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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 10, 2023

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Twitter: BBC objects to 'government funded media' label

"The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee," it said.

When BBC News highlighted to the Twitter boss that the corporation was licence fee-funded, Mr Musk responded in an email, asking: "Is the Twitter label accurate?"

The level of the £159 ($197) annual licence fee - which is required by law to watch live TV broadcasts or live streaming in the UK - is set by the government, but paid for by individual UK households.

Collection of the the licence fee and enforcement of non-payment is carried out by private companies contracted by the corporation, not the UK government.

TV licence evasion itself is not an imprisonable offence. However, non-payment of a fine, following a criminal conviction, could lead to a risk of imprisonment - "a last resort" after other methods of enforcement have failed.

I'm sorry, I don't really see the point of the complaints. Or rather: I see a point, but it's not interesting or flattering.

The BBC license it's mandated by the government.

The fact that artists and defenders of the BBC itself argue attempts to remove the 'fee' will harm programming or is a deliberate attempt to cow the BBC also militates towards the conclusion that the worries implied by "state-affiliated" or "state-funded" apply - though I grant that it is a more refined arrangement than direct payment.

Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said: “The cat is out of the bag. The Prime Minister thinks those reporting on his rule breaking should pay consequences, whilst he gets off free.

"The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism.”

So...the government not imposing a "fee" is an attack on an institution's functioning but we're supposed to act like it isn't a tax or the BBC isn't government funded?

So what reason does anyone (not benefiting from media branding) have to take any of this seriously? It seems to me that the real basis for complaint here is that BBC doesn't want to even theoretically be in the same bucket as Al Jazeera and RT. But it is precisely the media's fault that terms like "state media" are so badly received. Just as it is the media that marks certain dictators as "reformers" and others "strongmen" with "regimes" to aid its attempts to manufacture consent. They constructed this complex of Words That Hint At Things But Can't Be Called Out Cause They're Technically Correct.

So, because the media doesn't want to be marked by its own taboo-words and bad branding everyone is supposed to pretend that an entity funded by a government mandated license, whose supporters claim would fail without aforementioned government mandate everyone is supposed to ignore the correct labeling?

I thought the NPR label was a bit tenuous (assuming the 10% government funding stat I’ve seen is accurate), but the BBC is absolutely state-run media.

The whole “editorial independence” thing is a joke. Here’s a test: could the BBC run a piece calling the Queen a cunt without government consequences? If they couldn’t, then they aren’t editorially independent.

The whole “editorial independence” thing is a joke. Here’s a test: could the BBC run a piece calling the Queen a cunt without government consequences? If they couldn’t, then they aren’t editorially independent.

The point is that because of ofcom no one in UK can run a piece calling the Queen a cunt so BBC is not in anyway more or less restricted than the other media. They are not court appointed jester. And the charming lady didn't deserve it, unlike some of her sons and one of her grandsons.

This just means that there is no media outlet with “editorial independence” in the UK. Government funding + no editorial independence = state-run media.

And the charming lady didn’t deserve it

Of course not, just like Paramount Leader doesn’t deserve to be compared to Winnie The Pooh after doubling China’s GDP. Certainly we can agree that such common-sense regulations are necessary for the proper functioning of society.

Government funding + no editorial independence = state-run media.

Defining state-run media this way implies that the government funding is connected to the lack of editorial independence, which is false here.

The government funding implies a “don’t piss off the government too much” rule, at least more so than privately funded media orgs.

But the rule applies equally to the BBC and to privately funded media orgs. There is no "more so than" here.

And the charming lady didn't deserve it

Queen Elizabeth was an direct inheritor of stolen wealth who personally claimed fame, importance, and power for the sole reason that her ancestors were some of the worst war criminals who ever lived. For the reason she didn't renounce it all as soon as she could, she definitely deserves every insult.

The point is that because of ofcom no one in UK can run a piece calling the Queen a cunt

This makes matters even worse. I think we have an obligation to insult world leaders this morally compromised who protect themselves from criticism through censorious laws and policies. In that spirit, Queen Elizabeth is a dead, inbred, nepo-baby under the delusion that her family's legacy of warcrimes was something to be proud of and (example below) Xi Jinping is an incompetent Winnie-the-Pooh look-alike running the world's second-largest economy into the ground. Don't be afraid to say so!

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Queen Elizabeth was an direct inheritor of stolen wealth who personally claimed fame, importance, and power for the sole reason that her ancestors were some of the worst war criminals who ever lived.

Worst war criminals with better technology, manpower, institutions and education. Also it was conquered fair and square, not stolen. Vae Victis.

That's an unusual view. Might makes right is really not generally accepted as a good basis for morality. I guess it's best to link that instead of me badly summarizing a bunch of well-known arguments.

Edit: I think I understand better---you're saying that morality for countries/civilizations interacting is very different than that for people. I agree that this is probably true, but it would still be nice to justify why this particular difference exists. I think all the logic for might makes right being wrong for people transfers over? Most simply, it's better if societies could focus their energies on productive endeavors instead of zero-sum building of war-making potential so they can conquer and avoid being conquered.

Might makes right is really not generally accepted as a good basis for morality.

Sure it is; that's why human beings seek might in the first place.

Standard operating procedure for the mighty is to claim that business and honor march hand in hand; specifically, a realist practice that ceases to be profitable for the mightiest is a useful cassus belli (militarily or financially) against the dishonorable opponent who might still otherwise be in a position to extract some benefit from it.

For example, a country whose economy means men and women aren't equally productive only granting rights to the more capable gender in aggregate will find itself labelled as "immoral" by a mightier country seeking to hinder their development until they obey.

Might does not make right between people only because there are legal systems in place that codify rights on bases other than might. Such systems do not exist between states, or are ineffective.

If the word "fair" appies to conquering in your books then you might as well own stealing as well. After all, conquering is merely stealing while having enough manpower to do so openly.

Not quite. A state is monopoly of violence over certain territory. That's it. If a state conquers another state - than the first state had no business existing in the first place, so all property rights guaranteed by the conquered state are void

her ancestors were some of the worst war criminals who ever lived.

There's no need to insult Shaka Zulu, Julius Caesar, Temujin (aka Chinngis Khan), Attila, or Timur like that.

Yes, I know, and maybe about 50 others? Once you reach a certain level I'm not sure distinguishing who was absolutely worst is relevant and probably pretty impossible---how do you weight how many were affected, how brutal they were to each individual, how they were relative to others at the time, what they personally did vs. what others did on their orders, etc. This is why I said "some of the".

The British Empire was pretty exceptional in its scale and recency however.

Once you reach a certain level I'm not sure distinguishing who was absolutely worst is relevant and probably pretty impossible

The British, however, did not reach that level.

Given that all empires everywhere and forever have done evil, I'd sooner distinguish them by what good they've done. From my American perspective, the British Empire might be the all-time winner for its role in creating the amazingly prosperous anglophone nations and for their role in preserving historical treasures. When the Ottomans were busy destroying the Parthenon with carelessly stored gunpowder, the British were spending their treasure to preserve what was left of it. Sure, I can find plenty of bad things that the British Empire did, but the world is better for its existence.

