(I open with some general introductory thoughts, but if you scroll down there is a faster point by point analysis of what Sean got wrong about the IDW)

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In a recent episode of his podcast Mindscape, physicist Sean Carroll had some criticism for the Intellectual Dark Web. You can find the episode along with a transcript here. Although on the whole I enjoyed the episode—the episode was mostly a conversation style analysis of the philosophy of morality and ethics—I thought that his criticism of the IDW was unfair. If you have not heard about the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW for short), you can catch up with the blog post and podcast episode that we did on it last year: The Intellectual Dark Web: An Enlightened Voice for the Left.

In it I made my case for why I think the IDW movement had the potential to bring a more reasonable discourse back to the left. Just like the right side of politics, the left side of politics is certainly capable of going too far. We are increasingly seeing the far left of politics—with an approach in which ideology trumps science—spread into the mainstream left and dominate many institutions like the media and the universities. True intellectualism, if it is still dominant on the left, is being drowned out by the louder voices of the extreme left. Many universities have skewed their focus to be social justice oriented instead of truth oriented. The mainstream media has followed a similar approach with their journalism. Sometimes those two teleologies will line up, but the real test is that when they do not, which one will you follow?

This is not to say that seeking social justice is bad, but that it is in fact a different goal than seeking truth. A true intellectual, as noted by Sean in this episode, will follow the evidence and seek the truth no matter what. But the more radical leftist form of social justice, as documented in detail by Jonathan Haidt’s work with the Heterodox Academy, is increasingly dominating the universities. Identity politics,oppression narratives, intersectionalism, and other social justice oriented subject areas—while potentially useful to think about— are not currently taking on a scientifically literate approach to truth seeking. In addition, it is now all too common for dissenters of this leftist doctrine to be ousted and shamed by the mob as being racist, sexist, or worse. The left seems to go after its own just as much as it goes after the right. Cancel culture has created an atmosphere in which people are afraid to speak their mind for fear of being fired.

John Mcwhorter has compared the anti-racism movement on the left to religion: the suspension of disbelief, the inability to question the prevailing dogma (even self contradicting dogma), the concept of original sin (white priveledge and priveledge in general), and the concept of a judgment day (America will one day own up to its structural racism) are all tenets of anti-racism and social justice more generally. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking social justice, and I think the majority of people still pursue it with pure intentions in mind. But the orthodoxy has created people who feel threatened when asked to defend their ideas and often cannot defend them. Social media has also allowed an extremely vocal minority of the left to run the show. It is not intellectualism or science if one cannot question it. Intellectualism encourages people to question the accepted truths of the day. Having debates from different points of view helps us overcome our biases and discover what is true. But people who question the social justice movements on the left, even if they themselves are on the left, often become the victims of mob like behavior aimed at getting them fired and destroying their livelihoods.

It was in this atmosphere that the concept of the IDW emerged. The founder Eric Weinstein defined it as “an alternative sense making network” to distinguish it from the mainstream media and other institutions that we rely on to make sense of the world. The normal sense making networks have demonstrated that their teleology has shifted away from seeking the truth. Truth is truth, and as such I felt hopeful that the IDW (comprised mostly of left leaning people) was reclaiming a space for reasonable people to stand on the left. For me personally, it allowed me to distinguish between the far left (sometimes called the regressive left or new left) and the place that I wanted to stand on the left. I wanted to stand in a place that has concern for the poor and oppressed, but used science and data to truthfully arrive at both the problems and the solutions. I miss the feeling that I was on the side of politics with all the smart people. I remember watching videos of the tea party protests in 2008 and laughing at how uninformed and blinded those angry people were. And now we have that problem on the left. Antifa and other SJW themed protests on the left are filled with the same flavor of unreasonable ideology and uninformed anger (and sometimes even violence).

