Being Right

I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had on twitter with a private mutual.

We were looking at the question of reliable sources of information, and I brought up Patrick McKenzie’s tweets emphasising that there are independent commenters (Andy Ngo, Scott Alexander etc.) who are by now just predictably much more reliable than credentialed experts.

“It is February 2020. You can choose one and only one of a) the top-voted lesswrong coronavirus explainer and b) the entirety of the public health field to bet on. Bet will be called in December 2021.”

The response was that many previously good sources have been spectacularly full of shit over the pandemic.

“I’ve watched smart people whose opinions I’ve found worthwhile on a broad array of political topics become completely consumed by disinfo on this pandemic. They’re the new Russia hoaxers. Intelligence is not immunity.”

My response: “People who specifically do politics are rarely reliable on reality. I’ve seen a lot of cool fun people get seriously deranged (in different directions). People who seemed grounded and reliable before, still seem grounded and reliable. More so than MSM or officially credentialed.”

And that’s basically my position. I follow a bunch of cool fun political commentators, who write well and have insights, but I am not shocked that a number of them have been completely wrong about a factual issue. The people who are reliable are generally very careful to avoid being explicitly political.

That’s not the interesting bit here. What I have been dwelling on is that I am one of the political ones, not one of the reliable ones.

As an example, take this tweet of mine.

Lots of people talking about lots of issues. One of the minor ones: Britain is, as long predicted by nutters on the internet, on the verge of running out of electricity. No realistic prospect of reliable 24/7 power for the next two decades.

This, by my standards, is a pretty good tweet. It is a fact that Britain has had to go to unusual lengths to keep the electricity running lately, and has spent billions bringing on extra power at unprecedented market prices. It is also not something that has much mainstream attention.

When I say we are not going to have reliable electricity for the next twenty years — well, that might be true. But I don’t really know. I’ve jumped a bunch of steps of reasoning for the sake of a “Take”. I’m against shifting away from gas and coal and building tons of wind power because I think they’re wasteful, and I’ve exaggerated my confidence to defend my position.

Maybe paying these very expensive spot prices and balancing mechanism charges now and again is actually completely manageable, and we can go on like this another twenty years. I haven’t even really dug into it to that level of detail, and my sources of news on the issue are people who are even more partisan on the question than me.

I still think I’m right. But that’s partly guesswork, and stating a bald prediction as I did means I can’t be one of the “reliable sources” I was discussing above.

I have to stop doing this shit. Why do I even do it? For a “good take” that gets 2000 impressions and 200 engagements on Twitter? That’s not my job. To influence the government, move them democratically to better policies? I don’t believe in that stuff at all. I’m just playing at being a pundit.