, me man, and I’ll tell you all me plan.
          For you and all your countrymen I do not give a damn.
          The only time you’ll take is mine ten years in Dartmoor dock
          And you can count it by the ticking of your old alarm clock.”

          Now this lonely Dartmoor city would put many in the jigs.
          The cell it isn’t pretty and it isn’t very big.
          Sure I’d long ago have left the place if I’d have only got,
          Ah, me couple of sticks of gelignite and the old alarm clock.

        • Jiro says:

          He wouldn’t have been offered a trip to the White House if he was white and had been named Joe. But it’s not hard to find examples of white children and teenagers who were treated as harshly, including the one given child pornography charges for a picture of himself and the student arrested for writing a story where he kills a dinosaur with a gun. (At least I assume they are white, since the stories don’t mention the race.)

          • Adam says:

            The NC kids had their names published elsewhere. They were black.

          • It occurs to me that there is one part of the story we may be able to get evidence on. Most of the news stories, and an interview with the boy’s father, make him out to be a technologically precocious kid who built a clock. According to one of the commenters here, on the other hand, he simply took the innards of an old clock out of their case and put them in a briefcase.

            If that’s true—I’m guessing there are more people here who know enough about such things to judge—it doesn’t tell us whether he was engaged in some elaborate plot, but it does suggest that he was doing it to get attention, not to show off actual engineering talent.

            I cannot resist mentioning that my elder son, when in high school, brought in a bottle of small mead made from a 17th c. recipe to show people—I presume other kids, not teachers—and ended up suspended for a while.

          • unsafeideas says:

            @David Friedman “it does suggest that he was doing it to get attention, not to show off actual engineering talent.”

            1.) The two are one and the same. People show off engineering talent because they want to get attention.

            2.) This boils down to whether 14 years old pretended to be better in electronics then he is in the worst case. It is possible of course, but irrelevant. Kids who brag over stuff they did not done deserve to be told flat out it is dishonest and other bla, they do not deserve to be arrested.

            3.) All hobbyists tend scavenger old devices for usable parts, so we would need to know more about what exactly he took from old clock and did if we were to judge his actual engineering talent.

          • Gbdub says:

            @unsafeideas – I think the point is that he took a clock and turned it into… a clock. But in a case that conveniently triggers stupid Hollywood memes about bombs.

            Yes, every hobbyist scrounges parts, and stuffs their projects into anything handy and reasonably sturdy. But is it really that implausible that an clever 14 year old boy would deliberately make a project look a bit suspicious and then play innocent for a reaction? It seems at least as plausible as leaping to the conclusion that it would have been ignored completely if he weren’t named Ahmed.

          • unsafeideas says:

            @Gbdub I honestly think that if “triggers stupid Hollywood memes about bombs” is enough to cause real world reaction up to arrest then a.) you should really really revise your school policies and the way you choose both administrators and cops b.) you shall stop calling yourself land of free (and brave for that matter).

            I mean both points in all seriousness. “We know it is not bomb, it is clear, but it looks like what someone basing his world knowledge on movies would consider bomb” should not be a base for administrative overreaction nor arrest in any sane place. It is not just that you can not do bomb prank, it is one more meta level – you can not do something that could look like bomb prank to someone who does not know difference between real world and a movie.

            Except that adults know and should not know the difference.

            If it is possible to trigger overreaction that easily, then the problem is in the system. And by problem I mean huge important problem of system being crazy.

          • CJB says:

            ” you can not do something that could look like bomb prank to someone who does not know difference between real world and a movie.”

            That’s the same thing. I’m sorry but the whole “Oh, REAL LIFE BOMBS don’t typically look like they do on TV” is the sort of knowledge that is universal among people who read TVtropes and maybe cracked- which is to say, a small fraction of the under 30 set.

            Out in the real world saying things like “Oh that doesn’t look like a REAL bomb, I know what REAL BOMBS look like” is going to get you extraordinarily funny looks, if not some quiet FBI questioning.

            In general parlance “Telling the difference between real life and the movies” means things like “No, chasing women through airports isn’t romantic.”- IE, recognizing the social conventions involved with general real life situations.

            This causes problems in other places- such as people rescuing people from cars they’re afraid are going to blow up because movies, and causing further injury. Pretending that the people who at the very least, thought they were endangering themselves extremely to help strangers are just stupid morons who think life is just like the Tee-Vee seems….ungracious.

            More to the point-

            You’re sitting in an airport. An alarm goes off. You look up as a well dressed young white woman (probably the least likely terrorist group per capita) pulls out a metal briefcase, filled with wires and some sort of big red display, fiddles with it, and puts it away.

            And your only reaction is “well, bombs only have big red displays in the MOVIES!”?

            Better nerves than me, boyo.

            More to the point, however- student has a weird, vaguely threatening electronic device in a suitcase. He isn’t shipping it out under a formal company label, like one example upthread. he isn’t in technology class, he’s in english.

            The teacher reacted the only way she was ALLOWED to react- actually, she did the bare minimum she possibly could under any circumstance- confiscated the object and called in higher authority. They did the ONLY thing they’re allowed to do….and so on.

            The english teacher didn’t think it was a bomb. She thought it was some sort of weird disruptive teenage thing leading to disruption- for which standard, required procedure is “call the principal.”

            The principal sees something that looks like a thing made to look like a bomb- IE, to cause a bomb scare- something that teenagers are more than capable of doing, and as a matter of fact, do fairly often (we had a few bomb scares during my tenure in high school, usually around finals time). So therefore, he calls in the school resource officer (A cop stationed in high school) who calls in and so on and so forth.

            A system that forbids common sense gets these results- see “people expelled for having asprin”.

          • Gbdub says:

            @CJB excellent post. Indeed, we’ve created a system where “zero tolerance” is the only allowed reaction.

            @unsafeideas – I agree that this system is stupid and absurd. You do have to realize the incentives though – the upshot of “zero tolerance” for schools is that if you don’t have to make a decision, you can’t get sued (” I was just following the policy you all cheered when we implemented it after some far away tragedy”)

            So I’m not disagreeing with the idea that this was a stupid overreaction. I am only objecting to the idea that a) racism was necessarily the deciding or even most important factor and b) that Ahmed had no idea what he was doing (it was a stupid overreaction, but a predictable one).

      • nydwracu says:

        And yes, unfortunately, the question does have to be asked: if his name was not Ahmad but Joe, would the cops have been called in for the same events?


        • Nornagest says:

          This is probably better seen as a stochastic question than a binary one, and I’m willing to believe that an unjustified bomb scare might be somewhat more likely to attach itself to a dude named Ahmad.

          But yeah, American public schools are more than capable of manufacturing idiotic zero-tolerance shitshows whether race is an issue or not.

      • DrBeat says:

        When I first saw this story, I was torn. On the one hand, any story that blows up on social media and presses Social Justice Outrage Buttons is going to turn out to have been a lie to get attention. On the other hand, the incompetence and malice-incompetence of school administrators cannot be overstated.

        So I held off judgment. After learning that A: the “homemade clock” was, all of the insides of a functional alarm clock purchased from a store and transferred to a briefcasey-looking thing that gave it no functionality or utility, and B: the kid tahnked the Twitter outpouring of support by saying “I didn’t think that people would care about a muslim boy” (like “I’m asleep”, this is a not a sentence that can be said truthfully; if you have the political awareness to frame this as an issue of you being a muslim at all you know exactly what was going to happen on social media), I think I got a handle on it:

        School administrators were incompetent and malicious-incompetent. Ahmed, knowing this, took actions he knew would provoke the incompetent school administrators to action that would be outraging, and then lied about his motivations for doing so, in order to get attention.

        There never was a contradiction at all!

    • youzicha says:

      I guess this can be used for good though. Particularly the Black Lives Matter campaign seems very successful. It seems clear that there is a problem with American police being much too violent (compare how often American and Western European police officers use their guns). But there is no natural coalition to oppose “the police”, so there is no way to change this. On the other hand, there is lots of political infrastructure for organizing for Black causes. So focusing on police violence specifically against black people is actually much more effective (even though the set of victims is smaller in absolute numbers), and the various proposals like have body cameras will benefit all of us (including Black people).

      Similarly, everyone who has been to high school should know how aweful they are, but how could you change that? The Ahmed case seems like it could finally bring some awareness to the “maybe don’t be completely terrible to technical high-school students” issue, which should again benefit all technical HS students.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Is BLM successful? By the metric of “raising awareness,” sure, but by the metric of “reducing the number of murdered blacks,” they don’t seem to be doing so well.

        I’m skeptical that this current case will help any with the problem of public school students being treated like inmates, which has been going on for decades. More likely it will lead to the kind of “give Muslims special exemptions, and be more willing to look the other way for them” that produces Rotherhams. The next time a white kid is arrested for using the word “gun,” I’d bet progressives go right back to ignoring these cases.

        • brad says:

          Re: BLM

          It’s too early to tell. But there’s at least a chance that it will overcome the problem of concentrated interests versus diffuse interests that youzicha points out. When no one is paying attention things like civilian review boards go absolutely nowhere. When the fickle public turns its attention to an issue changes can be made that last even after the public turns away.

        • Leonard says:

          BLM are activists in democracy. The metric that matters to them is power. And they are doing pretty well by that score.

          by the metric of “reducing the number of murdered blacks,”

          Why would you think they care about that? They don’t say they do.

          • g says:

            I’d say the slogan “black lives matter” itself says they do.

            (Whether they actually do is another matter. But it’s obviously false to say they don’t even claim to.)

          • Leonard says:

            g, I would say the interpretation of a hashtag of three words is not obvious. Yes, one can certainly read “BLM” as them saying “blacks shouldn’t murder other blacks so much”. But one can also read it as “blacks deserve equal justice”. As well as many other readings.

            There are two things we can do to attempt to find out what they actually stand for. The easier one is to just go and read what they have to say. That’s why I said “say they do”. I googled and read and listened. Black-on-black-murder is not among their concerns. (Link.)

            The other thing we can look at is what they actually do, i.e. who they target with protests. Certainly they are targeting high profile politicians, particularly Democrats, for protests of various kinds. They are not targeting black community leaders, at least to my knowledge. Although in that case, I would probably be ignorant.

          • Eugien_Nier says:

            @Leonard, well if you want to look at their behaviour, BLM seems to mean the right of blacks to hold up convinience stores and attack cops without having to wory about the possibility that the cop might shoot them.

            What we have here, is pretty clearly a mote-and-bailey position and the mote is to take “black live matter” litterally.

          • Nita says:

            @ Eugien_Nier

            Didn’t Scott ask you to go away?

          • Nita says:

            @ Eugien_Nier

            Since you’re still here, perhaps you could satisfy my curiosity. What motivated first the mass downvotes on LW, and now this?

            Do you feel like you’re fighting the good fight, which is more important than some petty community norms? Or do you believe that rules are for losers anyway?

          • Eugien_Nier says:

            and now this?

            What do you mean by “this”? Do you find the quality of my arguments against the BLM people and SJW’s more generarly threatening or something, that you feel the need to go running to daddy to make them stop?

          • g says:

            I wasn’t claiming that “black lives matter” means “black people shouldn’t kill one another so often”. I was claiming that it means something like “black people shouldn’t be killed so often” or perhaps more precisely “black people shouldn’t be killed so often by people who act like they care only about white people’s lives”.

            The fact that the BLM people are targeting white people rather than black people doesn’t mean they don’t want to reduce the number of murdered black people. It means they want to reduce the number of black people murdered in one particular class of ways (i.e., by recklessly unconcerned white people).

            That may turn out to be ineffective, or counterproductive. That still doesn’t mean they don’t care about reducing the number of black people who get murdered.

            It might predictably be ineffective or counterproductive. (E.g., perhaps anyone who really understands this stuff could look at the situation and predict that starting such a movement would result in more violence in which black people would die, and a net loss of lives.) That still wouldn’t mean the people involved don’t care about how many black people get murdered, it would just mean that they didn’t understand the situation right.

          • Nita says:

            @ Eugien_Nier

            By “this” I mean staying around after you’ve been asked to leave (only if you’re doing it intentionally, of course).

        • Zorgon says:

          I don’t agree with the reaction on much, but one thing I can’t bring myself to disagree with is that the actions of a lot of movements make a good deal more sense if you add “obtain lucrative speaking engagements and book deals” to their stated list of objectives.

          (For non-left-wing examples, see basically everything Ann Coulter and the rest of the neocons did in the 00s.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I suppose what this has done is raise awareness that the state of the art in the USA is “This being the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free, we are going to assume that our students – from age 14 up – are all capable of, and will probably attempt to, murder their fellow-students and teachers via knife, gun or bomb. So be prepared to be handcuffed and treated as an adult by the cops when you come to be educated. Also, everyone needs a permission slip in triplicate from their parents to be given a paracetamol if they cut off their fingers in wood-work class: drugs are dangerous!”

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Pretty much.

          You’ll note that, generally speaking, “education” has been the near-exclusive posession and favored laboratory for the Progressive movement.

          • Stav Gold says:

            That is an interesting point. Can it explain the series of nationally endemic disenfranchisements that progs believe occur and collectively refer to as the “school-to-prison pipeline”?

          • Eli says:

            Well no, it can’t do that, but in certain sections of the internet, apparently including Scott’s comments pages, “the Progressives!” is equivalent to “the Jews!” in its power to explain any nefarious scheme or undesirable world-state, or even imagination of an undesirable world-state, whatsoever.

        • Randy M says:

          Come now, is there really much more pregressive, however defined, than the education system?

          • Nornagest says:

            If you’re looking at the fraction of Democratic votes among education professionals, then it’s more progressive than anything short of a Tumblr convention or a protest march against McDonalds.

            But if you’re looking at actual institutional culture, then I wouldn’t be so sure: strip away all the fights over New Math or vouchers or what have you and you’re left with an establishment that’s all about dealing with children, and that tends to spark weird hyperprotective signaling games given half a chance. I don’t think the dynamics around that map neatly onto the rest of politics, even if it’s a favorite liberal talking point.

      • Pku says:

        Also, even if the comment was mostly made due to race and so forth, the president saying “cool homemade clock, can I check it out?” is kind of a nice endorsement for people doing cool nerdy stuff at home.

        • Gbdub says:

          Except that it was pretty clearly a naked political ploy, much like the “summit” with the black Harvard professor who loudly broke into his house late at night and was outraged when police showed up. That does take some of the shine off.

          And I’d like to see (not really) what the Secret Service would do to a kid who showed up with such a clock on a White House tour…

    • Dan Simon says:

      To me, *all* the stories about school discipline running amok and imposing draconian punishments for innocuous acts are instances of the “Chinese robber” phenomenon. The number of students unfairly punished for minor offenses in American schools is orders of magnitude smaller than the number severely harmed daily–bullied, assaulted, robbed, or simply prevented from learning–as a result of chaotic, undisciplined school environments where students are free to be as disruptive and violent as they please without fear of consequences. But the idea that schools are ruthlessly repressive, soul-crushing institutions ruled with an iron fist by fanatical martinets appeals greatly to the anti-authoritarian strain that runs strong in American culture. So instead of hearing about the many thousands of children terrorized daily in dysfunctional schools, with no hope of getting a decent education, we instead hear about the extremely rare cases of kids suspended for something obviously harmless. This allows us to comfort ourselves with the ridiculous-but-seductive thought that all our schoolchildren need to become safer and happier is a bit more freedom from rules and discipline.

      • Pku says:

        I can say from my own experience (which is both anecdotal and not even from an american school), that these are in no way contradictory. I got suspended a lot in high school, mostly for trivial offences (once the teachers assume you’re a troublemaker, it doesn’t take much to set them off), which was always followed by an obligatory “correctional conversation”. All these ever did was convince me that the system was set against me and that I had no incentive to play by its rules. In other words, what discipline there was achieved the exact opposite of its stated purpose.
        The only two cases I can think of that did work were the cases involving teachers who actually talked to me as a person instead of blindly following protocol. I don’t know if it’s generalizable – but if you want to use punishment, you need to make sure it’s fairly and consistently applied (which also has the implication that you can’t make it too harsh; if your policy is expulsion for any violent behavior, you’ll probably end up looking for excuses to avoid doing it unless you really dislike the student).
        The issue is that the pressure on schools is not so much to actually fix problems as to look like they’re doing a lot about them. Hence the occasional school shootings cause a ridiculously disproportionate amount of preparation, and schools just end up employing flashy, expensive methods that not only do no good but actively do harm (DARE is the classical example here).
        TL;DR: the problem isn’t that schools aren’t fighting hard enough, it’s that they’re doing it in stupid ways.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Doesn’t sound at all strange, any more than the high rates of crime in police states. When you have a powerful and unaccountable police establishment it’s not implausible that they’ll choose to focus on the most harmless “criminals.” After all, the real bad guys have *guns*!

        But that aside, you make an excellent point that kids in chaotic inner city schools are the ones who suffer the most and they’re suffering from a lack of discipline, not the other way around.

        • Dan Simon says:

          It’s not just inner city schools. Plenty of public schools in working- or middle-class neighborhoods have teachers and administrations that are too lazy, incompetent or politicized to enforce basic norms of behavior, allowing aggressive or disruptive students plenty of leeway to make everyone else’s lives miserable. If there aren’t enough engaged parents to complain, or enough parents are more concerned about their neighborhood’s reputation than about their children’s well-being, then nothing ever gets done about these schools. And journalists know that nobody really wants to hear about *that* problem, which is far too commonplace (quite possibly even applicable to the audience’s own neighborhood school), lacks an unusual, distinctive villain or victim, and goes against everyone’s romantic belief in the evils of strict discipline.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            The child of someone I know was stabbed in the ear by another child in my fairly well-to-do suburb’s elementary school. Admittedly, it was with a pencil, but had the attacker’s aim been better, I tend to think that a pencil pushed into your auditory canal with great force could have Bad Results.

            Nothing was done, “zero tolerance” notwithstanding. Apparently the attacker’s parents treat any attempt to punish their child for anything as racial harassment, and have a lawyer who works cheap. I was tempted to tell the victim’s parents to tell the school that so do they, but a) I didn’t find out about it until quite some time had passed and b) my child also goes to school in this suburb and is very much at the mercy of the people who run it.

            (The motive for the attack, by the way, was retribution for the victim’s having asked for help with being bullied.)

      • unsafeideas says:

        It is false dichotomy. The choice is not between complete anarchy and complete authoritarianism. It is perfectly possible to create authoritarian environment with strong enforcement of petty rules in which nobody learns and bullying still runs rampant.

        Rules and discipline must be reasonable in order to make education better. Punishing kids for drawn guns does nothing against real physical fights and nothing against class disruptions. All it does is a.) makes you lose respect b.) role models wrong lessons about use of power.

        Moreover, school rules themselves wont solve problems of school full of kids from difficult environment. They can make situation worst or better, but they are no magic.

        • Dan Simon says:

          I agree that the same schools where draconian punishments are weirdly imposed for innocuous acts may in fact be schools where everyday discipline is completely neglected. But that simply reinforces my point that the far more important and ubiquitous problem is being ignored in favor of shining the spotlight on the rare, more minor one.

          And yes, good discipline in schools isn’t a panacea. But it’s a prerequisite for solving the main problem that schools actually *can* potentially solve: that of providing a safe, effective educational environment for those children willing and prepared to take advantage of it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Punishments for innocuous acts are not rare, and it’s not clear how much more minor they are. It’s rarer that it gets to the point where the police drag you off, but this sort of insanity is common in school “discipline”.

            And I don’t think you understand the crucial point – insane discipline is not good discipline, and it actually harms the safe educational environment, both directly, and through exploitability by villains (if the teachers will harass you over little things, it becomes easy to frame you as a form of bullying), and through generally increasing the hatefulness of the environment (people respond to being put into an insane society by becoming villains just to have some control over their lives).

          • unsafeideas says:

            Punishments are weirdly imposed for innocuous acts make overall discipline worst not better. First thing it does is to lower respect for authorities pretty much to zero. They can have fear, but not respect. Which means that their orders/wishes are not respected any time kids think they wont get caught – and you do not have enough teachers and admins to survey every single place and interaction.

            Second thing it does is that bullies start abusing rules against their victims. It is too easy.

            Third thing it does is that admin is overwhelmed with minor infractions and does not have time to solve larger problems.

            Fourth thing it does is that good students punished harshly for minor things and controlled too much become worst not better. They will misbehave out of stress, out of hating the place, out of feeling it is all unfair and out of being controlled by admins with a lot of power and no respect.

    • At a tangent from the main discussion of the clock/bomb case …

      I put up a post on my blog yesterday inspired by one of the comments here. In the opinion of a number of apparently well informed people (the comment here and some on my blog post), he didn’t make a clock. He took an old clock and transferred its innards from the case to a box.

      There’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t justify the presentation of the kid as some sort of engineering prodigy—which both his father and the media did. It’s well within the range of what an ordinary kid who likes to tinker with things could do.

      Which I take as one example of the most consistent bias in the media—towards making something into a good story.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        I think the pictures are entirely consistent with assembling a kit, which still isn’t engineering prodigy level, but it is a major step up.

        And it would provide a plausible reason for putting it in a suitcase. I am insanely lazy, but my money is on being able to find at least a dozen kits within 5 minutes with Google that are advertised something like “Build a clock! Learn to solder! Express your creativity by putting the clock you built yourself into a whimsical case! (Case not included.)”

        Do we have any evidence that it was just the innards from an already functional clock stuck in a different case?

        And even still, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with expressing your creativity by sticking a clock in unusual objects. Like ye olde timey radio, or a goldfish tank, or something. That’s, like, serious art shit right there. In fact, sticking a clock in a briefcase seems exactly the sort of “practical” thing a teenager would think of. Because, you know, its nice to know the time wherever you happen to be….

      • Andy Hallman says:

        @David Friedman said “Which I take as one example of the most consistent bias in the media—towards making something into a good story.”

        So true. I work in the media and I constantly have to fight the urge to do this. Sometimes, leaving out certain facts makes for a cleaner, simpler story, which is what we want to give readers, but we have to balance that against the fact it’s dishonest.

  2. Vhgs says:

    Florida man drives hovercraft into restaurant, naked, yells that florida men are no more likely to do weird stuff than anyone else.

  3. suntzuanime says:

    Well, that’s all very logical and reasonable, but I’m pretty sure on an emotional level I’m still a little less willing to trust cardiologists than I was before reading this post.

    • Urstoff says:

      I feel like studies have been done on this subject: even after people learn that information or impressions are false, they still retain the prejudice. Of course, those studies might very well fall into the black hole of bad social psychology, so who knows.

    • Zorgon says:

      Same here. Is this perhaps one o’ them cognitohazard wotsits, then?

    • Alrenous says:

      Most overcompensate. Remembering that time they were prejudiced, they attribute all distrust of e.g. cardiologists to the prejudice. End up acting more trusting.

      In any case, if it does in fact work on you, it’s worth sacrificing this one group for the sake of guarding all the others.

  4. Steve Johnson says:

    Other than that, no one has ever made the claim that there’s any systemic problem with cardiologists, and as far as I know there’s no evidence for such.

    Dr Michael Eades makes the argument that cardiologists routinely over-prescribe statins which are actually harmful because they get benefits from the pharmaceutical industry in the form of vacations and prostitutes (I mean “pharmaceutical sales reps”).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There were times when this sort of thing was very plausible, but it’s actually pretty hard to get decent pharmaceutical benefits these days. There are a lot of relevant laws and they can’t give anything worth more than I think $50 or so, and even then it’s tough. The best you can hope for is being invited to a nice-but-not-too-nice dinner.

      The last time I looked into statins I didn’t get the impression they were outrageously overprescribed. And even if you think they are, you could make an equally good case for any other medical field and their favorite drugs (eg psychiatrists and SSRIs)

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Not arguing the underlying point.

        I was providing an example of someone who claims there is a systemic problem with cardiologists. Your claim was that no one claimed a systemic problem with cardiologists.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Then I amend it to “no one claiming cardiologists have more of a systemic problem than everyone else.”

      • Murphy says:

        Actually Ben Goldacre goes into this in quite some detail and how they get around these kinds of rules.

        Imagine a population of doctors. They’re, quite reasonably, going to have varying feelings about the effectiveness of some drug. Some are going to think it’s totally over hyped, some are going to honestly believe it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

        One of the mechanisms the companies use is that the pharma companies can sponsor “educational” events where lots of doctors who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread are invited to give talks and introduced to the crowd with descriptions like “one of the top” attached to their title.

