Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Correlation, Causation and Commenting

Freakonomics has a destined-for-controversy post about how chauvinist men earn more than egalitarian-minded ones. There are a million reasons this might be so (assuming that it is so) but the slapdash post over at Freak draws the argument into a circle by claiming that the beliefs might somehow be the cause of the disparity.

Anyone can see the gaps in this logic, but I can't deny that reading the responses to the post surprised me: most were by men (often the case with this blog) but instead of offering slavish agreement with the blog's author most took him to task for his obvious fallacies. Nowhere do the commenters feel the need to point out whether they are or are not sexist, or to emphasize the (irrelevant?) thesis that women deserve equal rights because we hold such a truth to be self-evident.

The grander point I'm trying to make is that at one point blogs were trumpeted as the "people's forum," a populist journalism for the masses. By and large they've fallen short of this high principle, instead serving as a form of conflated news and entertainment. But as David Foster Wallace points out in his essay "Host" (Wallace is quoting Eric Alterman here) "Elite journalists in Washington and New York are rock-solid members of the political and financial Establishment about whom they write."

It's hard to see, in a blog post by economists who were educated at Harvard and now work for the The New York Times, where the Establishment ends. Until one reads the commenters, in whose posts the promise of a Fourth Estate responsible to the people is occasionally kept alive. If for no other reason than that, blogs are a great thing.

(And yes, I'm well-aware that Freak screens their commenters and that the real knuckle-draggers probably didn't make it to the forum. So what?)

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