In Defence of Andrew Sabisky…

The first time I met Andrew Sabisky we walked through central London for hours and neither his energy or my interest flagged. This is a rare combination. There are people who can talk for a long time and there are people who can talk interestingly but the overlap between those categories is slim.

Some people who talk a lot are desperately self-absorbed. While I do not know Andrew well I do not think that this applies to him at all. The first thing he did last time we met was ask after my mum, who had been taken ill, and our mutual friends can attest to his great kindness.

Of course, there are a lot of kind and interesting people who should not be advising the government. But I think Sabisky has a lot to offer there. He has worked in the fascinating and important field of “superforecasting” but is also a critic of the cold excesses of the “rationalist” movement Dominic Cummings is so keen on. He has done significant research into what should be some of the Conservative government’s top priorities, like the need for more affordable housing. He has boundless energy and intellectual ambition.

It disgusts me, then, that dull-minded journalists are attempting to ruin this talented young man’s career. Hit-pieces in the Times and the Mail on Sunday are filled with quotes wrenched from their proper context and presented as being more inflammatory than they are. One comment that called media coverage of female genital mutilation a “moral panic”, for example, was presented in such a way that people could and did assume that Sabisky was excusing the act itself rather than claiming that it happens more rarely than we imagine. (The irony is that if Sabisky had been arguing that FGM is endemic, the same hacks would doubtless have been claiming that this represented anti-Muslim racism.)

Or take Sabisky’s alleged support for “eugenics”. Reading the article the quote was taken from, one can easily tell that Sabisky was talking about embryo selection. One can definitely disagree with embryo selection – and the article actually leaves it quite ambiguous to whether Sabisky himself was endorsing it – but one cannot equate it with Hitlerianism.

The Times reported that Sabisky compared women’s sports with the Paralympics, as if he was denigrating either. We know from the man himself that he was discussing the case of Caster Semenya and the need for “boundary policing” to protect women’s sports. Again, you can disagree. But it was not derisive. Hilariously, the Times also complained about Sabisky calling female politicians like Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long Bailey “dim”. Ask him for his opinion of Richard Burgon or Chuka Umunna and I guarantee that you will not receive a more respectful response.

Sabisky doubtless has ideas that would offend progressives. (He is, after all, working for a Conservative government.) But it is nonetheless true that journalists – and not even Guardian journalists but Times and Mail on Sunday journalists – have attempted to portray him in the worst light possible to stir up controversy and flex their media muscles.

We like to imagine that journalists convey the news. But journalists also create the news. A balanced piece on Sabisky would have been more honest but not as sensational. One is also reminded of the effortful manipulation of quotes from Sir Roger Scruton last year, or the recent manufactured controversy that surrounded the appearance of Daniel Kawczynski MP at the 2020 National Conservatism Conference. I am no fan of Kawczynski, thanks to his warm treatment of the Saudi regime, but he was attending a conference attended by major political figures from EU member states, like Orbán of Hungary and Legutko of Poland (the conference, incidentally, was also organised by the Jewish political philosopher Yoram Hazony). In an effort to create the maximum amount of fuss, journalists bombarded community leaders like the Board of Deputies with calls in order to extract condemnatory quotes and turn “MP attends international conference” into a scandal.

These journalists also want results from their meddling. Alex Wickham is a journalist who worked for Breitbart and Guido Fawkes before deciding to become an ultra-PC muckraker for BuzzFeed. Wickham hailed the disingenuous New Statesman hit piece on Roger Scruton as a “great interview”. He kicked off the campaign against Kawczynski and complained when he didn’t get enough credit for inspiring disciplinary action. He has called Sabisky a “nutter” and said that he should be “whacked”. This is not a troublemaker in the mold of Seymour Hersh. This is a troublemaker in the mold of a school tattletale.

Harry Cole, another reporter – who, coincidentally, also worked for Guido Fawkes – chimed in to salute the Mail on Sunday’s “brilliant reporting”. What part of publishing extracts from old tweets and blog-posts is “brilliant” escapes me but perhaps you need a finely tuned journalistic mind to appreciate it. Cole added that this controversy was “predictable” because the hiring process is “totally flawed”. This is like hitting someone and then blaming them for having their guard down. Whether or not they should have been more careful, you’re still hitting them. There was no essential flaw in the hiring process, or the hire, except inasmuch as it gave click-hungry, self-important hacks the chance to whip up hysterical outrage.

The tragedy is that the government is so responsive to this kind of thing. Of course, a government should be responsive to accusations of corruption or malice – at least if there is significant evidence behind them. The media’s admirable coverage of the Harry Dunn case is an example of that. But the Conservatives have been responsive to bad faith and censoriousness, which is quite different. Scruton was fired. Kawczynski was disciplined. According to Wickham, cabinet ministers are insisting that Sabisky be sacked. The sheer cowardliness of this almost defies belief. Why even give the time of day to such petty opportunism?