        The doctors can be giving their honest opinion but the overall effect is that doctors who proscribe lots and are willing to say that the drug is awesome get their signals boosted, get invited to lots of career-boosting events, introduced to lots of other high-status people in the profession and get paid lots of speaking fees while the doctors who think the drug isn’t great don’t get these things.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Yes, see http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/02/17/pharma-virumque/

          But they can’t just say “prescribe my drug and we’ll take your family to Hawaii” anymore.

          • Deiseach says:

            But if they sponsor a conference on “Heart Health” and have ‘top in their field’ speakers promoting their new drug, and wine and dine the conference attendees, and put all their names into the raffle for “Top prize of family holiday to Hawaii plus other desirable prizes” and give everyone a goodie bag with luxury fol-de-rols and there’s a free bar for the last night – well, that’s not “prescribe our drug and here’s your bung”, is it? No, it’s all legitimate business expenses on both sides 🙂

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Wasn’t that always illegal? Anyhow, illegal things happen. Maybe not in the midwest, but they happen.

    • Irenist says:

      prostitutes (I mean “pharmaceutical sales reps”).

      Um, I knew they were supposed to be really good looking, but I thought the effect was just on that level–here’s this attractive person who will be nice to you. Am I crazy naïve here? Like, are they actually schtupping the doctors to get sales? Never even occurred to me.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The Last Psyciatrist denies that drug reps are particularly good looking:

        If you saw them in a bar you might not even notice them, but in a doctor’s office their appearance is jarring, out of place, no one else has such attention to their appearance. No one else is as young. No one else walks with such confidence.

        Here is a story or two about sex for scripts. But I don’t think they’re supposed to be typical. I found this when the author commented on Overcoming Bias.

  5. nico says:

    If you had only stopped at section 1, you could have finally landed your dream job at Vox dot com.

    (Pop quiz: how many articles does Vox have?)
    (Second pop quiz: how many neutral or pro-gun articles did I skip when making this list?)

    • Mike says:

      Pro-gun? Having regularly read Vox I would guess… 1? 😉

    • Richard says:

      Those articles are the exact opposite of what this post is criticizing. The first one is “Gun violence in America, in 17 maps and charts”. The very first chart on that page gives the U.S. rate of homicides by firearm per million people as compared to other countries. The next one brings up the an incident for exactly one sentence in the article, and then brings the conversation back to statistics and nation-wide trends as compared to other countries. These aren’t “here’s an example of a cardiologist committing a crime, and, oh look, here’s another example” stories; they’re “here’s a study that found that crime rates were higher at cardiology conferences than any other type of conference”.

      A lot of these links don’t even have a tangential connection to argument by anecdote, and are specifically reporting on the exact kind of aggregated studies this post is advocating for: this one’s about a study on the correlation between firearm ownership and cops killed by homicide; this examines the percentage of violent shootings committed by the mentally ill; and this is about studies on the danger from rubber bullets. I have no idea why you’d put them in your list, unless you think anyone arguing against gun violence in any form must be committing this fallacy. You can disagree with those studies if you want, but they aren’t guilty of the Chinese Robber fallacy. Your eagerness to dismiss all anti-gun pieces as doing this, even those that do exactly what you would hope for an article to do, makes me skeptical of your ability (or desire) to fairly evaluate this issue.

      More generally, this is something that Ezra Klein has himself talked about recently, and he came down strongly on the side of pointing out important overall trends that can be supported by data rather than single events:

      Cecil’s death was not, in the scheme of things, a particularly important news story. But it generated an intense, unusual interest in stories about how human beings treat animals that could be used to focus attention on important stories that weren’t news that day — stories about animal cruelty, and wildlife conservation, and the ethics of mob justice. These topics are, in my view, a whole lot more important than much of what counts as news on a given day.

  6. Steve Johnson says:

    If we’re really concerned about media bias, we need to think about Chinese Robber Fallacy as one of the media’s strongest weapons. There are lots of people – 300 million in America alone. No matter what point the media wants to make, there will be hundreds of salient examples. No matter how low-probability their outcome of interest is, they will never have to stop covering it if they don’t want to.

    You can use this same logic to disprove the narrative on a bunch of issues.

    If every campus rape case that gets publicized is a hoax or a fraud, then the campus rape narrative is a lie.

    If every time a black man is killed by a white man it turns out the black guy was in the middle of committing a felony and had a track record of committing felonies then the “racist whites murder black bodies” narrative is a lie.

    After all, since it’s such a large country if the phenomena were real then real examples could be found, right?

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Not well though and not really consistently with the argument here.

        In the same way, publicizing how strongly you believe an accusation that is obviously true signals nothing. Even hard-core anti-feminists would believe a rape accusation that was caught on video. A moral action that can be taken just as well by an outgroup member as an ingroup member is crappy signaling and crappy identity politics. If you want to signal how strongly you believe in taking victims seriously, you talk about it in the context of the least credible case you can find.

        So feminists seek out the worst examples they can find and trumpet them. Sabrina Erdely went out to do some investigation, turned up dozens of credible cases to choose from (your argument here), picked the most unbelievable one she could find because she knew it wasn’t credible (your previous argument), didn’t even investigate to make sure it was a hoax (she’d want to ensure she found a hoax so she’d clearly want to check up and make sure it was a hoax, right?), got caught, and instead of saying “well, I have dozens of other examples” (which you argue here wouldn’t even prove the case about campus rapes because there are large number of men and women in college) she first insisted it was true then apologized instead of following your script of doubling down. It almost seems like she was trying to find the best case she could then was embarrassed and disappointed when it wasn’t true.

        • Murphy says:

          The fact that you’ve ever heard about Sabrina Erdely at all is itself the sampling bias.

          The argument from the toxoplasma post was the implication that even if 100 journalists who are trying to be honest publish 100 stories on social media some portion are going to be awful cases which will cause both sides to argue strongly about it and in so doing, signal boost it.

          You’re not going to hear about the 99 stories where the journalist had good judgement and picked clearly correct cases. You’ll hear about the 100th where a journalist goofed and picked a really shoddy case which got signal boosted by the arguments over how shoddy it was.

          • Jiro says:

            The problem with this reasoning is that the cases that have caused media attention have caused media attention just for happening. Yes, a lot of media attention was about how shoddy the cases were, but that’s not because being shoddy was part of the media attention from the start–the original media attention was from media sources trumpeting how well the cases fit into the narrative and how this proves that frat boys or whatever are all sexist pigs.

          • Murphy says:


            Lots of cases get *initial* media attention but most news stories get a couple hundred re-tweets or shares at most and then die quietly. But it’s the ones where both sides get into heated argument about it that get signal boosted to the point where you casually know the authors name.

          • CJB says:

            But the problem with that argument is that many of these cases are specifically picked by people INTERESTED IN EXPOSING THE PROBLEM.

            Erdely wasn’t looking to write about One Raped Girl. She wanted to write about the Phenomenon of Rape In Frat Parties. She wasn’t looking at one example that happened to be in front of her- she was looking for the best, most perfect, most definitive example of a phenomenon.

            BLM protesters claim that there are endless hordes of Young Black Men just going peacefully to church and singing hymns on the way home from bible study when KKKops gun them down ruthlessly, only for all white people to square dance in glee about what happened.

            And the best examples they can find are- a teenager who attacked someone following him (in a neighborhood with a burglary problem), a teenager who robbed a convenience store and then attacked a cop, in a case so clear cut the DOJ had to exonerate the cop, and a woman who hanged herself in her cell after she somehow couldn’t get bail for the world’s most minor crime.

            These are the cases you AVOID, in favor of aforementioned bible study murders. Hell- the black people ACTUALLY MURDERED DURING A BIBLE STUDY get less play than Michael Brown. (Probably because the reaction is super-counter to the narrative, but still).

            When it’s a random news story that gets some stuff wrong- sure.

            When it’s the cases cherrypicked by activists to support their argument? Not so much.

          • Murphy says:


            Again, there’s a selection problem. If 100 journalists who are trying to find the perfect case publish 100 stories, some of them are still going to be crap cases where both sides can easily argue about them. Where both sides can scream that they’re obviously right.

            Why do we rarely see “cop guns down someone, is utterly justified” if there are journalists trying to defend the cops who are trying to pick the best cases? There’s no shortage of such cases and there are news reports about them but the selection bias happens later in the process. Those aren’t good cases to get people raving at each other. So they also quietly die after some initial exposure.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        And yet the people pushing the “war on cops” narrative don’t seem to have trouble producing legitimate examples of anti-cop violence. Neither do the anti-illegal immigration people. In fact looking at your article, the only examples you listed of the phenomenon you describe all came from the political left. In fact, looking at the article it looks suspiciously like one long rationalization to avoid having to admit that left-wing/SJW sources are less reliable than right wing-ones.

        • Murphy says:

          I think you may have forgotten to read the post at all… the whole point is that it’s not hard for anyone to find a stream of legitimate examples of almost anything given a large enough population.

          • Eugien_Nier says:

            the whole point is that it’s not hard for anyone to find a stream of legitimate examples of almost anything given a large enough population.

            Then why can’t the media find legitimate examples of “cops gunning down black bodies”? Why cant’t Scott find examples of this kind of “toxoplasma of rage” on the other side of the political spectrum?

          • Gbdub says:

            @pku – “unarmed” does not always mean “shouldn’t get shot”

            But yes, there are certainly some number of cases where black men are unreasonably shot. Whether the statistics imply a significant racial component (not explained by “actual violent criminals are disproportionally black”) is a much harder question, and one that is certainly related to the premise of the OP.

          • Murphy says:

            ok, this is really weird, I’ve posted twice in reply referencing the Aiyana Jones case as an example but the posts have disappeared.

    • Mark says:

      Only if the stories are selected for their epistemic justification instead of their outrageousness. This assumption is questionable. For example, Sabrina Rubin Erdely passed over multiple better-attested but less salacious campus rape cases in favor of a worse-attested, more salacious one.

    • James D. Miller says:

      “If every campus rape case that gets publicized is a hoax or a fraud, then the campus rape narrative is a lie.”

      Too strong. The cases the got lots of publicity were ones where it was originally claimed that lots of men participated in the rape and cover-up. We can’t use evidence of these cases being hoaxes to draw inferences about rape cases with single attackers.

      • Randy M says:

        Well, you can either draw inferences about campus sexual behavior, or about media reporting (being drawn to salacious at the expense of diligent searching for truth, for example). Of course, if your opinion of campus sexual behavior (or whatever x) is drawn from media reporting, you need to adjust down whatever confidence you assigned to your impressions of it.

      • DrBeat says:

        What about cases like Emma Sulkowicz/”Mattress Girl”, where there was allegedly one single attacker, and that turned out to be a complete lie?

        The campus rape narrative is a lie, it is not true. You are less likely to be raped attending college than not attending college, and the numbers for the % of students who are sexually assaulted are so fucked-up and massaged in order to get the proper result that they don’t deserve to be called statistics; fuck, they don’t deserve to even be called numbers, they are squiggles.

        This does not mean rape never happens on campus, crime still does happen. But the narrative and dominant “listen and believe” paradigm make a huge incentive for a certain kind of person to lie about being raped. If you like attention, you like sympathy, and you like hurting other people but can’t be arsed to dress up in a chicken mask, then false rape accusations are a smorgasbord of things you like with absolutely no downside. If you are making a false rape accusation, you can custom-tune it to be the most sympathetic, lurid, and clickworthy story you can imagine, instead of being bound to just the truth. And the kind of person who does this thing doesn’t usually think about long-term consequences, but the odds of there ever being long-term negative consequences are pretty low, and the short-term consequences are a guaranteed outpouring of sympathy and attention and assistance in hurting other people.

        So, the media is trying to commit the Chinese Robber Fallacy to support the narrative, but because of the incentive structure, almost every case it picks out to showcase is going to be a lie, because for certain people there is no incentive not to lie and they make their cases as appealing to the media as possible. Pre-committing to believe victims makes horribly perverse incentives.

        • Nita says:

          that turned out to be a complete lie?

          If the alleged rapist is innocent until proven guilty, then so is the alleged false accuser.

          (As far I know, the situation is that he maintains it was consensual, she maintains it wasn’t.)

          • DrBeat says:

            There’s a whole host of logged Internet communication from her, from around the time of the alleged rape and onward, that indicates it was consensual. Nothing about her behavior matches what she claimed happened, and the rape she claimed occurred would have left obvious physical signs that just didn’t appear. She encouraged three other people to accuse him of rape, with accusations that fell apart even sooner and more readily than hers. And she claimed she could not go to the police because of how draining it was and she just wanted it to be over, while carrying her mattress around for national media attention. He went to the campus tribunal and was found not responsible, she continually broke the rules of the tribunal with her “project” and her currying of attention for it, and instead of being sanctioned, her actions were rewarded by Columbia.

            Oh, and once most of the attention had died down, she made a sex tape of herself, “re-enacting” the rape, released it to the public, and then said anyone who watched it who she didn’t want to watch it was raping her.

            I’m not saying “he was innocent therefore she was falsely accusing him,” I’m saying “Every single thing about her conduct and behavior indicate this was a false accusation made because she wanted attention and to hurt the accused.” I’d love to say that I won’t call her a false accuser unless convicted, but given the system refuses to prosecute false accusers, I’m not going to say that; doing that would only justify the system’s refusal to prosecute false accusers.

          • Nita says:

            Yes, I have seen the correspondence. No, it doesn’t prove she was lying.

            the rape she claimed occurred would have left obvious physical signs

            Uh, like what?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Yes, I have seen the correspondence. No, it doesn’t prove she was lying.

            They’re fairly strong evidence that he didn’t rape her.

            Him not raping her would be pretty strong evidence of her lying.

          • DrBeat says:

            Uh, like what?

            As summarized here:

            Sulkowicz accuses Nungesser of an extremely brutal assault that should have left her visibly injured (with bruises not only on her face but on her neck and arms, unlikely to be covered by clothing in August and early September in New York) and in need of medical attention. Yet no one saw anything amiss after this attack, and both Nungesser and Sulkowicz went on to chat and banter on Facebook as if nothing happened.

          • Nita says:

            They’re fairly strong evidence that he didn’t rape her.

            No, they’re evidence that she didn’t immediately block him or send him angry messages.

            According to her, this was due to being in a state of disbelief / hoping that discussing the incident with him would bring some sort of closure, and trying to avoid making him defensive in advance.

            It’s also possible that he sincerely believed it was consensual, and she sincerely believed it wasn’t. “Lying” is a rather high bar.

          • Nita says:

            @ DrBeat

            No offense to Ms Young, but I would prefer a direct quote, or at least a neutral source. That it “should have left her visibly injured”, in particular, seems like Young’s opinion, and I have no way to judge it.

          • DrBeat says:

            Before I go looking for it, will you actually accept it as evidence if I find it, or will you fabricate an excuse on the spot for why it doesn’t count?

          • Nita says:

            If it’s something like “he punched me in the face and choked me really hard, digging his nails into my neck”, then I’ll agree that bruises/marks would be likely. If it’s “he threw me on the bed and held me down by force”, then I will not agree.

            (Note that Young floats a hypothesis that the non-consensual sex did happen, but the additional violence did not — that’s another possibility you have to ignore to reach the “complete lie” conclusion.)

            My main point is that we don’t know what happened that night, and knowing other things doesn’t help much.

          • Urstoff says:

            We don’t really know what happened, but I think we can be pretty confident in saying that most of her subsequent behavior has been pretty bananas.

          • Nita says:

            most of her subsequent behavior has been pretty bananas

            Seemed pretty bizarre to me, too. On the other hand, I don’t know what passes for “normal” among art students.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “My main point is that we don’t know what happened that night, and knowing other things doesn’t help much.”

            It is not acceptable for the possible options to be “the man is guilty” and “there’s just no way to tell.” If her word alone was good enough to brand him a rapist, then the evidence we have now is far, far more than enough to brand her a malicious liar.

            [EDIT] – is this the optimal rule? Is this cooperation? Hell no. But the other side is all but waving flags declaring their intention to defect.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            I’m not branding him a rapist. There’s a relevant American expression, I believe — something about two wrongs?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is not optimal, but it does actually qualify as justice. I heartily agree that there are better systems, but those are not on the table right now. Maybe when Mattress Girl’s side loses some eyes and teeth, they’ll reconsider unilaterally ruling those better methods out.

          • Nita says:

            Maybe when Mattress Girl’s side loses some eyes and teeth, they’ll reconsider unilaterally ruling those better methods out.

            Yeah, that method has worked in all sorts of situations — from Israel and Palestine to GamerGate and anti-GamerGate.

          • Zorgon says:

            It’s OK, though. If it comes to it she can just come up with a non-apology where she says that she did all of this to “open up the conversation about rape culture” and all will be forgiven.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Yeah, that method has worked in all sorts of situations — from Israel and Palestine to GamerGate and anti-GamerGate.”

            The Dear Collegue letter is still a thing. Listen and Believe is still a thing. This is an actual fight. Pretending otherwise is not useful.

            And in point of fact, the actual Gamergate campaign, the one that involved activism and letter-writing and agitation to oppose the takeover of a community by an ideologically-fanatical minority, has been wildly successful.

            further, if it weren’t for the explosions, how much attention would get paid to mistreatment of the Palestinians, or the Irish? How much did Malcom X and the Black Panthers contribute to MLK’s successes?

            I think a lot of fears about Social Justice’s deprications are overblown. The infighting it causes and the backlash it inspires from reasonable liberals are probably enough to keep a lid on its abuses in most areas. This is one of the obvious exceptions.

          • Gbdub says:

            “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is a fine sentiment, but it rings a little hollow if you only say it after your side already got its eye.

            I doubt the quote would gain as much traction if it was popularized by the Britiah instead of by Gandhi.

          • DrBeat says:

            Well here is a more direct quote:

            According to the police report, Sulkowicz had had consensual sex with Nungesser twice before the alleged rape. Sulkowicz said that on the night of Aug. 27, 2012, she and Nungesser started to have consensual sex again, when suddenly things changed.

            According to the report, Nungesser “hit her [Sulkowicz] across the face, choked her, and pushed her knees onto her chest and leaned on her knees to keep them up.” He then “grabbed [Sulkowicz’s] wrists and penetrated her anally.”

            Sulkowicz reported to police that she told Nungesser to stop, but that he did not. She “struggled with [Nungesser] and tried to push his arms away,” according to the police report, but “[Nungesser] kept going and suddenly stopped without ejaculating.”

            No bruising from the choking and no medical attention required for the violent anal rape.

            If you say that we can’t REALLY say taht her behavior indicates she wasn’t raped, then you have to be adhering to a standard where the alleged victim’s behavior has literally no information value, or be a naked hypocrite. Because she has, at every possible opportunity, behaved exactly like a person who loves attention and loves hurting people and is using a false rape accusation to do both of those things. And if you want to be fair, and say that “well there’s no ‘right way’ to react to rape” and say that we can never use behavior to conclude someone is lying — we can’t use behavior to conclude someone is telling the truth, either.

            And yeah, I agree, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is a nice sentiment, when it comes at any time other than “immediately after the speaker has either just attempted to or has just successfully gouged someone’s eye out”. Committing to never, ever defending yourself leaves the world a whole lot worse off than an eye for an eye.

      • Vaniver says:

        Too strong. The cases the got lots of publicity were ones where it was originally claimed that lots of men participated in the rape and cover-up. We can’t use evidence of these cases being hoaxes to draw inferences about rape cases with single attackers.

        Eh… it seems to me that there clearly are lots of black athlete on white student rapes, which are successfully covered up (you can find them if you go looking, but why would you go looking for them? Are you interested in this subject for unsavory reasons?).

        And that’s the true horror of this, is not just that we have fake cases that are shouted, but we can also trivially find true cases that are not shouted.

        • Mary says:

          The question is not whether they are shouted about, it’s whether they are prosecuted and lead to convictions. After all, what’s the point of shouting about the cases if not to lead to convictions?

        • Limi says:

          Say what? How about you do everyone here a favour and present some of these cases so we don’t have to look unsavoury then?

    • WowJustWow says:

      You can also use patterns in media coverage of one subject to better inform yourself about other related subjects. Suppose that it’s a national story when somebody claims that a chapter of the NAACP was bombed, even though it turns out there was just some mold growing next to an exhaust vent on the wall of the barbershop adjacent to the NAACP. Suppose furthermore that you keep reading about an epidemic of arsons on black churches, but it’s only mentioned in passing in a number of articles about different subjects, e.g. police shootings of unarmed (or armed!) black males. Based on the way the mold and the shootings were covered, you can bet your life that if any non-black person was suspected of burning down a black church, his face would be plastered all over the news. So due to the lack of any particular national news story about arson ever bubbling up, you can conclude that the epidemic of black church arsons is really an epidemic of insurance fraud.

      • SUT says:

        Can you link to the bomb -> mold story?

        • keranih says:

          Google ‘Colorado NAACP bombing’ and then Google ‘Thaddeus Murphy bomb’. It’s not quite bomb–> mold, but the Think progress article and photo has to be seen to be believed.

          • Publicola says:

            You need to be way more specific as to the search terms needed, but I finally found what you were looking for (google the first one, then add ‘Think Progress’ to the search string to get the article).

            The major news articles on the bombing state that the bomb was targeted at an accounting firm near the church, and show a picture of the ‘damage’ that looks like a bit of soot near the bottom of one of the walls. Probably frightening, but the physical damage is virtually nil.

            The Think Progress article starts with an image of a 1953 church bombing in Alabama that leveled an entire brick wall, dug a two-foot crater in the cement outside, and killed four girls.

            I suspect this was at a point in the news cycle where they had only heard the words ‘church bombing’ without any knowledge of the facts of the case or the photos from the scene, but it’s still pretty brazen sensationalism.

          • keranih says:

            My apologies, Publicola, I was not intending to get a specific result article, but a range of them, and the TP article was the first one that came up whenever I searched for the incident on several strings.

            (Tiny quibble – NAACP office, not church.)

          • CJB says:

            The worst part about the “black churches burning down” was it was so beautifully handled- it never rose to the level of a duke Lacrosse or Michael Brown, where people on the other team would investigate your claims- they just got high enough to get “Black churches Burning?” into everyones facebook newsfeed and went away.

            In reality- if you take the number of churches that burn down each week (about 35) and allow for the percentage of black people in the us (about 13%) and the fact that blacks tend to be more religious than whites- call it “20% of churches”- then you should EXPECT seven black church fires a week.

  7. anon85 says:

    A small flaw with the point of this article is that I was nodding along to part I only because I trust you. In my mind I was going “okay, this is all anecdotal, but knowing Scott Alexander, part II will be full of lots of statistics proving the same point, and part III will be a plausible mechanism explaining this effect. So let me update my view of cardiologists.”

    Now I find it a little bit difficult to update back (similar to how in the back of my mind, I will always think everyone from the Comoros is gay…)

    • SpaghettiLee says:

      Yeah, I confess I also bought it at first (I’m new to this whole rationalism thing), but in my weak defense, I wonder if that information coming from a source so devoted to challenging conventional wisdom and promoting interesting or surprising statistical information qualifies as source bias.

    • Murphy says:

      Well source amnesia can mean that even after being presented with a disclaimer that something is not true they forget the source and the disclaimer.

      So on that note:

      I have no idea where you got the notion that Glenn Beck murdered and raped that girl in 1990. Anyone who repeats that Glenn Beck murdered and raped that girl in 1990 should stop repeating that Glenn Beck murdered and raped that girl in 1990 and stop to think what an allegation like “Glenn Beck murdered and raped that girl in 1990” does to the political discourse. Some people may actually come to believe that Glenn Beck murdered and raped that girl in 1990.

    • Possibly Steve says:

      That’s funny, I was going “this doesn’t seem right at all, and knowing Scott Alexander, he’s totally setting us up in order to prove a point”.

      • Anonymous says:

        As soon as I hit the sexual harassment paragraph, I knew something was up. I actually stopped reading for a second to see if I could predict the point he was going to make. I wasn’t far off.

    • Desertopa says:

      Precisely because I trust Scott to do better, I suspected the underlying point he was going for at the point where the second paragraph didn’t contain any evidence of an underlying trend. Moving on to broaden the “issue” when the salience of the initial points hasn’t been established isn’t living up to the level I expect of him.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Right, some people have both strong pattern recognition skills and also strong urges to reality check their ideas, and Scott is one of them. So when Scott, an M.D., says that he’s noticed that cardiologists have ethical problems, my reaction is: “Oh, wow, I never noticed that myself, but if Scott says so, there’s a reasonable chance it’s true. I’ll look for evidence pro or con and try to figure out reasons why this might be true.”

