Hi Nate, I want to add the perspective of a foreigner regularly reading the news media in the US and the liberal blogosphere.

I live in Chennai, India. I think the American media is heavily narrative-driven; and creates an echo chamber as bad the ones liberals decry at conservatives. The difference is that it is pretty obvious to see through conservative propaganda, but harder for liberals themselves to see that they are being propagandized.

During the second wave of Covid that hit India (Delta), the American and British media started insinuating that Covid numbers were being fudged by the Indian government under Modi. Many methodologies were used to show that the expected death rate was diverging from the actuals.

However, it was obvious to someone like me reading these news stories that the Western media did not actually directly make the claim that the Indian central government was cooking up the numbers. This is because Indian central government does not count deaths in India (the same as in the US). States and municipalities do, and these are not under the control of the Indian central government.

In order to believe that the Indian central government was doing this, you would have to believe that the thousands of municipalities around India were somehow collaborating with Modi. To anyone who actually lives in India, this kind of collaboration is impossible, given that many of these local bodies are run by political parties in opposition to Modi's BJP.

Once the Western media started these carefully worded articles on the death number conspiracy theory, I could see that the liberal blogosphere jumped in to connect the dots. I could see articles and comments throughout that Modi was spreading "misinformation" on Covid in India.

I live in India and the capability of the central government to spread any such misinformation is very limited.

This two-step of the western media writing essentially a narrative about India; and the liberals following these to their logical conclusion has occured repeatedly, in the coverage of India in the past 4 years. This has become such a din of complete misinformation on the country, that it has managed to convince congressional representatives such as Ilhan Omar into stepping into the conflict between India and Pakistan on Pakistan's side.

I have thought about the motivations here - back in 2016, when Trump was elected, I remember that the western press tried to make it part of a pattern across the world. They identified "right-wing populist" take overs in various parts of the world; and in order to make the case, claimed that Modi was the Indian Trump, a right-wing populist.

However this made no sense, because (unlike Trump) Modi had been a politician throughout his life and came into power in the central govt after serving office in his home state. You have to search hard in his policies for populism.

The terms "right-wing" or "left-wing" do not have the same meaning in India that they do in American politics. Modi's BJP actually has the biggest labor union in India affiliated to it. Some of the worst laws on free speech in India (section 66A of Information technology Act, 2008) which led to arrests of citizens for online speech were actually done BEFORE Modi's party came into power - these were passed by the "left-wing" government in power then (now in opposition).

Most politics in India occurs in the states, and to interpret all policies of the central government solely through these ideas of left-wing and right-wing classification does not make sense in India.

The rot is so deep in this kind of propaganda, that last month I was reading a book on Amazon by author Brad Strong, and the article interpreted Indian small merchants opposition to Amazon as due to "Hindutva politics of Modi". It was clear that he had no idea what he was talking about, but hoped to impress his readers.

With conservatives, I believe it is easy for reasonable people to see that their media is far out; but liberals live in an equally well-propagandized environment in the US, but have no idea themselves.

During the Iraq war, around 2004, a cleric named Mohammed Sadr came into prominence. When I used to read NYT or Washington Post, I noticed that this cleric was always mentioned with an adjective - "the radical cleric Mohammad Sadr". I wondered what made him "radical", but it was clear that he was opposed to the US occupation.

Last year I was reading again about Iraq, when Sadr was mentioned again in the Washington Post. I saw that the newspaper now wrote "The influential cleric" Sadr.

What made him "radical" then and "influential" now is not his actual policies, but the way the reporters in liberal newspapers wanted to represent him in the minds of liberal readers. This is propaganda, of course, but it is hard to detect.

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The elephant in the room is climate change coverage. The bias and hyperbole on the effects are off the scale. .

The NYT and CNN bias and distortions of the truth - are probably unmatched by any other mainstream outlet on any other subject.

They scan the world for anything occupancies that can be linked to climate change - never giving the long term trends - which often ( nearly always) tell a completely different story.

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Just feels like this opinion has only sprouted up now because you've been arguing with people about covid orgins, and then you went searching for reasons to back up your current feelings. I guess the question that I would ask is, has the main stream media taken on liberal biases or has the political right in America become so detached from reality that previously uncontroversial facts are now seen as "liberal"?

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Hi Nate, this is really well written and interesting. And I see where you're coming from, and why you want something like this to make sense.

I really think it doesn't make sense, at all. It rests on the claim that liberal-vs-conservative can be reduced to numbers ... and that those numbers can be rated objectively ... and that those numbers balance out, more or less. I think all of those claims are false. I think that when people accuse you of faux-centrism, this is what they have in mind: you have this idea that there's a deep truth to politics, that centrists are the only ones who can see that truth, and that the true position is itself centrist.

