Mike the Mad Biologist

Punditry Versus Academic Writing

I usually stay away from the various pissing matches that occur between big name commentators. Watching Hollywood actors and actresses is far more entertaining, and unlike the famous and beautiful people, pundits are definitely NOT TEH HOT! But in the midst of a clash between Eric Alterman and Joe Klein, Alterman makes an interesting observation (italics mine):

What you see with Klein, I think, is the panic of the pundit seeing his prestige destroyed by a blogosphere that can do for pundits what academics have always done for one another (and demonstrating why few pundits’ work could survive this kind of scrutiny). This includes the ability to:

a) fact-check his unsupported assertions;

b) hold him accountable for his abusive language toward those with whom he disagrees; and

c) demand some transparency with regard to his methods.

Have you noticed that every time Klein is asked to defend something he has written, he responds with a personal attack against the person making the charge? It’s not just me; it’s anyone. Look at the names he calls Media Matters and the bloggers generally. Note that Tom Friedman and Howard Kurtz, among others, react similarly. Pundits are used to making Olympian pronouncements and then having everyone praise their wisdom and courage, the way Walter Lippmann defined the job. Asking people whatever happened to the last 10 times you said Iraq has only six more months, or that Bush is sure to be a centrist, and they flip out and call you an ideologue or an “obsessive.”

I think Alterman is right. At the risk of making my own ‘unsupported assertion’, I wonder if this is one reason (but obviously not the only reason) why many bloggers who have passed through higher academia (i.e., graduate work) wind up blogging: we’re used to harsh criticism of our writing.

Thoughts?

Update: There’s an interesting post at Firedoglake about bloggers and the news.

Comments

  1. #1 Edward
    March 26, 2007

    The fact-checking tool that is the web can be amazing in some respects, BUT you have to be educated about the way you use it and do a bit of digging. There is a wealth of information out there, but also a wealth of disinformation. One thing I’ve noticed in debates on the web is that people point to web sites that support their position, but don’t often evaluate the validity of those web sites. It seems that the American educational system is appallingly bad at teaching critical thinking.

    Here is an example: In a debate on global warming, I offered links to a number of news articles and articles in Science and other scientific publications indicating that we are likely to have problems with climate change. I challanged those who were claiming that Global warming was a non-issue to come up with ONE scientific article published in the last five years that said global warming was definately not a problem. I got back links to political lobbying groups funded by the oil industry initially. Some of them posed as “scientific think-tanks,” but it only took me a few minutes of digging to find that they were really lobbying groups with ties to the oil industry, and mostly Exxon Mobil at that. Then came the crack-pot web sites: salesmen and such claiming that it was all just a conspiracy of the scientists. In following all the links they posted, I did find links to three actual scientific groups that took issue with humans as the agents of global climate change. One link was out of date and about a theory which has been disproven, and the other two were more along the lines of “human caused global climate change could be a problem, but we really don’t understand everything yet, so we should proceed with caution.” What disturbed me is that my opponents in that debate just did not understand the difference between a political propaganda site and a scientific one.

  2. #2 QrazyQat
    March 26, 2007

    What disturbed me is that my opponents in that debate just did not understand the difference between a political propaganda site and a scientific one.

    This is something that you find in all of pseudoscience and it’s infected a lot of our political discourse as well. And of course while some, or perhaps many or most, don’t understand how to tell the diff, also expect them to cotinue to not understand. You know the saying that if a mistake makes someone money, expect to see them make the same “mistake” again and again; also, when someone’s ideas depend on them mistaking a PR site for a science site, expect to see them make the same “mistake” again and again.

    This is helped along by the way the media has generally accepted this pseudoscience method and now tends toward false equivalence; this legitimises this illegitimate method, since it is after all what respected news organizations do. This is a bad situation for the future of democracy, since it depends on a somewhat informed electorate. As Digby pointed out today, when Lincoln was elected most people didn’t know the guy other than through reading his speeches, whereas today most of what we “know” about a candidate is some pundit’s idea of what the candidate is thinking, or how they dress, did they blink or stare, etc. Trivia which is supposed to provide a window into their “character”, at the exspense of knowing what they say and do.

  3. #3 tuba buyukustun
    February 12, 2009

    “This is a bad situation for the future of democracy, since it depends on a somewhat informed electorate.”

    thanks.

  4. #4 bitkisel ürünler
    May 12, 2009

    This is something that you find in all of pseudoscience and it’s infected a lot of our political discourse as well. And of course while some, or perhaps many or most, don’t understand how to tell the diff, also expect them to cotinue to not understand. You know the saying that if a mistake makes someone money, expect to see them make the same “mistake” again and again; also, when someone’s ideas depend on them mistaking a PR site for a science site, expect to see them make the same “mistake” again and again

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