Who is Scott Alexander and what is he about?

A beginner's guide to Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten)

February 13, 2021 · 5 min read

Scott Alexander is my favorite blogger. I’d like to recommend him to more people, but it’s hard to know where to start, since he’s written over 1,500 posts. A little while ago a friend asked me to make a list of my favorite pieces of his. So, here is a beginner’s guide to the writings of Scott Alexander.

(I’ll refer to his “blog”, but there are really two: Slate Star Codex, which ran for over a decade and ended in 2020, and Astral Codex Ten, his new blog that launched this year. There’s lots of great stuff on the old one, but if you want to subscribe, be sure to subscribe to the new one.)

What is this blog about?

Like many great blogs, not any one thing: it’s the eclectic interests of a unique individual with a broad intellectual appetite.

Scott is a psychiatrist by profession, and some posts are about psychiatry, consciousness, and the brain. But he also writes about philosophy, politics, and science. He writes in-depth book reviews, some of which are arguably better than the book. And, as part of the “rationalist” community, he writes about epistemology: how to think and reason. (See also What is Astral Codex Ten?)

What makes the blog so good?

Scott writes with a rare combination of insight, humor, incisive clarity, relentless questioning, and (often) exhaustive data analysis. He asks big questions across a wide variety of domains and doesn’t rest until he has clear answers. No, he doesn’t rest until he can explain those answers to you lucidly. No, wait, he doesn’t rest until he can do that and also make you laugh out loud.

At his best, he hits some strange triple point, previously undiscovered by bloggers, where data, theory, and emotion can coexist in equilibrium. Most writing on topics as abstract and technical as his struggles just not to be dry; it takes effort to focus, and I need energy to read them. Scott’s writing flows so well that it somehow generates its own energy, like some sort of perpetual motion machine.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at writing. I’m good enough that I convinced myself to quit my day job and to write instead of coding or managing (which I’m actually qualified for and which can definitely make you more money). But I’m not nearly as good a writer as Scott.

How to use this guide

This guide is organized by topic. In each category I’ve highlighted a few posts that stood out in my memory.

There isn’t any one place to start with Scott Alexander. Just pick a subject you’re interested in and start reading.

Epistemology and rationalism

How to think, reason, and come closer to truth:

Discussion and argument

How to have better discourse (and how to spot people who are arguing in bad faith):

Science

More like meta-science, actually: the philosophy and practice of science.

Psychology

Neuroscience

Progress

History

Politics

Economics

Media

Culture

More book reviews

Other

Some uncategorizable favorites:

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