But I think Sean both discounted the problems on the left and also misrepresentated what the IDW is. I am a long time fan of Sean’s work, and I especially enjoy his podcast. When I heard that he had criticisms of the IDW, I was genuinely excited to hear them. Most criticism of the IDW that I’ve encountered has been dishonest (usually in the form of a hit piece). But I trusted Sean’s approach to thinking, and I thought that he might have something to say that I have not heard. A lot of the episode, which was a solo “thinking out loud” style episode about morality, was really informative and enjoyable. I love hearing smart people think out loud because I feel like it makes me a better thinker. But his critique of the IDW struck me as either dishonest, lazy, or confused. And since there is so much confusion out there about what the IDW is, I will assume and hope that it was mostly confusion. As such—and in the spirit of true intellectualism—I hope that Sean might encounter some of the push back he’s gotten online and take it seriously enough to correct for some of his inaccurate representations of the IDW. I think if Sean had the true definition of the IDW and the balance of compassion and intellectualism that it is trying to stand for, he might consider himself part of the movement as well. I understand his perspective in the field of physics makes him particularly sensitive to problems of oppression (women have been historically discouraged from physics and science more generally), but he sets this up as a counter to the IDW, which it is not. The IDW founder Eric Weinstein has often brought up this issue of women in physics as a problem that needs to be addressed.

Sean began talking about the IDW at the 58:00 mark of his episode: Episode 53: Solo — On Morality and Rationality. He made many claims that I have no problem with, and at many points he drifted into tangent topics that weren’t directly related to the IDW. He also mentioned that this was more of an exploratory episode rather than a tightly organized argument, so I think that largely explains his lack of quotes and other evidence. But his general position and tone was that the IDW is a negative thing. He often stated his positions as if they were countering the IDW claims as a whole, and didn’t provide any specific examples when he did that. And the few specific examples he talked about were misrepresentations. He also talked about the IDW as if they were one monolithic group, and failed to promote their internal disagreements. They disagree on many points, but they all agree on one fundamental point: free speech and good faith conversations are what allow the best ideas to flourish.

I think it is best to go through his claims point by point and refute them as needed. That will help keep the post shorter and hopefully make it a faster read. I will try to provide as many links to sources as I can. There is so much misinformation out there about everything, and it takes an annoying amount of time to properly discover what is true. I hope it is the case that Sean simply did not devote enough time to figuring out the viewpoints of the IDW members; this would make sense because his viewpoint of them was generally in line with how the mainstream media portrays them. I was disappointed in someone who’s intellect I have grown to trust (if you don’t have time to properly research something then just don’t do an episode on that topic), but I do not think that Sean did this in bad faith. Here’s a quote from a tweet Eric Weinstein put out in response to Sean’s episode, and I think it sums up my sentiment as well:

“Even when one believes criticism is based on some misunderstandings, critique is still worth hearing from a colleague who is measured and not trying to inflict maximal damage. Thanks Sean.”


Opening and Eric Weinstein

  • He begins speaking about the IDW around 58 minutes into the podcast, and mentions that this is a topic that easily gets emotional and heated, and he hopes that people will receive the criticism in good faith. I appreciated this as it seems like an honest way to open the topic.
  • He mentioned that the name “Intellectual Dark Web” was coined by Eric Weinstein, and sort of attacked a physics theory that Eric had come up with. I can’t comment on the physics, but it did seem like an attempt to open the topic by discrediting the founder. He loosely mocked him based on a Guardian article which called Eric “The Next Albert Einstein”. Sean’s wife Jennifer Ouellette has also written a somewhat nasty article about Eric in the past, so opening with this just seemed a little bit unnecessary to the topic at hand. I think it was just a subtle way to try and discredit Eric’s other ideas based upon the negative feedback that his physics theory got.
  • Sean then attacked the idea that the ideas coming from the IDW are “forbidden” or “contrarian”:
    • “I will confess that it always rubs me a little bit the wrong way, when people foreground the idea that what they’re saying is forbidden or contrarian or naughty, rather than what they’re saying is correct, or right, good ideas, not just forbidden ideas.”
    • He is obviously right that an idea is not true just because it’s contrarian, but I have never heard anyone in the IDW claim the opposite. And Sean provided no evidence for this line of attack. And if the ideas are not contrarian, why are people causing controversy and getting fired for saying them?