I don't think the entirety of the British Empire can be laid at the feet of titular monarchs. Certainly George VI had no control over Churchill's actions with regard to the Bengal famine. And the conquest of India wasn't done by royal command, but instead by a corporation originally chartered just to trade. The British monarchs certainly didn't exercise the personal control that the people I named did.

For the reason she didn't renounce it all as soon as she could, she definitely deserves every insult. . . . I think we have an obligation to insult world leaders this morally compromised who protect themselves from criticism through censorious laws and policies.

It is permissible to argue this here.

In that spirit, Queen Elizabeth is...

What is not permissible here is actually delivering the invective. It's the epitome of pure heat, no light. You can argue that it should be permitted; it is not permitted here.

They would get OFCOM consequences as would any media organization trying to do that in the UK. They could run a story that the Queen was corrupt (though they would need to have sourced that impeccably). They probably can run a story saying the prime minister is incompetent for example.

A month ago the BBC suspended their most famous personality for tweeting something critical of the government's asylum policies.

That is because one of the "deals" for the BBC not to be seen as partisan is that its big personalities and newscasters should try to not be partisan on areas which are Labour vs Conservative. Whether they would have suspended him for being equally of critical of the oppositions positions is the question.

That's a bad test of independence. If most major news organizations ran such a piece the people responsible would be removed or disciplined just for being unprofessional.

Elon Musk can say whatever he wants on Twitter. There is nobody at the BBC who can say whatever they want, except the government.

No employee at any news organization can say 'whatever they want', they're subject to standards of relevance and professionalism. It isn't a good illustration of how the British Government influences the BBC to say that writers/pundits can't call the queen a cunt, because neither could writers at almost all small time American newspapers. Not because the British Government secretly controls them, but because they have voluntarily adopted professional standards that preclude it.

It’s not that each individual employee couldn’t do it. It’s that nobody at all could do it, not even in principle. Jeff Bezos could call Obama the N-word on the front page of the Washington Post tomorrow. Who could do that at the BBC? What group of people could do that? I suspect the only group that could is parliament.

If your point is that all media, even privately funded outlets, are like this in the UK, then I concede. In fact all UK outlets should have “government censored media” labels which link to an outline of the relevant laws and regulations.

I'm not trying to make a statement about the current state of British media, just calling out a poor argument. That the BBC doesn't do something (call the queen a cunt) that almost every media organization, even those not in the UK, voluntarily refrains from doing, does not provide much evidence of the level of editorial control that parliament exercises.

Any publicly traded media company would also have no individual who could call the queen a cunt without being punished by the board. If the entire board decided to call the queen a cunt on the front page they could probably be sued by share holders for damaging the company. Theoretically you could coordinate all the shareholders to approve, but that's implausible and I'm not sure why that should be a meaningful distinction between company's.

The point is 'ability to say whatever you want' doesn't practically exist at most major news companies and if you want to say the BBC as 'state owned media' is categorically different from a publicly traded American news company in a significant way you need a better example.

Elon Musk can say whatever he wants on Twitter.

Can he?

"Settlement Requires Musk to Step Down as Tesla’s Chairman; Tesla to Appoint Additional Independent Directors; Tesla and Musk Agree to Pay $40 Million in Penalties"

“At the same time, however, even Musk concedes that his free speech rights do not permit him to engage in speech that is or could ‘be considered fraudulent or otherwise violative of the securities laws.'”

He won the private securities fraud action but he still had to agree to a bunch of SEC requirements in his settlement right?

Literally, intentionally false statements can have consequences. Opinions should never be banned in a free society.

He doesn’t seem too scared of financial regulators at the moment. “Dogecoin jumps more than 30% after Musk changes Twitter logo to image of shiba inu”

So he can't say whatever he wants without suffering consequences?

I would not contest that Musk has a wider swathe of things he can say without consequence, than a BBC editor but it isn't "whatever he wants".

Let me rephrase. He can say whatever he thinks. If he has an opinion, he can tweet it. If he has an idea, he can tweet it.

I wouldn't write that either, but that's not because the government pays me to do so.

That's not a good test. A good test would be - if BBC did something the government really hated, could the government pull their financing? It doesn't have to be something obscene or revolting, just something that is very inconvenient for the government. If they could, then they exist at the sufferance of the government, and their "independence" is just a leash that is long enough for them not to feel it, but it's still there. If they could not, or it would be very hard (e.g. on the level of passing Constitutional amendment in the US) - then there's a real independence, even if technically financed by the governmental decree.

In theory, any government could retaliate against a sufficiently annoying journalist - even in countries with well established norms around the freedom of the press, there are many informal ways that a journalist might feel the displeasure of the government. But of course, there's a big difference between being arrested or censored for telling the wrong story, and simply facing a social or career penalty or losing access.

Personally, it's my observation that it's quite the opposite. In many circles one now faces a penalty for siding with the government, and journalists are taught to see themselves as agents of disruption, as adversaries to established power.

any government could retaliate against a sufficiently annoying journalist

Well, yes, the question is how easy it is to do that and what would be the consequences. When we see something like this:

The email, sent to correspondents at just after 6pm on the day lockdown was announced, was labelled: IMPORTANT ADVISORY – language re broadcast. “Hi all – D st are asking if we can avoid the word ‘lockdown’. I’m told the message will be that they want to keep pushing people to stay at home but they are not talking about enforcement at the moment,” it said.

can we still claim they are "independent"? If the government can tell (successfully) the journalists what words to use, is it not government-controlled speech?

In many circles one now faces a penalty for siding with the government, and journalists are taught to see themselves as agents of disruption

What circles are those? What I am seeing more and more nowdays is that the journalists are taught to be always the agents of The Swamp, and if The Swamp is by some freak accident of nature is temporarily not controlling the government, then disruption it is, until things return to the normal. Once they do, the journalists go back to serving as a branch of the government.

NPR receives half a billion per year from the federal government.

If that sum is irrelevant, they should stop taking it and become genuinely independent from government funding to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest over an irrelevant sum of money. If it is relevant, then they are a government-funded media outlet.

NPR's entire total revenue is under $300 million: https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/national-public-radio-npr/

Did you really assume that every dollar the CPB spends goes to NPR?

But it is precisely the media's fault that terms like "state media" are so badly received. Just as it is the media that marks certain dictators as "reformers" and others "strongmen" with "regimes" to aid its attempts to manufacture consent. They constructed this complex of Words That Hint At Things.

So, because the media doesn't want to be marked by its own taboo-words and bad branding everyone is supposed to pretend that an entity funded by a government mandated license, whose supporters claim would fail without aforementioned government mandate everyone is supposed to ignore the correct labeling?

Is it the media's fault that terms like "state media" are badly received? Or is it the fact that a lot of state run media historically and observably tends to be biased towards the state and people can recognize that? The media doesn't have to tell me that a Ukraine government run news media organization and a Russian government run news media organization are likely to both need to be taken with a huge pinch of salt when reporting on the Ukraine war/special operation. Or that the news organization run by the Saudi or Iranian governments is unlikely to be taking stances the government does not like.

The media does not create authoritarian states. It certainly will (at least in the West) tend to downplay the authoritarian nature of states that are our allies and upsell the opposite. But that doesn't mean differences don't actually exist. The fact that a state run media arm should be regarded with suspicion (on reporting to do with anything to do with the government at least) is because historically that has been a problem. Our media didn't create that idea even if they over/undersell it depending on circumstance.