      • Heh. See, one of my clues was what Scott was saying: “There’s something about cardiologists.” Now, “Cardiologists commit crimes at a rate in excess to other medical professionals and the general public at large.”, that’s a claim I can imagine Scott making. But in my experience, people with strong pattern recognition skills and heavy reality-checking make specific statements, and reference baselines.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Snopes used to have a special section full of news stories that Snopes made up and gave the wrong answer to, with small print warning people to be skeptical.

        (Snopes might still have this, but searching snopes for ‘fake news’ is not the right way to find it.)

  8. Kyle Strand says:

    Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic often claims that the base rate of child abuse is substantially *lower* among priests. This is interesting, and I hope it’s true, but I’ve never investigated.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’d thought of the same possibility and investigated. I don’t remember exactly what I found except that it left me with the impression that this probably wasn’t true.

      • Irenist says:

        @Scott Alexander:

        I’m agnostic as to whether abuse is *lower* among priests. But given that the Catholic Church is the largest denomination by far both in the U.S. and globally, I think there’s a clear possibility of “Chinese Robber fallacy” in particular here that merits addressing. Assuming arguendo that schoolteachers and Protestant ministers have approximately equal rates of abuse, I’d still expect to see a lot of national media coverage of the Catholic abuse catastrophe (which the idiot, corrupt bishops have indeed well deserved with their wicked clericalist insistence on cover-up, non-cooperation with civil authorities, passing to other parishes of known abusers, and other “this is why there are so many bishops and popes in Dante’s hell” stuff we Catholics wearily expect every darned century ever), a lot of but not as much coverage of school teacher abuse (there are more schoolteachers than priests, but AFAICT these are often treated as local stories only) and hardly any of most Protestant ministers’ abuse (people would read about Jerry Falwell being accused of something, but nobody cares if the pastor of some independent “cowbody church” in West Texas abused somebody).

        ETA: Typical Catholic attitude toward evil, evil bishops, those “successors of the Apostles”: “One-twelfth of the Apostles were literally Judas Iscariot. Whaddaya expect?”

        • Nice to see someone use “literally” correctly for a change.

          • Limi says:

            Agreed, and can I just say that while I think prescriptivism is generally crazy for the English language, I am not on board with the idea that we should change the meaning of literally to mean the exact opposite of what it used to mean just because that’s how it is often used and everyone knows what is meant anyway.

          • DrBeat says:

            As far as I can tell, every meaningless intensifier we have used to be a word that meant “This is not an intensifier, this is a literal unexaggerated account of what happened.”

        • I was always under the impression that the outrage was less because of the rate of sexual abuse and more that the abuse was covered up. And that the lack of punishment meant they could keep on abusing.

      • Gbdub says:

        Though based on Instapundit’s “Teach Women Not To Rape” series, which is a bit of a snarky and self aware Chinese Robber thing, some sexual abuse really does get much more signal boosting than others. (If you don’t like Insty, see the South Park episode “Miss Teacher Bangs A Boy”)

    • Pku says:

      On the one hand, I can believe that. OTOH, this ( http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2234 ) kinda makes a point.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Yeah, also I think the extent of the coverup was what really got people upset at the Church in particular as opposed to individuals.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          That’s my same rationale with police brutality.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          We now know that cover-ups are wrong, but pretend you belong to a group that believes:

          1. that sexual behavior is entirely controllable

          2. in forgiveness for anyone who says I’m sorry

          and you can see how the perfect clusterfudge happened.

          We now understand that a lot of sexual desires seem to be hard-wired in, so someone who likes having sex with kids isn’t going to stop doing it just by trying really hard. (Assuming they want to stop, but I’m assuming good faith.) Someone sexually attracted to kids needs monitoring and a strong support system to stop their orientation from causing harm to children.

          • Nita says:

            You’re conflating desires and behavior. That way we’re going to conclude that everyone except asexuals “needs monitoring and a strong support system to stop their orientation from causing harm” (in the form of rape) :/

            I agree, though, that the whole “we’re all sinners, you just need to repent really hard” thing probably contributed.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “That way we’re going to conclude that everyone except asexuals “needs monitoring and a strong support system to stop their orientation from causing harm””

            Which… is kinda the point about having a police force and dismantling any rape culture.

          • Randy M says:

            A police force exists for the point of monitoring everyone’s sexual behavior?
            So much for government out of the bedroom!

          • Jaskologist says:

            Frankly, is there a group that *doesn’t* cover up pedophilia within their ranks?

            We have, in just the past few years seen the following:
            -Penn State covering up Sandusky’s child abuse ring.
            -Nobody saying anything about American public schools’ 6-10% abuse rate.

            I don’t see a common thread here. It seems like everybody looks the other way when they hear of child abuse in their own ranks.

            Making it personal: do you think any of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are going to speak about or investigate the chances that Bill Clinton availed himself of underage hookers? I’m betting they’ll look the other way in that case. How is that any different from what many people at any of the above organizations did?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Because I went into a tangent there, let me reply to the parent comment and tie back into the main post:

            You’re trying to find reasons why the Catholic Church is especially prone to child abuse/coverups. But we don’t have evidence that they are especially prone. It looks to me like the perception that they have a unique problem in this area is very much a result of reporters harping on their failures in particular, relative to other groups.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Evan Þ:

            Only if you assume that all sex is rape.

          • Irenist says:

            The peak abuse years in the Catholic Church were in the post-Vatican II period when supervising clerics were taking the advice of then-cutting edge secular psychology that people who did this stuff could get therapy and be cured. That’s FAR from the whole story, but the ideologies mentioned (chastity is possible, forgiveness of sin) are pretty common (the former was nigh-universal among religious and philosophical big shots until the early modern period, and all the Christian denominations believe in the latter, while Judaism has the somewhat similar idea of “atonement”), so I don’t think they are doing that much work. I think clericalism (self-serving CYA to prevent “scandal”) and prudery (people didn’t even want to talk about this stuff, much less get into accusing anybody about it) were bigger problems in Catholicism specifically than the ideologies mentioned, and then the liberal vogue for therapy as panacea just exacerbated the preexisting conservative clericalism and prudery in a perfect storm of liberal and conservative stuff synergistically making each other worse.

          • Loquat says:

            @Nita –

            Most people don’t need “monitoring and a strong support system to stop their orientation from causing harm” because most people are sexually attracted to some flavor of adult human, and can reasonably expect to sooner or later find some suitable adult willing to have sex with them. Someone attracted to children is by definition never going to find one who can legally consent to have sex with them.

          • Nita says:

            can reasonably expect to sooner or later find some suitable adult willing to have sex with them

            I could name a few people on LW, SSC and rationalist-adjacent Tumblr who seem to have given up on that, yet they don’t seem very likely to go on a raping spree.

            Of course they need a support system, but that’s because it’s a tough situation to be in.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We don’t worry about unsuccessful attempts at mating leading to people becoming rapists. Lots of people have faced involuntary celibacy without resorting to rape.

            With someone attracted to preteens, we worry about their successful attempts to have sex.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          The Catholic hierarchy has more espirit d’ corps than some other organizations that need to worry about similar scandals, such as the Boy Scouts. If the new volunteer scout leader is found sharing a sleeping bag with a scout, they just kick him out and put his name on the Boy Scouts of America’s black list.

          But the Catholic Church tended to feel that if somebody who has given 20 years of his life to organization gets in trouble, they should try to help him out.

          And that’s not totally unreasonable. For example, alcoholism is often a facilitating factor in sex abuse. A lot of guys who would be horrified by the idea when sober have their inhibitions lowered when drunk. That’s presumably why child sex abuse rates are so high on Indian reservations, where alcoholism is also a big problem.

          But sometimes you can get people to sober up. So you can imagine how bishops could talk themselves into thinking they can get Father McGillicuddy into therapy and thus get him to give up the bottle and thus altar boys.

          Also, most of the precise forms of sex abuse engaged in by Catholic priests were far gentler and less intrusive than what linebacker coach Jerry Sandusky was up to. Most of the Catholic priests abusers weren’t America’s top linebacker coach, they were lonely gentle gay alcoholics.

      • DavidS says:

        Similar point made by Stephen Fry in the Intelligence Squared debate (him and Hitchens against a Catholic Archbishop and Anne Widdecombe), not on this per se but on when Catholicism complains about being blamed for its morals in previous times when others were doing the same thing and holding the same views:

        “And what is the point of the Catholic church if it says ‘oh, well we couldn’t know better because nobody else did,’ then WHAT ARE YOU FOR?”

        • Scott Alexander says:

          If I were a Catholic, my counterargument would be “We did better, but not infinitely better.”

          Doesn’t apply to the Renaissance when they were the worst around, though.

          • Irenist says:

            Doesn’t apply to the Renaissance when they were the worst around, though.

            Hmm. Prior to the Reformation, the Catholic Church just meant “Western Europe” for the most part. So what else was going on in the world outside Western Europe?

            Well, take the Ottoman Empire, the very first counterexample that jumps into my head. They had lots of slavery (far earlier in the Renaissance than slavery began in the New World, and throughout the period, far worse than European serfdom, and with lots of slave raids from the Ottoman-aligned Barbary Coast into, well, Latin Christendom), they had lots of eunuchs (a lot more than the Vatican had castrati, I’d say), and had a military elite (Janissaries) that until at least 1574 was recruited from the children of Christian subjects extorted from their families into slavery. Were the Renaissance popes among the very worst human beings who ever lived? Yes! But were the Catholic Church and Latin Christendom the “worst around” during the Renaissance? That conclusion is possible, sure, but I think you’d need to argue for it.

            PS: The rebuttal to “what about Galileo?” is that post-Ghazali (that’s an important qualification), Islamicate civilization was so hostile to Greek philosophy and other forerunners of science that there never got to be a Galileo to persecute in the Renaissance era in the first place. Still thinking it’s the Ottomans.

          • DavidS says:

            Fry’s point was in the context of being criticised for moral relativism etc. So basically, the Church says ‘we have eternal values and it’s definitely still bad to be gay’, but this is somewhat undermined when they were wrong on previous things.

            I think it’s complex – his criticisms include for not opposing slavery (which I think Christianity actually has been exceptionally good at historically, including Catholicism) and for ‘torturing Galileo’ which pretty clearly didn’t happen. But the point remains that if you’re trying to argue that you can trust the Church has the moral highground now because it’s the Church, this is undermined if it didn’t historically.

          • Irenist says:


            Fry’s point sounds reasonable to me. Kudos for the even-handed way you presented it!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If by “they were wrong” you mean “some Catholics did bad things”, that’s true, but not exactly news (one in twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus, after all), nor is it exactly unexpected (Original Sin and all that).

            If you mean “the Church was wrong in what it taught”, I don’t think there was anything in Catholic teaching that justified turning a blind eye to paedophilia.

            So, whilst Fry’s retort undoubtedly has a fair bit of rhetorical punch, I don’t think he’s on the firmest grounds logically speaking.

          • g says:

            DavidS: yes, indeed, Galileo was certainly not tortured. Only threatened with torture, on the Pope’s explicit instruction. So that’s OK, then.

            (I do agree that that’s less bad than actually torturing him, but there is a pattern here that I don’t like. Some institution does a bad thing X. Over time, the story grows in the telling and the institution’s critics come to think (or at least say) that it did a worse thing Y. Then its defenders find evidence that it never did Y — and bring that out as if it shows that the institution never did anything wrong. But it really did do X!)

          • Limi says:

            Mr X: Judas did Jesus a favour and I will never understand why he is despised for that. I also don’t understand why that is the new go to argument in favour of the Catholic Church (Baader Meinhof in effect, this is the fifth time I have seen someone mention 1 in 12 apostles were bad and each time it was in defence of the Catholic Church). And while the church might not explicitly have taught its clergy to abuse children, it certainly didn’t go out of its way to stop it, and went to great lengths to hide it, which, at the very least,, appears to be tacit endorsement.

            Fry was not saying the church was wrong in its teachings or that there were some bad Catholics, he was saying that an organisation which claims to be in charge of defining what is moral and good, to the point where its head is infallible, fails in and of itself when its members engage repeatedly and egregiously in flagrantly immoral behaviour.

          • “Judas did Jesus a favour”

            That, as I remember, is Kazantzakis’ version of the story.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Judas did Jesus a favour

            Well that’s certainly not been the mainstream opinion at any point in the last 2,000 years.

            Fry was not saying the church was wrong in its teachings or that there were some bad Catholics, he was saying that an organisation which claims to be in charge of defining what is moral and good, to the point where its head is infallible, fails in and of itself when its members engage repeatedly and egregiously in flagrantly immoral behaviour.

            First up, I don’t think the Church has ever claimed to define what’s moral and good. It does claim to teach what’s moral and good, but that’s not the same thing at all.

            Secondly, the Church’s claim regarding infallibility is that the Church institution will never teach falsehood, not that individual Catholics will never do anything immoral.

          • Limi says:

            I am aware that my position on Judas is shared only by a few early gnostics and as David pointed out, Kazantzakis in The Last Temptation. I hope that, here out of all places on the net, you recognise that that says absolutely nothing about the truth of the matter, insofar as we can discuss the truth of events that may or may not have happened 2000 years ago. As I have always seen it, there are two scenarios for Judas – Jesus asked him to turn him in to the Romans, as Kazantzakis has it happen. Considering everything else Jesus did to fulfill prophecy, that actually makes a lot of sense. Alternatively, Judas did it on his own, but not of his own volition – one of Jesus’ disciples was going to betray him because that was God’s plan, in which case free will is an illusion and Judas was condemned before he was even born, as we all are in a universe shaped by predestination.

            To get to the second part of your response, you are right that I misunderstood what was meant by infallible. According to what I can find however, infallibility is what gives the Pope the ability to define the church’s teachings. The Holy Spirit makes the Pope incapable of defining them incorrectly, and I guess to you that means it is God who defines morality, and the church simply teaches it. Unfortunately, that looks exactly the same as the Pope and bishops defining morality to everyone else.

            Infallibility, however defined, is not the point though – perhaps it is a flaw in the human species, but we generally require our teachers of morality to show some moral fortitude, particularly when they claim that morality comes from God and that without God people would act immorally. This is what Fry was saying – if people will act immorally without God, but will also act immorally – incredibly immorally in some cases – when they are supposed to be blessed by God, then what is the church for?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            As I have always seen it, there are two scenarios for Judas – Jesus asked him to turn him in to the Romans, as Kazantzakis has it happen. Considering everything else Jesus did to fulfill prophecy, that actually makes a lot of sense. Alternatively, Judas did it on his own, but not of his own volition – one of Jesus’ disciples was going to betray him because that was God’s plan, in which case free will is an illusion and Judas was condemned before he was even born, as we all are in a universe shaped by predestination.

            Or, God knew that Judas would freely choose to betray Jesus, and incorporated this into his plan.

            To get to the second part of your response, you are right that I misunderstood what was meant by infallible. According to what I can find however, infallibility is what gives the Pope the ability to define the church’s teachings. The Holy Spirit makes the Pope incapable of defining them incorrectly, and I guess to you that means it is God who defines morality, and the church simply teaches it. Unfortunately, that looks exactly the same as the Pope and bishops defining morality to everyone else.

            Well then, at the risk of sounding excessively sarcastic, maybe everyone else should get their eyes tested. Complaining about the Church “defining morality” is like complaining about a maths teacher “defining what counts as correct maths”: it shows an ignorance about the claims being made, and reflects worse on the maker than the subject of the complaint.

            Infallibility, however defined, is not the point though – perhaps it is a flaw in the human species, but we generally require our teachers of morality to show some moral fortitude, particularly when they claim that morality comes from God and that without God people would act immorally. This is what Fry was saying – if people will act immorally without God, but will also act immorally – incredibly immorally in some cases – when they are supposed to be blessed by God, then what is the church for?

            Well then, Fry’s point rests on a false dichotomy: either Catholics don’t act immorally, or the Church has no point. In reality, of course, there is a third option: that Catholics (as a group) are better than non-Catholics (as a group), just not infinitely better.

          • Limi says:

            Yes, God is omniscient and eternal so he knew, infinite time beforehand, that the only part of his entire plan he/his son wouldn’t have to configure for himself by wandering about doing things to fulfill prophecy was that Judas would betray jesus without prompting, and, therefore infinite time before Judas was born God knew he was condemned to eternal punishment. He is also omnipotent so he did not only allow a man to suffer for eternity for a single crime, he wanted it so. Ok.

            Secondly, mathematics is founded in natural laws. Maths teachers have both taught and defined maths at various times and they do not require the intervention of an unknowable deity to do so. There is nothing similar about maths and religious teaching. Since my last comment I have read the Vatican 1’s definition of infallibility by the way, you should do so also, as they explain that the Pope and bishops do define dogma, not simply teach it.

            As to the argument about Catholics being better than everyone else as a group, just not infinitely better, I am sorry but no. Complicity in the rat lines, the charge of Jewish deicide and the blood libel, the crusades, the inquisition and the retarding of scientific advancement in numerous ways, plus, of course, helping to spread aids throughout Africa and South America. The best Catholics can claim is to not be worse than everyone else as a group, in which case, again, what is it for?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Secondly, mathematics is founded in natural laws. Maths teachers have both taught and defined maths at various times and they do not require the intervention of an unknowable deity to do so. There is nothing similar about maths and religious teaching. Since my last comment I have read the Vatican 1’s definition of infallibility by the way, you should do so also, as they explain that the Pope and bishops do define dogma, not simply teach it.

            They “define dogma” in the same way that mathematicians “define” Pythagoras’ theorem. The Catholic Church has never claimed that the Church’s saying “X is wrong” is what makes x wrong.

            As to the argument about Catholics being better than everyone else as a group, just not infinitely better, I am sorry but no. Complicity in the rat lines, the charge of Jewish deicide and the blood libel, the crusades, the inquisition and the retarding of scientific advancement in numerous ways, plus, of course, helping to spread aids throughout Africa and South America. The best Catholics can claim is to not be worse than everyone else as a group, in which case, again, what is it for?

            That seems a very good example of the Chinese robber fallacy. Any major two-thousand-year-old religion is going to have had so many adherents that picking out some evil ones will be almost trivially easy, particularly if, in large parts of the world, said religion is/was the “default” religion, meaning that it’s had lots of nominal adherents without any particular interest in its doctrines.

    • Anonymous says:

      If a large organization is making a concerted effort to cover cases of pedophilia between its members you would expect them to at least be able to lower the reported rate.

      • Randy M says:

        Or, if you only hear about the church, and then get mad at them for the cover-up, and never hear comprable stats about, say teachers… who is really doing a better job at cover-up?

    • Jaskologist says:

      I don’t know the Catholic stats, but this is everybody’s friendly reminder that, according to the government’s own statistics, 6-10% of children in public schools will be sexually abused before they graduate.

      Fortunately, public schools are exempted from a lot of the laws which let victims bring charges against the organizations surrounding their abusers, so problem solved!

      Source: http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf (bottom of page 17)

      • “according to the government’s own statistics, 6-10% of children in public schools will be sexually abused before they graduate.”

        That’s wrong in two respects. First:

        “The views expressed herein are those of the authors. No official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education is intended or should be inferred.”

        Second the categories included in the count include:

        Made sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks.

        Wrote sexual messages/graffiti about you on bathroom walls, in locker rooms, etc.

        Spread sexual rumors about you.

        Said you were gay or a lesbian.

        Spied on you as you dressed or showered at school.

        Which are not the sort of things “sexually abused” suggests. If, for example, I tell people that Scott is polyamorous, which is surely spreading a sexual rumor, have I abused him?

        • Zorgon says:

          “Said you were gay or a lesbian”.

          Good grief. I’m astonished it’s only 6-10%.

        • Jaskologist says:

          That is semi-comforting. It looks like they’re not actually official, just gathered as part of NCLB.

          I’m not sure I’m comforted by your dissection of the report, though. 6.7% was the contact misconduct rate; the rules for non-contact do look a little over-broad, but then these are all for conduct done by educators, not other students. (Curiously, it also seems to be only for unwanted conduct, even though everybody in public school would be under-age).

          Do you know of any better studies out there? Last time I looked, I didn’t find much else.

        • onyomi says:

          Wow, I never knew I was sexually abused until now.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Aha! Repressed memory!

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Yeah pretty much. My aha moment was when I was taking a mandatory survey as part of a large organization. I kept going “When you put it like that, I guess I have been harassed, abused, and assaulted! Multiple times!”

            For some reason I think they were not expecting men to answer in the affirmative, though.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Well, I have seen “abuse by Catholic priests” statistics which include everything from full-on rape to “aggressive questioning about sexual activities”.

          • Randy M says:

            Really? That sounds like dishonest methodology by someone with an opposing view of what sexual mores should be promoted, if true.

            That’s the trouble (also demonstrated here by David & Jackologist’s disection of the public school stats) with trying to remedy one’s “Chinese robber” based view of the world–for any stat you want to trust, you have to dig deep into the methods and results in order to determine if it is trustworthy. All the moreso if it is sensational, and of course those are the ones you are most likely to hear about.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Really? That sounds like dishonest methodology by someone with an opposing view of what sexual mores should be promoted, if true.

            Yes, I suspect that’s the case. Sort of like when radical feminists try and convince everybody that universities are hotbeds of sexual assault, where “sexual assault” is defined so broadly as to become practically meaningless.

            Incidentally, another trick I’ve seen is to describe a priest sleeping with a 17-year-old in a jurisdiction where the age of consent is 18 as a “child rapist” or something similar. Now, legally speaking this is an accurate way of describing the situation, but still, this sort of scenario isn’t what people tend to think of when they’re confronted with the phrase “child rape”. Hence a lot of people are going to come away with the impression that what the priest did was a lot worse than it actually was, although the journo reporting the story has enough plausible deniability to defend himself from any criticism.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I think the scandal was not that priests were molesting children at an abnormal rate but that there was an official (but secret) policy of the Church to cover them up.

  9. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    > How many lurid stories about harassment in Silicon Valley have you heard?

    Honestly, I have heard exactly one and she lost at trial.

    On the other hand, I have heard doctors have a slightly elevated rate of car accidents, though that may well be urban legend.

    • Evan Þ says:

      “On the other hand, I have heard doctors have a slightly elevated rate of car accidents”

      On the gripping hand, I’ve heard that doctors work longer hours, and that sleep deprivation raises the risk of car accidents.

  10. dtsund says:

    For my part, my reaction to Part I was “Scott Alexander is smart enough to know this is a terrible argument”, followed by correctly anticipating the gist of the rest of the essay.

  11. Jay says:

    I’m a new reader but wondering if your webserver is acting up, aren’t all your posts 5 to 7 sections long? I’m only getting 2.

  12. Pku says:

    Seems like most people saw part 2 coming. Clearly the solution is for Scott to start writing terrible posts so that when he writes a good post, it’ll come as a surprise. (For best effects, write a terrible post and a good post about each topic, then randomize what you post without looking. Then try defending it in the comments, still not knowing which version you’re defending, in a way that would work for both.)

    • Irenist says:

      Clearly the solution is for Scott to start writing terrible posts so that when he writes a good post, it’ll come as a surprise.

      Nah. The solution is to write terrible posts for decades so the good one will come as a surprise. That’s how professional op-ed writers do it!

  13. Sarah says:

    My brain went “are we sure this isn’t just cherrypicking? how many cardiologists are there?” at the first part.

    • Tracy W says:

      Me too. Guess that means we’re perfect, no biases here. 🙂

    • Muga Sofer says:

      We win!

    • lunatic says:

      “This is not Scott’s usual standard. Did a cardiologist take his parking spot this morning?”

    • jimmy says:

      Mine said “It’s weird that he hasn’t mentioned the base rate, but I assume he wouldn’t do this without checking and that there’s a reason for this rhetorical style. Depending on where he’s going, I might up my belief in “cardiologists are special”, but so far only based on Scott’s word”

  14. LTP says:

    So, what should I do with this? Should I just never believe narratives about large groups of people unless there’s lots and lots of quality social scientific support for a narrative (which doesn’t happen in a lot of domains because a lot of this stuff is difficult or practically impossible to measure and study in a rigorous way)? Should I not believe it when people say that sexism is a real problem in STEM careers by citing lots of examples? Or when somebody else claims that the social justice movement has a problem with using toxic tactics and shaming men? Doesn’t this lead to a sort of (small-c) conservatism, where we just won’t be able to identify real problems in large subgroups and subcultures?