Defining the IDW from Reddit

  • Sean then goes on to define the movement by reading the “About” page on the IDW subreddit. As a side note, what he read has since been changed slightly to clear up some of the vague language. But for him to define it from a subreddit confused me. Nobody in the IDW is associated with this subreddit. And Eric Weinstein put out a 20 minute YouTube video in which he carefully laid out the definition of the IDW and his motivation for starting it. Although Sean could have and should have found this video separately (it’s the first search result on YouTube when typing “Eric Weinstein IDW”), this “About” page which Sean reads from also has a link to the video as well.
    • The short definition Eric provides in the video (and elsewhere) is that the IDW is “an alternative sense making network”. It is a group of people who speak against the narratives that come out of the standard institutions like the mainstream media. But Sean just chuckles at the idea that the IDW doesn’t have any bias, a claim which none of them made—it was just the poor wording from that subreddit.

IDW and Free Speech

  • Sean also claims that although they claim to be for free speech and open dialogue, they really are not for those things.
    • “First, the idea that this particular group of people is dedicated to open free dialogue is not at all borne out by the evidence.”
      • His evidence is that celebrated IDW member Jordan Peterson “infamously threatens to sue people who insult him”. He phrases this as if it happens all the time, but I think he has only sued or threatened to sue three times (two towards Wilfrid Laurier University and one towards Dr. Kate Manne).
      • Sean doesn’t get into any of the details of those cases, and doesn’t even bring up the concept of defamation laws which constrict free speech in order to protect people from libel or slander. Defamation laws are meant to protect people from untrue statements that can damage their reputation and livelihood. Sean not only skips over this detail, but also skips over the details of the two cases in which Peterson threatened to sue people:
        • In the one, teaching assistant Lindsey Shepard made a recording of administrators from Wilfrid Laurier University condemning her for showing a clip of Peterson’s lecture in her class; they compared it to showing a clip of Hitler. Comparing a university professor’s lecture to Hitler without any evidence certainly seems like slander to me.
        • The second one involves comments made against Peterson by feminist philosopher Dr. Kate Manne from Cornell University. There are many articles out there which miss the point and argue the same position that Sean had. They frame it as Peterson, who is an “accepted misogynist”, is simply threatening to sue because he can’t handle the criticism and doesn’t really believe in free speech. Here is Peterson’s summary of the situation with the full passages from his book that Dr. Manne misquotes.
          • I understand the bias of reading Peterson’s own account of the situation, but so many others were lazy and without detail. Ultimately one has to read his book (I finished his book earlier this year) and compare it with her account of his book. I chose Peterson’s post because he put the relevant passages side by side with what she claimed about his book. She not only insinuated that he was a misogynyst, but said that she thinks he might have gaslit one of his clients— a patient who came to him unsure about whether she had been raped or not— into thinking she wasn’t raped. She then went on to say that Peterson appears to be “highly contemptuous” of his female patients. Criticism like this— an attack coming from a professor at a reputable university that slanders another person’s reputation as a clinical psychologist—that is based on a clear misrepresentation of Peterson’s book can surely be in the ball park of defamation laws. It does not signal in any kind of simple way that Peterson is being hypocritical about his positions on free speech. It also misses the point that he rose to popularity over his criticism of bill C16 in Canada, which he and many others interpreted as imposing certain speech. Interpretation of that law aside, he made it clear how he and others interpreted that law and why he came out against it to defend free speech. He never claimed that he would refuse to call a student by their preferred pronoun, only that he could not do it once it was required to do so by law. He considered that the government mandating speech was crossing a line and that he could not quietly let it happen. Perhaps his interpretation of the law was inaccurate, but his reasons for speaking up were made clear and not based in any kind of sexism or bigotry. He has many lectures online which delve into the importance of the right and left side of politics, and the crucial role that free speech has in balancing the two. Sean skipped over all of these relevant details to paint a simple picture of what is actually a complex situation.
    • Sean also provided further “evidence” of Peterson not liking free speech by saying that he had too much of a “collegial” conversation with the prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán:
      • “Peterson seemed to have a collegial meeting with Orbán, in which they bonded over their mutual distaste for political correctness. So these are not the actions of someone who is truly dedicated to the ideals of free speech.”
      • Yet Sean did not cite any content from this conversation, or give any way in which Peterson shares the views of Orbán. Does Peterson talking to a person mean he agrees? Sean himself opened the segment by saying that it is good to have conversations with those you disagree with.