Having said that the Beeb is an interesting construct. Its funding mostly comes from the public by way of a government law for the License fee. However its existence is part of a Royal Charter which mandates its independence from the government itself. So is it accurate to say it is government funded? Kind of yes, kind of no. It doesn't get its money from the government but whether people have to pay it and how much IS determined by the government. In theory its supposed to be an independent reporter on the government and not biased towards either the government of the opposition.

In practice (and in my direct experience in interacting with the Beeb) it is kind of pro-establishment generally (which makes sense), with a slight social leftward lean and a slight conservative economic lean. Though it is I think slightly more positive towards whichever party happens to be in power at any given moment overall (which again makes sense from an incentive point of view). This is from dealing with the Beeb when working for both the Conservative and Labour parties.

If the point of the tag is to point out the level of possible bias then I don't think the BBC should get the same tag as a directly operated state organization. Though it's probably fine to get some sort of tag. I'll note Musk himself says he thinks the BBC is one of the least biased outlets for whatever that is worth. The BBC is big enough and important enough in the English speaking world that you could probably give it its own unique tag.

If the point of the tag is to "own the media" then sure keep it, it's just partisan sniping with little meaning in any case.

Having said that the Beeb is an interesting construct. Its funding mostly comes from the public by way of a government law for the License fee.

That's a synonym for "tax". The BBC isn't just government-funded, but has a special tax created just to keep it in existence.

And the independence of the BBC has been a great comedic punchline for decades now:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=B9tzoGFszog

Sure but its set up not to go to the government for disbursement so as to try to avoid the control issue.

Even when i worked for the governing party I could not just go to the BBC to squash stories.

Its fair to say there is some influence but in my sirect experience it isn't directly government controlled.

Would have made my life easier if it were.

Even when i worked for the governing party I could not just go to the BBC to squash stories.

Unless you were the Minister of Culture I don't know why you'd think you could. Of course the tea boy in 10 Downing Street doesn't get to boss people around as much as a cabinet minister would. YOUR failure to influence the Beeb doesn't mean everyone in the British government is similarly toothless.

No, but I would have known who could influence them, or my boss would.

There were ways to influence stories but the same way of influencing other outlets, build personal connections, offer a juicier story or exclusive etc.

But within government there is no standard path to control the Beeb's output.

Which isn't to say it doesn't have bias as mentioned above.

But within government there is no standard path to control the Beeb's output.

How certain are you that the status quo does not involve something analagous to The Twitter Files, with multiple govt agencies providing advisory concerns for subjects like pandemics, terrorism, mis/dis/malinformation, etc?

I think you have to agree these relationships must exist, indeed to control the Beeb’s output. But this happens for private media, too! I can’t prove, but strongly suspect, these relationships are stronger with the Beeb than Telegraph or Guardian.

I suspect the cynical explanation is that the British government doesn't have the same motive for putting its thumb on the scale like the American government would. They don't need to sell their people on any narrative in particular, because they don't really get themselves into wars (and pretty much most of the ones the UK has been in after WWII have been divisive at best) and they aren't tied up in global affairs like the US is.

So, I would say, yes, the BBC will probably be tilted in favor of the establishment, but there's no real pressure to be against said establishment.

There should be a term for the opposite of 'Gellman Amnesia' : "You don't realize how blind you're to brainwashing in a hivemind, until you're outside the hivemind."

The BBC seems 'independent' because it is occasionally critical of the British govt and will often give a platform to those who wish death to the western civilizational consensus. But, there is a '50 Stalins' aspect to that criticism and there are certain 'sacred cows' which can never so much as be mentioned, let alone criticized or analyzed. Al Jazeera appears similarly liberal, critical and rational as long as they are talking about things that do not relate to Qatar.

The BBC appears independent, because we who live within the hivemind of the west do not notice the absence of a type of criticism that we do not know exists.

But, there is a '50 Stalins' aspect to that criticism and there are certain 'sacred cows' which can never so much as be mentioned, let alone criticized or analyzed.

Care to give an actual example?

Rotherham is the only one I can think of off the top of my head that covered for the government, but Jimmy Saville and Martin Bashir's Lady Di interview were verboten topics for a long time at the BBC.

Having said that the Beeb is an interesting construct. Its funding mostly comes from the public by way of a government law for the License fee.

Just because you call it ship money a licence fee, doesn't mean it isn't a tax. The government impose it.

However its existence is part of a Royal Charter which mandates its independence from the government itself.

More importantly the BBC is perfectly willing to attack the government. But by "government" here, I mean the democratically elected institutions of the state. The BBC does however loyally represent (and is part of) the permanent state institutional structure.

So is it accurate to say it is government funded? Kind of yes, kind of no

Yes, and every kind of yes.

Is it the media's fault that terms like "state media" are badly received? Or is it the fact that a lot of state run media historically and observably tends to be biased towards the state and people can recognize that?

Yes? I mean, these are the same thing. State run media is media, their faults are media's faults. I think @bnfrmt hits closer to the mark with deep state run media, but the primary purpose of the label is to remind people to take what you learn from them with a grain of salt because they are beholden to interests other than the truth, and that they are propped up by the state - so I don't think it's inappropriate. Least biased is not not biased, and not biased is the only version we should tolerate. Anyone who claims otherwise is either brainwashed or bought.

It's not about 'owning the media' either, it is about reminding people that they are being lied to every single day by a bunch of clout chasing moral busybodies who would gladly sacrifice every prole on the planet for better standing in their incestuous community of mediocrities. That's all the BBC is these days, because that's what all journalism is these days.

But there was a time when it was just most journalism that was like that, and the only way we can get back there is by not letting the big hitters get away with anything. That includes stupid 'oh we jumbled things up, so this is no tax, even though we send enforcers around to harass you if we think you have watched television in the last week, and even though we gladly push a political agenda which protects certain interests of the state' excuses. Nope sorry, you are happy to accept the benefits of state backing, so you don't get to avoid the consequences.

To sum up, do not trust any media organisation bigger than your local newspaper. Ever.

Yes? I mean, these are the same thing. State run media is media

That is a different point than I think he was making though. His point was that "our" media labels state run media of other powers as bad. Not all media is equally "bad" even if that is only because some places use a lighter touch. And that is the case whether "our" media is using it as propaganda or not.

Don't trust any media, local newspaper or not is my view. But that doesn't mean I should trust an openly state run Chinese media over the BBC.

Reversed stupidity is not intelligence in other words.

To point out when I worked in politics it was much easier to have a story pulled or altered with smaller local outlets in exchange for exclusives or better stories. So local being more trustworthy is not something I would rely on.

Oh, I had the impression his point was that it's the media who came up with the label, so they don't get to throw a fit when it is appropriately applied to them. If they don't like being called state run media they can stop doing the things that make them state run media. Or alternatively, they are in the exact right position to rehabilitate the image of state run media. They refuse to do either, so the shoe fits.

Otherwise yeah, nobody gets blind trust. But I know there are some local paper editors out there who are dedicated to the truth, some out of penance for sins in the big leagues, some vindictively, some just to try to hold onto the light any way they can. Similar to how you say we can trust the BBC over CCP funded media, I think you can trust local papers more than the big hitters.

Why would you trust your local newspaper?

