Wednesday, March 3, 2021
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Silicon Valley’s Safe Space

More than 7,500 people signed a petition urging The Times not to publish his name, including many prominent figures in the tech industry. “Putting his full name in The Times,” the petitioners said, “would meaningfully damage public discourse, by discouraging private citizens from sharing their thoughts in blog form.” On the internet, many in Silicon Valley believe, everyone has the right not only to say what they want but to say it anonymously.

Amid all this, I spoke with Manoel Horta Ribeiro, a computer science researcher who explores social networks at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. He was worried that Slate Star Codex, like other communities, was allowing extremist views to trickle into the influential tech world. “A community like this gives voice to fringe groups,” he said. “It gives a platform to people who hold more extreme views.”

But for Kelsey Piper and many others, the main issue came down to the name, and tying the man known professionally and legally as Scott Siskind to his influential, and controversial, writings as Scott Alexander. Ms. Piper, who is a journalist herself, for the news site Vox, said she did not agree with everything he had written, but she also felt his blog was unfairly painted as an on-ramp to radical views. She worried his views could not be reduced to a single newspaper story.

I assured her my goal was to report on the blog, and the Rationalists, with rigor and fairness. But she felt that discussing both critics and supporters could be unfair. What I needed to do, she said, was somehow prove statistically which side was right.

When I asked Mr. Altman if the conversation on sites like Slate Star Codex could push people toward toxic beliefs, he said he held “some empathy” for these concerns. But, he added, “people need a forum to debate ideas.”

In August, Mr. Siskind restored his old blog posts to the internet. And two weeks ago, he relaunched his blog on Substack, a company with ties to both Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator. He gave the blog a new title: Astral Codex Ten. He hinted that Substack paid him $250,000 for a year on the platform. And he indicated the company would give him all the protection he needed.

In his first post, Mr. Siskind shared his full name.

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