I imagine that you're going to reject this out of hand. I wonder what I could say to help you see what is radically questionable (and, indeed, necessarily false) about your position of centrism-uber-alles.

Maybe I can put it this way. In poker there's a correct play no matter what. It's possible to play too aggressively and it's possible to play too passively. The correct way to play is a mean between these extremes. The correct way to play can be mathematically modelled and rationally understood based on criteria that are accepted by all people of good will. In all of these respects, politics is simply not like poker! I feel like you're trying to use statistical models that work for poker, but simply have no purchase at all on the reality of the political world.

Let's imagine a society that was politically divided, most saliently, over religion: say the two big blocs are Christians and Buddhists. Our poker-playing-centrist then goes around assigning numbers to every media outlet, from -10 (maximally Christian) to +10 (maximally Buddhist). Can you see how incoherent this would be? For several reasons: (a) the meaning of "Christian" and "Buddhist" varies over time; (b) there are many different ways of being both Christian and Buddhist at any given time; (c) some Christians will share more in common with some Buddhists than they will with other Christians (and vice-versa); (d) trying to be "centrist" between the two belief sets is not inherently a sensible or reasonable way to be; (e) there are real moral issues at stake, and it's possible (likely!) that the Christians or the Buddhists at any given time will have a better, more sensible, more human take on them, which the centrist (by self-definition) will not be able to think about.

I know you think you're being rational and sensible. But there are some aspects of reality where actually being rational and sensible requires engaging with the content of what is being argued. Politics, like religion, is an arena in which human beings make claims about whether certain things are true and good (and beautiful, to complete the classical trifecta). Taking these sorts of claims, assigning them numbers, and then adding up the numbers ... is simply not a sensible, rational way of interacting with them.

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Jul 31, 2023·edited Jul 31, 2023

Most of this made sense to me, but not this: "For example, if public health officials would strongly prioritize “equity” when coming up with a plan to distribute vaccines but the general public would not, they should defer to the public."

Why? Public health policy should be based on smart principles (and also other factors like legal requirements), not poll results. Using "equity" for vaccine distribution means making an effort to make vaccinations broadly available to everyone -- including lower-income groups, racial minorities, and disabled people who can't leave their homes. Even if the general public doesn't want the housebound to get vaccinations, for example, that doesn't matter. They still should. The same goes for people who don't own their own cars and would either need transit to get to the vaccination site or vaccinations brought to their neighborhoods. Your approach of favoring some groups over others is not only immoral (surely killing people for being disabled is understood to be immoral, right?) but it's illogical. It's like mimicking the early COVID cruise ships, where the passengers can quarantine, but the crew rooms together and gets COVID--which it then transmits to the rich people. It doesn't contain the disease.

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Thanks Nate. This is why I pledged.

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“In this formulation, -10 reflects maximal left-wing bias and +10 reflects maximal right-wing bias.”

We need to know more about “this formulation” and how the scales leading up to the “maximal” biases were determined.

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I mean, the vaccine thing is cherry picking and overall this statement is beyond the pale: " I think institutions like the media — and certainly science and medicine — provide substantial, non-zero-sum benefits to society and that this mission has been somewhat compromised in recent years by left-leaning partisanship."

OK, I agree on the schools thing. But the non-left leaning partisans are literally full of people who deny climate change and want to defund whole departments of the government dedicated to science. Trump famously put a bunch of yahoos in such departments and they promptly shutdown the science and data-driven things. They literally shutdown the science.

I'm a long time fan of Nate's. And by any rational standard, I'm a left-leaning Centrist.

But this whole thing is so convoluted and contrarian, and it just misses the fundamental thing here.

And that fundamental thing is the 30% of yahoos who think the world is flat, don't believe in climate science, or are racists or homophobes, or think we should have a king, or think Mexicans are to blame for their rural white issues, should probably not be contributing or influencing any conversation. Nate makes the mistake here of not really explaining what contributions these people are making overall. What are they adding that is so great to have around?

And then more broadly, I think we can confidently say that the US was alot better politically before social media and Fox, when yahoos were basically de platformed in their caves because they couldn't say Yahoo stuff IRL.

And now with social media and Fox, yahoo stuff has now come out IRL too.

But here's Nate saying... What is Nate even saying.

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About the ideological positioning of institutions, I want to again recall Covid times in India.

Back in April-May 2021, during the Delta wave in India, the Indian central government, decided to let the states negotiate directly with vaccine providers.