I’m being a little facetious—you potentially have access to its journalists in a way you wouldn’t for national concerns. But what does that really buy you? How much time and effort do you spend on keeping the locals in check? You’re not going to rally your town to ostracize the editor, not without a truly spectacular bias.

There are fewer people pulling on the local news, which is not the same as less total pull. It’s a lot cheaper to buy glowing reviews or softball coverage from a local outlet than from the New York Times. The result is that local journalists and editors may not be biased by Big Pharma or a wannabe President, but by a local employer, a motivated city councilman, or that bitch Annette, I can’t believe she took the kids, you can’t trust her.

Scrutiny by opposing interests is higher for large outlets, too. I remember thinking it was odd for commenters to grill Miami’s local news the other week. How many people do they really reach? Anything smaller will be even less visible.

I think it’s awfully hard to start from an adversarial basis, from game theory or realpolitik, and come up with reasons to trust. The difference in local and national news is that you might give locals the benefit of the doubt.

Agreed entirely. The only reason I excluded local newspapers from my sweeping declaration is because in most places I have lived you can actually hold them accountable for dishonesty, although it's often a bit like pulling teeth. But they are usually small enough to respect reader complaints, and a lot of them are where the autistically truth-seeking oldheads ended up after society decided we were too smart to bother with the truth, because local beats are like punishment to clout chasers.

I think the two tools in a low trust environment we can use to build trust are objectivity and accountability. We can't perfect either and to err is human, but anyone who puts a sincere effort into trying to be objective and holding themselves accountable for their mistakes deserves tentative trust I reckon.

“State media” is often used by the media as a shorthand for “media that’s controlled by a hostile state”, much like “regime” is used to indicate that a given nation is not aligned with western interests. It is a boo-term quite often as it counts as state control the things that hostile governments do, but not things we do. NPR is funded directly by the government through a grant system. If a program wants the grants and access to the NPR radio stations, it must produce shows that our government likes. If they reported on the news from too “radical” (read: anti-establishment) perspective, it won’t get funding or airtime. It’s basically patronage — I pay you on the basis of liking what you’ve done so far and I expect you to keep making things I like; and keep in mind that your patronage is up for renewal every year.

In essence, the very definition of “state media” is as a propaganda term meant to engender suspicion of that media’s reportage. And as such, it’s useless in most contexts to say “state run media should be viewed with suspicion” often reduces to “media that narrative makers declare are to be viewed with suspicion are to be viewed with suspicion.” Not to say that in some places reporting the wrong news story can mean free striped pajamas for the entire staff, but that the term itself isn’t used neutrally, and that it’s often inserted in reporting on other countries as a way to cast doubt on the data from hostile government funded media. Other supposedly free media outlets are not necessarily more evenhanded or reliable. If the Congo Times gets no funding from the government, but is run by a political party, is that better than the “state run” Congo Tribune that is run by the government?

Not to say that in some places reporting the wrong news story can mean free striped pajamas for the entire staff, but that the term itself isn’t used neutrally,

Right, but that doesn't mean they are actually wrong. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'd trust the BBC more in general than a Chinese state run media service in general because I know roughly how much power the British government has over the BBC and I know roughly what level of influence can be exerted when and under what circumstances.

Don't trust any media is not the same thing as all media being equally untrustworthy.

NPR is funded directly by the government through a grant system. If a program wants the grants and access to the NPR radio stations, it must produce shows that our government likes.

The proper conclusion from this is to be suspicious of NPR too. You're writing as if criticizing NPR for bias is outside the Overton window. Maybe it is for the left, but it certainly isn't among conservatives. (Maybe replacing "that our government likes" with "that the deep state likes".)

The media does not create authoritarian states. It certainly will (at least in the West) tend to downplay the authoritarian nature of states that are our allies and upsell the opposite. But that doesn't mean differences don't actually exist. The fact that a state run media arm should be regarded with suspicion (on reporting to do with anything to do with the government at least) is because historically that has been a problem. Our media didn't create that idea even if they over/undersell it depending on circumstance.

That's part of why it works; it's not untrue. No one can is going to die on the hill that Saddam doesn't have a "'regime". The words aren't necessarily wrong when it's used, the question is what's the impression given and why it's not used sometimes.

In theory its supposed to be an independent reporter on the government and not biased towards either the government of the opposition.

Even people defending the BBC often undermine the argument for its independence. Hell, the argument linked above is directly calling funding decisions (which the government has always been able to take) as direct partisan attacks.

If the point of the tag is to point out the level of possible bias then I don't think the BBC should get the same tag as a directly operated state organization.

IIRC the original tag that NPR complained about was something like "state affiliated media". If it was "state media" then I kind of get the charge.

"Government funded" though...I'm even less sympathetic. You can't complain that the government removing a funding mandate will crush either your programming or your reporting and also want to duck the tag.

If we agree with your take and we hate these terms for observable, rational reasons anyone can come to independently, not it being reinforced by media reminders every time a story from a hostile site comes up, then people can/will reach the same independent conclusion that Elon Musk did: that in a world of governments putting its fingers in the media pie the BBC surely counts as government funded but it represents a far more refined and civilized compromise than RT.

If not, as you say, there's literally no better placed, better branded organization to enforce a sense of nuance on any such tag just by existing.

I think the BBC is being a bit silly. However, why does Twitter only single out the governments? Why not say "Murdoch-funded" or "Bezos-funded" or "Roberts-funded"?

Well Twitter is itself Elon-funded. Somebody has to fund everything.

Because Bezos isn’t trying to manufacture consent for any wars he is waging.

Unless it's the war against the unionization of Amazon?

Is Bezos killing the families of people trying to unionize? Blowing up their homes? Maybe razing the towns they live in?

No.

This is the First World, one needs only to socially murder one's opponents as opposed to taking the drastic option of offering helicopter rides.

This is to say that I don't think there's really that much difference other than the continued existence of the biological entities in question. I imagine even the Soviet Union had more sophisticated ways of applying bootheels to human faces than Stalin's mass murdering.

No one asked but one point on this: The CBC in Canada is state-owned and state-funded, I couldn't really object to such a label being put on it. It's technically correct, and twitter can't really differentiate on vibes. But if anyone holds the belief that it's somehow on par with Russia Today, that's ridiculous: it has the same left-wing bias as as every non-right-wing network does, and for the same reasons: it's run by people with that bias. It continues to have that bias no matter who's in political power.

And as queasy as state-funded media might make me on principle, it's got plenty of competition from private entities, and the bias of wanting to spread sensationalism for views is also a problem (including with the CBC, who sells ads and likes views just like everyone), so having some variety in the ecosystem seems good.

But if anyone holds the belief that it's somehow on par with Russia Today, that's ridiculous

Is it?

I've seen a lot of really interesting and insightful programming on Russia today, more so than I have on the CBC (and I don't live in Canada, America or Russia). I don't really see why RT is getting called out for being uniquely bad when they've consistently been more correct on factual issues than the regular press. Hallucinations about Iraqi WMDs and Trump/Russia collusion are just two of the most prominent examples that come to mind (I'm sure people here don't need a long recitation of media perfidy), and I don't see any reason for the BBC to be privileged over RT on that rubric.

