@alanforr Are you open to debate or discussion about Alex Epstein’s work? He has no Paths Forward. I don’t think you do either. But if no one will defend or explain his claims, then why are you trying to spread them? Some of Epstein’s claims are basically just lying, as I discovered earlier this year when I read Silent Spring. And no one provided counter-arguments when I criticized Epstein and ARI regarding Carson and asked for defenses of them and asked “Does anyone agree with them and want to talk about it?”
I also wrote on the CF forum earlier this year:
Similarly, I wrote some unpublished thoughts recently about the fossil fuel companies and Alex Epstein. Epstein believes that environmentalism has so much support because they make moral arguments and the fossil fuel companies cede the moral high ground. His counter is to make a moral case for fossil fuels, similar to how Ayn Rand made moral arguments in favor of capitalism rather than only practical and economic arguments. However, I think the majority of the opposition to the fossil fuel companies comes from them actually being bad, and if they reformed then anti-fossil-fuel environmentalism would lose the most of its support. Similarly, I think most anti-capitalism comes from companies being bad, and if the companies would stop sucking so much then people would stop being so anti-capitalist. Unfortunately, Epstein has done very little to criticize the fossil fuel companies and suggest they reform anything other than their talking points and rhetoric. (Ayn Rand, by contrast, wrote a lot of criticism of businessmen characters. Besides advocating capitalism, she also stood up to and opposed corruptions of capitalism that we might problematically call “crony capitalism”.)
And I published various criticisms of Epstein’s work previously.
I also emailed Epstein earlier this year to see if he had any interest in discussion of two criticisms. He did not. Here is the main text from that email:
First, I read Silent Spring and it’s actually good, and doesn’t oppose using DDT for malaria. Its biggest theme is pointing out stupid errors by the government, which misused insecticides for non-health-related pest control.
Second, you think moral cases are especially persuasive. I think people mostly judge by experience and real world outcomes, not by abstract arguments (which they don’t understand well). People mainly oppose fossil fuels because fossil fuel companies do bad things. They’re large crony-capitalist corporations, which tend to be awful across all industries. The best way to change public opinion is to reform fossil fuel companies to remove the main source of people’s discontent. (Similarly, if companies improved, most anti-capitalism would dissipate.) There’s room to acknowledge some complaints as valid, clarify that the problems are mostly with the companies not the fuels, and work towards reforms.
If you’re going to advocate Epstein’s stuff, I think you should respond to my arguments about Epstein. If neither you nor anyone else will answer criticism, then there’s a problem, and I don’t think his claims are trustworthy.
After I read Silent Spring, I felt personally lied to by Epstein, and concluded that he had lied to his audience. I thought this problem was significantly worse than I’d brought up with prior criticisms. Around the same time, I also figured out that Epstein is a biased tribalist who is failing to speak negatively about highly flawed fossil fuel companies (so he isn’t working towards reforming them). I don’t know if you disagree, didn’t see the Silent Spring forum topic, decided to remain neutral until you read Silent Spring yourself but haven’t gotten to it yet, or what.
I know there’s no one perfect to link to, but I thought what Epstein did to Carson crossed a line. I think a lot of intellectuals haven’t done anything that bad. (Some have, e.g. what some book reviewers did to George Reisman. I think that was extra bad.) For example, I think Sam Harris’ bad scholarship was pretty normal, and that Epstein’s scholarship fail regarding electronic devices was similar. But I think really aggressively trying to attack someone with really extra bad scholarship – basically just egregiously lying about what their positions were – is something different, non-ubiquitous and unacceptable.
The best potential defense of Epstein that I’ve thought of is that he was just parroting stuff he read from ARI and other biased sources (that were likely indirectly getting it from tobacco company propaganda), and did none of his own research (or only read anti-Carson secondary sources for his “research”) and didn’t read any of Silent Spring (and tried to present his claims as more original work than they were, rather than telling readers he’s just repeating ARI’s great points). That’d be more normal than actually reading the book and lying about it, but is a pretty bad defense when you’re trying so hard to present yourself as a thought leader, philosopher, original thinker, think tank leader, avid debater, rationality expert and great researcher. And you’re trying to influence political policy with some success. (Also I know the main article about DDT was by Epstein’s researcher and just edited, approved, and promoted by Epstein who likely also suggested the topic for the researcher to write about, but I hold Epstein responsible, plus he did publicly attack Carson under his own name. Or, conceivably, Epstein was lied to and tricked by his researcher, but in that case he should be willing to change his mind, disown that essay, apologize, fire that researcher, make changes so it won’t happen again, etc., but I really doubt that’s the kind of scenario we’re dealing with.)