November 20, 2007

In Which I Demand That Slate Refund My Subscription

William Saletan's recent venture into demanding that we squarely face the harsh light of his pseudo-scientific prejudices is, in itself, intensely boring — we've played this scene over and over again — but becomes more interesting when we try to trace it back to causes, and then forward again to effects.

His writing the story may be explained in one of two ways.

  1. He may be ignorant and stupid enough to be gulled by charlatans like Rushton or Richard Lynn;
  2. More charitably, he may not believe the bullshit himself, but may repeat it to his readers because he hopes that doing so advances some agenda of his own.
Now, William Saletan is a journalist. He is paid to write stories, in the belief that they will attract readers, who can then be advertised at. But his job, the reason why this would not be a purely exploitative manipulation of those readers, is that his stories ought to tell his readers things which will make them better informed about the world, better able to make their way through it. He has just demonstrated that he is either unable or unwilling to do his job. His readers might attempt to extract information from his words by undoing the distortions imposed by his folly and manipulations, but life is too short. His words are worth attending to only as specimens, rather than communications.

William Saletan is the national correspondent of Slate, and published this multi-part heap of rubbish there. This means it was approved by his editors. We may interpret their action in one of three ways.

  1. They were ignorant and stupid enough to believe what Saletan was saying.
  2. They knew better, but published it anyway because they hoped it would advance causes they believe in.
  3. They knew better, but published it anyway because they hoped it would advance their personal interests or that of their magazine.
The job of editors is to select writings which will help their readers make more sense of their world. If an editor is doing their job, a reader can pick a story with some confidence that it will do at least a reasonable job of telling them more or less helpful things fairly accurately (and engagingly). The editors of Slate have just demonstrated that they either cannot or will not do their job. Someone who reads a story there now must ask themselves "Is this appearing here because the editors are incapable of recognizing that it's worthless? Is this appearing here because the editors want to make propaganda, to manipulate me into believing something, truth be damned? Is this appearing here because the editors owed someone a favor, or wanted to get into someone's pants, or wanted to acquire a reputation for being edgy and contrarian, truth be damned?"

The efficient alternative is, of course, to stop paying attention to Slate, or other magazines which publish idiotic and pseudo-scientific apologias for bigotry.

Updates: See next post before complaining. 25 November: Stupid mis-spelling fixed, thanks to Loren Spice.

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Anticontrarianism; IQ

Posted by crshalizi at November 20, 2007 23:29 | permanent link

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