If you're saying you find their worldview more appealing, go for it. I'm talking about degree of state-control and overall mission. (If you think RT is better in that regard, then I am brainwashed by the Cathedral and you can ignore whatever I say.) Russia Today is a straightforward tool of the state, when Putin invades Ukraine he knows RT will say what he needs them to, journalists who defy this at risk of falling out windows. CBC does not operate anything like this, they're just part of same Blue-tribe that all think alike. Same with CNN in the Iraq War days, they supported the war for the same reason most Americans did, they were mad about 9/11 and in a patriotic mood, the journalists both felt this themselves and knew it's what their audience wanted.

CBC's mission is probably horribly corrupted by an activist worldview, but they still adhere to whatever mix of journalistic integrity/modern activism their average reporter can defend to themselves. Their gov't stipend has little to do with that and mischaracterizes the entire problem. RT is much simpler and easy to characterize.

I'm not saying I find their worldview more appealing - I know that they have a perspective/angle/bias, I just don't think this means I should pretend that CBC or western media in general does not. Sure, journalists who defy Putin can end up falling out of windows, but I fail to see how this is so much worse than journalists having their cars go out of control and spontaneously explode when they start investigating government wrongdoing or put out stories which badly embarrass military generals.

As for all the mea culpas about their handling of the Iraq war - sure, I believe that. But at the same time absolutely nothing has changed! There has been no reflection, no self-examination, no correction. There have been no retractions or corrections or award rescindments for the unadulterated fiction that was presented as coverage of the Trump/Russia scandal, and the same people are still using the same techniques to manufacture consent on other issues today. Ultimately, I just don't think "whatever mix of journalistic integrity/modern activism their average reporter can defend to themselves. " is worth anything at all, and it in no way justifies the removal of a factually accurate label like "government-funded" or "state media".

I caught this exchange after the previous thread had mostly closed, and I'd like to push back on the claim a little.

BinaryHobo:

I remember talk about just using the excess power to pump water up hill during the day and running it through turbines coming down at night.

Did anything ever come of that?

The_Nybbler:

The physical conditions necessary to make hydro storage practical aren't common.

(How do we do the fancy quotes with user, timestamp, and maybe a link? It'd be useful here.)

It's true that hydroelectric power sources, as in dams, have saturated the supply of naturally-occurring American sites. You need a river in a rocky valley, and there are only so many of those to go around, and once they're used up, it's very hard to create more of them.

What haven't been exhausted, and in fact what can be readily found or exploited, are height differentials in general. Hills, mountains, exhausted mines, deep valleys with no water supply, all offer significant height differentials, are naturally occurring, and can be readily built out into large-scale closed-loop pumped-hydro storage, with a closed reservoir at one extreme and a closed reservoir at the other, and a reversible turbine to generate potential energy in times of excess and power in times of deficit. Should those be exhausted, off-shore dropoffs are an enormous resource of the same, at the cost of more difficult installation and operation in every regard. And if we exhaust THOSE, water towers at sea or underground reservoirs on land can be constructed as well.

All of this, of course, is dumb and America should just take the leash off nuclear, as argued here. (I've not read it yet, but I expect it to make the points I would inline here.) That we haven't yet is a shame and a testament to our collective idiocy and Puritan hangover.

I said "practical", not "possible". Turning a given hill with neither water nor reservoirs into a useful amount of pumped storage isn't practical, even though it's "just" a matter of moving dirt, concrete, and water.

Clearly, this needs nuclear power to be feasible!

To back up you're pro-nuclear blurb, I would be way more worried (though still not particularly worried) about living underneath a pumped storage facility than next to a nuclear power plant. There have been multiple dam failures with death tolls in the thousands, much worse than any nuclear power disasters.

In terms of tail-risk, hydro is probably the most dangerous form of power around. There are dams around the world that could kill hundreds of thousands of people if they failed.

Another rarely discussed downside of hydropower is that it is extremely environmentally and socially destructive. Damming a river basically destroys its ecosystem. Dams also often flood very large areas, requiring people to evacuate and destroying anything that was there, natural or manmade.

For example, the Itaipu Dam:

When construction of the dam began, approximately 10,000 families living beside the Paraná River were displaced because of construction. (...) The world's largest waterfall by volume, the Guaíra Falls, was inundated by the newly formed Itaipu reservoir. The Brazilian government later liquidated the Guaíra Falls National Park. (...) The Guaíra Falls was an effective barrier that separated freshwater species in the upper Paraná basin (with its many endemics) from species found below it, and the two are recognized as different ecoregions.[18] After the falls disappeared, many species formerly restricted to one of these areas have been able to invade the other, causing problems typically associated with introduced species. For example, more than 30 fish species that formerly were restricted to the region below the falls have been able to invade the region above.

The construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt flooded 5,250 km^2 and resulted in the relocation of 100,000 to 120,000 people and 22 Ancient Egyptian monuments.

For comparison, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has an area of 2,600 km^2. That is to say, the Aswan Dam rendered uninhabitable twice as much land as the Chernobyl disaster.

That's just one of many reservoirs all over the world. Looking at this list, if we exclude the reservoirs that resulted from the enlargement of pre-existing lakes and consider only the ones that are completely artificial, there are 15 reservoirs which individually rendered uninhabitable more land than the Chernobyl disaster. The total amount of land flooded by dams is many times greater than the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. I don't have the exact figures, but the number of people displaced by dams is certainly also much larger than the number of people who were evacuated from the Chernobyl area.

Don't forget that this is a normal and accepted part of building hydropower, whereas the Chernobyl disaster was a one-time event that resulted from a combination of poor Soviet design and human error. If we considered the failures of dams, we'd get a death toll much larger than any estimate for Chernobyl.

It’s basically impossible to make a closed loop hydro system with practical capacity. You need constant water replenishment. You’ll be losing 10-30 cm of water per month to evaporation and seepage, depending on weather and soil condition. Without plentiful source of water, this is not viable.

And if we exhaust THOSE, water towers at sea

This one is extremely impractical, which you’d see if you even did a back of a napkin estimate. The fact that you mention this implies that you did zero legwork to verify if your ideas have even modicum of practicality.

This one is extremely impractical, which you’d see if you even did a back of a napkin estimate.

Source. They've tested successfully, physically, to 1/10 scale. I haven't gone and found the paper, I'll admit; I'll give it a shot ASAP so we can argue productively.

In the meantime, if the napkin math is so easy, share it with the class?

I'm not seeing estimates on the price to build and maintain that per kWh. Without that, yes, you've failed to do the basic napkin math on practicality.

This is not a “water tower at sea”. This is something different, actually quite smarter. I read their paper, and it doesn’t seem as immediately impractical as “water tower at sea” would, though it is still very much impractical.

According to their own analysis, the construction cost is something like 2-3x the cost of LiIon batteries per kWh. It’s something like $8M for storage equivalent to 2 minutes of operation of a single coal power plant. To build enough storage to replace one coal power plant for base load for half a day, you would need to build 400 of these, at a cost of $3.2B dollars. Coincidentally, this is about as much as it costs to build a nuclear power plant reactor of a similar size, which will keep generating the energy after the deep sea storage solution runs out of juice in 12 hours.

Even absent the replenishment concerns, the amount of height and/or volume for gravitational storage just isn't practical. A kilogram of hydrocarbon fuel has ~40MJ of contained energy. To store the same amount of gravitational potential energy in a kilo of (water, but really anything) requires lifting it 4000km.