This decision was met with contempt and fury from the Lancet magazine, which blasted Modi for washing his hands off Covid management, and trying to pass the blame to the states.

However, I live in India, and in April-May 2021, it was the states which were clamoring for the ability to directly negotiate with vaccine providers! My own state (run by a party in opposition to Modi) was slamming the central govt for slowness in getting the vaccines; and wanted to get the vaccines directly.

It was clear that Lancet had no idea what was going in India, and was simply lashing out what the editor saw as a "Trump-like right-wing-populist" as Modi had been projected in the media coverage.

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Nate, I appreciate your first footnote about distinguishing liberal from progressive or left. Including them together obscures more than it illuminates. And that is not just a European way of using the term (although parliamentary governments obviously have parties more directly aligned with beliefs than the two major American parties do, at least away from primaries, where those preferences get hashed out). At any rate, I'm looking forward to your article explaining your thinking on this point.

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This: "For instance, by publishing misinformation that downplayed the possibility of a COVID lab leak in Nature Medicine to avoid causing trouble with China, giving credence to Trump, or drawing criticism of virological research. Or on a more routine level, by playing motte-and-bailey games between science and advocacy."

Is patently false sorry and it points to a key flaw in this article. Finding Alex Washbourne's argument credible is like believing heuristics suggesting that its night, when the sun is shinning outside.

What is being touted as "misinformation" here is the typical "cherry pick quotes without context to manufacture a fake controversy strategy".

The idea that COVID is manufactured is simply not credible. It never was. Everyone who has ever worked with a Virus has a pretty clear idea of what a gain-of-function experiment looks like. You do not take an unknown, unpublished and never studied virus backbone, slap on an unknown unpublished and never studied envelope gene and then modify the Furin cleavage site to something no one could have predicted and call that an experiment.

A lab leak is still possible, but it would be a natural strain isolated, but not yet characterised that escaped. The idea of a bioweapon or a gain-of-function experiment is simply not credible, no matter what bull-**** argument some contrarian on twitter makes.

The idea for example that a lab leak was "invonvenient" and therefore had to be "suppressed".

That is just not how science works. Standing up for the status quo has zero benefits in science. Zero. It does not help you get grants. It does not help you make a name for yourself. It does not get you high impact papers. You make a name and a reputation by bucking the status quo and proving it wrong. That is why it is very rare for people to try and "suppress" contrary views. The moment you try that you create an incentive for every other person in the field to make a name for themselves by proving you wrong, while at the same time gaining nothing in the process.

Therein lies the fatal flaw with your argument. You think that the "purple blob" exerts political influence on experts and institutions, because your contrarian views were "shat on" by Twitter. What actually happens is you swallowed misinformation from Twitter hook, line and sinker, because it agreed with your personal predjudices and biases and then you got the treatment that every contrarian and conspiracy theorist gets. Since you don't view yourself as a conspiracy theorist (because no one ever does) you see this not as evidence that you should maybe re-examine your priors, but as evidence of political biase by experts. That is the anti-vaxxer argument. Its also the flat-earther argument too.

Twitter is not a place to contribute to a public health discussion. It is not the place to contribute to a scientific inquiry on the origin of COVID. Twitter however does grant contrarians and fantasists who imagine themselves expert a route to communicate with actual experts and fancy that they can be part of the argument without the necessary expertise and knowledge. That is what happened to you.

Experts didn't dismiss your views because they are political. Public health experts didn't see COVID as an excuse to push their own political agenda. The twitter Zeitgeist has never been an important factor in the scientific consensus on any subject and it is not part of the conversation when it comes to non-partisan or expert institutions.

You continued refusal to accept the simple fact that COVID being engineered or being the result of a gain-of-function experiment is just not credible. That is not what experts are talking about when they say "lab leak", is just you doubling down on stupid. Alex Washbourne is a contrarian, who saw a chance to make a name for himself by taking a long-shot punt but he has nothing to lose. People on the other side of the argument however are putting their reputations on the lines if they are wrong and they have very little to gain by debunking the engineered virus theory. The fact that the majority of scientists in the field are all saying that its bull**** is the only heuristic you need. You are lumping the people taking a long-shot punt, together with people putting their career on the line and you call it 50-50. That is why you got "shat on" on twitter. The right thing to do is not to double down on stupid, but to stop and actually have an honest conversation with someone who understands this stuff and can explain to you, how gain-of-function experiments are designed, why they are ALWAYS done only one well studied and published strains, why it is clear that no one had the biological knowledge to design covid and what the actual credible lab-leak related possibilities are.