IDW and Scientific Literacy

  • He then attacks the scientific literacy of the IDW by claiming that some members are skeptical towards climate science and that Ben Shapiro believes in intelligent design.
    • These are somewhat reasonable claims to make because I have definitely heard both Shapiro and Peterson express skepticism towards climate science. As far as I know, they mostly express skepticism towards it for a similar reason that they would express skepticism towards gender studies; the field has become too politicized. Also Shapiro is well known as being religious.
      • So for the sake of argument, let’s say that those claims are true. Does 2/17 members of the IDW having those views mean that, as Sean said, “it’s not obviously a pro-science group of people”?
      • Those might be valid arguments to make against the specific IDW members, but it seems clear that Sean is, either knowingly or not, talking against the straw man version of the IDW and certainly not the steel man version. It already is, politically speaking, a mixed group of people. What they agree on is that good faith conversations are not happening in the normal “sense making networks”. I first heard the term steel man from Eric Weinstein, and unfortunately Sean did not do his due diligence to steel man them before forming his arguments.

More Confusion from the IDW Subreddit

  • He then levels more criticism based off of the subreddit. He claims that none of their positions are put forth there so he doesn’t even know what they stand for:
    • “…the Reddit description of what the IDW is, is only about methodology, it does not mention the substantive beliefs that these people have.”
    • “It just says we’re open to free discourse, rational open-minded good faith discussions. But about what? And what are the positions that they’re advocating in these good faith discussions?”
    • Firstly, there is no “IDW position”. It is about alternative sense making that people are not getting from the usual sources. And again, this subreddit is not made or monitored by anybody in the IDW.
    • Meanwhile the subreddit itself has links to videos and podcasts that dive into these topics. And otherwise the positions of its members are all over the Internet for one to find out. I’m not sure why Sean got so hung up on the subreddit.

Race and IQ

  • This next section, at around the 1:06:00 mark, is perhaps the most dishonest criticism of the IDW. It is one that is sure to turn people off who have not followed the IDW.
    • Sean cites the Bari Weiss NYtimes article when he says this: “There’s this famous article by Bari Weiss, that introduced the IDW to the world where she mentioned certain things they agree about including there are fundamental biological differences between men and women and identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart.”
    • And then at the 1:07:00 mark, without actually citing the article or anything else, Sean makes this claim:
      • “And probably even though he doesn’t say it quite there in that paragraph, they would include the idea that there could be racial differences in IQ that separates let’s say blacks from whites or Asians. These are the kinds of ideas that the IDW, wants out there in the public sphere being talked about.”
      • He provides no evidence for this claim, and then claims further that they are hiding that belief and they “don’t want to mention that in certain definitions of who they are”.
      • First off as a claim, of course anything could be true in science. Whether it’s a claim about particle physics or the science of IQ, anything could be true. But the implication he gives, seemingly based on nothing, is that the IDW as a whole both believes in and cares about racial differences in IQ.
        • Sam Harris and Charles Murray: Perhaps this idea is in Sean’s mind because Sam Harris had Charles Murray on his podcast. Charles Murray is known as a controversial figure because of his 1994 book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. There was one chapter in this book about racial differences in IQ which landed Murray into a giant controversy. People assumed he was coming from a racist point of view and he was portrayed that way by the media. Sam had Charles on his podcast in an attempt to correct for the wrong treatment that Charles had received; the book was clearly agnostic about the relationship between genes, environment, and IQ. It also strongly asserted that the data should not affect how we treat individuals. Sam only wanted to help correct for the cancel culture that often ousts people as being racist or sexist based on little or no evidence.
        • Sam made it abundantly clear in the intro to his podcast that he only wanted to clear up the dishonest smear campaign that destroyed Murray. He admits many times throughout the podcast that he does not think certain scientific claims, like race and IQ, are even worth pursuing. But his larger point of having Murray on the podcast was that we can’t destroy someone because they uncovered an inconvenient truth. And to this day, most people portray the book in completely inaccurate way. Of course I can’t know Murray’s true intentions, but I can’t trust the criticism because of how obviously inaccurate it is.
      • The only additional utterances about race and IQ that came out of the IDW were those that defended Sam Harris from the smear campaigns following his conversation with Murray. The only interest IDW members had in the topic was to defend the concept of scientific truth (whether potential /in debate/accepted) and objective data from ideology that wishes to dishonestly discredit it. The IDW does seem to agree that there is a growing portion of the left who find it okay to lie and smear people’s characters when they espouse science that doesn’t agree with their ideology.
    • Sean doesn’t comment on the science of IQ, doesn’t mention any of the controversy surrounding the smearing Charles Murray or Sam Harris, and wrongly suggests (without any evidence) that the IDW wants such information out there in the public although they won’t admit it. It’s just lazy critique and clearly just trying to paint the IDW as a group not worth paying attention to at best and at worst comprised of racists or sexists (although he stops short of saying this, why else would he make the above claims).