In his much-mocked blogpost, Dominic Cummings called for job applications for interesting, innovative and original thinkers. Of course, there are risks inherent to such a call. Mere eccentricity and contrarianism can be confused for valuable thought. But to have genuinely interesting people in government one must be prepared for them to have played with ideas that seem, or even are, outlandish and outrageous. If you are at all interested in reforming the status quo you should have some tolerance for that which is peculiar or even obnoxious as long as it is packaged along with something of value. Show me someone who has never said something that cannot be made to look scandalous and I will show you someone without an idea in their head.

Update: Sunder Katwala points to a 2014 blog comment in which Sabisky said “anyone who has researched the issue for more than 5 minutes” knows “there are excellent reasons to think the very real racial differences in intelligence are significantly – even mostly – genetic in origin” and that he thinks politicians should pay attention “from the standpoint of immigration”. Now, this was from 2014, when I think Sabisky would have been 21, so he may well not believe this any more. If you had met me nine years ago when I was 21 I would have had very different opinions. With that said, I think it is obvious that Sabisky was being youthfully arrogant in this comment. Many intelligent scientists who have researched the issue for more than five years do not think there are excellent reasons to think this. As far as I can tell, most informed people would agree that IQ differs between populations and that IQ correlates with significant individual and group outcomes. Where informed people disagree is on the rigidity of IQ. Someone like Arthur Jensen would have argued that little can be done to change group differences. Someone like James Flynn would argue that being largely environmental in origin, these gaps can close.

I’m not going to give a firm opinion on this because I’m not informed enough. If you are then go ahead, but I do not believe this is a case where scientific consensus is so vast and firm that even laymen can identify a crank solely by virtue of their belief.

That said, I think Sabisky was wrong to imply – again, six years ago – that IQ should be directly relevant to immigration policy. To be sure, I am the person who has said that “immigrants don’t come from Immigrantland” but I think that source nations should be considered according to how they actually are and not according to the alleged causes underlying their condition. If, for example, a society has low social trust, high rates of violence and a great deal of religious or political radicalism, I would argue against accepting mass migration from such a place. But that is because of the conditions, not the causes. (I would also add that however significant or insignificant IQ may be, individuals can be far more and far less talented than their average countryman, but I’m sure that Mr Sabisky knows this.)

So, I think this is a valid issue to be discussed and not a misrepresentation. Do I think it is a sackable offence, though? Absolutely not. It was a comment from his younger days, but also he did not propose discriminating against British citizens, or aggressing against foreign people, and he did not impute any kind of malice to a population. Those would be my boundaries, and I think they are good ones, though the reader is free to drawn their own.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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21 Responses to In Defence of Andrew Sabisky…

  1. Zog says:

    Looks like you’re more willing to stand by his comments than he is, given that they’ve been deleted. But hey – at least he asked after your mum. That’s clearly the most important thing here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bsixsmith says:

      I addressed his comments, and people delete their tweets whether they stand by them or not to avoid ridiculous scandals like this one.

      Like

      • Zog says:

        If avoiding scandal was his aim, he has not been entirely successful.

        Quotations are by their nature “wrenched from their proper context”. The best way to protect yourself from any criticism ensuing from having them misconstrued is to leave the original context intact. I would expect a “super-forecaster” to be able to predict that the reaction to deleting historical posts is a not-unreasonable assumption that someone has something to hide.

        I’m not naive enough to think that journalists are free of bias (and nor would I want them to be). As you may be able to tell from your site analytics, it was searching for the context of those quotations – on the basis that the guy’s possibly not an out-and-out sociopath – that led me to your article. He’s really not done himself any favours by deleting his posts.

        Like

    • Your snark is revolting.

      He went through quote by quote, in a quite detailed manner explaining the context for each and you choose to attack him as if he is naive.

      You are a horrible person.

      Like

      • Zog says:

        “He went through quote by quote, in a quite detailed manner explaining the context for each”
        No, he picked a subset, specifically – “those which have not (yet) been deleted and which show Sabinsky in a more positive light”. My point was that Sabinsky made a rod for his back by deleting much of the context himself. I can only speculate as to his reasons for doing this, given that the remaining context does – as shown by the author – exonerate him somewhat from some of the more egregious claims in the press. Not, it should be noted, all of them – the IQ/race one was balls-out stupid and he should be ashamed. Perhaps the ones he removed also reflected badly upon him.

        It’s nice that he had the decency to inquire after the author’s mum (who I hope is fully recovered from her ailments), but wholly irrelevant – there are plenty of people whose manners are substantially more developed than their morality. Being a decent conversationalist qualifies you for nothing other than having conversations.

        “You are a horrible person.”
        Yeah, well, you smell of stale cake and my dad could beat your dad in a fight.

        …is this really how you want to conduct things? It doesn’t feel very dignified.

        Like

  2. Andrew Lawinsky says:

    To be fair to Andrew, modafinil hasn’t killed any children yet. He seems fine, don’t know what the fuss is about. Good article

    Liked by 1 person

  3. >If avoiding scandal was his aim, he has not been entirely successful.