    • daronson says:

      I’d say yes. Don’t assume anything about any group of people without accurate statistics (and be careful even if you have them), but judge the hell out of arguments and tactics. If someone said something that’s crazy, judge what they say, not what they represent: unless what they represent officially endorses said crazy thing.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Don’t trust anecdotes, even in multiples. Look to statistics. Use anecdotes as a way of generating hypotheses, not as a way of testing them. If it’s too difficult to know the truth, accept that, rather than knowing lies.

      Of course, statistics have their own problems, as have been discussed on this blog previously. They’re not a cure-all. The ideal would be to get your info from people who are earnestly seeking the truth and don’t want to cherry-pick anecdotes/manipulate statistics, but if you collected all the people who are earnestly seeking the truth and put them in Sodom, you wouldn’t convince God to spare the city.

      • LTP says:

        Yes, but there are lots of issues where there are no statistics, and where getting good statistics on them would be difficult if not impossible in practice. What then?

        Like, I don’t even know what statistical measure in theory I could make to determine if STEM culture was sexist. Maybe surveys of women in STEM? But even then it would seem to me to be incredibly difficult to get a representative random sample, and then how would the survey be structured? A lot of sexism is more subtle than explicit sexual harassment, for instance.

        “If it’s too difficult to know the truth, accept that, rather than knowing lies.”

        Maybe, but again this leads to problem of biasing one towards small-c conservatism when dealing with potential problems, where those who may be unjustly being harmed in a given subculture have their concerns ignored because there are no stats on the matter.

        • suntzuanime says:

          “What then?” Cry about it. I’m not sure what you propose to do without a source of knowledge? How would you know you weren’t creating unjust harms rather than curing them?

          To address your specific concern, presumably STEM sexism shakes out in some tangible harm you could measure. It’s not clear to me that an epiphenomenal sexism is worth fighting.

          • It’s not impossible in principle to get statistics on whether or not lists of examples of how one group X has quality Y to a particularly large degree, happen more often on account of someone looking for such cases, or because group X in fact has quality Y to a particularly large degree.

            If you do have statistics like this, seeing such a list will be evidence of something.

        • daronson says:

          In terms of making any official policy (political or academic), I think the world would be a much better place if all anecdotal statistics was disallowed to factor in decision-making. In terms of personal belief, obviously we believe in some tendencies we observe ourselves or hear from people we respect, and some of them are right, and some of them are wrong. If you value that information and want to use it (maybe to design a study!), make sure you’re relatively certain the source isn’t biased, and that it is not selected for having strong opinions. E. g. I once went to a women in science panel where the speakers were invited not on basis of being active in feminism, but on basis of being top in their field. Even though there’s obvious ways their experience is not representative, I trust it much more than what I would read in a blog primarily dedicated to feminism. Generally if you wouldn’t expect someone to say something or talk about something, their opinion matters more.

        • Echo says:

          As opposed to people being unjustly harmed in a given subculture by vicious cliques with enough power to publicize cherry-picked anecdotes?

          I’ll take the small-c.

        • I disagree with you on what ‘bias’ means here. Science works. When it comes to surveys of human behavior, it works less efficiently than most of what we’ve got for studying simple, easy-to-understand things like electrons and quasars, but it’s the best we’ve got. If we can’t identify a problem with statistics, we should be very careful of privileging the hypothesis that it’s a problem.

          Now, if we can identify a way in which statistics are carefully not being collected, or collected in a biased, then that’s another problem. But that means we need to focus on going back and getting better data, not on immediately going full speed reverse from what the bad statistics say.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Robert Liguori

            we need to focus on going back and getting better data, not on immediately going full speed reverse from what the bad statistics say.

            I dunno, full speed reverse is the course I’m drawn to. My background assumption is that if something were an actual threat – if it were something likely to happen to me or anybody I know – then individual examples of it wouldn’t be newsworthy. The fact that some individual case (of any reference class) becomes a huge national news story by itself tells you it is something that happens so infrequently that you shouldn’t worry about it.

            You have a pretty decent chance of dying from a car crash or a heart attack; individual car crashes or heart attacks aren’t national news stories. You have essentially NO chance of dying from terrorism or a school shooting; individual acts of terrorism or school shooting are national news stories.

            An anecdote being “newsworthy” is a negative signal; it should tell us to worry LESS about that thing happening. If some category wasn’t newsworthy before and has recently become so now, that suggests the underlying problem is getting better or being solved and we should stop worrying about it.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Glen Raphael:

            If some category wasn’t newsworthy before and has recently become so now, that suggests the underlying problem is getting better or being solved and we should stop worrying about it.

            I really, really like this.

            But how do you distinguish between things that used to be non-newsworthy because they never happened and things that used to be non-newsworthy because they happened a lot? All I can think of is to ask whether I’ve seen them happen in my own experience, but my impression is that I lead a pretty sheltered life.

        • Murphy says:

          If people are experiencing hostile workplaces and being put off you could probably find stats on how likely people are to leak from a given industry and compare it to industries you consider likely to be less sexist since you’d expect people to be more likely to leave an industry which is unusually hostile to them.

          There’s a lot of interesting study designs out there, many far better than simply handing out a survey.

        • Paul Torek says:

          You know what adverse selection is, right? So when there are no statistics available, find ways to get some, that avoid adverse selection. You will still have some non representativeness, but, oh well.

      • The alternative to getting your info from people honestly seeking the truth is to get it from reasonably competent people with a variety of different biases. With luck, when one makes a persuasive but invalid argument, someone on the other side will point it out.

        • Murphy says:

          Though if people know you’re doing this they can do the standard news “debate” thing.

          “Here on the pro-side we have Professor Sir Dr McSmarty, MD, PHD, GCB, GCMG, MBE. ”

          “And on the against side we have Bob, who likes floor polish. ”

          Dr McSmarty makes an eloquent, persuasive but invalid argument.

          Bob, between naps, says “But capitalism … man, the banks are like … man”

          Dr McSmarty performs a smackdown.

          And people relying on the other side to point problems out think that since Bob couldn’t effectively point out a problem that the McSmarty argument was valid.

          To make it more believable they may upgrade Bob to someone at the level of mildly incompetent for perceived balance.

      • I’d make the point that while most accurate “big picture” information is statistical, most statistical information is not neccessarily accurate. It’s important to look at who is gathering, processing and presenting the statistics, and what bias they or their sources might have.

        The ideal would be to get your info from people who are earnestly seeking the truth and don’t want to cherry-pick anecdotes/manipulate statistics, but if you collected all the people who are earnestly seeking the truth and put them in Sodom, you wouldn’t convince God to spare the city.

        Are you able to explain this sentence I can’t work out its meaning? Does it mean truth-seeking people are morally suspect in some way? I think a group of actual truth-seekers would be an excellent source of knowledge.

    • stargirl says:


      You need an actual measure of the prevalence of the problem. If the group is large and no statistics exists you have no good methods for determining the truth. In theory you may have to “go on the information you have.” But normally if you are unsure about a topic you can take actions that make sense given uncertainty. In some sense do not do anything dramatic or costly (to anyone, not just you) if your assumptions are wrong.

    • Tracy W says:

      Isn’t the answer dependent on what problem you’re trying to solve? If it’s “make your corner of the world better” and something is a serious problem in your observation, then waiting on statistics seems not that useful. If someone is calling for society-wide action (eg laws) then yes, data requirements should be much higher.

      • Randy M says:

        This! What exactly was anyone here going to do with the information about how sexist nerds are or aren’t, other than know which group to boo? Treat people around you well. If you have enough resources or sway to make society-wide differences, well, we do still have some glaring problems.

        • Nita says:

          Has anyone actually ever claimed that “nerds” are more sexist than other subcultures?

          I’ve seen a few posts by nerdy women complaining about the behavior of nerdy men — but obviously these women 1) are merely describing their personal experiences, not doing a comparative study of various subcultures, 2) couldn’t radically change their profession or interests, so “others are even worse!” is poor consolation.

          • Luke Somers says:

            ANYONE? Well, yes, I’m sure someone has claimed that. Is it the typical claim? …

            now we need statistics again.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know. Which is why I didn’t mention any comparison. Whether nerds are sexist does seem to be a recurring topic around here, though.

            It does seem relevant to a discussion of whether to abjure tech culture.

            But I think the point stands, even if it is debated that women trapped in tech are miserable due to systematic cis-white-male bigotry that is also occuring in other industries at similar rates, your best course of action is probably not “Raise awareness” or “Argue studies” but “Be nice to people you interact with and make their lives better in tangible ways under your control.”

          • Nita says:

            Whether nerds are sexist does seem to be a recurring topic around here, though.

            Well, this community does contain quite a few self-identified nerds…

            Here are some other allegedly sexist groups:
            the film industry
            people in university
            people into music
            people who don’t lift
            people who like stand-up comedy
            people who interact with writers
            comic editors
            people in general

            “Be nice to people you interact with and make their lives better in tangible ways under your control.”

            That’s certainly good advice. Folks do love to vent and commiserate, though. And arguably shared disapproval makes them feel less lonely and threatened?

          • Murphy says:

            Well there’s a repository for anyone who wants to do the cardiologists thing for the IT industry over the course of 40 years


          • Randy M says:

            So what’s the least sexist group? I call model train builders!
            Harder game would be to find a group with exactly 1 hit for “sexist x” I suppose.

          • Murphy says:

            @Randy M

            No results found for “sexist Prosthodontist”
            No results found for “sexist Patternmaker”
            No results found for “sexist Radio Operators”
            No results found for “sexist pavers”

            “sexist watchmakers” yields just a single result which I’m pretty sure is one of those weird hidden markov model generated pages that attempt to get search results.

            “Indescribably when the warhol of effluvium was sensuously, sexist watchmakers lathe inconstant”

          • Limi says:

            It was certainly claimed a lot when I frequented againstgamergate on reddit, I even saw people claim that nerds are more sexist than car enthusiasts :/

    • Niklas says:

      A lot of the actual measures one would employ against these problems don’t really depend on those problems existing on a larger scale.

      If you catch yourself or a friend/coworker/… being a creep to women at STEM workplaces or technical conferences, or viciously bullying shy male nerds, you can do something against that no matter how prevalent the behaviour is in your community at large. If despite all the Internet Activists telling you over and over again that STEM is full of creepy misogynists or feminists are literally Voldemort you can’t see any of this in your environment, you don’t need to do anything (and it’s not like you even could).

      Of course, the issue still exists for policies like affirmative action.

      • Jiro says:

        Whether you are seeing trouble in the first place and have someone to catch is a matter of judgment. The people who complained about the Philae space probe scientist’s shirt thought they were catching someone doing bad things.

    • scav says:

      You should adopt beliefs only to the extent that you can use them to make falsifiable predictions and practical decisions.

      Generalised outrage at the evildoing of cops, cardiologists, sexual harassers or false sexual harassment accusers, gun nuts, anti-gun nuts, progressives, reactionaries etc is not itself a practical decision nor does it yield falsifiable predictions.

      The main thing you can do with all this is exercise your ability to doubt other people’s reasons why you should go along with their pet tribal narrative instead of trying to be a decent person.

    • Murphy says:

      Same thing you’d do with medical trials. “My cancer got better after taking this snake oil” even if it’s repeated by 10 people is much less convincing than “5% of trial participants taking snake oil experienced complete remission vs 1% of controls. ”

      100 stories of cops being brutal is much less convincing than stats showing that 5% of cops are responsible for >80% of complaints from the public. (and makes the course of action more obvious)

    • Troy Rex says:

      “Doesn’t this lead to a sort of (small-c) conservatism…”

      suntzuanime’s answer is pretty convincing to me. But I sympathize – it feels pretty weird to watch your circle of acceptable beliefs shrink suddenly. You sort of start wondering if you’ll be paralyzed by this degree of epistemological modesty.

      • LTP says:

        That’s the thing, even if you are epistemically modest, you still have to make decisions. An academic department in a male dominated field has to make a decision as to whether to have some degree of affirmative action for woman in graduate school to combat sexism in the field or not, and to decided if grading will be anonymized due to sexism or not. People here seem to be acting like assuming that there isn’t a problem is the “neutral” answer, but in my view there is no neutral answer. You have to make a decision either way, even if you don’t have a statistically significant study to prove it or not.

        I also feel like Scott and the posters here are making isolated demands of rigor implicitly. When it comes to nerds being called sexist or police brutality, they’re fine to apply this standard. However, Scott seemed totally fine just saying feminist are toxic and that this toxicity was a huge problem in the movement by citing like 5-10 examples in a post, and nobody questioned him.

        • Pku says:

          I don’t think that’s what Scott did about police brutality.
          Feminism is harder, because people here do seem to talk a lot about terrible feminism anecdotes. But OTOH, I (like most people here, including Scott) started out as being pretty strongly pro-feminist, and gradually drew away from it because of too many incidences like this – which would’ve been easy for us to overlook and ignore if they were genuinely non characteristic. I can’t think of a good way to check if most feminists are toxic (or even an objective way to check if any particular feminist is), but if someone thought of one I’d be willing to bet the results would be an overwhelming majority for toxicity. So my default “neutral” here is to believe in the toxicity until proven otherwise, because it’s what my best objective (at least; I started out with a pretty strong pro-feminist bias), judgement got to, even if I don’t have proof.
          (which isn’t to say there aren’t also nice, reasonable feminists – meeting one always makes me feel mildly confused about why they hang out with such toxic people).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            For what it’s worth (probably not a lot, but still), I’ve known several people who became more toxic the more into feminism they got.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Pku – “But OTOH, I (like most people here, including Scott) started out as being pretty strongly pro-feminist, and gradually drew away from it because of too many incidences like this – which would’ve been easy for us to overlook and ignore if they were genuinely non characteristic.”

            This. And to elaborate, Feminism discredited itself for me because of the actions leaders in the community took, loudly and publicly. It’s one thing to be shown cherrypicked examples, it’s another to see your prime examples turn bad.

            @The original Mr. X – “For what it’s worth (probably not a lot, but still), I’ve known several people who became more toxic the more into feminism they got.”

            This as well. Examples like this seem fundamentally different from the sort of examples Scott used in his post. it’s not cherry-picked bad apples out of a larger innocent population, it’s prominent leaders who can’t easily be disavowed, and people you know personally who can’t be ignored.

        • Emily says:

          Someone has to make those sorts of decisions [like whether to have affirmative action for women in their academic department]. But I don’t. So probably I don’t need to have views on that topic of whether they should.

          The person who does need to make decisions can and should collect evidence. And they have various options for how they can do that which are better than “I read in the newspaper (or the Chronicle) some stories about sexism in this field.” They have an academic literature. They have their own records on how men and women do in their school. And they have access to male and female current (and possibly former) students and professors, who they can certainly talk to (more or less formally) about their experiences.

        • Cauê says:

          People here seem to be acting like assuming that there isn’t a problem is the “neutral” answer, but in my view there is no neutral answer. You have to make a decision either way, even if you don’t have a statistically significant study to prove it or not.

          For something to even be a concern that’s worth worrying about you need to have good evidence already, enough to throw that speculative problem into the spotlight, out of the set of all possible things that could maybe be problems but we don’t know for sure. Otherwise we’re privileging the hypothesis.

          • LTP says:

            I think a large number of personal and anecdotal data, in this case, lots of women who have negative experiences in nerdy communities, is enough to at least worry about a problem possibly existing, but not enough to conclusively prove it. I don’t see this as privileging the hypothesis.

            And then you have to make a decision, where there is no longer a neutral option to fall back on.

          • Cauê says:

            By that point you already accepted the anecdotes as evidence enough to worry about. Presumably you would worry the same way about cardiologists, when presented with part I of Scott’s post?

        • Nornagest says:

          in my view there is no neutral answer. You have to make a decision either way, even if you don’t have a statistically significant study to prove it or not.

          Ah, the old “choosing not to choose is itself a choice” move. Never was too fond of that one.

          Not all choices are created equal. In particular, some types of choices, such as those involving active interference with incentive systems, have far greater variance in outcomes than other types, such as those involving sitting on your couch and watching TV. In situations where variance is more likely to be negative than positive, and where the status quo ante is tolerable in the short term, this is a strong argument for favoring the latter unless you have specific reasons to believe that the variance of the choices you’re considering is constrained in positive directions.

          Good intentions, importantly, do not make for a strong constraint.

    • haishan says:

      Stop believing things. Or at least cut way back on it.

      P y r r h o n i a n s k e p t i c i s m

    • keranih says:

      Correct. If you don’t have good repeatable measures of the extent of the problem, you will have no way of knowing if your so-called ‘solution’ is making it worse.. In which case, don’t do something, just stand there!

  15. Linch says:

    By the end of the second paragraph I was pretty sure you were trolling. The tone was very different from your normal one , and reminded me of this:

    Halfway down the first section, I correctly predicted what the second section was going to be about. Yay me!

  16. Richard says:

    There is no war on police.

    I have been in war zones three times in my life, and trust me, this is not it. A war is not writing things on various media outlets. A war on police would be flying B52s around dropping bombs on police stations.

    Likewise with the “war on drugs”. During the early days when special forces were routinely messing about in Nicaragua and such, the term may have been possible to defend, but even then I suspect it was more a case of “war on regimes we don’t like with pretty labels that are easier to sell to the public”

    I may be a tad sensitive to this, but my mind automatically maps “war on X” to “stupid hyperbole not worthy of my attention” and makes me stop reading right there. On reading this particular blog I make an exception because it usually proves to be a sane argument in the end regardless of provocative wording. (and the scare quotes helps)

    • Eugine_Nier says:

      The “war on drugs” and “war on cops” are very different types of rhetorical things. The people talking about a “war on cops” are pro-cop, whereas the people talking about a “war on drugs” are anti-drug.

    • Scott Alexander says:


      I will say that after reading this I was tempted to demand reparations. Frickin’ starry-eyed Wilsonian peace-without-victory idealists…

      • Sol says:

        From the above linked article, “they are closing down at a rate of 1.5 every single week” is a particularly flagrant “stat” to share considering this blogpost…

        • Deiseach says:

          What I find very hard to understand is that, whenever the plaints about defunding PP come along, we get a string of “PP clinics aren’t just for abortion, they do all this other heath stuff and they’re for men as well!”

          But when talking about what would happen if your local PP clinic gets shut down, it’s always scare-stories about “the bad old days of coat hanger and back alley abortions”.

          So what about all the health services people would be denied? Why is there no “If PP is defunded, incidences of breast cancer will increase because no scanning in poor communities”?

          Yes, a lot of the legislation about clinics is in order to do away with abortion. But on the other hand, if a clinic carrying out surgical procedures (which do have risks, no matter how safe) can’t at least commit to minimum standards of hygiene and admitting privileges to local hospitals, then how safe are they really? And if local hospitals want nothing to do with ‘abortion doctors’, why is that? Surely they’re not all run by Catholics and Southern Baptists?

          Is there anyone out there with no axe to grind for either side who can (a) sort out what funding PP gets and where it comes from (b) what services its clinics provide, do women go there for health care, do men go there as well (c) is it one organisation or is the whole ‘affiliate’ thing only a dodge (e.g. “No, we have nothing to do with what happened at the clinic in Sleepytown, they’re an independent affiliate”) while PP as a national organisation is trotted out for fundraising?

          I see a lot of contradictory figures given out on both sides, but I don’t trust any of the information I’m being given. For example, their 2013-14 report states “Our health centers provided 487,000 breast exams” but at the same time, I’ve seen posts claiming that even if PP clinics were defunded, this would have no effect on screening for breast cancer as PP only refer for appointments, they don’t carry them out. Who do I believe?

          Also, did anyone see this film?

          When the film Obvious Child was released this year, it marked a breakthrough for abortion in popular culture — as an edgy, hip, funny, remarkably honest story revolving around one woman’s abortion. Planned Parenthood worked for years with the film’s writer, director, and producers to shape the story, helped them film it in a Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic health center, and oversaw its release to widespread critical and commercial success.

          When NBC rejected an ad for the film because it included the word “abortion,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund led a national campaign to insist the network reverse course and change its practices. The campaign ignited a social media firestorm — and opened a conversation about abortion stigma — and NBC decided to run the ad and clarify its policies.

          Now, I think I’d have heard in the blogs I follow about “a social media firestorm” on abortion, and I had no idea of this film. Obviously I’m not hip and edgy!

          Again, in their report, they say only 3% of the services they provided are abortions – so why the screaming about “If PP is defunded, nobody will be able to get an abortion”? If I believe the report, their largest (42%) service is STI testing and treatment.

          And I don’t quite understand why the government is funding (41% of their total revenue) an independent organisation/charity to provide women’s health services, but then again that’s probably to do with the USA not having a nationalised health service?

          • Dirdle says:

            If they provide services of which 3% are abortions, that might account for 95% of all abortions provided by anyone. Then their 42% STI testing provision could represent only, say, 30% of STI testing services provided by anyone. Then they can quite reasonably argue both that they are needed in order to provide abortions and that doing so is not their primary purpose. Numbers totally invented, of course, but something to consider.

          • Leonard says:

            I don’t quite understand why the government is funding (41% of their total revenue) an independent organisation

            Funding an organization means by definition that it is dependent. In this case, subsidizing abortions is the policy of USG. Unofficially, of course. In modern democracy there are many policies which politicians don’t want to accept responsibility for. One classic solution for denying responsibility is to use cut-outs.

          • Adam says:

            Most of what many US government agencies do, such as HHS, NSF, NIH, etc., is provide grants to private non-profits that carry out the actual program work. It’s roughly the same rationale as privatizing any other government action, whether by contract award to a for-profit or grant award to a non-profit.

          • Irenist says:


            I think that’s broadly the shape of the actual numbers, IIRC.

            PP provides a very high percentage of the abortions, but that’s because abortions are rare compared to things like STD testing, etc. Thus, even though PP provides a lot of abortions relative to the total number of abortions, those abortions are still a small percentage of what PP does.

            There are a lot of people out there sincerely concerned about a dearth of providers for non-abortion women’s health services if PP is defunded. Now, I’ve read that there are plenty of community health clinics that could easily step up and fill this gap. However, I’ve mostly read that in The National Catholic Register, and obvious bias is obvious, so I dunno. I certainly hope the pro-choicers are wrong on that issue, but I think their concern is legit, and deserves serious inquiry.

          • Irenist says:

            A general note about defunding PP.

            First, per the Hyde Amendment, it’s already illegal for FedGov to directly fund abortions. So the concern is cross-subsidy. Say you have two women’s health clinics. Rosary Med (fictional) is a non-profit that does mammograms and pap smears, but no abortions. PP does lots and lots of great women’s health stuff and also abortions. No FedGov money goes to abortions. But money is fungible. FedGov money pays for mammograms and pap smears via Medicaid or whatever, and some of THAT money goes toward keeping the clinic’s lights on, paying the water and heating bills, paying the rent/mortgage, hiring a guy to sweep the parking lot and trim the hedges, etc. THAT stuff, which might be paid for with Medicaid money, sort of cross-subsidizes the abortions (AFAICT) b/c the abortions are in the same building. So what’s on the table now is approx. (AFAICT) that nonprofits like PP either drop abortion entirely, or they don’t get Medicaid reimbursement for anything, even stuff that other nonprofits (like Rosary Med) would still get reimbursed for, like mammograms. Obviously, this is playing hardball with PP. Equally obviously, they could restructure into two separate entities “ppWomen’s Health” & “ppAbortions Only” and run the latter with just private donor cash (which is how they directly fund abortions now, anyway), but they’d need to tap more donor cash for all those electric/water/rent bills, buy new buildings, etc., which would not be easy.

            Now, from a completely neutral perspective, going after every last penny of cross-subsidy is perhaps a bit extreme. But from the inside, I think the pro-life algorithm looks like this:
            Abortion is murder. It’s evil like slavery was evil. An extremist response is to pull a John Brown and bomb a clinic. A less extremist response is to work through the legal system to get abortion banned in every state, just like slavery. A moderate response is to overturn Roe, and return the abortion question to the states, like slavery before the Civil War. A squishy compromise response is to just keep chipping away at abortions with little state laws. An obvious response is to make sure we’re not actually SUBSIDIZING this thing that’s as evil as slavery. Wait? We might still be cross-subsidizing? Srsly? Our side sucks and is weak! Make a stand, people!