I'm not familiar with the state of the art in biochemistry, but the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels would plausibly make them excellent storage if we could produce them (from non-fossil sources) with even moderate efficiency. Not to mention the existing infrastructure. That said, that is a nontrivial synthesis problem.

We already can do something similar to this by producing hydrogen gas from water. Hydrogen has an energy density of about 33MJ/kg, which is comparable to hydrocarbons, and production is relatively trivial. The problem comes in converting it back to usable energy, which requires complicated fuel cells that are relatively expensive, which is, I believe, the biggest reason why the simpler but inferior EVs got the edge on hydrogen as the "green" vehicle solution.

Hydrogen isn't currently a panacea: it's difficult to store long term: it isn't very dense at room temperature and liquefies at a difficultly-low temperature. It also likes to leak really easily.

I don't know that it can be made practical for vehicular applications, but if you're thinking about fixed energy storage infrastructure it's probably worth considering.

Converting it to methane, if you could do so scalably and efficiently, would make the longer-term storage problem (months) much easier.

Gravity storage with water as a medium is actually quite practical, and there are plenty of operational sites already, some with GWhs worth of capacity. You don’t have to lift 1 kg of water 4000 kms, you can instead lift 40 000 kg of water by 1000 meters.

This is practical and done in production, the problem is that you need a lot of water, and a lot of space to store this water in two separate reservoirs, which also need substantial difference in altitude. Because of this, it simply doesn’t scale: good sites are already mostly used, and we can’t build many more.

Synthetic hydrocarbons would make excellent store of energy, being very dense and already integrated in existing economy. The problem with those, though, is that the round-trip efficiency is really bad.

A US Energy.Gov analysis for this class of problems ("Long Duration Energy Storage") is here, with a tl;dr summary at here, with the even more tl;dr that on top of the various technical problems with large-scale expansion, there's the more immediate issue that even moderate-scale projects have been found hard and largely not tried, or 'tried' in the sense that they might get out of the planning stage in the late 2040s.

Thanks much, I'll review.

Large engineering projects involving water seem uniformly to be extremely difficult and politically fraught.

I wonder, is there anyone on The Motte who opposes nuclear power? Either because of concerns relating to safety, waste disposal and other "environmentalist" canards, or because it's supposedly uneconomical.

And if everyone here is pro-nuclear, why is that? Are mottizens just more rational than everyone else, or is it because of chronic contrarianism?

(How do we do the fancy quotes with user, timestamp, and maybe a link? It'd be useful here.)

Like embedding a Tweet? I don't think you can do that. But there's a "Copy link" button under every comment and you can put an @ in front of a username so that it links to their profile and they get notified.

I'm very faintly anti-nuclear because we need to import uranium from pretty far away and it makes us dependent on exporters, but I freely grant that this may be the least of many evils and actually looking at the numbers may convert me.

Based on user name you are German? Eyeballing a map, Western Europe might be the most Uranium scarce populated region. I'm not sure Western Europe has an energy option that doesn't require importing materials, or finished products requiring rare materials. The main advantage of of uranium would be relatively high energy density making up for some of the more logistically challenging freight issues. In North America, Canada has substantial reserves. The most complete reference for Uranium resources is the "Red Book", but you need to be a bit careful in interpreting the entries.

Neat. I did not know about German uranium mining until now.

The issue isn’t the logistics of shipping it. The issue is that it makes you vulnerable to blockades, embargos, trade disputes, and the “international community”.

Germany isn’t vulnerable to any of that, though.

Not right this second, but if the geopolitical situation shifts things could get quite uncomfortable. They aren't in a strategic location like the UK or the USA, and they don't have strong economic ties to resource-rich former colonies like France.

Germany has lost every war it ever fought as a direct result of being shut out of resource access through those methods, and the French lost their fair share of wars to this too (Napoleon).

I think it's fair to call that a strategic weakness.

They don't have natural gas, they don't have oil, they don't have good coal so they have trouble making steel, they don't have alloying elements so the metal (including steel) they are able to make is not the best quality. They have no large mountains for hydroelectric generation so their only indigenous source of electricity is coal. Food production is not their strong suit either (hence the need for Haber-Bosch, and really, why its inventors were German in the first place). Sure, they might have a highly educated and motivated society, but without any material/materiel to work with they're at the mercy of those who do.

This is also why the EU is a massive deal for Germany, because a politically-united Europe (under German economic control) means a Germany less constrained by American-English and/or French resistance to pursue its own policy goals. The "Fourth Reich" snark is not entirely untrue.

It's probably worth noting that that 38 t U was probably not from active mining. The link in the wiki is dead, but the current Red Book has a note for the recent entries were from mine water treatment and "In 2018, conversion work of the water treatment facility at the Königstein mine halted uranium production." None of the reserves in Western Europe are viable at current prices. In practice any Uranium used in Western Europe would probably be imported.

I think all the processing facilities in Germany have also been shut down, so processed ore would have to be imported from France, which itself sources Uranium from Canada, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia and Niger. I think the French nuclear industry has an explicit goal of diversifying the locations it sources from.

None of the reserves in Western Europe are viable at current prices. In practice any Uranium used in Western Europe would probably be imported.

Of course you’d want to buy cheapest product you can get, but that is orthogonal to the concern /u/Southkraut raised, which is whether this would make you dependent on foreign sources of uranium. If you could mine your own uranium, at even twice the cost, you are not really depend on imports, and the final energy price will not even go up all that much.

is there anyone on The Motte who opposes nuclear power?

I don't, but I can make a compelling steelman case against it I think.

Nuclear energy as it exists requires huge powerplants and a deeply integrated industry to scale. Which means very high levels of complexity at every level. You need many well educated and actually competent engineers to setup, maintain, and teardown every part of a large system.

This is uniquely combined with another drawback, which is that the risks are black swans. Bad handling of nuclear can, as demonstrated in Ukraine, have vast and long lasting consequences.

Only the State, or an industrial complex deeply tied with it can realistically enact a nuclear power program, and any such program will necessarily be in the hands of large institutions and not individuals. Which is already problematic to any sort of libertarian: large abundant energy coming from a centralized source inevitably leads to higher levels of control. Not to mention that institutions of this size are seldom considered to be wise custodians.

Moreover, consider for a moment that societies collapse. That societies can never maintain complexity forever. Is it a good idea to hinge our entire civilization on a system so complex that a lot of nations couldn't be trusted with its operation today? Is it reasonable to even believe that if collapse happens, the complex system will be shut down in proper order?

To want for nuclear is to swear eternal vigilance against the Dyatlovs of the world. And that might be a cost too high for some.

Moreover, consider for a moment that societies collapse.

You were already reminding me of this sketch, and then this sentence made it perfect.

Are mottizens just more rational than everyone else, or is it because of chronic contrarianism?

Being pro-nuclear is hardly a contrarian position. At least according to this poll 76 % of Americans are pro-nuclear. Of course it's not like everyone here is American, but even then in Finland, for example, nuclear energy is currently very much the mainstream view, in essence accepted by all parties (even if some of them do so a bit uncomfortably).

If 76% of the population meaningfully favor nuclear power, why is it such a problem to build nuclear plants?

