Yesterday I attended a seminar with questions from the audience following at the U of MN law school. Please check out the blogs of King Banian, the able moderator of the event, and Doug Bass of Mobange, who live blogged the event. To not reinvent the wheel, I will add my observations to theirs.
I appreciated Eric Black's introduction of "confirmation bias" - the concept that we seek out data that confirms what we believe, rather than look for evidence that our world view is incorrect. Still, though I may be misreading Eric's beliefs, it appeared to me that Eric contends that "professional journalists" are able to "rise above" confirmation bias, while the muck of the blogosphere is stuck in it, and thus not anywhere as reliable as the MSM.
This, I would contend, is false. We all succumb, to some degree, to confirmation bias. We all see the world according to our own belief structure, virtually by definition. Doesn't matter if we've been journalists for 30 years or we're a lowly blogger sitting in front of the laptop; each and every one of us has our biases and our beliefs, and it is impossible to divorce them from how we observe.
We can strive to minimize our bias as much as possible. I do think that Eric does a better job than many other journalists in his writing in this regard. He attempts to get perspectives from various viewpoints, which is a big step in and of itself.
Where I think Eric goes wrong is in thinking that professional journalists by definition do a better job of this than bloggers. I do not know how familiar Eric is with the blogosophere, but many smart and educated folks that I know are woefully undereducated about blogs. While there are millions of them written by people who do not give a rip about evidence, collecting competing data, careful weighing, etc., there nevertheless are some fine blogs that do indeed do this - just as a competent journalist would do. Some of my favorite blogs are ones like the Volokh Conspiracy - blogs written by multiple legal experts and scholars with dissimilar perspectives, all professionals very knowledgeable in their field. I would compare the quality and content of this blog against virtually any major newspaper in the country.
Just as there are quality newspapers throughout the nation - and ones barely worth using at the base of Mr. Mollo's cage, so it is with blogs. A reader must learn to be judicious about which blogs are worthy, as he does with any other intellectual endeavor.
During the Q & A period, I asked a question, and I wish I'd been able to do a follow up. I asked Eric if he thought that "confirmation bias" applies to journalists, and his answer seemed to be that yes, it does, but the journalists, trained and seasoned, are able to "rise above it." My answer to that would be that good bloggers are able to "rise above" to the same degree as any competent journalist.
I would add, however, that Eric and the MSM needs to think about an earlier point that Eric made in his presentation. The vast majority of the MSM is liberal; Eric stated that studies of it over and over prove this to be true. If that is indeed the case (and I believe it is so), then virtually by definition, the bias of reporters will be to the left. Though I do agree that responsible journalists try to "rise above" their bias, one can only do so much. None of us can completely divorce our observation from our underlying belief structure, irrespective of our leanings to the left or the right. And, if this is so, then - might not the answer be that really responsible news organizations should strive to add more conservative voices to their payrolls? Answer: yes. News organizations appreciate that they must have "diversity" in the news room: people of various backgrounds to observe and report. Why then do they think that diversity of left or right should be ignored - particularly when it is virtually impossible for us to rid ourselves of underlying bias and belief?
Finally, a few personal observations. Professor Ian Maitland, director of the Tocqueville Center, used to participate in a local cable TV television show, Viewpoints in Mid-America. A more knowledgeable, amiable and thoughtful person than Ian would be tough to find, and being able to see him after an absence of many years was delightful. Craig Westover, fabulous local writer and blogger sat to my left; Eva Young, of the Log Cabin Republicans joined us on my right. Good to see both of them, also.
And - kudos to Eric for a superb memory! We had met literally 20 years ago, and despite the ravages of age upon me, Eric remembered who I was.
All in all, a stimulating way to spend a little over an hour, and my thanks to those who organized and participated in the event.
P.S. As always, Scott Johnson was excellent. I almost forgot to add that, because my belief in Scott's high level of quality is part of my own confirmation bias!