20 March 2007

Is Objectivity on its Death Bed?

Markets aren't magical. They simply bring together supply and demand. This can be frightening in the world of media as there is demand for certain kinds of opinions that people are happy to supply. There is demand for stories about conspiracies, extraterrestrials, heroes, and villains. While I am not saying that none of these things exist, I am saying that the supply of such stories has more to do with demand than supporting data.

There is an argument that blogs are the worst offenders in the supply of "demand-for" opinions. An intriguing post by Bruno Giussani, "Medialess Culture / Cultureless Media," explores a variety of topics. One is the claim (reported, rather than made, by Giussani) that "A key phenomena is that one of the central classic notions of journalism, objectivity, is nowhere to be found on the blogs."

Has a market-driven media and the free-for-all blogs brought us into the world defined by deconstructionists - a relativistic chasm into which any voice can shout out bizarre claims and hear them echoed in the form of shared delusions and confirmed opinions? Has nuance become a foreign language? It is easy to become pessimistic about the future of informed discourse if we accept these claims, believing that the media and Internet have fragmented into self-referential opinion factories.

And yet, I remain stupidly optimistic. Why? Because along with the market for opinions, there is a market for efficacy, for what works. People who are making a difference will force a confrontation between reality and the many opinions and theories about it. Bloggers can swap opinions, but they can also challenge conventional views that have muddled our perception of reality. And in the end, reality will prevail. It always does. Eventually.


Life Hiker said...

Exactly! In the end, truth prevails if it is known by someone who can get it into the market of ideas.

Sometimes it takes too long for the truth to be known, and the unfortunate consequences of people acting on the falsehold cannot be taken back.

The internet and the blogs are important, in one sense, because they can shorten the time that the falsehood stands unchallenged.

Ron Davison said...

Interesting point: even though the Internet creates more noise, it also shortens the time it takes for certain ideas to be outed and then accepted.

David said...

A Second Time: Stephen Jay Gould on Objectivity

"Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny--and also in a williness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail as they usually do."

Nick Kristoff prides himself on being objective and then confirms it by reading reviews and letters that all agree with him. He would tell me to heed Gould's remarks so I can arrive at his conclusions.

I've changed my position on the Iraqi war conduct but I don't feel more objective than I did before. And I still may be wrong.

Ron Davison said...

"I still may be wrong," may well be the phrase that tethers one to reality.

“But the faith that truth exists, and that our minds can find it, may be held in two ways. We may talk of the empiricist way and of the absolutist way of believing in truth. The absolutists in this matter say that we not only can attain to knowing truth but we can know when we have attained to knowing it; while the empiricists think that although we may attain it, we cannot infallibly know when. To know is one thing, and to know for certain that we know is another. ”
- William James