Unicycle #23 - Fantasy Intellectual Draft

Hello dear friends :-)

Last week I asked you to check off the people you know or follow from a list of ~150 influential people. Thanks to everyone who replied. The list came from Arnold Kling’s Fantasy Intellectual Draft. 10 “team owners” each drafted 15 people for their team. The team scores points when the “players” create and spread memes, make testable bets about the future, and argue well for a point of view that they disagree with. Kling’s goal was partially to come up with a scoring system to evaluate public intellectuals on their ideas. Notice that there are very few politicians or news anchors on the list, and the ones that did get drafted tend to only score high on memeing.

This game caught my eye for a few reasons. First, it’s fun to consider who you would pick. Are there people you follow who didn’t get drafted but would score well? What about the ones you follow closest - how would they do in the draft? How about the scoring system — does it do a good job of rewarding good ideas, and how might it be improved (full scoring details here)?

Second, I recognized a lot of the people on the list, including some of my strongest influences (Cowen, Taleb, Callard, Alexander, Haidt, Thiel, Zvi, Balaji). I spend a lot of time reading online (more than I should, perhaps) and many of these people come up time and again (my list, if you’re curious). How common is that, and how much is my taste? So I asked you.

To be fair, the people who’d do well in this draft don’t overlap exactly with the people who’ve affected me the most. The draft is primarily about public intellectuals who are active today, whereas important ideas come from all over. Even within that narrow focus, your particular history comes into play. In one response from last week, a friend wrote:

I don't think the people whose ideas I see the most often are the ones that influence me the most. Nassim Taleb for example has a lot more influence on my thinking than Trump, even though I hear about Trump's ideas more often and I only read Taleb maybe 8 years ago. Those ideas are still more important to me / more influential.

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Everyone has at least heard of Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, Rand Paul, and Condoleezza Rice. However — apropos my earlier point about politicians — only Musk and Rogan got any stars.

  • Paul Graham got 5 stars, the most of anyone. Musk and Balaji Srinivasan each got 4. Twelve others got 3 stars.

  • Graham and Balaji also got stars from everyone who listed them. I guess that makes them the most compelling thinkers on this list. Once you pop, you can’t stop.

  • Three people listed Megyn Kelly, but I had no idea who she was (I don’t watch the news). Back to my hermit cave now…

Thanks for indulging my curiosity. The best is yet to come 🚀


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