An excellent summary is given here .

Tldr, largely copypasta:

  • The American Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses a model of damage to humans by radiation called Linear No Threshold, in which no amount of exposure to radiation is safe. This contradicts casual observation (we live with and robustly tolerate background radiation), observed cellular mechanisms (detection and repair of small DNA errors is routine), and a small number of human longitudinal studies and animal studies.

  • American nuclear reactor operators are as a consequence required to minimize the risk of even innocuous, low-level radiation releases, which makes cost reductions as a result of the usual learning curve and technological advancement impossible.

  • Culturally, there is little education on the risks of small and medium-scale nuclear incidents, and so public opinion is by default against radiation leaks out of proportion to the actual risk. The book being summarized contrasts this with airline accidents, which kill hundreds and are handled as a risk to be minimized, not eliminated.

  • The NRC is incentivized to run the approvals process as long as possible, since it collects fees from license applicants, rather than number of nuclear power plants under oversight or number of GW-hrs generated by nuclear power per year. This naturally drives up the costs of site licensing and design approvals.

  • There are many avenues for anti-nuclear activists to cause delays in the construction of a nuclear power plant, causing massive uncertainty in construction schedules and costs.

  • A model reactor must be licensed before construction begins, but model reactors are often invaluable in experimentally finding failure modes to be accommodated, but all possible failure modes must be addressed before even a model reactor is approved for construction.

  • Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima incidents have accumulated massive cultural scar tissue opposing more nuclear power plant construction.

Tldr of tldr: ignorant public, regulatory incentives, uncertainty in capex and opex spend.

76% of Americans support nuclear and support is higher among men and among conservatives, both over represented on the motte/

The few times I've talked to educated anti-nuclear folks, they've made it clear that they didn't understand the basics of nuclear waste or the dangers of radiation.

Are mottizens just more rational than everyone else, or is it because of chronic contrarianism?

As a pro-nuclear «chronic contrarian»: we can't be relied upon to distinguish the latter from the former. But I'd say it's the diminished vulnerability to threat models that appear poorly substantiated. We don't put much stock in «something may happen» stories.

For the same reason many here tend to pooh-pooh «the coof», Trump's «attempt at fascist insurrection», the danger of Russia or China, AGI risk, climate change, whatever, even school shooting and violence. On the other hand, we are highly suspicious of risk narratives that seem to justify reduction of freedom in all senses – from direct political ones to basic freedoms of exploring space and enjoying material abundance; degrowth ideology doesn't appeal to us at all. Inasmuch as there are conservatives and reactionaries here who profess to respect Chesterton's fences and the precautionary principle, it's not consistent but restricted to domains where change and action is heavily enemy-coded and in some ways still Puritan, statist and restrictive (e.g. CRT programming in schools).

Put another way, we aren't very contrarian. We're just non-neurotic males with a typical masculine attitude toward minor risks and risky-seeming things. The broader society and its consensus is… less like this.

Case in point:

It’s also enraged a bloc of stoutly anti-nuclear countries that includes Germany and Austria. Seven of them wrote a joint letter earlier this month warning that including nuclear-generated hydrogen could “jeopardize the achievement of … climate targets” and reduce ambitions on renewables.

“The attempt to declare nuclear energy as sustainable and renewable must be resolutely opposed,” Austrian Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler said after the deal.

Nuclear is quite bad if 1) you focus on tail risk of disasters (Chernobyl, Three Mile, Fukushima…) or mistaken estimates for base level harmfulness (such as consequences of waste leaks) and/or 2) evaluate nuclear by its cost per unit of output in the context of prohibitively expensive safety measures predicated upon its danger (assessments, plant designs and, again, secure waste storage over millenia). Put in the proper quantitative context, it's less dangerous per unit of power than most other energy sources. But there's no way to make coal or solar seem so spooky to a layman. I mean –wind, sun, it's all so nice, living in harmony with nature, what could go wrong! So what if we'll need to restrain our capitalist greed and consume a little less, give some rest to our mother Earth! Indeed, it'd be a positive if we got rid of capitalism even without any ecological benefit, some could say that's the whole point. Also, the precariousness of nature also means one can feel morally superior on account of normie unambitious urbanite life choices.

The optics accessible to midwits are just bad, built into every facet of culture from fiction tropes about evil power sources to signs on trash containers; whatever your nerdy arguments, generations of shallow artists competing for NGO grants (with the intent to suffocate, debase and diminish humanity under the guise of rational planning) have conscientiously labored to make it this way.

Not much to do about it now but remind them of the human cost of their actions, meticulously calculated.

For the same reason many here tend to pooh-pooh «the coof», Trump's «attempt at fascist insurrection», the danger of Russia or China, AGI risk

Do people on the Motte not take AGI risk seriously? I thought I was the only one here who thought it was overblown.

Did you not see the AI threads the last week? There are plenty of us anti doomers here.

I know that I take it seriously, but I don't take it seriously because I think I'm going to be turned into a heap of paperclips or atomized by a T-1000. I take it seriously because I see something else coming, a paradigm shift in propaganda and narrative control powered by LLM's, image/video generators and AI-assisted search engines (I'll confess that I may be a little too unironically Kaczynski-pilled). I don't see how the future I envision is any less apocalyptic than the one our loveable quokkas fear, however.

Do people on the Motte not take AGI risk seriously?

I don't; I'm more afraid of the economic enclosure potential that will likely result, to say nothing of the power these tools will bestow upon the State. The last 60 years have been bad for civil rights and that was just the result of normal economic centralization; this, by contrast, is advanced centralization.

Most people here seem to take it very seriously although metacontrarians exist.

For me, AI risk is completely different to all nearly other x-risks including asteroids, nuclear war, climate change, etc... Because the risk from AI cannot be quantified. I ask myself, what would a superintelligence do? I have no fucking clue. And neither does anyone else. People saying, "I'm not worried about X, I'm worried about Y" are missing the point. While it's fun to speculate about X or Y, it is impossible to predict what a superintelligence will do. It's a true unknown unknown. AI risk is nearly unique in that way.

No, the whole point of what you believe is «metacontrarianism» is that it's entirely possible to predict what a superintelligence will do, when we know what it has been trained for and how exactly it's been trained. Terry Tao is a mathematical superintelligence compared to an average human. What will he do? Write stuff, mainly about mathematics. GPT-4 is a superintelligence in the realm of predicting the next token. What will it do? Predict next token superhumanly well. AlphaZero is a tabletop game superintelligence. What will it do? Win at tabletop games. And so it goes.

Intelligence, even general intelligence, even general superintelligence, is not that unlike physical strength as the capacity to exert force: on its own, as a quantity, it's a directionless, harmless capability to process information. Instrumental convergence for intelligence, as commonly understood by LWers, is illiterate bullshit.

What I admit we should fear is superagency, however it is implemented; and indeed it can be powered by an ASI. But that's, well, a bit of an orthogonal concern and should be discussed explicitly.

I'm sure you know about mesaoptimizers. Care to explain why that doesn't apply to your thesis?

That said, I'm not particularly married to any one particular flavor of AI risk. I'm taking the Uncle Vito approach. The AI naysayers have been consistently wrong for the last 5 years, whereas the doomers keep being proven correct.