Racist Uncle Ideas

“These are opinions that your racist uncle at Thanksgiving would have no trouble endorsing.”

1:10:09 in the podcast
  • He then continued with the above quote. I don’t even know exactly what that means or whose ideas he is talking about, because he does not reference a specific person or idea.
    • He might be talking about the race and IQ thing still. Or he might be talking about the biological differences between males and females. Or he might be talking more generally about opinions that are controversial in society.
    • He more generally seems to have learned the opinions of IDW members from articles written about them and not from watching them actually give their various opinions on things.
  • “But let’s think about what these substantive opinions are actually about what they’re actually saying. For one thing they’re not that naughty, the idea there are fundamental biological differences between men and women, you would have to work really, really hard to find people who disagreed with that statement.”
    • So he mocks the idea that these ideas are controversial , but he fails to contend with the cancel culture that has made these ideas controversial. James Demore is the clearest example of this. Another recent example would be Ronald S. Sullivan Jr, a Harvard law professor who lost his dean position after students freaked out at the fact that he was a defense lawyer for Harvey Weinstein. Sean is right that it is not controversial scientifically to say that men and women are different, and it is also not controversial in the legal world to say that people are innocent until proven guilty (or that even obviously guilty people still deserve defense lawyers). But in this cancel culture, uttering basic truths about the world has become risky behavior. There are numerous other examples of this, and I’ve personally heard from people in academia who are scared to voice opinions that counter the leftist dogma. He doesn’t acknowledge this. The ideas themselves are not often controversial, just the reaction to them by the far left. And our cancel culture has shown that saying some of these basic truths does in fact have consequences for people.