    No he hasn’t, but that is down to the ‘journalists’, not him.

    >Quotations are by their nature “wrenched from their proper context”.

    No they’re not. The meaning of some quotes can be understood perfectly well by themselves, without their surrounding material. Some can’t.

    Like

    • Zog says:

      If you’re using a quotation, you’ve extracted something from its surrounding material. Ergo, it is “wrenched from [its] proper context”. If you’re giving a quotation *in* its full context, you’re simply reprinting an entire piece. This isn’t really a point of argument – it’s just what quotations are. Whether or not the quotation is used to misrepresent its author’s views, it is necessarily shorn of its context.

      My point is simply that if the context was anything other than utterly damning, he’d have been better of leaving it extant, so people could gauge his intentions for themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, extracting something from its surrounding material is not the same as ‘wrenching it from its proper context’, which is what you said, which strongly suggests that a quotation can never be properly understood without that surrounding material, which is just not true. Anyway, it seems to me up to him whether he should have deleted those quotes or not.

        All irrelevant anyway, because it wouldn’t have made a difference either way, and now he’s gone.

        Like

      • Zog says:

        When you’re in a hole, Hector, stop digging.

        The proper context for a quotation is the piece from which it’s taken. By extracting a single quotation from a piece of writing, you are removing it from its context. Whether or not the quotation retains its intended meaning in isolation is quite besides the point – I did not state – or even vaguely imply – that ‘a quotation can never be properly understood without the surrounding material’. If that’s the impression you got, that’s entirely due to your failure to adequately comprehend words.

        Let me simplify this for you – “extract” is interchangeable with “wrench from”. “Context” is interchangeable with “the surrounding material”. Therefore, “extracting [a quotation] from its surrounding material” is, in this case, *exactly* the same as “wrenching [a quotation] from its context”. In neither case is any judgement made as to how well the quotation will be understood afterwards. It is, however, substantially easier to misrepresent a quotation in isolation than it is when the quotation is read in the context of its original document – which is exactly what appears to have happened in at least some cases with Andrew Sabinsky.

        Words. Useful, when you know how.

        Like

      • You’re splitting hairs really.

        The point is his quotes WERE taken out of context . I might not agree with everything he said but it’s clear this is a hit job.

        His ideas are debatable but did he deserve to get fired for them? No.

        Like

      • >When you’re in a hole, Hector, stop digging.

        One iron law of the internet is that people who resort to this lazy cliche are in a hole themselves, and still digging.

        Reducing what you claim to have said to a trivial tautology is not an escape.

        Like

  4. yabass says:

    Not much of a superforecaster if he had to hit the delete button after the controversy started.

    Like

  5. CB says:

    Sure it’s convenient to blame sensationalist journalism. u have taken drugs like modifinal or whatever u would soon realise that taking any form of man made drug poisins the human brain and soul and lead to adduction and withdrawal. Heart trouble. Will he want to give them benzos so they can then get to sleep? Ask this superforecaster if he can forcast these events?Absolutely ridiculous. Why should kids be given performing enhancing drugs have they not been built right in the first place? Is he saying kids are stupid? Why performing enhancing drugs so that society can make more money? We may as well all start taking them then as that seems to be the Tory’s ultimate goal. Money.

    Like

  6. I am sorry but I do not believe Sabisky has any original ideas.

    Like

  7. Magic midget says:

    Nothing in this piece defending Sabisky’s claims that black Americans had a lower average IQ than white people?
    Curious.

    Like

    • anon says:

      Because “Black” American IQs being lower than “White” American IQs is a fact that when raised has a tendency to massively derail discussion. The causes may be debatable but the fact of its existence really isn’t, so it’s only worth bringing up if you actually want to discuss possible causes, which will drown out all other discussion…

      Like

  8. Zog says:

    Such context as remains tends to work in his favour – for example, the FGM quote that’s being bandied around is preceded by “FGM, like any other form of child abuse, is disgusting and barbaric”, which is a fairly unequivocal condemnation. What he actually seems to be suggesting – fairly sensibly – is the need to establish the extent of a problem prior to tackling it. On the other hand, his conclusions about racial differences in IQ are face-palmingly simplistic.

    The bits I’ve seen of his posting history doesn’t really make him seem like much of a monster – not really my cup of tea, but that’s no crime. It would have been nice to see the full threads for the deleted bits, though.

    Like

  9. Yabass says:

    Well, he’s gone now.

    So it’s fair to say the “fascinating and important field” of superforecasting isn’t looking as fascinating and important.

    Like

  10. Eddy Duffy says:

    “As far as I can tell, most informed people would agree that IQ differs between populations and that IQ correlates with significant individual and group outcomes.”

    You don’t know what you are talking about. The greatest differences in IQ are within populations, not between them.

    However nice Mr S was about your mum (and let’s face it many very evil and nasty people have had lovely manners), you are an apologist for a very arrogant young man – see his 2016 interview with Laura McInerny https://schoolsweek.co.uk/andrew-sabisky-political-forecaster/.

    Like

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