The same thing goes with the public health decisions on COVID. The arguments you made on twitter were things that people had already argued internally and considered in light of what was known at the time and you don't consider the counterfactual of what might have happened if schools were kept open. Your counterfactual is a different country with an entirely different set of parameters, because you don't have the capacity to model the actual situation on the ground and don't understand how noisy the data you relied on is. For example consider this: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01571-8 and a more recent meta-analysis: https://ebm.bmj.com/content/28/3/164.

The public health experts were right that this was not as simple decision. Closing schools did have the negative effects some social scientists predicted, but that has to be weighed against the effects of reduced spread. Is some learning loss for many children a bigger problem than 1% of children losing a parent? What about 0.1% of children? What about 0.01% of children? It will take a very long time for us to find out, but the vast majority of public health experts will say someone dying is not in the same ballpark as loss of schooling. After all you can do something about the latter, but you can't bring people back from the dead. Maybe it will emerge that school closures were not the right policy after all. Even if it does your picking that policy and defending it on twitter because it agreed with your intuition, contributed nothing to the discussion. Even if it turns out school closures were the wrong approach, when faced with a similar choice in the future public health experts will still put the risk of someone dying first. You didn't get that then and that is why you got dismissed by experts on twitter.

Experts do not form the views based on politics. Public health experts don't make decisions that affect people's lives and livelihood based on politics. Twitter is not how you contribute to scientific or expert discourse and the indigo blob has very little real impact on policy. You thought you were immune to twitter misinformation and you thought that because experts communicated on twitter that meant you can be part of the discussion too. You were wrong on both counts. If you want to contribute to expert discussion, then do the hard graft. Craft your hypothesis, gather the evidence to support it. Publish the results. Don't shit-post on twitter and expect to not be dumped on.

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This reminds me of the Cambridge Spy ring. How could a respected member of the educated upper class, Anthony Blunt, do what he did? The elite press could not accept it. Until they did.

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Jul 31, 2023·edited Jul 31, 2023

This is all well and good. So, there's liberal bias in the mass media, but what about the political system as a whole? What about the CONSERVATIVE BIAS of the massive influence of corporate lobbyists and large dollar donors on state legislatures, the presidency, Congress and even the Supreme Court? What about the CONSERVATIVE BIAS of massive gerrymandering of state legislatures? What about the CONSERVATIVE BIAS of the Electoral College, where a vote in a sparsely populated state can be worth as much as 3 1/2 times more than in a large densely populated state? What about the CONSERVATIVE BIAS of the Senate, where the same factors as in the Electoral College hold sway? It would be well to start and finish an essay such as this with the observation that media bias is only one part of a much bigger picture.

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I think Nate Silver is starting to presuppose on almost every issue that there is indigo blob, it's too far to the left, and the right position is to the center. And when he argues he treats his opponents like they're complete idiots, blinded by ideology or arguing in bad faith.

I really respect Silver I just think he needs to stop categorizing his opponents as liberal sheep.

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This is kind of an interesting mirror image of Hanania’s “Why the Media is Honest and Good” - https://www.richardhanania.com/p/www.richardhanania.com/p/why-the-media-is-honest-and-good?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Basically makes similar points, but assumes a different readership and makes a contrarian argument for each’s assumed readership. Anyway, seems like both are right, in their own ways.

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Jul 31, 2023·edited Jul 31, 2023

Nate Nate Nate... thought-provoking as always, but suffering from several key flaws.

Definition of Left-Wing Bias: This discussion brings to mind the adage, "reality has a well-known left-wing bias." Many of the institutions categorized as "left" are labeled as such by those interested in discrediting objective truths or methods, such as scientific inquiry. A bit ironic given Mr. Silver's own reliance on data-driven insights. What defines left-wing bias? It often seems to be a shifting goalpost, convenient for marginalizing or dismissing perspectives that don't align with a certain agenda. I'm a bit disappointed that Mr. Silver conveniently elides defining the crux of his entire argument.

Real Left-Wing Bias vs. Mainstream Media: Equating the journalistic standards of outlets like the New York Times, ESPN, or ABC with genuinely progressive voices (which are considerably smaller in numbers and reach) seems both inaccurate and in bad faith. The comparison with right-wing bias institutions, driven by overtly partisan interests, distorts the landscape and creates false equivalence.

Good Faith vs. Bad Faith Arguments: The characterization of mainstream media as left-wing fails to recognize the core difference between good faith and bad faith argumentation. Painting conservative discourse as solely ad hominem or dishonest oversimplifies a bit, but it's indeed difficult to find a parallel to some of the right's rampant disinformation strategies. A media breakdown based on good faith vs. bad faith would offer a more nuanced and honest picture.

Get back on the podcast Nate, we miss you ;)

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