He Who Must Not Be Named

Update: there is now a petition

Scott Alexander, the author of the Slate Star Codex blog, has deleted his entire blog in reaction to the New York Times threatening to publish an article about him. Scott has written one of the most consistently brilliant and insightful blogs on the internet (I honestly haven’t seen a better one, I’ve linked to it e.g. here, here and here) and I do feel this is a personal loss.

Scott hasn’t done anything wrong per se. The article supposedly isn’t even critical. It’s main focus is on something positive: the fact that SSC was right about the corona virus much earlier than many others. The reason then, why Scott deleted his blog, is that the NYT insisted on revealing Scott’s private identity.

Reasons for privacy

Scott Alexander is Scott’s true first and middle name, but he has good reasons to keep his last name private. He works as a psychiatrist and deals with patients from a lot of different backgrounds. Anyone who has ever worked in psychotherapy or psychiatry will confirm how important it is to keep your private life out of therapy. It doesn’t help if patients go home and read your personal thoughts on your personal blog.

It also doesn’t help if readers who are unhappy about his writing can use his private life as a weapon. Scott has received numerous death threats in the past. Dissatisfied readers have called his employer pretending to be one of his patients to harm him. Scott has very good reasons to keep his identity private.

With great power comes great responsibility. And the New York Times is using its power irresponsibly in this instance. There is no necessity and not even a compelling reason for them to reveal his private name. Scott, as a private individual, is not a person of public interest. Scott Alexander is also not a faceless person hiding in anonymity. We can speak about him like the real person he is. For example, I have deliberately used his name multiple times throughout his blog post. He has written on the internet under the same name Scott Alexander on his blog, on Twitter, and on Less Wrong. Calling him Scott Meyer or Scott Huber doesn’t add anything. You can send him an e-mail and he will respond. You can even go to SSC meetups and meet him in person. He just asks you to respect that he does not wish his private identity to be national news.

The New York Times is itself not consistent in its policy to call out names. They have previously respected pseudonyms, e.g. Virgil Texas. In the above linked post, titled “When We Name Names”, the NYT writes:

Besides sexual assault cases, many other stories present tough decisions — reporting about children, for instance, or people worried about their safety, or others who may be naïve about the impact publicity could have on them. Few weeks go by without at least one story that gives us pause. And since no set of guidelines can cover every situation, the best we can do is to try to balance those questions of fairness and privacy with our chief goal: to tell readers what we know.

Scott is rightfully worried about his safety. Insisting that his identity be revealed is an isolated and unwarranted demand for rigor (Scott once made a post about that. I would like to link to it, but I can’t…).

What to do

You can go to slatestarcodex.com and read Scott’s explanation. And you can follow his suggestions. He writes:

There is no comments section for this post. The appropriate comments section is the feedback page of the New York Times. You may also want to email the New York Times technology editor Pui-Wing Tam at pui-wing.tam@nytimes.com, contact her on Twitter at @puiwingtam, or phone the New York Times at 844-NYTNEWS.

(please be polite – I don’t know if Ms. Tam was personally involved in this decision, and whoever is stuck answering feedback forms definitely wasn’t. Remember that you are representing me and the SSC community, and I will be very sad if you are a jerk to anybody. Please just explain the situation and ask them to stop doxxing random bloggers for clicks. If you are some sort of important tech person who the New York Times technology section might want to maintain good relations with, mention that.)

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