            So what to PP understandably looks like a War on Women that they’re losing looks to pro-lifers like even the squishiest, jello-spined compromise stuff can’t ever seem to get anywhere without massive pushback from PP. So, yeah. Again, my obvious bias is obvious.

          • DensityDuck says:

            “So what about all the health services people would be denied? Why is there no “If PP is defunded, incidences of breast cancer will increase because no scanning in poor communities”?”

            Because the answer to that is “we’ll just take the PP money and use it to start up free clinics that do everything *except* abortions”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The 3% number isn’t really an accurate way to look at things, since the way they are arriving at that inherently drives that number down. (tldr: each interaction counts as a different “service.” So if the clinic gave an abortion to every person who walked in the door, but performed a medical exam beforehand, they would already be down to only 50% of their services being abortions. 33% if they thrown in free condoms at the end. 25% if they test for STDs.)

            They don’t perform mammograms, either, just refer for them.

          • Randy M says:

            Jackologist, that’s a very interesting point. I wonder who else uses that sort of acounting trick?

      • Nathan says:

        I can never understand how people can write such massive treatises on the evils of the anti-abortion movement without once ever acknowledging or engaging with the movement’s core claim and motivation. Like, there’s picture in there of a billboard with a cute baby with a message about how early its heart beats or something, and absolutely no attempt to contest or justify the claims. They just shoot it in ominous black and white with barbed wire in the foreground. Scaaarrry cute baby.

        I mean, surely in a piece that long there’s room for a basic “Of course we’re not actually complaining about not being allowed to kill cute babies” argument. But no. That whole issue is apparently completely irrelevant.

        • Deiseach says:

          (a) Because they’re not babies, they’re foetuses; yes, I’ve seen an alleged adult make that argument in sober earnest online: “use the correct medical terminology!” Apparently they didn’t understand “foetus” is Latin for “baby”. If we’re going to be medically accurate, neither should we refer to the post-born as “babies”, they’re “neo-nates”.

          (b) Even if they’re babies, even if they’re alive, even if that’s human life, they’re not persons. They are not legally persons, they are not consciously persons, so it’s not killing/murder. The rights of the existing human person (that is, the mother – or I should probably say “pregnant person” since “mother” is emotive language and prejudicial in that it assumes the relationship of ‘mother and child’ which is at issue here) trump those of the pre-existent, not yet a person, entity.

          That’s part of my objection: if personhood is not innate but a status that can be bestowed by legal fiat, it can be removed the same way and indeed, I think we’re seeing a move that way; in pro-euthanasia, where the idea of losing mental ability – not just from something like Alzeimhers’ but also through severe depression, mental illness, etc. – means you are no longer a functional person. So you are losing personhood and it’s not unethical to humanely cease that life when it’s not a human person anymore, it’s certainly not murder.

          I’m sticking on “Do we really want to go the route of personhood and its legal rights and protections being revocable? Because that won’t just affect the unborn and the elderly/disabled, there’s no reason it shouldn’t apply to anyone at any stage of life. If we can argue that intellectually disabled persons aren’t fully human because they lack full consciousness and ‘normal’ human capacities, it’s just as easy to rule, if circumstances ever require it, that a ‘normal human capacity’ is an IQ of 120 and if you’re only IQ 115, sorry, not a legal person!”

          • James Picone says:

            Why don’t you look at the reverse slippery slope – by including blastocysts in the category ‘humanity’ (and I assume you oppose abortion at all points in a pregnancy), aren’t you on the slippery slope to considering arbitrary cells with human DNA persons as well? Cheek swabs are murder!

            What, you see a fundamental difference between skin cells and blastocysts? Funny, I see a fundamental difference between blastocysts and people of average intelligence.

            P.S. the euthanasia argument is that people should be allowed to have themselves killed, not that we should kill them without their consent because they’re not people.

          • Nita says:

            Don’t worry, Deiseach — the dreaded foeti are unlikely to come up in the discussion of that particular poster. After all, the little babies sucking their mummies’ blood from the inside only qualify for the term “foetus” after they reach the age of nine weeks 🙂

          • Winter Shaker says:

            if personhood is not innate but a status that can be bestowed by legal fiat, it can be removed the same way

            But I don’t see how you can avoid the problem that ‘personhood’ is a legal status – personhood is broadly understood to entail ‘entitled to protections under the law that are not afforded to inanimate objects, or living things that are not persons’. People are welcome to argue that personhood should become operative upon conception, and continue until natural death, or whatever, but either way, they’re still arguing about what criteria we use to draw the borderlines of a legal fiat in edge cases.

            But I’m pretty sure that most of the people arguing explicitly for personhood to be bestowed at some point of development, and removed at some point of decomposition, will be using as their criteria some sort of ethical concern for sentience and capacity for suffering, which would, unless they are going out of their way to make an unprincipled exception, automatically include pretty much any disabled people one could think of. And if they are, then you can just call them on their unprincipled exception.

          • Murphy says:

            I’ve never seen that line of argument from the pro-euthanasia crowd.

            They want power of attorney over their future selves, not to be considered inhuman after some particular age.

            Technically it’s not status as a person being revoked, it’s status as a person failing to be granted until some point even if it is impossible to revoke afterwards.

            Many pro-choice arguments have the uncomfortable property that they could just as much apply if the government decided that neo-nates didn’t count as people until the umbilical cord was cut or until the midnight following the birth or until the age of ,say, 3.

          • Deiseach says:

            James, there’s a difference between a cheek swab and a pregnancy. For one, we don’t have Planned Cheek clinics agitating for government funding to save women from the dreadful prospect of unrestricted growth of the inside of their cheeks.

          • g says:

            It is not true, or at best it’s misleading to say flatly, that “foetus” is Latin for “baby”. The Latin word “fetus” is both noun and adjective. The adjective means “pregnant”. The noun means (abstractly) “a giving-birth” and (concretely) “progeny”. So while you probably could call a baby a “fetus” in Latin, it seems clear that that really isn’t the core meaning of the word.

            The relevant distinction here isn’t (of course) really about words. It’s about the difference between (say) 10 weeks after conception and (say) 50 weeks after conception. That difference may or may not be significant morally, but it is certainly significant emotionally; and anti-abortion literature does seem keen on using pictures of the latter to justify restrictions on what can be done with the former. (And in doing so they are appealing to emotion rather than reason, so it is in no way irrelevant to point out the emotional difference.)

            In arguments about euthanasia I have never heard anyone suggest in any way that someone suffering from (say) very severe depression is anything less than fully human for that reason, or that they should die unless they specifically and strongly want to. Do you have actual examples of people saying that sort of thing, or (I’m sorry to be so explicit about this) are you just saying it because it sounds like a powerful argument, without caring whether it’s actually true?

          • Deiseach says:

            Winter, Murphy, that’s part of my point: that personhood is not a quality of humanity, but based on sentience – and so can be revoked in the case of loss of some arbitrary definition of sentience. That’s part of the fear of the future: “if this happens, I’m not going to be me anymore”.

            Yet we’ve had long comment threads on here arguing that right now there is no such thing as “me” or “the self”, that this is all just a screen or trick of the brain for ordering the manner in which it processes data and the stimuli bombarding the senses.

            I say that personhood is intrinsic when the entity is human, and if “human” does not depend on “must have five fingers on both hands”, then why should it depend on “must have so much brain volume”?

          • Deiseach says:

            I see a fundamental difference between blastocysts and people of average intelligence

            Why “people of average intelligence”, if it come to that? People below average intelligence are on the same fundamental level as blastocysts? Why not? How far below – is five points less than the notional average of 100 enough, or should we wait until we get down into the 80s before using the ‘like humans but not persons’ as test subjects for cures for ‘real people’?

            That’s the point I’m trying to make: once we start hanging “personhood” – and the legal rights and protections associated with it – on “humanity” on some quality or value of sentience/intelligence/can you dance the Macarena, then we’re getting to “this is not a human right, this is an arbitrary award made by legislative fiat at the whim of the majority of present society and just as easily taken away as given”.

            I’d be willing (not happy but willing) to give ground on “is a blastocyst a person?” if the pro-abortion rights people would give ground on “is a 20+ week foetus a person?” but it never happens that way. Right now we’re gearing up in Ireland for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, following from permitting limited abortion (in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar case).

            Of course, the usual disclaimers about “this is not permitting abortion on demand, this will not lead to relaxing the constraints, this is only for rare and grave causes” were made. And of course, that’s not enough. It’s never enough. Limits on abortion in the UK and the USA were put in place when it was legalised (and I know the American version of things is a mess because each state decides how it does things so some are more liberal than others) but somehow it never seems to be “up to this limit alone” and “at this point it is both a human life and a human person”.

            There’s always an exception. There’s always a hard case. I very much wish there was as much fighting for making it so that abortion need not be the solution to a woman’s problems of poverty, mental or physical illness, or lack of support. I know the pro-abortion rights crowd like to castigate the pro-life side for only caring about babies while they’re in the womb, but I don’t see PP and its supporters either working on allied campaigns with providing free ante-natal care or pre-school or helping women access social supports for dealing with mental illness while being mothers.

            Not their place, someone else’s responsibility? They’re working on reproductive health rights, child rearing is not their area? Yes. It’s always someone else’s job, isn’t it?

            So both sides get hardened into positions, because if we give in on “okay, abortion up to 12 weeks, sure” then the demand will be “but why 12 weeks and not 14?” and up and up creeps the limit. And on the other side, “no it’s perfectly fine to terminate a viable pregnancy because if we go soft on personhood we can’t object to any abortion at all, even early ones”.

          • Nita says:

            some arbitrary definition of sentience

            It’s not completely arbitrary, though. It’s constrained by physiological facts, just like any definition of “green” is constrained by facts about light.

            And if I ever suffer a brain death, I would rather my body be used to save a few lives than kept alive by life-support machines indefinitely.

          • Murphy says:

            >Winter, Murphy, that’s part of my point: that personhood is not a quality of humanity, but based on sentience – and so can be revoked in the case of loss of some arbitrary definition of sentience. That’s part of the fear of the future: “if this happens, I’m not going to be me anymore”.

            What line are you comfortable with for declaring death? If you’re declared dead you lose all your rights and can get shoved into a furnace. Does that make doctors saying “time of death, 9pm” automatically terrifying?

            The doctor has decided, based on his opinion and the reading from some instruments that it’s now ok to seal you in an airtight bag and lock you in a freezer. Most of your cells are still alive, most of your organs still work but he has the power to decide that you’re no longer a person.

            As I said but you seemed to ignore: They want power of attorney over their future selves, not to be considered inhuman after some particular age. I’ve never heard a euthanasia proponent imply that at, say, 75 old people should lose all their rights making it legal to hunt them for sport.

            I can foresee states in which I would quite rationally no longer wish to continue living even if my heart could continue beating. In most of those I’m still capable of dragging myself to the roof and jumping if it’s bad enough but in others I could be trapped in almost endless suffering with no escape or even ability to communicate my desire to end the experience.

            Being able to **choose** my own conditions for when I want to stop living (in the case that I cannot clearly communicate, if I can communicate just ask me) in no way shape or form negates my personhood.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Murphy – “As I said but you seemed to ignore: They want power of attorney over their future selves, not to be considered inhuman after some particular age.”

            A lot of people think that prostitution should be legal, and they advance arguments about bodily autonomy and such. I think a lot of those arguments are pretty good, but then I see this story:


            And clearly the officials have a point, right? If sex work is just like other work, surely there’s no good grounds for refusing to participate, right? Surely I shouldn’t object, right? Only, I really really do.

            Norms exist. Altering those norms can have far-reaching consequences. Altering the norms about Doctors intentionally ending the lives of their patients in one circumstance makes it a lot easier to end the lives of their patients in other circumstances.

          • Murphy says:


            And that right there is why my moral objection to that kind of crap has always been the forcing people into an arbitrary job, not the sex work bit.

            Banning sex work doesn’t solve the problem in any way shape or form just as banning euthanasia doesn’t solve the problem you want to solve.

            A morality-vegan could find themselves forced to behead lambs at a slaughter house, a muslim could find themselves forced to take a food-tasting job at Joes-All-You-Can-Eat-Pork-House or an anti-vivisectionist could be forced to take a job extracting the brains from lab animals. The morality ship has already sailed.

            You’re trying to enforce morals at the wrong part in the process, it just happens that you only noticed you screwed up when it combined with something else which made you uncomfortable.

            If your doctors are willing to ignore prior wishes and kill someone who didn’t and doesn’t want to die then the morality ship has already sailed and it wasn’t when you allowed people to make their prior wishes binding.

          • Winter Shaker says:


            I say that personhood is intrinsic when the entity is human, and if “human” does not depend on “must have five fingers on both hands”, then why should it depend on “must have so much brain volume”?

            Even then, you’ve just shifted the definitional problem one place over. Why should you get to say what does and doesn’t count as ‘human’? Why should we define as human a blastocyst but not, say, an unfertilised egg? Or at the other end, a brain-dead patient being kept alive Terri Schiavo-style long past the point at which there can be no conceivable prospect of them recovering (while people who could have used their organs die for want of a transplant). You’re still going to need to have an actually convincing argument for why this particular stage in the development process is the stage at which the full protection of the law kicks in.

            After all, if we are to protect the rights of those who have not yet become sentient beings, there’s no particular reason to start with conception, since every time a fertile couple choose not to have sex, they have potentially prevented a putative future sentient being from having the chance to come into existence. Yet almost no one thinks that we should all be legally obliged to have as many children as we are physically capable of. Unless a good argument can be made for why conception should be the magic cut-off, brain volume (or at least, some reasonable proxy for sentience) would be a more reasonable criterion.

          • injygo says:

            @ Delseach: Pro-choicers want to put the line dividing “non-person living organism” from “human person” at birth, because it’s a clear and dramatic change; a Schelling fence on the slippery slope.

          • Richard says:


            So both sides get hardened into positions, because if we give in on “okay, abortion up to 12 weeks, sure” then the demand will be “but why 12 weeks and not 14?” and up and up creeps the limit. And on the other side, “no it’s perfectly fine to terminate a viable pregnancy because if we go soft on personhood we can’t object to any abortion at all, even early ones”.

            This is simply not true. The majority of OECD countries have some variant of “on demand first trimester, for medical reasons second and in extreme emergencies after.” Except for the USA and Ireland, there is so little controversy as to be rounded off to zero.

            The reason for the controversy in the USA is probably the fact that unlike European countries, the decision was made by the supreme court rather than a normal democratic process which polarised the debate. Probably this was not helped by the fact that all debates in the US seems more polarised than elsewhere.

            I don’t know enough about Ireland to guess why tempers flare on the green isle, but I would guess either democracy has been bypassed or the catholic church is strong enough to dictate the views of one side.

            If there are other explanations, I’m sure you’ll enlighten me 🙂

            My point is that over the last four decades, abortion has become a non-issue in most of the west and Ireland and the US stand out as curiosities. A slippery slope has failed to materialise in so many places that the argument does not work well.

          • Murphy says:


            Ireland is, to a certain extent, currently in a state of de-catholicisation.

            40-50 years ago the church ruled with an iron fist, condoms were illegal until 1978, tampons were illegal because some old men got together and thought long and hard about the possible effects of tampons on young women and decided they needed to be banned.

            Such is rule by church.

            The church experienced a lot of scandals, lots of literal skeletons were found, the church handled a lot of the abuse claims really really badly and asset-stripped a lot of the church organizations which were getting in trouble. This did not go down well.

            There’s a dramatic difference between the old and young generations. It’s finally hitting a tipping point where the younger generation finally decisively outnumber the old people who simply vote for whatever their local priest tells them to.

            Hence there’s been a lot of recent shifts in policy away from catholic dogma.

            There is a conflict involving democracy but it’s the voters overturning the things, not some little body thrusting things upon the people.

            There’s (almost certainly, though we can’t be sure because they illegally hide their funding sources) also a lot of American evangelical money coming in funding groups like Youth Defense which also helps stir things up a lot more.

          • James Picone says:


            Why “people of average intelligence”, if it come to that? People below average intelligence are on the same fundamental level as blastocysts? Why not? How far below – is five points less than the notional average of 100 enough, or should we wait until we get down into the 80s before using the ‘like humans but not persons’ as test subjects for cures for ‘real people’?

            I think there are fundamental differences between dumb people and blastocysts as well, it’s just the example you gave.

            I feel like replying to a post that /specifically noted/ that I’m aware that you see a clear dividing line between arbitrary cells with human DNA and a blastocyst with the fundamental difference you see between arbitrary cells with human DNA and a blastocyst misses the point. The point I’m making is that your slippery slope sounds ridiculous from my position in much the same way the slippery slope I’m proposing for your proposition sounds ridiculous to you.

            The fundamental difference is the capacity for sentience, which a blastocyst and early-stage foetus do not have, and a late-stage foetus or person-with-50-IQ do have.

            I don’t know why you seem to think the pro-abortion position is all-abortion-all-the-time. (@injygo too, actually). I’m pretty certain the capacity for sentience develops prior to birth, and because I would prefer to fall on the right side I’d like some buffer room, and so first-trimester legal, second-trimester maaaaaybe in serious cases and third-trimester no is the broad position I support; I was not under the impression there was a strong push for weakening that position.

            I notice you have completely ignored the point that euthanasia support has never been about a doctor saying “This patient is no longer a person, let’s put them down”, but about patients saying “I no longer wish to live, please put me down”.

            Maybe this is just the thing where you think the universe is teleological and the people you’re arguing with usually don’t. I don’t think ‘humanity’ or ‘sentience’ are terms baked into the universe and attached to things like some kind of cosmic XML. Of course I attach human-scale moral worth to sentience; what else would I attach it to?

        • Nita says:

          Should they have pointed out that 18-day-old human embryos don’t have a heart, or that the baby pictured is not an 18-day-old embryo?

          Perhaps the author assumed that the readers of Mother Jones were already familiar with these facts?

          • Nathan says:

            Clearly there are arguments that can be made in favour of the morality of abortion. I just find it bizarre that a long explicitly pro abortion article doesn’t bother doing so.

          • Nita says:

            Generally, such arguments are useful and important. But, considering where the article was published, including them would be either “preaching to the choir” or providing “our side” with ammunition — probably the least noble purposes an argument can serve.

          • Nathan says:

            Well yeah, but preaching to the choir about how awful it is to limit abortions is pretty explicitly the purpose of the article in the first place.

    • lunatic says:

      Is the war on cops explicitly about violence? There seem to be a lot of articles around that have the effect of encouraging people not to trust cops, and trust is something that would certainly make a cop’s job easier easier. It’s rhetorically silly to call it a war, but surely not surprising.

  17. Anonymous says:

    This is why you should never read crime news.

    • Dirdle says:

      Obligatory: is crime news statistically worse, or might it only have many salient examples of its failures?

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        In the case of news organizations, the fact that the failures are salient is bad on itself. They are the ones who decide what news to signal-boost, after all.

  18. Deiseach says:

    I dunno, Scott, I think the first part of your post about cardiologists stands, given my experience with the head buck cat in our regional general hospital 🙂 (This is still the only time in my life I ever back-answered an Authority Figure, that’s how much he pissed me off).

    More seriously, you could definitely tell he was setting the tone for his department, as witness the young pup junior under him (the one who practically frothed at the mouth with rage when my blood test results came back and he couldn’t tell me I had diabetes, as he’d been threatening pro-actively caringly about my health before they came back); “like dog, like pup”.

    That’s probably more to do with senior consultants in general, though, rather than cardiologists in particular (though I am still amused that the heart and the circulatory system are TWO SEPARATE THINGS HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH ONE ANOTHER, YOU HAVE TO ASK THE VASCULAR SURGEON ABOUT YOUR VEINS*).

    Respiratory and renal consultants, on the other hand, are gentlemen and scholars 🙂 (The ones I and my family dealt with were lovely; they treated you like an actual human being, not a nuisance cluttering up their nice department).

    *Yes, I know: two different specialities, this is not unreasonable. But given that one of the symptoms of congestive heart disease** is oedema in the lower extremities, I didn’t think it unreasonable to ask him a question about the swelling in my legs.

    **Yes, I’m inclined to leap immediately to the worst case scenario when anything goes wrong. Ah, the joys of anxiety and depression co-mingled!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Oh, you hate all your doctors 😛

      • Deiseach says:

        I do seem to sound like that, don’t I? It’s probably because I successfully dodged having any interaction with the medical profession (apart from school vaccinations etc) up until the last five years, when age and decrepitude meant my health suddenly went south (or at least, it feels like that when up to now I’ve never had to go to a blinkin’ doctor) and the fact that nobody ever seems to have come up with a reason (a) why the pains started (b) why they stopped (and they went away of their own accord) means I’m a bit jaundiced (heh heh) about what went on.

        Plus, the guy really was a pig about it. Making all due allowances for the fact that the outpatient clinic was crazy busy, I was waiting hours past my time, everyone (me, him, them) were all frazzled – he still was not one bit helpful or encouraging. It remains, as I said, the one and only time in my entire life I was ever so pissed-off I was impertinent to an Authority Figure to their face (instead of meekly going “yes sir no sir three bags full sir” then bitching about it at home in private later). And that attitude of his did seem to influence his department, as witness his young acolyte who made me want to box his impertinent ears for not being respectful to his elders (damn it, when you feel old enough to be the boy’s mother, you expect him to at least be commonly civil to you).

        You are all saints of the healing arts*, I’m quite sure, and it’s only ungrateful grumps like me who are the bane of your lives 🙂

        (*Which would be Ss Cosmas and Damian and the Archangel Raphael, in particular)

  19. Deiseach says:

    I think there might be a challenge to what you say in that, for example, taking all Chinese people as a group – there is a huge amount of varience there. There’s all ages, genders, even ethnic types. They’re no more homogenous than any one population.

    But cardiologists (and cops) are not a random chunk of the population; they’re a profession and have been sorted out on certain criteria (from first being good at science-y type subjects to going into medicine to deciding to specialise in the heart to becoming a consultant); that is, there are steps along the way in sorting them out and they fit into a role with certain guidelines/expectations.

    So I don’t have any figures, but I wouldn’t be surprised if cardiologists are disproportionately “high-status men in an office with a lot of subordinates”. If there is a certain type (the reason we have stereotypes is much the same reason we have clichés: because there is some underlying foundation of agreement with facts there) who goes into cardiology, or the police.

    One thing that comes up in police brutality cases is the question of the culture: the ‘blue brotherhood’, the idea fostered of a ‘them and us’, ‘cops and civilians’ attitude, where the police come to think of themselves as separate from the public and as belonging to a special grouping, and that inculcation in the values and customs and practices and attitudes of the group influences them (witness the cop-show stereotype of “everybody hates IA”, “IA are a bunch of pencil-pushers in suits who don’t know what it’s really like out on the streets”, “IA are jealous failures out to get the guys who succeeded where they couldn’t” etc. when their role as keeping the police honest is vital).

    Maybe cardiologist culture is a bunch of cowboys who bask in the glamour of being heart surgeons (after all, routinely performing operations where you crack open someone’s ribs and cut out their heart and they still live afterwards is pretty goddamn miraculous) and imbibe the attitude that yeah they are special, they are a breed apart, and ordinary rules are for the little people.

    Saying “Chinese people are particularly inclined to be robbers” is false. Saying “People who join The Guild of Thieves, Robbers and Stick-Up Persons are likely to have an easy-going approach to the notion of private property” is not necessarily wrong.

    • anon says:

      I read a book about psychopathy which had an interview with a surgeon (I think cardiologist) who thought his psychopathy made him better at his job. The reasons are fairly intuitively obvious.

      So my mind went there at Scott’s initial contention that it takes a special sort of person to be a cardiologist. Plus there definitely is a stereotype, at least in healthcare circles in the UK, that cardiologists (and surgeons in general) are arrogant dicks.

      I’d have actually been interested in reading an article about whether cardiology selects for psychopaths but I don’t think that’s Scott’s kind of topic. However the first few paragraphs of this post have somehow convinced my non-reasoning mind that this is the case. I have a theory AND evidence, and my subconscious doesn’t care that the evidence is worthless.

      • Deiseach says:

        You probably do need to be able to quash or at least easily get over any squeamishness about cutting a live human being wide open and then cutting bits out and sewing other bits in, in order to be a surgeon.

