Sam Harris “Corrects” the Record

Whelp, less than thirty-eight hours after my blog post Sam Harris finally deleted that old video. However, spotting that made me realise I’d missed his explanation for why he edited the episode. That was probably by design, the description to the podcast episode drops no hint that it’s there.

As before, I’ve done some light editing, but also included time-stamps so you can check my work.

[3:17] Just a little housekeeping for today’s episode. A few episodes back, I presented audio from an event I did with Christian Picciolini in Dallas, and that was a fun event, I enjoyed speaking with Christian a lot […]

[3:51] But unfortunately, in that podcast, Christian said a few things that don’t seem to have been strictly true, and as the weeks have passed and that podcast has continued streaming I’ve heard from two people who consider his remarks to have been unfairly damaging to their reputations. This is a problem that I am quite sensitive to, given what gets done to me, by my critics. Somewhat ironically, Christian seems to rely on the Southern Poverty Law Center for much of his information, but this is an organization, as many of you know, which is undergoing a full moral and intellectual self-immolation. In fact, Christian is confused enough about the stature of that organization that he retweeted an article from the SPLC website wherein I am described as a racist recruiter for the alt-right. […]

We’re barely a minute in, and Harris has badly distorted the record. One of Picciolini’s tweets references the Southern Poverty Law Center, true, but he also cites tweets by David Duke, The Daily Stormer, Wikipedia (and before you start, I checked the citations and it’s legit), Joe Rogan, YouTube recordings of Molyneux, and his experiences talking to families with Molyneux-obsessed members. Yet that one reference to the SPLC somehow translates into “much of his information?”

Harris also misrepresents that SPLC article. They didn’t declare him to be a recruiter, self-declared members of the alt-Right said that Sam Harris helped lead them to the alt-Right.

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Another Mea Culpa

I’ve discussed Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems before, and sometimes pointed out that they carry an exception: if your logical system lacks sufficient power to describe the concept of a number, the theorems don’t apply. The theorems depend on being able to map logical expressions to numeric codes, after all. Defining numbers depends on a form of induction, so I thought that if your logical system has that then the theorems apply.

But via a recent blog post of Jeffrey Shallit, I’ve learned that’s not correct. The dividing line is not being able to define numbers, nor is it even addition. Robinson arithmetic is undecidable, yet Presburger arithmetic is. The former doesn’t officially have induction, while the latter does. The line isn’t multiplication, either;  Peano arithmetic adds multiplication to Robinson and is undecidable, yet Skolem arithmetic defines multiplication while still being decidable.

So I’ve been a bit too restrictive about when Gödel’s theorems apply. My apologies if I’ve misled anyone because of that.


Back here, I admonished The Intercept for being careless about the handling of classified info. I’ve since learned it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The Intercept did indeed muck up, but it was over a then-completely-anonymous source and they tend to be treated with less care than known-but-anonymous sources. Meanwhile, no-longer-anonymous Reality Winner (no really, that’s her name) left a paper trail behind her which would have let the NSA track her down once they knew the document had been leaked. By trying to source the document, The Intercept triggered the audit which caught Winner.

Their sourcing was done sloppily, but The Intercept don’t have a monopoly on blame here.