DeLong explains Easterbrook

How can Gregg Easterbrook be publishing a science column in Slate? Brad DeLong explains it all.

The fact that Easterbook’s writing is “lively” and “provocative” and that he is a member of the appropriate social networks is sufficient reason to publish him as a “science writer.”

I can see where “lively” and “provocative” are necessary pre-conditions for getting a column in a popular magazine, but are they sufficient? No. Would they hire someone for a gossip column who had never heard of Scarlet Johansson or Brad Pitt? There is this phenomenon called “expertise” that ought to be part of the equation.

That being in the right clique is part of the prerequisite is unfortunate, but is a common part of human reality. The interesting thing, though, is that picking Easterbrook tells us something about the social circles in which Slate management seems to circulate—and that is that they are disjunct from the social circles that include competent scientists and science writers.

The fact that this has an effect not just on how good their operations are at delivering accurate information but also on how the scientifically-literate regard their operations as a whole–I don’t think that’s something that enters Weisberg’s (or Foer’s) mind at all.

Exactly. Although it could be that that’s a smart (in a short-sighted, counter-intuitive way) decision: the scientifically literate are clearly a minority in this country, so maybe one way to market ‘science’ to that profitable majority of boobs is to hire a boob to write it. That is, if you think your job is not to tell people what they ought to know, but rather to repeat to them what they think they already know.