So the actual Brief Blog Review this month, written in some haste but not, I emphasize, in desperation, is of Slate Star Codex.
This blog has been published for considerably less than my usual requirement for these Reviews, so this is out-on-a-limb for the series, but author Scott Alexander has been writing (under a different name) for much longer over at the notable group blog Less Wrong, and besides, as my recent not-review demonstrated, sometimes having a long track record is no guarantee you won’t suddenly go offline. Of course, I could just review Less Wrong, but this one is More Interesting. Crowdsourcing tends to flatten certain things.
Slate Star Codex does plenty to urge the Less Wrong line: check your biases, notice seventy times seven times what arguments you think just couldn’t be right, doubt and keep on doubting, and so on. His recent post on Scientismism, reclaiming it as a badge of honor (which may be something of a trend; Ladyman and Ross did the same thing a couple of years back, and I’m guessing there are others) flies his colors high and reasonable. To be sure, I’m probably way less Scientismist than he is, but these Reviews are not about Whether We Agree. In fact, I was won over to his blog when reading this admirable review of Reactionary Poltics, which wins my vote for the best act of avowed online ventriloquism I’ve ever encountered. For paragraph after paragraph, he details in elegant and judicious and resolutely fair style a political perspective he finds pretty much abhorrent, and winds up persuading you of its relevance and almost of its deserving a place at the table, if not its truth. If more people could do this for their ideological foes, the world would be a less scary place. Only after this act of sympathetic presentation, which every debater should study in detail, did he proceed to his own refutations.
But it isn’t merely his brains or his style that really make me a fan, nor is it the fact that he’s my nominee for the coveted award for most Freemasonic-sounding title of a non-Freemasonic blog. It’s really his heart. Go read his kind and gut-wrenching posts on working in a hospital and what happens there. As someone for whom “memento mori” is not just a weird sounding phrase for a skull on a shelf, not to mention someone who very recently watched my father-in-law die, I found these more than bracing. Reminders not just of the fact that we will die but of a statistically plausible description of how we may die, they are written not out of resentment or prurience but out of what feels like compassion struck hapless by its own strength. If the notion of a thoughtful and care-ful balance between heart and head seems like a cliché to you, read Star Slate Codex. You'll see what it means.