Intellectualism

  • He then goes on to speak about what it means to be an intellectual. He says it means that you will stick to the truth that you discover, no matter what you wish it to be.
    • “Whatever truth you find out, you will stick up for regardless of what other implications there are. That, in my mind, is really what it means to be an intellectual even if those truths are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and so forth.”
    • He also talks about human bias affecting all of our cognitive processes including what we even pay attention to. I agree with all of this, and wrote about it in more detail in my blog post about having fewer opinions.
  • But he sets up this part of the conversation with an implication that he is countering the IDW:
    • “So the intellectual dark web has put the word “intellectual” into their title. I think that’s good. I’m in favor of the word intellectual. I’m not gonna begrudge them, the ability to name themselves whatever they want. It’s important, but that word matters to me, okay?”
      • The implication seems clear that he thinks they are using the term “intellectual” when they shouldn’t be, although he stops short of explicitly saying this.
    • Besides the possible problem with Ben Shapiro and his religious beliefs, I think every IDW member believes and aims to follow this ideal approach to intellectualism (at least as good as any scientist). This is a core mission statement of the IDW. It defends the objectivity that science gives us and insists that there needs to be a firm distinction between ideology and science. The IDW claim, with lots of evidence, is that science is under attack by ideology. Ideology from the religious right has done this for a long time, but we now see the left side of politics in the universities doing this as well. So I think Sean would actually consider himself in the IDW if he had the correct definition for what it is. As he says, an intellectual will follow the evidence “even if those truths are inconvenient or uncomfortable “. He sets up this part of the conversation as if he is countering something from the IDW, but still gives no example to back up this claim.
  • After setting up the definition of an intellectual, he then goes on to talk about what an intellectual is not: “A typical person who is not an intellectual might be an apologist for power, for money, for influence, people who are deploying their forces of persuasion for some purpose other than finding the truth.”
    • This certainly could be a type of anti-intellectual behavior. He’s using the term “apologist” to imply that it is someone who is rationalizing instead of being rational. In his usage, an apologist is a person who is perhaps pretending to be rationally seeking the truth but has a secret agenda to defend a certain point of view. I agree that this is something a person can be, but again he didn’t give any specific examples that showcase this anti-intellectual behavior in the IDW. You can be an apologist or an anti-intellectual from any side of politics and about any topic. I suppose Sean is himself being somewhat of an apologist for the far left in failing to contend with the radical side of social justice.
  • “They want to argue for the possibility that we should at least consider that things like the unequal representation of blacks and whites, men and women, gays and straights, and so forth, in various positions of power and influence and wealth in the United States is not a result of bias or discrimination. It’s just a reflection of the underlying natural order of things, an unbiased playing out to people’s talents and inclinations.” He continues later with:
    • “So do you really want to claim that this is just how things should be? It’s not actually a result of of bias and discrimination. That’s a very remarkable claim, if you want to state it quite that boldly. We’ve clearly had bias and discrimination in our society for a very long time, and it hasn’t gone away.”
      • I do not know of any IDW opinion that says racism or sexism doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have an affect on the disparities in our society. They do question the far left claims that sexism or racism primarily account for the disparities. And again, Sean did not provide any evidence for this claim. I also don’t know of any IDW opinion that claims that this is how things should be. They are usually arguing against the status quo opinion that unequal representation in certain jobs can be accounted for primarily by sexism or racism. The infamously wrong gender wage gap (women make less for the same jobs), which is still cited frequently, is one such example of lazy thinking from the left.

Hierarchies

“And when it comes to these cultural fault lines, the IDW inevitably ends up supporting the group which here in the US or North America, has been historically dominant, the powerful, the ruling group. They are acting as apologists for the established order of things. “