I know what people have written about mesa-optimizers. They've also written about the Walugi effect. I am not sure I «know» what mesa-optimizers with respect to ML are. The onus is on those theorists to mechanistically define them and rigorously show that they exist. For now, all evidence that I've seen has been either Goodhart/overfitting effects well-known in ML, or seeing-Jesus-in-a-toast tier things like Waluigi.

To be less glib, and granting the premise of mesa-optimizers existing, please see Plakhov section here. In short: we do not need to know internal computations and cogitations of a model to know that the regularization will still mangle and shred any complex subroutine that does not dedicate itself to furthering the objective.

And it's not like horny-humans-versus-evolution example, because «evolution» is actually just a label for some historical pattern that individual humans can frivolously refuse to humor with their life choices; in model training, the pressure to comply with the objective bears on any mesa-optimizer in its own alleged «lifetime», directly (and not via social shaming or other not-necessarily-compelling proxy mechanisms) . Imagine if you received a positive or negative kick to the reward system conditional on your actions having increased/decreased your ultimate procreation success: this isn't anywhere near so easy to cheat as what we do with our sex drive or other motivations. Evolution allows for mesa-optimizers, but gradient descent is far more ruthless.

…Even that would be something of a category error. Models or sub-models don't really receive rewards or punishments, this is another misleading metaphor that is, in itself, predicated upon our clunky mesa-optimizing biological mechanisms. They're altered based on the error signal; results of their behavior and their «evolution» happen on the same ontological plane, unlike our dopaminergic spaghetti one can hijack with drugs or self-deception. « Reinforcement learning should be viewed through the lens of selection, not the lens of incentivisation».

Humans have a pervasive agency-detection bias. When so much depends on whether an agent really is there, it must be suppressed harshly.


The AI naysayers have consistently been wrong for the last 5 years, where the doomers keep being proven correct.

I beg to differ.

The doomers have been wrong for decades, and keep getting more wrong; the AI naysayers are merely wrong in another way. Yudkowsky's whole paradigm has failed, in large part because he's been an AI naysayer in all senses that current AI has succeeded. Who is being proven correct? People Yud, in his obstinate ignorance, had been mocking and still mocks, AI optimists and builders, pioneers of DL.

You are simply viewing this through the warped lens of Lesswrongian propaganda, with the false dichotomy of AI skepticism and AI doom. The central position both those groups seek to push out of the mainstream is AI optimism, and the case for it is obvious: less labor, more abundance, and everything good we've come to expect from scientific progress since the Enlightenment, delivered as if from a firehose. We are literally deploying those naive Golden Age Sci-Fi retrofuturist dreams that tech-literate nerds loved to poke holes in, like a kitchen robot that is dim-witted yet can converse in a human tongue and seems to have personality. It's supposed to be cool.

Even these doomers are, of course, ex-optimists: they intended to build their own AGI by 2010s, and now that they've made no progress while others have struck gold, they're going to podcasts, pivoting to policy advice, attempting to character-assassinate those more talented others, and calling them derogatory names like «stupid murder monkeys fighting to eat the poison banana».

Business as usual. We're discussing a similar thing with respect to nuclear power in this very thread. Some folks lose it when a technical solution makes their supposedly necessary illiberal political demands obsolete, and begin producing FUD.

Good point about mesaoptimizers and the difference between evolution and gradient descent.

The onus is on those theorists to mechanistically define them and rigorously show that they exist."

Here's where I disagree. As someone once said, "he who rules is he who sets the null hypothesis". I claim that the onus is on AI researchers to show that their technology is safe. I don't have much faith in glib pronouncements that AI is totally understood and safe.

Nuclear power, on the other hand, is well understood, has bounded downside, and is a mature technology. It's not going to destroy the human race. We can disprove the FUD against it. But in 1945, I might have felt differently.

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The broader society and its consensus is… less like this.

Well, yeah; they don't currently perceive the barbarians are at the gates.

And unfortunately for those [men] whom the existence of barbarians is a time-tested way to extract payment and investment from broader society in exchange for security guarantees (and has been since the dawn of humankind), they're correct; this is why the entire society must rationalize its newly-enabled refusal to pay them.

Hence, degrowth as religion; men staying in one's parents' household until they're dead would in a normally-functioning society be hideously perverse, but it's certainly a clear reminder of the human cost of the actions of their social cohort (and probably the rational thing to do in a society like this).

Yes, investing in growth is objectively the right thing to do, and will make the society even stronger in the long run, but why do that when you can just hoard your gains until death takes them from you?

This is shoehorning of NIMBYist sentiment. Do you suppose the harm of coal or even «renewables» is only personal, and doesn't enshittify the environment and cultural signs around it? Your nice bucolic ancestral village soiled with dust coal (radioactive one, in fact) or surrounded by acres and acres (I've seen fields, Neo, vast fields) of soulless solar panels and noisy wind turbines will lose much of its sentimental value anyway, like a traditional home covered in garish plastic siding.

I would support not building major infrastructure near residential spaces when at all affordable, regardless of safety. There are plenty of mostly uninhabited 10-mile radiuses out there, or at least radiuses very few people would object to vacating if provided some compensation; you don't need a nuclear power plant near your grandma's gingerbread house any more than you need Springfield at the foot of Mr. Burns' power plant. These things don't employ a ton of people.

(And, yes, new reactor designs are vastly more safe than that 3 or 4/500 level 6+ disasters over 70 years figure suggests).

you don't need a nuclear power plant near your bucolic ancestral village any more than you need Springfield at the foot of Mr. Burns' power plant. These things don't employ a ton of people.

Nuclear power plants generally need access to water; water attracts people for other reasons, so it's pretty hard to site them all away from people.

Offshore then.

I used to see the cooling towers of the Limerick-Linfield NPP on the way home every day. Biggest issue was that every time I'd see it I'd hear "The Simpsons" theme in my head.

As for "major disasters" with nuclear power plants, there's actually only been one which wiped out anyone's hometown, that being Chernobyl. TMI didn't wipe out anything and Fukushima happened in the middle of a much larger disaster.

There were probably people who really, really liked living in Chernobyl.

Incredibly minor nitpick: the major population center was Pripyat, not Chernobyl (which had less than a third the population, at the time).

To more seriously engage you in opposition, the Chernobyl disaster was (more or less) the first of its kind and singularly unique as well, in terms of nuclear powerplants disastrously failing. Three Mile Island is also a weakly cautionary tale in the sense of uninhabitability, which cuts down on the total number of your negative examples.

Admittedly it's a volatile technology whose use holds a potential for truly devastating outcomes, but there's no reason to think we've more or less accounted for the common failure modes. Human error remains the most pernicious (and universal) of potential flaws in the use of nuclear energy but I, personally, believe that the potential negative outcomes of nuclear power are so mollified by current safety advances that I would be comfortable living within ~5 miles of a nuclear powerplant. I say this as someone who does not fall into your outlined demographics.

The issue seems to be perception of risk rather than actual risk. Of the famous nuclear disasters, Three Mile Island didn't kill anyone, nor did the radiation from Fukushima. That leaves Chernobyl as the only incident resulting in deaths and the permanent evacuation of the vicinity. That's a pretty good record compared to something like coal mining, which kills thousands of people every year, yet people in those towns often vigorously defend the industry and the jobs it brings their communities, something you don't see with nuclear power.