        Of course, the trouble with that is if you don’t much mind cutting live human beings open and cutting bits out, there’s always the risk of consistently seeing people as objects or things, and getting blunted in your conscience about how you treat them.

        So perhaps the culture of surgery does self-select for “people who are less bothered about inflicting bodily harm”, which can go along with “less bothered about inflicting harm of any kind”, even if it doesn’t realise it’s doing that?

        • I can see a bigger problem than squeamishness.

          Humans make mistakes. In some professions, mistakes kill people. In order to enter such a profession, one has to be willing to accept the possibility, for some professions the near certainty, that at some point you will do something which results in someone dying who would otherwise live.

          That’s one reason why I would be very reluctant to become a surgeon. And it’s a filter that might well affect the distribution of personalities in the profession.

          • Murphy says:

            Technically taxi drivers would also be in that group, high risk of dying, high risk of taking passenger with them.

            Or train drivers who are quite likely to get to watch suicides jumping under their train.

            I remember when I was working in a company making software for inventory tracking in pharma research and was looking to move on, one of the recruiters said something along the lines of “oh, so you’re working in the pharma industry? So you won’t be bothered by that kind of industry.” and immediately started trying to sell me on a defense contractor job and a company which sounded a little like actual mercenaries on the basis that I was willing to spend my time tracking down bugs in software that tracks test-tubes.

            Beauticians can cause a great deal of pain but it would be weird to claim that hence they *must* be sadists.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            Heh. Early in my career, it was a commonplace among me and my peers, upon realizing a mistake we had made, to quip: “Well, we’re not doctors, no one died.”

      • SFG says:

        Nitpick: cardiology is a subspecialty of internal medicine, not surgery.

        I know Scott knows this, I’m mostly curious to see if it nagged at him or not. 😉

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I heard Tom Wolfe give a Q and A session around 1998, a couple of years after he had had major open heart surgery, in which he said the two most arrogant professions he’d encountered were surgeons and fighter pilots. This was in response to a question about his book “The Right Stuff.”

        That strikes me as something we ought to have a name for. You shouldn’t necessarily assume it’s true, but if it’s Tom Wolfe making a judgment at age 66, well, it’s worth not dismissing.

    • FJ says:

      @Deiseach: “witness the cop-show stereotype of “everybody hates IA”, “IA are a bunch of pencil-pushers in suits who don’t know what it’s really like out on the streets”, “IA are jealous failures out to get the guys who succeeded where they couldn’t” etc. when their role as keeping the police honest is vital)”

      I agree with your underlying point, but I think it’s fair to point out that cop-show stereotypes come from the sorts of people who write and produce cop shows; coincidentally, that particular class of people (stereotypically) have little personal experience with police and police culture.

      Weirdly, I happen to have some (very limited) familiarity with the professional cultures of cardiologists* and police. As far as police go, some are hostile to IA, for the same reason that some minorities are hostile to police: they are afraid of being (falsely?) accused of wrongdoing and being unable to defend themselves. Fear of being accused is probably more common among those who are actually wrongdoers, of course. You could use anti-cop or anti-IA attitudes as a heuristic for figuring out who is likely to be a criminal. But there are obvious drawbacks to treating dissent as evidence of crime.

      * In the States, “cardiologist” is a separate specialty from “cardiovascular surgeon”. Here, surgeons try desperately to avoid interacting with conscious patients. I guess it’s different in Ireland?

      • Deiseach says:

        A lot of things are apparently different in Ireland. I don’t know if my bloke was a surgeon; we didn’t get that far in our professional/patient interaction (which ended with me storming off in tears and high dudgeon).

        I hope he wasn’t; I wouldn’t trust the guy to open a packet of crisps, let alone someone’s thoracic cavity 🙂

      • “Here, surgeons try desperately to avoid interacting with conscious patients.”

        Not consistent with my one experience of surgery, involving a surgeon who, I was told, was sufficiently prominent to teach the relevant procedure at Stanford Medical.

    • Randy M says:

      That and I’d estimate Chinese people have a population 3, 4, or probably 5 orders of magnitude greater than that of Cardiologists, so every example has that much more relevance.

    • Buckyballas says:

      This is a really good point. Thanks for that.

  20. someone says:

    I knew something was up with the police numbers, because I remember Bill Clinton promising to put “100,000 new cops on the street” (which was never paraphrased as “doubling the number of police”).

    Also, Dr. Dale Dubin sounds like a cool fellow, the Thunderbird contest was a neat story, and I’m upset at Yale for distancing itself from it and participating in the shunning of someone who had already paid their “debt to society”.

  21. Simon says:

    I forget the exact post, but Scott once linked to what a vaguely remember as an anti-racialist piece that very briefly mentioned maps being useful because they don’t show all information. If you visit Berlin for a weekend, you really don’t want a map that shows all the oldest existing trees, unless you are really into that. You probably want a map that shows public transportation and attractions.

    I recently read Island at the Center of the World, about the history and continuing impact of New Amsterdam and New Netherlands. It argues that it’s a way more important part of US history than the pilgrims, being responsible for such things as freedom of religion and Americans calling biscuits cookies. It’s a book I really enjoyed, but its main flaw is that it presents a map of all things the Dutch influenced and then says “look at this map of Dutch influence! It’s full of Dutch things!”

    But there are of course also many, many maps of US history that don’t show any Dutch influence, and focus on the impact of things like the founding fathers. Or the Civil War.

    Whenever we talk about a specific subject we start drawing our own maps, and it’s probably a good thing. It’s a pretty futile attempt to attempt to understand the whole picture. A map of all creepy cardiologists can be very useful, for example if you are the head of Ethical Reform For Cardiologists. But it’s not very useful for a member of the general public. This easily leads to a sort of post-modernist ‘all knowledge is equally true’, because if Thomas’ map of Rationalists consists of a lot of creeps, while Eric’s map shows a lot of nice smart people, who’s to say which is valid.

    In theory you could try to put the maps next to each other and try to compare what each shows, but when I’ve tried doing that in the last few weeks, it’s been pretty tough. I tried it on a MR-youtube of how capitalism brings together seed traders and farmers throughout the world making everyone better off, and leftist critique that the clip ignores economic oppression and huge income disparities. But then you end up with something like “well, the MR-map is consequentialist and the leftist one more deontological”, which isn’t very useful.

    • Deiseach says:

      A map of all creepy cardiologists can be very useful, for example if you are the head of Ethical Reform For Cardiologists. But it’s not very useful for a member of the general public.

      Well, as a member of the general public, I consider I’d be pretty darned interested in knowing if my cardiologist was struck off in three jurisdictions, had a rake of sexual harassment lawsuits, and was likely to perform unnecessary procedures on me in order to bump up his salary. You expect the hospital to keep an eye on things like that, but if you’re going to him in his private practice, how can you tell? All you can do is assume that he’s ethical and proficient, unless you have word-of-mouth from former patients that he’s a creep.

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        Just Google the name of the guy. Apparently, people love writing stories about evil cardiologists, so if your cardiologist was evil you will be able to read about it.

    • Brian says:

      “I recently read Island at the Center of the World, about the history and continuing impact of New Amsterdam and New Netherlands. It argues that it’s a way more important part of US history than the pilgrims, being responsible for such things as freedom of religion and Americans calling biscuits cookies. It’s a book I really enjoyed, but its main flaw is that it presents a map of all things the Dutch influenced and then says “look at this map of Dutch influence! It’s full of Dutch things!””

      Fair, but getting off an a tangent, I didn’t think that was Shorto’s main point. The part I thought was compelling was the huge gaping hole in how standard Anglocentric American colonial history is taught:

      “OK, so in 1608 this group of exploitative royalist mercantilists called the East India Company set up shop at Jamestown; colonies with that culture spread out to dominate the agrarian Southern colonies. Then in 1620 a group of Puritans set up at Plymouth to escape religious oppression and impose their own preferred religion. They spread out so Puritanism dominated the Northern U.S. Somewhere in there Roger Williams founded Rhode Island as a center of religious tolerance, which somehow became part of our national culture even though Rhode Island is a tiny territory of no importance whatsoever after the colonial era. And somehow all these colonies got together and drew up the world’s first classically liberal democratic federal republic, but we’re going to have to gloss over that because no one wants to teach what was happening between 1650 and 1750.”

      The founding of the U.S. makes a ton more sense when you know the story of the mid-Atlantic, primarily non-English colonies, the most important of which was Nieuw Amsterdam.

      • SFG says:

        Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        For example, David Fischer’s famous “Albion’s Seed” is extremely deficient in everything New York-related.

        New York was on the losing side in the Revolutionary War, so that might have led to a local lack of interest in history relative to Bostonians, Philadelphians, and Southerners.

    • Tom says:

      For what it’s worth, the oldest tree in Berlin is a (very) low-key attraction.
      I’m really curious if you did this deliberately!

  22. sergio says:

    When reading the first part, anyone from Quebec will think of Guy Turcotte, perhaps the highest profile murderer here in recent years: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Turcotte_killings

    yep, a cardiologist 😉

  23. Kyrus says:

    I figured this article out when you started to write about sexual haressment. That one hits close to home as a gamer.

  24. P. George Stewart says:

    There’s also the question of the vividness, or particular weirdness, or horribleness of the examples making it seem more of a problem. I noticed myself reacting to that with the cardiologists. Ooh, shiny!

  25. LCL says:

    I think this is a subset of a larger issue, which I would describe as “people believe on some level that things reported in the media are happening in their own community.” We’re just not wired to treat salient anecdotes as originating far away and thus irrelevant. We treat them all as originating locally – and dozens of local incidents would indeed be a huge issue, but dozens nationally isn’t. Another good example is celebrity gossip, with people behaving as if a celebrity was a high-status community member when in fact celebrity is far away and celebrity’s life is irrelevant to the local community.

  26. My “Huh.” response was triggered by the second paragraph and all-but-confirmed by the third, because I didn’t think Scott believed in a general theory of outrageous evil.

    And now I feel really clever about having written this bit on why I read Vox Day and Amanda Marcotte a few week’s early. The best inoculation against the Chinese Robber Problem for myself, I’ve found, is to read a bunch of pieces by a broad spectrum of racists, so that any high-impact incident with a Chinese victim or perpetrator falls into multiple competing and contradictory narratives, and I have to go back and reconsider things in System 2.

  27. Desertopa says:

    Re: whether there’s a war on cops right now, I don’t think that poll respondents answering “yes” necessarily think that levels of violence against police have elevated (perhaps most of them do, but they could be getting that as an inference based on reporting of legitimate trends in sentiment, which do not in fact extend into outright violence any more than usual.)

    At the least, I can report that large swaths of the population (highly represented among the people I work with,) are convinced that the police are waging war against *them,* and that the animosity should be mutual. This was probably a preexisting perception before a spate of heavily reported cases exacerbated it, but I don’t think that the perception that there is now a “war on police” is *just* a case of misidentifying the Chinese as prone to burglary.

    • Mr Bones says:

      In other words, you can’t answer the question “Is there a War on Cops the same way there’s a War on Drugs?” with “No, there isn’t a War on Cops the same way there’s a War in Iraq”.

      • brad says:

        The war on drugs doesn’t consist of people saying mean things about drug dealers and users on twitter. Or even CNN.

    • Echo says:

      Yes, that infuriated me too. No evidence is enough to disprove the “war on women” we’re constantly being told about, and yet the “war on cops” can be dismissed as a paranoid right-wing conspiracy based on a single statistic?

      The murder rate of women is at its lowest point ever too. So much for that narrative!
      Oh, no, wait, that’s not how this one-sided culture war works, is it?

      • Mike says:

        With all these culture wars, it’s really a question of “who’s fighting them?”

        It’s a really bad time to see your name in news media as a police officer. The system of public opinion is weighted against you, and tons of people who have never had any personal experience worse than a traffic ticket, and have no idea about use of force studies, are convinced you’re a jack-booted thug. And the politicians in the AG’s office are, of course, beholden to those people. A bunch of people, by the way, who are unwilling to consider the idea that police deaths might be going down *because* of the increase in official police showing-of-force.

        On the other hand, you have the protection of the strongest union in the country as well as legal ruling that make your union process legally *required.* You have a justice system that will take your word as truth unless video evidence shows otherwise. You have entire communities that have been harassed by officers for years because there are a lot of low-level offenders who live among them. You have a system that thinks no knock warrants for drugs are appropriate, a culture where “if we have to chase you, you’re getting a beat down” is commonplace and considered acceptable, and an active resistance to even tracking how many people you’ve killed in the line of duty. Not to mention the fact that while officers may lose their jobs, they almost never go to jail, and get the full benefit of all “reasonable doubt” that our system is supposed to provide for everyone.

        I read a lot of civil liberties forums and cop forums, and everyone has a pile of good examples of how their shit is right. The Chinese robber fallacy definitely applies to these media accounts, but I haven’t found anyone doing good enough social science on the issue to come up with a better picture 🙁

  28. onyomi says:

    This fact, in general, is why I think it’s so scary what power journalists have to shape discourse. I don’t know of a good solution, but I think that this power is, to some degree, proportional to the degree to which people don’t realize they have it, so thank you for shining light on this issue!

  29. kappa says:

    My actual thought process on reading the intro about cardiologists was, “This is a Scott post. Either he’s going to tell us some off-the-wall yet strangely plausible reason why cardiologists in particular might end up being especially prone to criminal behaviour, or the cardiologists are being set up in service of some greater point.”

    Do I win a prize?

  30. NZ says:

    More support for my belief that journalism is an innately fraudulent profession whose product is unfit for consumption by the public.

  31. Tatu Ahponen says:

    “The media is always giving us stories of how tech nerds are sexist in some way or another.”

    So is the evidence for claim “media is always giving us stories of how tech are sexist” a study on how tech nerds get called sexist in the media way more than members of some other profession… or a collection of articles where the media calls tech nerds sexists?

    • Mr Bones says:

      a collection of articles where the media calls tech nerds sexists?

      Given how many articles there are calling some group or other sexist. A million stories of Chinese robbers doesn’t prove a point because there’s a billion Chinese, sure; I can produce one hundred million stories of Chinese robbers, what now?

    • Jiro says:

      “Media is always giving us stories of how tech nerds are sexist” is not the same thing as “most of the stories in media about sexism are about nerds”. There could be five or ten groups all called sexist and nerds could be one of them, for instance. In fact, even that isn’t necessary. All that is necessary is that nerds are called sexist disproportionately to the actual prevalence of sexist nerds.

      I just tried googling up “sexist plumbers”. The first hit is “Why are plumbers so sexist?”… which is about how women and men choose different things and plumbers aren’t sexist at all. The second hit is about how lawyers are more sexist than plumbers. The third hit is someone mistakenly thinking something said “sexist plumbers” when it didn’t. The fourth is a meme “Ooh, you’re sexist, plumbers can be women” which isn’t an accusation of sexism by plumbers. The fifth is “stopcocks women plumbers” which likewise isn’t an accusation of sexism by plumbers. The sixth is a false hit that is about sexism but is only “via plumbers”. The seventh is an accusation that a specific plumber is sexist. The eighth is a Reddit link to the first. The ninth is a news article from 1994 that defends plumbers from political correctness related to sexism. The tenth is an Australian advertising standards report that quotes a complaint about sexism against male plumbers.

      Yup, of the top ten hits, one is an actual accusation of sexism by plumbers, and that’s only against a specific one without trying to generalize.

      Googling up “sexist nerds”, of course, is drastically different and consists mostly of accusations that nerds are sexist, as well as being full of generalizations.

      • Nita says:

        You do realize that nerds are extremely overrepresented on the Internet, right? And that includes nerds complaining about other nerds.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        While I agree with most of what you’re saying, using plumbers as an example is a bit coy. What are the results of, say, “sexist investment bankers/traders” (or “sexism in finance”)?

        • Jiro says:

          Using investment bankers gives me five legitimate hits in the top ten, which is worse than plumbers but better than nerds (which gives me ten out of ten), and the tone of the articles is a lot less strident and generalizes a lot less than the nerd ones (And one is about Japan and one is about “Chinese and European perspectives”, and they cover a wider range of dates than the nerd ones, implying proportionately less recent articles).

          And even if I had gotten articles similar to the nerd ones, that would just show that investment bankers are accused of sexism by the media a lot too. It’s possible for more than one group to be accused of sexism a lot.

          • Nita says:

            that would just show that investment bankers are accused of sexism by the media a lot too

            So, what would actually change your mind?

          • Jiro says:

            What would change my mind would be investment bankers being accused of sexism with similar tone to and in similar quantities to nerds. Having half the hits be false hits suggests there aren’t as many genuine hits, and the tone of the articles that are hits is clearly different. (And having even the genuine hits include references more than a decade old and references from foreign countries suggests that there aren’t as many current examples.)

            Also, that would change my mind about nerds being accused of sexism more than investment bankers. If you wanted to change my mind about nerds being accused of sexism more than other groups, you would have to show something similar for other groups.

          • Randy M says:

            I wonder why investment bankers get accused less? (Discounting the obvious about actual incidence of sexism for the moment). I assume tech is seen as fairly wealthy, but perhaps at a certain level the power becomes great enough to scare off or buy off accusers?

          • Jiro says:

            I wonder why investment bankers get accused less?

            Hypothesis: Investment bankers are high status and nerds are low status, despite the SJW attempt to call nerds oppressors and claim they are punching up when attacking nerds. Because investment bankers are high status, not a lot of people pick on them, so accusations against them will be fewer and will contain a higher portion of legitimate grievances.

            (Plumbers aren’t high status in the sense that investment bankers are, but they are higher status than nerds. Intellectualism still isn’t cool. Also, being manual laborers and lower social class makes them higher status for the purpose of social justice.)

          • brad says:

            Do investment bankers get accused less or is it just in different places that (generic) you don’t read?

            Take a look at http://dealbreaker.com/ It’s a generic wall street gossip blog. A lot of articles in there portraying the sexual harassment by bankers. Ditto for its sister site AboveTheLaw in the biglaw world.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >I wonder why investment bankers get accused less?

            Because they don’t care unlless they, personally, are facing a workplace harrassment suit.

            Caring too much about things other people don’t care about is, like, the definition of a nerd.

          • Randy M says:

            “Plumbers aren’t high status in the sense that investment bankers are, but they are higher status than nerds. ”

            Not sure about that; I have one annecdote, i that my dad was a plumber who pushed us to go to college rather than do skilled manual labor. Status wasn’t the main reason, but may have been part of it.

          • Jiro says:

            Status differs depending on who is evaluating it. I suspect your dad wasn’t a SJW. Actually, I suspect not a lot of plumbers are SJWs.

          • Pku says:

            I don’t think it’s so much a matter of status as that nerds generally tend to want to be feminist, which makes them fun targets. There’s no point in attacking someone who’s just going to say you’re being ridiculous and shut you down, but attacking people who don’t even try to defend themselves is boatloads of fun.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s no point in attacking someone who’s just going to say you’re being ridiculous and shut you down, but attacking people who don’t even try to defend themselves is boatloads of fun.

            This fails to predict l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants, at the very least.

          • Pku says:

            Good point, my explanation is insufficient. I’m still not sure it’s wrong, though – there’s no lack of (male) gamers who try to be feminist, and having them join you is a lot of fun.
            But mostly, I think the difference is that this is a cultural war, not a “job war”. There’s no plumber culture or banker culture* in the same way there’s a nerd culture. And if the target for these kind of attacks is culture or tribe rather than job or something more specific, it generalizes pretty well (republicans have a “war on women”, catholics have molesting priests, democrats probably get these kind of accusations in ways I don’t hear about much because I live in a blue stronghold, etc.)

            * well, I guess there is a wall street culture, but they get attacked a lot for other reasons and I guess most SJW types are more concerned about attacking them on those grounds. This could also be explained as “you need weapons to attack wealthy groups” – wall street bankers already have stereotypes as selfish/evil, but nerds not so much – which means if you want to attack them, you need to work hard on developing stereotypes of nerds as selfish/evil/sexist instead of just socially awkward. (I guess I am folding in a bit with the status theory here, at least in the sense of the status SJW types may have assigned/currently assign to nerds. I don’t fully like status theories because different groups can assign status in different ways, but this theory does seem to work under “relative status theories” .)

          • Jiro says:

            This fails to predict l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants, at the very least.

            Attacking targets who try to fight back and lose is just as much fun as attacking targets who are so helpless that they just sit there and cry. Besides, it offends people’s pride to have their targets dare to fight back, so they attack more savagely. It only ceases to be fun if the target actually wins the fight. If the ants had managed to win, that would have discouraged future fights, but they didn’t.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >This fails to predict l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants, at the very least.

            Well, I don’t think they expected them to fight back. At least not to this extent.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “If the ants had managed to win, that would have discouraged future fights, but they didn’t.”

            They didn’t? I guess it depends on how you define “victory”, but it seems to me they’ve done very well for themselves indeed, and the fight is ongoing. Much as with the Vietnam War, I think you’re mistaking firepower deployed against them for suppression of their ability to resist. And given the mess that resulted, I don’t think most people consider the Journos’ tactics as good ones to emulate.

          • Pku says:

            Don’t know if this necessarily counts as “losing”, but the Wikipedia article about the affair is the first wikipedia article I’ve seen that didn’t even try to look neutral.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Pku – “Don’t know if this necessarily counts as “losing”, but the Wikipedia article about the affair is the first wikipedia article I’ve seen that didn’t even try to look neutral.”

            while that is irksome, gamer culture isn’t centered around Wikipedia. Nor is it centered around news outlets or papers like the Guardian. None of those things actually get the gamers where they live, which is the gaming community itself… And given that you have developers coming out openly in support of #GG, and pretty much everyone who wrote a “gamers are dead” article admitting publicly or privately that it was a massive mistake, and ongoing backlashes against anyone trying to push the Social Justice angle in the video games space (attacks on the Witcher over “racism”, the new mad max game over lack of female representation, MGS V sexism would be a few of the recent examples), and it’s hard to regard the fallout as a win for aGG. Gamers don’t fundamentally care about the media’s opinion of them; they’ve known for decades that the media were a lost cause, all the way back to when Jack Thompson was a celebrity. It’s the Journos who need the approval of the broader culture, and painting their chosen medium as a wretched hive of misogeny has ruined any chance of mainstream acceptance for another decade or so. The wikipedia article is only convincing to people who have no stake in the issue anyway. To those invested, it’s only a goad.

          • Zorgon says:

            Despite my long-stated deep and passionate loathing for their opponents, I can’t agree with you FC.

            The ants lost any battle for the public opinion the minute the “ethics in games journalism” meme got traction. It’s that simple. If your opposition’s memes gain traction and yours don’t, you lose.

            Now, on any number of object levels they’ve clearly either won outright or gained significant moral victories in ongoing stalemates. They’ve forced numerous gaming press outlets to update their ethics policies, triggered a FCC ruling on affiliate links, brought down Leigh “Gamers Are History” Alexander (although let’s be honest, she mostly did that herself), and as people have mentioned, generally created a situation where SJW issues in gaming are pretty much solely a clickbait segment and no longer able to be a serious part of the ongoing discourse.

            Hell, even Anita Sarkeesian had to start actually releasing videos again to remain relevant!

            So there’s lots for the worker ants to be happy about. But they lost the overall war. That was always a given when fighting people who “buy ink by the gallon”, as the saying goes. Numerous SJWs remain in positions of power and authority, Gawker still exists and still makes money, and Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu are still able to get into the mainstream press as “harrassed game developers”. None of the harrassment, death threats, items in the post, bomb threats etc against GG members are part of the overall picture presented to society at large.

            The narrative held, and that means that so far at least, the lying liars won. Plus ca change, really.

          • SFG says:

            I also do think there’s something to the old Roissy/Chateau Heartiste argument that women hate nerds. Nerds trying to be feminist is like the annoying guy trying to get into bed with you (perhaps literally in some cases).

          • Nita says:

            @ SFG

            women hate nerds

            Oh shit, you got me! OK, I confess: I hate them so much that I even inflict my nefarious presence on innocent nerds — in conferences, IRC channels, the local Linux users’ group, and even in the bedroom 🙁

          • Re: Ants, I think the issue here is that both sides have different standards for victory. I think there’s another point that neither side actually has the power to make the other go away or really lose ground; even if one side becomes completely hated by the mainstream, they have enough online territory that is deeply theirs to retreat, recover, and return later.

