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Hey NYT, please just don’t

There’s an incredible corner of the Net, hosted by someone who calls himself “Scott Alexander.” “Alexander” is a young Bay Area psychiatrist with a wide range of interests and enormous intellectual energy. He’s written a blog — Slate Star Codex (wbm)—that echoes some of the very best in the old web. Longer essays, sometimes book reviews, sometimes summaries of a collection of academic papers with his analysis, occasionally humor. One reader I’ve known (and trusted and respected) for 25 years tells me (I’ve not been a follower):

the essays are always intelligent, often original. The typical essay gets a comment thread of five hundred to a thousand comments. Judging by the polls he occasionally does, there are probably twenty or thirty thousand readers.

Recently, a New York Times reporter decided to do a story on the blog. He interviewed a bunch of readers and then interviewed “Alexander.” During that interview, he told “Alexander” that he had identified his true identity, and was going to reveal it in the story. “Alexander” strongly objected to being doxxed. He has announced that he will close the blog if the Times outs him.

I don’t often find myself in the same place as the Washington Free Beacon, but this time I am. This should not be a political issue. There is no justification for denying this conductor and creator his anonymity. You don’t have to go full-on Against Transparency to believe that a free society should allow free people to associate freely, without the fear of being doxxed by even the well-meaning. Indeed, one might observe that’s precisely how our political society was born. See, e.g., The Federalist Papers, published under the name Publius, as well as scores of other pamphlets with similar pseudonyms. See as well The Economist, which publishes brilliance without identifying the authors.

The Times is of course free to do what it wants. No law could ban it from publishing the truth. (That’s not strictly true but close enough.) But no norm compels it to destroy what its reporters would describe. The Times does good (here the Washington Free Beacon and I part ways). It should also do no harm.

Written by

law professor, activist.

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