1:18:01
  • From the topic of intellectualism and being an apologist, he continues by saying that the IDW supports the group that has been powerful and dominant in our society. Again no quote or reference to anything, so it’s hard to understand who or what he’s specifically talking about.
    • It is true that many in the IDW defend certain hierarchies against attacks by the far left. The far left attacks hierarchies as if they are all based on power and corruption. So the IDW members are often stepping up to say that not all hierarchies are corrupt or based on power. Many are based on competence and are desirable. They don’t deny racism or sexism, but simply state that neither one fully accounts for disparities in representation of different people in the hierarchies of our society. For example in the Scandinavian countries, as gender equality increased, differences in career choice between men and women increased. They remind people that common tropes such as the gender wage gap virtually disappear when all other factors are accounted for in a scientifically literate way.
    • But of course when he calls them apologists, he wants to paint them as being anti-intellectual. Is it being an apologist to talk about the things that western civilization got right? Is it anti-intellectual to reference the data showing that life is better for more people than ever before in history? Is it an apologist position to defend enlightenment values that are under attack? He makes it seem, through a shallow analysis without any specifics, that the IDW as a whole defends the corrupt elements of white men being in power.
    • The main scientific point that the IDW makes on the topic of hierarchies is that you can’t directly jump from a disparity to discrimination. Discrimination can be one possible explanation, but there are many others as well. Some disparities are primarily due to discrimination while others have hardly anything to do with discrimination. Women dominate certain fields such as psychology, social work, teaching, and nursing (99% women). Would it be fair to say that this is the case only because of sexism towards men? No it would not. There are many other psychological differences between men and women that account for such disparities in career choice. Women are approximately 1% of garbage collectors and construction workers. There is undoubtedly sexism in those male dominated fields, and some of that may keep women away. But there is no evidence or logic in suggesting that sexism is the primary cause of that disparity.
    • So most of the IDW members are on the left and admit to certain problems of structural discrimination—they just push back against the extent of it and the one size fits all narrative that the left puts forth.
      • Sean gives two examples of discrimination against women, and they are legitimate examples which I agree with.
        • The first is women’s participation in professional orchestras. As orchestras instituted policies of blind auditions behind a screen, women’s participation in orchestras increased greatly (5% in 1970 became 25% by 1997).
        • The second example is in the field of physics, and he talked a lot about physicist Alessandro Strumia. I don’t know of him but he definitely seems to hold some sexist views about women in science. And although women dominate certain scientific disciplines, physics definitely seems to have more of a bias against women. I am not saying that the disparity itself proves sexism. But with a disparity this high and a field with a known culture of male domination and sexism, it’s not crazy to suggest that sexism plays a strong role in the disparity. But even if we admit that it plays a large role, what does this have to do with the IDW? This whole section, although it might just be a tangent, is set up to be countering some imaginary IDW position that is never stated. He only states that they generally defend “the established order of things” without giving specific examples.
        • And the larger problem with both of these particular examples is that IDW founder Eric Weinstein has publicly talked about them as problems. The way in which the IDW counters the prevailing attitude on the left is by being open to other explanations of the disparities—ones that aren’t necessarily based in oppression. This interview, starting around 42 minutes in, gets into Eric Weinstein’s position on such issues.

Conclusion

I agreed with much of what Sean said in the last few minutes of the podcast. He gave a defense of free speech that is similar to what most IDW members would say. But as you can see from the above outline, much of his representation of the IDW was inaccurate. I do not think he was being intentionally dishonest, and it seemed like he was trying to be fair. His misunderstanding of what the IDW is seems to come from two main problems. The first is that he seemed to have an impression about the IDW based upon the media’s representation of them; he did not seem to have enough first hand experience reading and watching their material. The second problem is that it seems like he associated and conflated the online movement of the IDW with the small group of people that actually comprise the group. This would explain why he relied on the subreddit so much and didn’t give any quotations from actual IDW members. But everything online has a whole army of noise attached to it; some of it is smart, some of it is racist, and far too much of it is just trolling. I do not think it is fair to judge a person or a group based on the online following that it accrues. Sean could have said that he thinks the IDW movement has energized some of the wrong people—actual racists or sexists who want to misuse the IDW positions—and that this is why it’s a negative movement. I think that criticism could have at least landed as more legitimate.

But for almost the entire segment, he failed to give one specific position of an IDW member. He mostly gestured towards a general impression of the IDW and said things as if he was countering their beliefs. The few specific claims (Jordan Peterson vs free speech or IQ differences) were just simply inaccurate accusations and he didn’t get into any of the specifics. And when he defended science, truth, and objectivity, he did so with a tone like he was countering the IDW. But one of the core principles of the IDW is defending truth and objectivity from anti-intellectual ideology. Does it mean that every word uttered by every IDW member is unbiased and objective? No, and some members are definitely more biased than others.

A core principle of the IDW is the concept of steel-maning the position of something you are criticizing. It forces you to do the work to find the strongest version of that position instead of the weakest. I do not think Sean did this. He was definitely more fair than others have been, but he clearly had a bias against them and was misinformed about their positions. I was excited when I heard that Sean had push back against the IDW. I am a long time fan of Sam Harris, and when I heard Sean’s push back against Sam I was intellectually stimulated and changed my own opinion. I was hoping for something similar here, but unfortunately it did not happen. I hope Sean will look into the IDW further and perhaps edit his opinions on a future episode or blog post.

Thanks for reading, and I would love to hear your comments on this topic as well. -Luke from Thunk Tank Podcast


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