            I also think it’s important that if you can knock the ideological and tribal blinders askew for a moment, everyone would agree that many examples games journalism and reviews are deeply influenced by the publishers in way unhealthy for journalistic integrity, and that there are many gaming environments in which being a woman opens you up to a great deal of extra harassment over being male or anonymous, but the idea of the people involved coming together to address the problems rather than count tribal coup with them are slim right now.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Zorgon – “The ants lost any battle for the public opinion the minute the “ethics in games journalism” meme got traction.”

            Was this a battle for public opinion? I mean, sure, that was a tactical goal that was hard fought, but was it the definition of Victory?

            Jack Thompson’s memes were the ones that got spread in mass media, arguably to this day. The games industry kept right on rolling despite him, nothing he argued for got achieved, and he destroyed his career and ended up disbarred.

            The journos tried to carry out an ideological coup, and ended up seriously damaging their own platforms. Gawker got its finances dented, is not looking so hot these days, and is fighting for their life in a lawsuit with Hulk Hogan. Quinn appears to have some legal trouble herself. Wu is back to being an obscure mediocrity. Tim Schafer, one of the few actual devs to throw in with them, has wrecked his reputation via back-to-back kickstarter bombs. Phil Fish is gone, maybe for good. Sarkeesian probably came out the best, but her future prospects for changing the industry look pretty close to nil. She had her shot; she can keep talking, but I see no evidence that anyone who matters is listening. Collectively, the ideologues seem to be viewed as a risk to be managed, not as a guiding light to be followed. Their message is met with boredom and derision. On the broader culture, Social Justice itself appears to be stalling out as its nastiness and infighting generate more and more backlash.

            On the other hand, what victories did they secure? Well, they’ve given the hashtag a toxic reputation, especially with people who have no actual interest in video games or the broader community. Inside the community, they didn’t even cleanly secure that. The hashtag is of course anonymous and disposable, so for the vast majority of supporters this has zero impact on their actual lives. They’ve fucked up Gjoni’s life, possibly permanently. Yay? His court case appears to be going well, and that might get him some small relief. John Bain’s career seems to be rocking right along despite all the nastiness sent his way. Vavra and Wardell seem to be doing great. Quiet’s costume is still absurd, Mad Max is still massively popular. A significant chunk of the gamer community has been permanently innoculated against Social Justice ideas.

            If that is what a win for social justice looks like, I would invite them to win on those terms as often as they like.

          • Cauê says:

            The previous situation was unstable because Tumblr-feminism and SJ were basically being smuggled in boxes marked as undisputed good or even sacred things (equal rights, not-hate…).

            But at some point communities open the boxes and go “wait a minute, what is this ‘privilege’ thing doing here? ‘Rape culture’, ‘mansplaining’… ‘Manspreading’, what? I thought these were the equal rights boxes?”.

            Our collective memetic immune system initially only has the responses for what’s on the label (“this person is against the ‘equality’ box -> react with extreme outrage”), but it slowly comes to recognize what’s happening. This is the the period of adjustment as people reassess what status to assign to the actual content of the boxes, and reorganize affiliations according to each one’s answers. Only when this process is complete will we know what’s the stable level of support for these memes.

            Did GG lose? Well, it’s not over. So far it lost the media battle, and consequently the general-public-reputation battle, but it’s much less clear among people in the actual industry. For anyone who cared to look, it appears to have shown that standing up to SJ doesn’t hurt sales, and pandering to it doesn’t help.

          • Urstoff says:

            Was Mad Max considered contrary to SJ values? It seemed fairly neutral to me.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Urstoff – “Was Mad Max considered contrary to SJ values? It seemed fairly neutral to me.”

            The video game, not the movie. Broadly crtiticized in the press for, among other things, a near-complete lack of major female characters, extremely popular with players for apparently being a freakin’ awesome game.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Gaming is the new Afghanistan where the commies get their comeuppance by starting a painful war that neither side can win but the other side will never give up on.

          • SFG says:

            Nita: maybe you don’t. I’m thinking of people like Amanda Marcotte, who spent a whole article inveighing against bronies (wait, I thought you wanted people to get out of gender stereotypes?). But you’ll note I posed it as a weak statement, because I’m not sure it’s true, only a conjecture.

            A lot of feminists are more or less the female equivalent of nerds, preferring theoretical constructs to practical experience and wasting all their time in the library. So it’s natural the two groups would come into contact. It’s become pretty obvious to me, though, that after the Gamergate fiasco, the kangaroo Title IX rape trials, and Tumblr, that with feminists, as a man, you are always on thin ice, and the best thing to do is minimize your contact with them in real life, because they can ruin your life with a sexual harassment claim or badmouthing you on Tumblr, etc. Smile, parrot the expected statements, and keep the f*** away.

            In the Internet, of course, you can joust with your ideological enemies to your heart’s content. They can even be right sometimes.

          • Nita says:

            @ SFG

            Sure, Amanda Marcotte has a lot of weird opinions. Hasbro adding fashion dolls to their cute animal franchise? That’s unheard of! Also, Harry Potter is not nerdy enough, therefore he’s a jock.

            And yes, some people think that bronies are creepy. Some people think the Harry Potter fandom is creepy, too — especially if they know about the erotic fanfic.

            How you get from that to “women hate nerds” is unclear. There is some overlap between “nerds” and “adult fans who create erotic content based on children’s media”, and Amanda Marcotte is a woman, but that’s about it.

            A lot of feminists are more or less the female equivalent of nerds

            A lot of feminists are nerds. A lot of nerds are feminists. And how did “women” suddenly morph into “feminists”, anyway?

        • Zorgon says:

          Nita has a very good point here.

          One of the most annoying things about current feminist discourse is the intentional conflation of “feminist” and “woman” to disguise meta-level things that advantage feminists as advantaging women as a group.

          Surely it’s incumbent on those of us resisting the current festival of superweapon usage to not make the exact same error?

          @FacelessCraven – Yes, there was a battle for public opinion. There always is a battle for public opinion on anything beyond local level activity. Nearly every cause is easier when the public is on your side and more difficult when they’ve been trained to pattern match you with “violently misogynistic uber-nerd.”

          GG’s rejection of “muh PR” was always disingenuous status-signalling at best and suicidal myopia at worst. Hipster SJWs live and breathe memetics, so allowing them to spread their status tags unopposed was an incredibly poor idea, especially given than I’m pretty sure the ants outnumbered their core opposition by some margin.

  32. On the issue of police brutality, the aspect that causes the most concern for me is that frequently we see footage of brutality where several officers are involved, or one or two are involved while several stand aside as if this is standard operating procedure. Maybe the incidents where other officers do intervene don’t become incidents of brutality. But, somehow the additional officers taking part or standing aside or falsifying reports in the incidents of brutality seems like it should add weight to the problem.

    One other area where I have looked at this issue is the housing boom. In loan data and survey data, I have found that basically none of the things everyone thinks happened, happened. Down payments didn’t shrink, FICO scores of borrowers didn’t go down, average mortgage payments didn’t increase, there wasn’t an upsurge of securitized mortgages. Until 2006, when the bottom dropped out and all those trends went the other way, banks were making the same types of loans to the same types of households that they always had.

    There were some changes. For instance, Ginnie Mae loans, which had been a source of low down payment loans for decades, began declining in the mid-1990s. The growth of the private pools (which includes subprime) basically matches that decline in Ginnie Mae loans throughout the period. Replace cardiologists with predatory lenders or out of control GSE’s or the CRA, and you basically have the narrative of the housing bubble. There is one fact that is true – home prices increased. Just about everything else is based on anecdote and preconceptions and has little support in the data.

    • Sastan says:

      Man, I hate those predatory lenders! I was ambushed by six of them just the other day, popped out an alley and started flinging buckets of cash at me! Now I owe them a lot of money, I guess!

    • PGD says:

      There was a massive increase in private mortgage securitization and in housing prices starting around 2000 or so. That is plainly visible in the data. (E.g. annual issurance of private mortgage securities goes from $188 billion in 2000 to over $1.3 trillion in 2005). As for the other things you mention, if down payments and mortgage payments stayed the same while housing prices were zooming upward, then that says a lot.

    • Candace says:

      You don’t have accurate information. Lending standards changed massively after the deletion of Glass-Steagall. Many loans were given that were completely detached from income. Huge numbers of buyers popped up that were not qualified by any traditional or reasonable standards. Massive amounts of fraud occurred. It is all well-documented. That is why we now have CFPB.

  33. B-san says:

    If we shouldn’t use examples provided by the news to assume trends and we shouldn’t trust any statistics provided by the news (I trust I don’t need citations for this), then where should we go to find accurate information about the world?

    If we want a map that closely resembles the territory of events around the world, what is the best method for making and maintaining that map?

    • Adam says:

      There are plenty of public databases against which news-reported statistics can be checked. Every time I hear something about a labor trend, I just go straight to the BLS and see if it’s full of shit. The BLS kind of sucks, but it’s the best there is for labor data. Many other public databases are much, much better. FRED and the US Census are both really good. Ignore the reports they publish. Just go straight to the raw data.

    • Urstoff says:

      Aside from the official statistical sources, I think most of the “trends” the news reports on are things that people generally don’t need to form an opinion about. It’s not too difficult to be a global agnostic about most things.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, what are you planning to do with that map? Unless you’re working for the Pentagon or the World Bank or something, your only need for up-to-date knowledge on current events is likely to be to impress your friends with how well-informed you are, and you don’t need accuracy for that; your friends will be expecting editorial slant, though which slant depends on who your friends are. It’s up to you whether you want to avoid news and be a little less mindkilled, or consume it and be a little more sociable.

      (If you do work for the Pentagon or the World Bank or something, you… probably don’t have better sources of information than Reuters or the BBC, but you probably do have better tools for evaluating its accuracy.)

      • Aegeus says:

        We live in a democracy. We’re expected to provide input on public policy, which implies we need to know something about it. Even if we can often pass off the responsibility – I don’t know much about cardiologists, but I think that Senator Wiseguy does – we still have to evaluate the results. If next campaign season, I see an attack ad that says “Senator Wiseguy has done nothing about the evil cardiologists!”, is that a valid criticism? Should I still vote for him?

        Saying “I don’t know anything about that issue” is only fine until that issue shows up on your ballot.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m tempted to say that if you vote for whoever’s tallest or has the nicest voice, you’ll do no worse than everybody else.

          Now, that’s probably too cynical for most people’s tastes. But even if you hold your electoral responsibility in higher regard than I do, going out of your way to consume media designed to manipulate you (primarily into buying more newspapers or generating more clicks, but most news sources have at least a secondary political slant) doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to fulfill it.

          If you take the time you would have spent reading the newspaper and use it to study history or economics, I’ll bet you’ll end up making better policy decisions than the people that didn’t, even without an intimate knowledge of whoever got shot by the cops this week or whatever some Kardashian is marrying. And seriously, just ignore anything in an attack ad.

    • keranih says:

      What is the best way of making and maintaining a map of the growth of grasses around homes around the world?

      (Please to note – I’m not being a wiseacre. Seriously, how much detail do you need? If you need to know what the height is of every square meter and the top five species (in weight, in growth rate, and raw numbers) in each square meter within half a click of each human dwelling around the world – including both homesteads in Swaziland and Times Square, the answer is going to be much different than if all you need to know is if there is snow or sun on the grass this month. You can’t know everything, and unless you are Sherlock Holmes or the Batman, you shouldn’t feel bad about that.

      Maybe your question is what sort of knowledge should a human have of the world and the other humans in it in which case, I would suggest that your local town hall meeting would be the best place to start. Once you’ve conquerored that, feel free to push outward.

  34. DensityDuck says:

    I have never once seen a conclusion justified by statistics that A) relied on a single measure and B) had any validity at all. If someone talks about a large change in the absolute number, it turns out to be something that has a tiny overall rate. If someone talks about a large change in the overall rate, it turns out to be in a tiny absolute number.

    “Here are dozens of stories about awful cardiologists, so we should institute closer monitoring of cardiologists!” Turns out that there were a hundred not-bad ones for every awful one.

    “Our close monitoring reduced the number of serial-killer cardiologists by a whopping 75%!” Turns out there were only four of them in existence and we caught three.

  35. Oliver Cromwell says:

    The war on cops was created by another largely artificial war, on blacks, that was also invented by media cherrypicking. It would be accurate to say that there is a major war on cops being conducted by the media and a much smaller, perhaps negligibly significant one being conducted by the Obama administration and a string of terrorists that the public is only aware of because of media cherrypicking. Of course it is not in the media’s best interest to draw attention to the former war, so they focus on the latter.

  36. PJ says:

    My stream of consciousness while reading the Post: I felt some cognitive dissonance/unease right from the beginning which I suspect stems from me seeing doctors as generally good respectable people (a stereotype). This built up with the number of examples. To deal with this dissonance the back of my mind started to try to think of solutions. My first thought was either cardiology selects for people that are bad in a particular way or studying cardiology somehow corrupts people. Both seemed ridiculous and my dissonance intensified. Then something flipped in my mind and I almost felt angry for a second as I switched to trying to disprove the case. It was immediately obvious that the examples proved nothing unless they were showing an increase from the Base Rate of the general population and since I model Scott as a smart person I figured he knew this and was making a point about the availability heuristic reinforcing the narrative of the media that may or may not be true. I immediately felt better and more relaxed. I don’t think I would have ever questioned the articles if they matched stereotypes I already had. I went into the reading ready to confirm the argument Scott was making (I imagine this is a habit I have formed from reading a lot of insightful posts here). I have the opposite mindset when starting to read something I know I am likely to disagree with such as a far right blog. I am curious if this is similar to other people’s first person experience of confirmation bias.

    • Deiseach says:

      seeing doctors as generally good respectable people (a stereotype).

      This now makes me want to dig out all the examples of murderous doctors I can think of 🙂

      From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (a doctor himself!), this quote from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”:

      When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession.

      Via Wikipedia: “Edward William Pritchard (6 December 1825 – 28 July 1865) was an English doctor who was convicted of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning. He was also suspected of a third murder, of a servant, but was never tried for it. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.”

      “William Palmer (6 August 1824 – 14 June 1856), also known as the Rugeley Poisoner or the Prince of Poisoners, was an English doctor found guilty of murder in one of the most notorious cases of the 19th century. Charles Dickens called Palmer “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey”.

      Palmer was convicted for the 1855 murder of his friend John Cook, and was executed in public by hanging the following year. He had poisoned Cook with strychnine, and was suspected of poisoning several other people including his brother and his mother-in-law, as well as four of his children who died of “convulsions” before their first birthdays. Palmer made large sums of money from the deaths of his wife and brother after collecting on life insurance, and by defrauding his wealthy mother out of thousands of pounds, all of which he lost through gambling on horses.”

      From Dr Knox to Dr Crippen – born in Michigan! – to Dr Shipman, murdering or otherwise dodgy docs have a long pedigree in British murder trials.

      • SFG says:

        I think it’s as Conan Doyle said–they tend to be well-organized, disciplined, and of course medical knowledge is useful in reverse as well. How many ways does Scott know to kill someone?

        I’d also argue it is a Chinese robber problem–the doctor who kills is so creepy it winds up in the headlines (or pamphlets and special editions of earlier centuries), whereas some random yob flying off the handle and killing someone doesn’t get any attention even if it’s more common.

        Not to minimize that you may well have been victimized by members of the medical profession!

  37. JRM says:

    I started reading this, and one full paragraph in, I was thinking:

    “This is an example of evidence-by-anecdote, which Scott will use to demonstrate that it’s possible to do this type of hit piece on anything. I’m gonna comment on how this applies insanely well to crime and law enforcement.” Then Scott did that. And better than I would have.

    I’d guess many (most?) SSC readers saw the denouement coming. I suspect it’s harder to catch in real life, with the drip-drip-drip of stories that end up echoing against each other.

    • DensityDuck says:

      The point of the piece is not “oh those silly journalists”, the point is “context is vital to understanding”.

  38. Nornagest says:

    What if I told you the 500,000 number is also a lie, and it’s actually way more cops than that? Do you have any idea at all how many police there are?

    Fermi analysis: there were about 10,000 people in my hometown, and I think there were between twenty and fifty cops in it — it had offices for local police and the sheriff’s office and the Highway Patrol, but we can probably ignore the latter two given that there were also a bunch of outlying unincorporated areas that didn’t have local police. So there’s probably a cop for somewhere between every two hundred and every five hundred Americans, if the ratio doesn’t get horribly skewed in big cities or something. Scale up to 300 million Americans and you end up with between 600,000 and 1.5 million cops in the US, not including federal agencies but they’re probably much smaller than state or local.

    (This turned out to be accurate when I Googled it.)

  39. Bill Murdock says:

    @Scott Alexander: I see you are reading David Friedman’s blog (he posted an article just like this one a week ago). This is good news. Your economics have been atrocious (and self-contradictory, but I won’t get into it here now), so I hope you’ve decided to actually learn some. I love your writing on various topics, but when you move into my area of expertise and fail so badly it makes me wonder what else you’re relating that only looks good to a novice.

    Hmm… this sounds harsh, but I don’t want to rewrite it. Keep up the good work.

    • Pku says:

      Harshness (or, less charitably, just calling people who disagree with you ignorant) aside, if you won’t trust Scott’s economics unless they agree with Friedman, wouldn’t you be better off just reading Friedman directly?

      • Doctor Mist says:

        if you won’t trust Scott’s economics unless they agree with Friedman, wouldn’t you be better off just reading Friedman directly?

        Well, there are two issues. First, Scott talks about lots of things, and is better informed about some of them. Second, since Dr Friedman started reading SSC his own blogging output dropped off precipitately. 🙂 His comments here are now my main Friedman fix.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Precipitously. (Or if you really meant precipitately, I dare say his blogging out put dropped out rather than off.)

          I end up getting my Friedman fix here as well, for the same reasons…

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I give; “precipitously” is the better word, since I did mean “steeply”.

            “Precipitately” can mean sudden, which would also be fair, but I gather it usually has the connotation of “hasty” or “rash”, which I would never dream of trying to pin on Dr F. 🙂

      • Bill Murdock says:

        Well, since I clearly did not say what you claim I said (and it’s in plain English, written for all the world to see), I cannot respond to the substance of your reply to me. Try again?

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Out of curiosity, could you give any examples of Scott’s ignorance of economics?

      • Murphy says:

        Seconded, it’s good to know where a source you like is significantly diverging from the expert consensus.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The most recent example that I think addresses your question would be Bryan Caplan’s critique of Scott’s writing on labor economics, with a point by point followup. As you’ll quickly find from the intro, Caplan is a fan; I haven’t read those articles in depth, but skimming them, I find them pretty collegial. Nathan even asked Scott to reply to Caplan. Scott did, IIRC; I got the impression the two may have been somewhat talking past each other, so I wouldn’t call it a settled thing AFAIK.

      • Bill Murdock says:

        Sorry, I’ve been away. There is a lot, but the first thing that pops into my mind is his misunderstanding of what “rationality” means in econ; his inconsistency (which is quite annoying) regarding, e.g. game theory in general and PDs specifically, viz his repeated insistence that market failures arise because we cannot escape them (on the one hand, when writing on econ) and (when not speaking of econ/market failure) how people are amazing at escaping PDs (for the right reasons) when applying it to other subjects.

        If you look through you will see this very clearly. Since it was just a comment, and not a submission to the AER, I can’t justify spending time going through each and every instance of wrong/outdated/contradictory statements. But also, this was just my opinion, directed to Scott. If you really want to know where he goes wrong, you’ll have to study some econ and then re-read his posts.

        • Kyle says:

          I dunno, I know a lot of econ/game theory and haven’t really run across anything that struck me as unreasonable or clearly wrong.

          • Bill Murdock says:

            When he favors the outcome, people overcome game X because of multiple interactions, tit-for-tat, etc.

            When he wants to get to a different outcome (e.g. Libertarians are dumb) he assumes single interactions games.

            So not *wrong*, just inconsistent in a way that seems to track his preferred outcomes.

            That is just one example.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      Sounds like creeping horror. How appropriate for a post about yellow journalism.

  40. Jacob Schmidt says:

    One of the things I do to deal with the issue of cherry picked anecdotes is to look at the reactions of the accused group and the broader population. Loosely speaking, if I see articles about e.g. police brutality in generally neutral spaces, I look for the reactions of the police. If the police are generally appalled, I tentatively update away from the hypothesis that police abuse is rampant. If they are generally defending the brutality, I tentatively update towards.

    • Urstoff says:

      The commenters on police message boards seem to believe in a Manichean struggle between the police and “thugs”.

  41. Marc says:

    Quantum Cognition nonsense – theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/how-quantum-cognition-can-explain-humans-irrational-behaviors/405787/?utm_source=SFTwitter

  42. Noumenon says:

    My own personal example of the Chinese robber phenomenon is porn. From a sample of all the people I’ve ever seen in my life who were hot enough and might do porn, I would never have guessed there was a large enough supply to find multiple never-before-seen performers every single day of my life, and that’s sampling only one site and screening out 9/10 as not attractive enough. And yet that infinite flow does not mean that most attractive women do porn.

    It doesn’t sound like much written down, but it really drives it home that whatever video someone is bringing to your attention, they could be showing you multiple examples for an hour in a row every single day and it still wouldn’t be necessarily common. Also that exceptionally high-quality individuals aren’t few in number, like supermodels, they’re all over the place.

  43. onyomi says:


    Especially if it does turn out that this debate hurt trump, Tucker here points out what may be an advantage to having such a big, omnipresent, 24/7 media: namely that, while they might sometimes destroy perfectly good candidates, or rocket less-than-ideal candidates to stardom, the highly active media will tend to shine the light on the worst demagogues.

    Of course, this also arguably another aspect of their surprising power: they can make a Donald Trump, and they may also be able to unmake him in the long run, even if their more short term, explicit efforts may backfire in ways Scott recently described.

  44. gwern says:

    I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that there’s any general issue with cardiologists, and as far as I know there’s no evidence for such.

    I dunno, now you have me wondering – some quick googling suggests that all the estimates of cardiologists in the USA range 20-30,000, which is not that big a number even at the top end, and given the regulation of the medical profession and how everyone’s registered if they want to practice, it seems impossible for that number to be off by more than a factor of 3x, say. The USA has 5 homicides per 100k people annually (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/VC.IHR.PSRC.P5), so you’d expect ~1 murder by a cardiologist each year, and much less than that because cardiologists are heavily selected for being patient, well-educated, intelligent, and wealthy. Not counting the one hiring a hitman (and how rare is that?!), you already list at least 8 deaths due to cardiologist-murderers (also excluding the would-be terrorist bomber (even rarer than trying to do murder-for-hire!)), so that alone uses up over a decade’s worth of the cardiologist-homicide quota…

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      I would have estimates that bombers are more common than professional hits, outside of organized crime.

    • Jiro says:

      Is that the number of homicide victims out of 100000 people, or the number of homicide perpetrators in 100000 people? If it’s perpetrators, you’d expect 5/4 per year. Scott only lists three of them and one of them is 2012; we’d expect 3.75 in the past 3 years.

      And even if it refers to victims, you couldn’t say that there are excessive cardiologist murderers because the possibility of mass murders and the small total number of murders means that the distribution is going to be skewed by single outlier cases. So just because Scott lists 8 deaths and 8 is greater than 3.75 doesn’t mean that the average rate must be higher than 3.75.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like how you phrase it as “excessive cardiologist murderers”, as though there’s an acceptable level of murderous cardiologists: “Okay, Dr Flynn, you knocked off four patients, that’s your tally for the year. Sorry, Dr Murphy, you killed six – that’s too many! Now, you’ve been warned about this before, so we have to mark you down as an excessive murderer.”


        • Murphy says:

          “Every president gets three secret murders.
          If you don’t use them by the end of the term.
          phht! They’re gone.”

      • gwern says:

        Is that the number of homicide victims out of 100000 people

        Victims. That’s why I phrased it in terms of number of murderees listed (the child and the 7 Africans), not the number of accused cardiologists.

        because the possibility of mass murders and the small total number of murders means that the distribution is going to be skewed by single outlier cases.

        The 100k figure is drawn from the entire USA, estimated from ~314 million people, which is ~10,500 times larger than the cardiologist population of 30k. The USA’s 5:100k figure isn’t going to suddenly jump up tomorrow by a huge amount because someone shoots up a mall, you know?

