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When scientism invades journalism …

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yesterday’s news

Further to “Scientism’s popularity continues its downward slide (Now it’s compared to a “hernia clinic”), Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, takes down the tendency of some of today’s journalists to major in empty data, not insight:

I wish to say a word or two in defense of “bullshit.” That is Nate Silver’s meticulously chosen term—he does nothing imprecisely—for opinion journalism. “Plenty of pundits have really high IQs,” he announced to New York magazine, “but they don’t have any discipline in how they look at the world, and so it leads to a lot of bullshit, basically.”

Silver is into data and thinks journalists should use a lot of it. Wieseltier responds,

Since an open society stands or falls on the quality of its citizens’ opinions, the refinement of their opinions, and more generally of the process of opinion-formation, is a primary activity of its intellectuals and its journalists. In such an enterprise, the insistence upon a solid evidentiary foundation for judgments—the combating of ignorance, which is another spectacular influence of the new technology—is obviously important. Just as obviously, this evidentiary foundation may include quantitative measurements; but only if such measurements are appropriate to the particular subject about which a particular judgment is being made. The assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects and all judgments—this auctoritas ex numero—is not at all obvious. Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted. Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

Sure but Silver may even be high end for all we know. Lots of pundits have long since dispensed with the sense that they should be anything other than mouthpieces for political projects. They don’t care what data they are shovelling as long as we are expected to accept it as fact—or else.

It won’t matter what’s in the daily data dump because the pundits will tell us what to believe about it.

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Yes, I was only thinking earlier today, it was mistake to be diffident about my prized thermos-flask recollection to Henry Crun. It is a much needed corrective to combat (in however piffling a way*) the hegemony of the utterly risible, but nevertheless, prevailing scientistic zeitgeist. *Well, I regret to say that it does have echoes of Auberon Waugh's proclamation that, after watching the workmen on a building site in Soho through one of those gaps in the boarding for spectators, he flung a piece of orange-peel at them, as his contribution - as he put it - to the class-war, raced off, and dived into the nearest strip-joint. Although, alas - even if I hadn't worked on building sites, which I have - I might have been on the receiving end of that orange-peel, or if a hapless caller delivering beverages** at Waugh's mansion, directed to the tradesman's entrance. ** Monied folk tend to imbibe in great quantities, in order, I would conjecture, to anaesthetize their brain. A misspent youth, perhaps, making money in the City or Wall Street.Axel
March 21, 2014
03:47 PM

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