        So just because Scott lists 8 deaths and 8 is greater than 3.75 doesn’t mean that the average rate must be higher than 3.75.

        Of course it’s not proof, but when Yvain has already managed to blow out of the water the most conservative possible murder estimate for cardiologists (equal to the general population, which of course is way off the mark), then that does make one wonder what a more thorough investigation would show…

        • Brian Donohue says:

          But people under age 15 or over age 70 don’t generally commit murders. Can we throw them out of the denominator?

          Also, most cardiologists are (guessing) male.

          OTOH, most cardiologists are at least 26.

          I know you’re doing a rough cut, but…

        • Jiro says:

          The USA’s 5:100k figure isn’t going to suddenly jump up tomorrow by a huge amount because someone shoots up a mall, you know?

          The figure for the USA doesn’t jump up because of outlier cases. The figure for the cardiologists jumps up because of outlier cases, and therefore looks large when compared proportionately to the figure for the USA (which doesn’t change).

          A single cardiologist killing 8 people is enough to change the comparison from “fewer homicides than expected” to “over twice as many homicides as expected”.

    • onyomi says:

      Before I realized exactly where Scott was going with it, I did actually think for a bit: maybe cardiologists, by virtue of being people who must be okay operating on a beating heart, are less squeamish and emotional than average, and therefore also more likely to be psychopaths.

  45. 1) This article’s comments are unexpected full of hilarious meta-humour.

    2) Ok, so assuming this is a major problem across all media, how would one go about constructing a viable unbiased media that does not fall into these kinds of traps, and generally promotes an accurate view of the world amongst it’s audience?

    • keranih says:

      To construct such a singular thing, you’d have to start with lumber other than the crooked timber of humanity, and use some metal other than earth of which men are made.

      As we are short on unicorn bones and angel tears, my stop-gap solution is to avoid relying on singular sources for anything, to assume all sources have flaws (those appearing unflawed at the surface are the most suspect) and to promote a (true) tolerance for opposing povs amongst the population.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “the crooked timber of humanity”

        I can’t help but reply to this that over two thousand years before Kant, Xunzi made a similar “crooked timber” analogy. However, in his analogy, he pointed out that slow, careful steaming and pressing can shape straight wood into a circle, or similarly straighten crooken timber upon a straightening frame.

        We’re not blank slates, and human nature puts hard constraints. But culture, systemic incentives, and moral education do matter for something, and I (cynical, misanthropic reactionary that I am) question that we must simply throw up our hands and declare defeat on this issue. We’ll never have a perfect media, but surely we could at least concieve of a better one?

        (And once again, I find myself telling more people to read more Xunzi.)

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Kevin C. – “We’ll never have a perfect media, but surely we could at least concieve of a better one?”

          You are reading the better media at this very moment.

          • Do you mean SSC or the interwebs?

            If you mean the net generally, I’ve sometimes wondered what direction the net takes us in terms of media bias. Assuming a writer gets attention by telling people something they want to hear, and considering the net allows the ability to target a much more niche audience, it seems like a recipe for echo chambers. In turn I think this might encourage all sorts of weird echo chambers where people are only exposed to conflicting views through a “look at these evil outsiders” lens.

            Of course, going meta and wandering through all the different echo chambers to form a balanced view might kind of help this, but on the other hand I’m not certain balacing a whole bunch of competing biased views is the same as an unbiased truth-seeking perspective. All in all, I feel the net and multiple perspectives alone is not enough.

        • And just to add to this, not all timber is equally crooked.

          What kind of steaming are you thinking of that might make for a good media? Any specific ideas of how it could be done?

    • I think it just takes a bit more effort on the individual level. Find two or three examples of persuasive, ideologically-blinkered Theories of Everything, and read them. Absorb their mutually-contradictory Chinese Robber datasets into your baseline assumptions. Then, when you run into another example, you’ve got at least two contradictory well-supported narratives shouting for attention in your head, and it’s a lot more likely that you can then consider the example you’re been given in a neutral manner.

      The big problem is economic, I think; people do journalism as a job, and don’t get paid for promoting an accurate and balanced point of view as much as they do for getting people to read their stuff, and being in one side of a culture war gets a lot of views.

      • I think I’d be quite willing to pay a modest amount for a stream of objective information. Almost like if the rationalist movement got organised it could crowd source something. Of course its probably a hopeless dream because even they could never agree on what it would actually look like and how it would work.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      As keranih and Robert Liquori imply, the balanced news problem is built-in to human nature, and the most straightforward remedy is to widen the news sample and attempt to resolve disparate data rationally.

      I’ll go a bit further: I think people don’t want to exert the effort necessary to resolve such data rationally, for economic reasons: it requires a great deal of effort for the return. Two ways to attack this problem are to increase the return, and to reduce the effort. Increasing the return would mean increasing the amount of actionable inference on such information. Reducing the effort would mean making it easier to do such rational analysis, which I see as two problems: one, ingesting and comprehending such information faster, putting it in a form where one can make inferences; two, learning rational analysis itself and getting that internalized. A lot of people simply don’t even know to do this; they’re unaware there’s a better way. (I spend a lot of time coaxing my friends to take news more skeptically than they normally do, and they’re not dumb.)

      My company happens to be trying to solve the “more and better inferences” and “comprehend information faster” problems with automated deductive reasoning software we’ve developed. I’m happy to say more, but I’m also loathe to turn this into a plug on someone else’s website, so I’ll try to answer questions in a non-pluggy way if anyone is interested.

      The education problem is something we don’t do, but I’d be interested to see it flourish. I remember my high school English teacher expressing interest in a critical thinking class decades ago. I don’t know how widespread they are. (Sounds like a good target for Effective Altruism, come to think of it.)

      • “Reducing the effort would mean making it easier to do such rational analysis”

        Or getting better at figuring out who else is reasonably rational and objective, and so can, on the whole, be trusted.

        Scott, for example.

        I’ve argued for a long time that an important intellectual skill largely untaught and often antitaught in our schooling system is the skill of evaluating sources of information on internal evidence. Checking one source against many others is a lot of work. Recognizing that this source makes strong claims, does not offer and discuss obvious arguments against them, hence probably should not be trusted, while that source … is often less work.

        • Looks like we need an objective test of rationality/objectivity. Sounds easy. Still, would be worth the effort.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Indeed. A forum for such things would be something I could see myself using nearly every day – bring in an “Article of the Day” at random and everyone parses it as efficiently as they can.

            After a while, we’d start to see meta-analyses, comparing authors, breaking them down by topic, etc.

            LessWrong seems ideal for this, and weirdly, I don’t even read it often enough to know to what extent it’s used for this.

          • What’s this about a company you run/work at?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I’m guessing I’m the one you’re asking. (I hope this comment fits any rules Scott may have on plugging. One word, and I replace this with an email to CE; otherwise, it’s here because this crowd might be interested.)

            I always have a hard time explaining it, because the technology has very broad potential application. A rough description would make it sound like Semantic Web, except that it doesn’t work in terms of any version of W3C OWL, or RDF, or other well-known semantic expressions. (We actually consider even these formats to be too ambiguous and underspecified, despite the noble level of effort that went into them.)

            A description from a different angle says that we’re trying to solve the general integration problem. Imagine two databases with the same type of information – about books, say – but because they were built independently, a query to one (e.g. “who published a short story in an SF magazine in the last ten years?”) will not even work on the other, let alone give you the same type of answer. But this is just one possible application among many.

            One of the keys to this is representing information based on its meaning, rather than simply its syntax, because syntax can be ambiguous; “Moby Dick” may refer to a single copy of a book in a library, or to the abstract story itself. We try to make that distinction within the database, and enforce it with typechecking – a book that is published, is not the same as a book which is borrowed. We also typecheck relations – an author does not “write” a book in the same sense that a doctor “writes” a prescription, or that I “write” this comment. Finally, we form rules, using formal logic – if $author-wrote-$book and $book-won-$award, we can also say $author-wasAwarded-$award. We can also express time; the three previous statements denote Events, and the latter two had to come after the first.

            All this logic meant a basic RDB wouldn’t work; we had to develop our own reasoning engine. And it had to be fast, capable of handling millions of extensional facts, answer queries within a second or two, and handle multiple sessions, authentication, etc. etc.; none of the Prolog engines we looked at would do the job.

            Result: our own reasoner, with its own backend storage, our own language, a meta-ontology for describing models, a few simple models for handling the more common domains (events, measurements, some geographic concepts, et al.), a mechanism for mapping existing datastores to that reasoner’s model, one for chaining reasoners together (to split a query into simpler ones and farm them out), and a few other features.

            It’s not just usable for data integration; it’s also a tool for answering meaningful queries, inferring additional information, scrubbing dirty data, and maintaining a formal model of one’s business that isn’t lost when a database is upgraded or an expert leaves.

            If a topic of interest could be broken down into atomic concepts by a group of enthusiastic LWers, I see a high probability that it could be represented in such a reasoner.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I’ve noticed that in all the comments questioning how to deal with the media issue, nobody seems to have mentioned Hungary’s Media Council and the MTVA (Médiaszolgáltatás-támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap, the “Media Services and Support Trust Fund”).

  46. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Scott I’m really glad you’ve started to explore this topic. Agenda setting (similar to “signal boosting”) is very powerful because even if you’re evidence is airtight, you can still choose which evidence you present and make your case stronger than it is.

    To show how subtle and difficult to solve this problem is though, take this:

    The media is always giving us stories of how tech nerds are sexist in some way or another.

    Do you know how often the media covers stories about tech compared to other industries? Or how often the media gives stories about anyone being discriminatory? And which media? It won’t suffice to find stories of the media telling stories about tech nerds being sexist, because this is subject to the same problem – you get to choose which media stories you report.

    It’s almost impossible to fix this issue completely in how you investigate evidence, but being aware of it is a good first step.

    • Jiro says:

      Above, I Googled references to sexist nerds, investment bankers, and plumbers. The results were dramatically different.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Do the same experiment with “generous nerds”, “generous bankers” and “generous plumbers” – for fun you can try “sexy” as well but I hold no responsibility for what shows up. There are order of magnitude differences there as well – the fact that this is the internet is an obvious source of bias.

        The media may well signal boost nerd sexism more than other domains, but determining the extent of this requires quite a bit of work to avoid the problem that Scott describes. So far Scott has argued against many stories about nerds being sexist, but this can fall into the trap of agenda setting.

        To make things more complicated – how often is the tech industry accused of being “greedy”, “cost cutting” or just oppressive compared to other areas? Big tech doesn’t have the same ring as “big business” or “big pharma”. The media gives damning labels to a lot of industries. Is it agenda setting to only talk about the unfair labels that the media places on the tech industry?

        Avoiding agenda setting completely is impossible. You have to choose _some_ subset of things to talk about. But given this, I think it is important not to substitute stories (even accurate ones) for more thorough analysis.

        • Jiro says:

          I just tried “generous nerds” and “generous plumbers” and got similar levels of results. “Generous nerds” gets mostly false hits, same as the plumbers. The fact that “sexist nerds” gets a lot of recent articles that are all about claims that nerds are sexist seems to be specific to sexist nerds, not generous nerds, generous plumbers, or sexist plumbers. Did you actually try it?

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            I see, you aren’t talking about the number of hits – which is what I though you meant. I didn’t understand what you meant by the results being different.

            It’s probably true that the sexist nerd narrative is overrepresented in proportion its truth. But this is not related to my central point. Scott’s primary means of drawing attention to this perceived problem has been to link to and refute media stories supporting this narrative. Ergo, he is setting the agenda of what sorts of media stories his readership is exposed to on this blog.

            I don’t mean this in a nefarious way – as I said its impossible not to set some agenda of things to write about. But while observing perceived trends and looking for common threads is a great way of generating hypotheses, it is not a substitute for thorough analysis. Unfortunately it’s more rhetorically effective. For example a few stories about someone dying of a disease can stimulate more action than a report about 10,000 people dying of that same disease. I don’t know how to solve this.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      The Sexist Nerd Menace is a fairly recent media obsession. My impression is that it dates to post-Crash of 2008 when only Silicon Valley was doing well, so that became a target for people looking for deep pockets to tap.

  47. Russell Hogg says:

    I guess this is why politicians fight so hard to establish the ‘narrative’. The media love a narrative they can fit their stories into. It makes it all make a spurious kind of sense. So if you can establish a narrative around the idea that your opponent is stupid/mean/whatever then the media will publish stories that fit that narrative and ignore those that don’t. It is frustrating to see it happen to a politician you admire!

    • onyomi says:

      Yes, strong media narrative to the contrary aside, George W Bush is probably smarter than you:


      for example. (Not that I am a fan of him at all; only I think it is a good example of a certain narrative or stereotype getting established and becoming common knowledge, even though it was totally false. In this case, Bush himself might have ironically cooperated with the creation of this myth due to his cultivation of a “humble,” “down-home” persona during the presidential elections. Listen to him talk during gubernatorial debates and he sounds like a different, much more intellectual person. I don’t think he suffered a concussion in the meantime.)

      • DrBeat says:

        GWB was a very intelligent guy.

        He’s just an example of the phenomenon where more intelligent people are more likely to cling to false beliefs because they are better at rationalizing them. He wasn’t using that intelligence to make good decisions, he was using it to tell himself that the decisions he already wanted to make were good.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          If the irony is intentional, then I applaud your meta.

          • DrBeat says:

            He did make some very significant, very significantly bad, decisions. Not sure why that’s irony unless you cannot ever speak about other people rationalizing bad decisions without it being ironic.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        According to this he’s somewhere around 125, so [lower than the 25th-percentile LW reader](http://lesswrong.com/lw/lhg/2014_survey_results/). I’d expect the IQ distribution of SSC readers to be roughly similar.

        • Judged by SAT scores, I expect quite a lot of us are smarter than Bush or Gore.

          I wonder what the figure for Nixon would be? My father’s opinion was that he had the highest IQ of the presidents he had interacted with.

          • onyomi says:

            I feel like the author of the article, at least, is rating Bush’s IQ much higher than an SAT of 1280 would indicate, considering he, as a professor at Stanford business school, was basically willing to say “Bush is smarter than almost all of you, and probably smarter than me too.” I’d bet the average SAT score at Stanford business school was higher than 1280.

            That said, I’m sure many posters at SSC, including yourself, genuinely are smarter than Bush, but that could just mean he’s smart than 98% of the population, rather than 99.9% of the population.

            I certainly think he made a lot of mistakes; I also know people much smarter than him or me who I am also pretty sure are catastrophically wrong on some important issues. But my point is just that most of the people glibly complaining about how stupid Bush was during his presidency were probably, in fact, not as smart as him. But once you get a narrative like that going, it can be self-reinforcing.

            Related to the above; if people following you around with a camera all day every day decide that the narrative people want to hear is that you are clumsy or stupid, then they can make almost anyone look clumsy (Gerald Ford) or stupid (GWB), because even very agile people sometimes trip and even very smart people sometimes trip on their words.

          • I agree that the author of the article is describing someone much smarter than the SAT suggests. One possibility is that what he says isn’t true. Another is that Bush was smart in ways that didn’t show up in his SAT score.

  48. dzot says:

    Characterizing a stereotype as right or wrong is sort of beside the point. Stereotypes exist on a spectrum of beneficial through harmful. You might characterize a stereotype based on 1 in a 1000 as “wrong” but if the situation involves potential mortal danger it may still be beneficial to maintain it.

  49. LPSP says:

    I did believe the point you were making about Cardiologists, for exactly one reason: I was looking forward to seeing the line of reasoning that was coming next. After about a year and a half of reading this blog I respect, like and trust you enough to believe the things written here before the post gets to the “here’s why” bit.

  50. ad says:

    The Guardian is compiling a database of people killed by US police in one year.


    It seems American police kill people at more than one hundred times the rate of the British police. (I feel slightly shocked.) Does anyone have a similar database of murdered American police officers we can compare with results elsewhere?

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      Just to nit pick, their database apparently includes off duty killings. For example, the first two I clicked on where both off duty, and straight up no questions asked murder.

      Unless they actually include an in the line of duty/murdered your girlfriend filter, it makes it next to useless for any argument about use of force.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        The rate of off duty killings is that high? Ive heard of one in the UK.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          My point was that I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.

          Someone told me years ago that most bar shootings are done by off duty police, so at the very least, off duty police murdering people is/was in the public mind.

          The naive answer is you would expect around 40 just from being American; a huge premium for being young, male, and owning a gun; and a small rebate for being ostensibly selected for law-abidding-ness.

          But on the other hand, you would naively expect about 100 fatalities from traffic accidents (with a significantly premium because police probably drive a lot more than the general public, and a rebate because most police cars are marked and everyone pays attention to them) and The Guardian is listing 28. But some of those fatal accidents would be killing the driver, and we don’t have a list of the police that have been killed in the same time frame. So we can’t even tell if those 28 are something to worry about.

  51. BBA says:

    This and the previous piece on media bias remind me – sometimes a non-story can become a story when the people who make up the media become involved.

    Some years ago a newly elected president replaced a handful of White House staffers from a previous administration. They were purely operational support staff who had no involvement in policymaking activity. This is unfortunate for the people who lost their jobs, but it happens all the time. It isn’t news, or even particularly interesting unless you know some of the people involved. But since the White House Travel Office books flights and hotels for the presidential retinue, every member of the White House press corps knows the staff there. In 1993 many of them were on friendly enough terms with the old staff to devote copious screen time and column space to the firings. Thus a routine staff change becomes a national scandal, complete with obligatory “-gate” suffix.

    If it were, say, Rose Garden groundskeepers, nobody would have noticed.

  52. Helen Douglas says:

    When I read the first part of this article I’m wanting to say, “You can say that about ANY surgeon. Why are you picking on cardiologist. No…I know the numbers game but guess what. I am one person who lives in a small town in a smallstate with a relatively small number of surgeons by larger state standards. I have met up with two surgeons (not cardiologists) who have faked tests results. One of my surgeons told me I had scar tissue in my esophagus and wanted me to to have an endoscope but did not find scar tissue I knew I had in another area of my stomach. Two years later I had another doctor do an endoscope and found no scar tissue…and a lot of other things not discovered by the previous doctor. And oh…I just remembered three more instance of this happening…all in this same small community…so it does not look good for surgeons from this end. Sorry.

  53. Candace says:

    Great article! Loved it!

  54. Shenpen says:

    This numbers-oriented Rationalist approach really weirds me out. What I would like to know is not how high % of nerds are sexists or how many Chinese robbers are out there, but whether is there anything in nerdhood or chinesehood that causes sexism or robbery. This focus on numbers is almost like a very clever person trying to be not smart. Really weird. Why? What if there is something in nerds that causes sexism, but there is also something else say timidity that causes to not act upon it, and then you end up with stats that say low sexism amongst nerds? Then you just learned nothing about nerds and nothing about sexism.

    Instead of numbers, I would be far more interested in digging deep at one spot, “dissect” one sexist nerd and one chinese robber and really see the causal processes there.

    If I was a doctor what I would care about not how many patients out of 100 a given medicine helps, but that one patient that was helped exactly how, get the most in-depth knowledge.

    Focusing on numbers just sounds like turning off the reasoning brain.

    • Cauê says:

      If the numbers told you that the % of robbers among the Chinese is the same as that of the general population, why would you look for “something” that causes Chinese people, specifically, to become robbers? At that point you have just as much reason to look for it in dog lovers, schoolteachers, or people who wear ponytails.

    • Murphy says:

      The problem is that this approach yields almost nothing but lies.

      Early psychological research focused on things like introspection and picking individuals and asking them about their motives and it tended to yield little other than the pre-existing beliefs of the researcher.

      If you already believe that chinese people are vile and rob people for the sense of power it’s pretty much guaranteed that when you dig deep at one spot or “dissect” one chinese robber that you will find precisely what you want to find. Not what is real. Either because you’ve carefully chosen the “right” subject to dissect or because you just see what you want to see.

      It’s exactly your approach: focusing on individuals and asking them for their opinions and testimony that is used to support things like homeopathy. Things which don’t work.

      If you ignore the numbers you don’t have a reasoning brain, you have an easily tricked, easily fooled and extremely unreasonable brain.

  55. BeatCop says:

    I am a police officer, and I agree 100% with this post.

    I work in an urban, predominantly black (though with a significant Hispanic) population, which happens to be very high crime (for an idea of what this means, I’ve been on more than five years but less than 10, and I’d guess I’ve responded to about 100 homicides over the course of my career). That said, while I’ve been hurt a few times and have had frequent “scuffles” (my personal classification for fights that are less than active resistance but more than just pulling away or verbal resistance) I’ve only had someone actively try to kill or seriously injure me maybe 4-5 times. I say “maybe” because a few times the crook’s intent has been somewhat ambiguous- crooks very rarely tell the truth about what they were doing. They were just reaching for that gun to show it to the officer, really.

    The thing is, policing is fairly safe if you are very careful. The closest I’ve been to being killed have been the times when I got too complacent- one of those times I mentioned above I was completely unaware that I was in danger until the suspect, whom I had in custody, casually and matter-of-factly told me that he had been planning to shoot me with a shotgun when I walked up (fat, dumb, and happy) to his door. He told me he decided not to because he was unsure if he had a parole violation warrant or not (he did, as it happened). His reasoning was that if he did, he might as well kill me. Since he wasn’t sure, he decided against it. This is one of the few times I took a threat seriously (I get threatened on a very frequent basis- you learn to shrug it off).

    Bottom line- no, the recent anti-police activism probably only costs a few (if any) extra police lives a year, at least right now, statistically speaking. I do take issue with the quoted statement “And adjusted for the country’s growing population, the years 2013 and 2015 will be the two safest years for police in US history, measured by the annual number of firearm-related police fatalities per 1 million people.” That’s pretty blatant cherry-picking- apparently officers killed by felonious use of other weapons besides guns are less dead in their book than others.

    The biggest issue with anti-police activism is the lack of emphasis on facts- they just don’t matter, whether in a broad statistical sense or when dealing with specific cases such as the Ferguson shooting. The second biggest issue is related to the first- if facts don’t matter, officers have no confidence that they won’t be rail-roaded by activists if they get into a controversial situation. A great method for avoiding these issues is avoiding what we call “proactive” police work- looking for criminal activity before it happens rather than after. So we don’t go do a Terry stop on the dope dealers hanging out on the corners. We may slow down and wonder why a car rolling four deep is watching the convenience store that always gets robbed- but then move on, because even if our hunch that they may be getting ready to rob it is right, that will never be the narrative if we end up getting into a shoot-out.

    That’s the biggest short-term danger of this sort of thing. It’s a very good thing to be critical of police officers when the facts are on your side. If you are consistently ignoring them, though, you send exactly the wrong message. It’s worth noting that the biggest complaint I hear about police in my area (again, very high crime, very busy) isn’t that we’re too aggressive, or “over-policing”, or a “militaristic occupying force”-

    It’s that there’s not enough of us.

  56. John says:

    Crikey, I never knew the Chinese were such criminals

  57. Loki says:

    It’s interesting that you picked cardiologists, cause I just finished reading a book that alleged that they (alongside neurosurgeons, special forces military, criminal defence barristers, CEOs and successful stock traders) score higher on tests designed to detect ‘psychopaths’ than the general population.

    (Basically the premise of the book is that there are people on a kind of spectrum between ‘normal’ and ‘psychopath’ and that said people are useful and better at certain things. They’ve found, for instance, that criminals considered ‘psychopathic’ can score better on gambling experiments than actual businesspeople, because they lack the non-rational bias toward loss-aversion that humans tend to have.)

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  59. BrockArledge says:

    3 Return to town and acquire numerous Salvage Kits along with a Superior Identification Kit from a merchant. Alongside the download for the PC demo, Origin also released system requirements for FIFA 15. Stadium of Orange will host the competition on Thursday (24).

  60. Douglas Knight says:

    Why is it this post that attracted spam?

  61. Laura says:

    “How many lurid stories about harassment in Silicon Valley have you heard?”

    Not that I think this comment will be seen in the deluge, but the more concerning statistic isn’t the number of stories of harassment I’ve heard, it’s the extremely small number of women I’ve met who *haven’t* been harassed. I’ve worked in the Valley for years, and I’ve attended a lot of meetups and conferences, and of the probably-hundreds of women in tech I’ve met, I have met *two* who don’t have a harassment story to tell. The stories that make the big media outlets are lurid, yes, but the less-lurid stuff is no less degrading and it is _constant_.