When I was living in a very remote part of the world I used to read The Economist from cover to cover, though it arrived two months late (communications in those days were not yet instantaneous). It made me feel that I was well-informed, if only in retrospect, despite my isolation. It was my window on the world.
Even then, though, I thought that it was dull and self-congratulatory, characterizing itself as of “the extreme centre.” I noticed that its reports at the front did not always coincide with the economic data at the back and that its prognostications were frequently belied by events — as, of course, most people’s prognostications are. Nevertheless, it managed to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as they acknowledged them at all, were the fault of the events rather than of The Economist, and that the world had a duty to be as The Economist said it was and as it would be. The anonymity of the articles was intended to create the illusion that the magazine spoke from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but rather from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can a magazine retain its reputation for perspicacity.
I found its style dull, too. How was it that correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, wrote in precisely the same fashion, as if everything that happened everywhere was fundamentally the same? Walter Bagehot, son-in-law of the founder of The Economist and its most famous editor, was a brilliant prose stylist and a wonderfully witty literary critic, among many other things; but The Economist has long been about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose was the literary equivalent of IKEA furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tried to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrived only at portentousness.
Who now reads it, and what for? I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest political developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.
Theodore Dalrymple, “From Boring to Baffling”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-08-01.
March 23, 2017
February 15, 2017
Here’s an interesting contrarian take on the history of SF: that the “Golden Age” of Campbellian SF was actually the end of the true Golden Age … the era of the pulps:
Here’s the Great Myth of the Golden Age of Science Fiction:
“Science Fiction sucked until the coming of John W. Campbell and the Big Three — Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Together they swept away the puerile garbage of the Pulps and brought about Science Fiction’s Golden Age.”
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter tosh. Bunk. Hokum.
The coming of Campbell and co. did not save or elevate the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. Before them, it was already popular and widely read. In addition to the Pulps, there were novels, radio serials, and (eventually) cinema serials.
Nor was F&SF at that time a literary ghetto, a genre thought fit only for teenage boys and pencil-necked geeks. Men and women, adults and children — all read the Pulps. Some F&SF magazines were aimed solely at the adult audience.
It took the twin assaults of Campbell and the Socialist-Libertine wing of the Futurians to turn the mainstream off of SF. And, despite periodic attempts to revive SF, it remains a ghetto today.
January 31, 2017
In last week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg talked about the default left-leaning mainstream media (that’s most of the media):
I agree with pretty much all of the right-wing criticism of the mainstream media these days, or at least the intelligent stuff, of which there has been plenty. What the MSM still fails to appreciate is the degree to which they’ve spent the last 40 years — at least — presenting news as unbiased and objective when it was in fact coated with, saturated in, and bent by all manner of confirmation biases, self-serving narratives, assumptions, and ideological priorities that leaned left. No, it wasn’t all “fake news” (man, am I exhausted by the ridiculous misuse of that term), at least not most of the time [insert outrage over Duranty’s Pulitzer, Janet Cooke’s and Steve Glass’s fabulations, and of course that time Dan Rather climbed the jackass tree only to hurl himself down, hitting every branch].
I would even go so far as to argue that most of the time liberal bias isn’t even deliberate. Maybe because I’ve been reading so much public-choice theory and psychology stuff of late, I tend to credit conspiracy theories less and groupthink more for the wayward state of the mainstream media (though Mark Hemingway makes a good point about Plowshares’ sub rosa complicity in pushing the Iran deal). Still, the more you get to know elite “objective” journalists, the more you can appreciate that they are trying to do it right. But it also becomes all the more obvious that they live in a social milieu where the borders between the Democratic party, liberal activism, and liberal experts are very, very fuzzy.
For instance, last week I wrote about that ridiculous article in the Washington Post accusing David Gelernter of being “anti-intellectual.” Much of the Post’s “reporting” hinged on a lengthy, catty quote from a member of the Union of Concern Scientists. As I noted, the Union of Concerned Scientists has always been a political operation. It’s a classic example of an outfit that liberal journalists invest with non-partisan authority so they can pass off partisan views as “science” or some other objective expertise.
In 1985, the editors of National Review wrote:
The Union of Concerned Scientists, except for the publicity it commands, can be dismissed. It has been a scandal for years — a letterhead with a few distinguished names acting as shills for a membership of left-wing laymen (anyone can be a Concerned Scientist, just by paying the membership fee).
Countless activists-in-experts-clothing organizations run on some variant of this model, from the Women’s Sports Foundation to the National Resources Defense Council.
Reporters routinely call experts they already agree with knowing that their “takes” will line up with what the reporter believes. Sometimes this is lazy or deadline-driven hackery. But more often, it’s not. And that shouldn’t surprise us. Smart liberal reporters are probably inclined to think that smart liberal experts are right when they say things the smart liberal reporters already agree with.
For these and similar reasons, liberal ideas and interpretations of the facts sail through while inconvenient facts and conservative interpretations send up ideological red flags. Think of editors like security guards at a military base. They tend to wave through the people they know and the folks with right ID badges. But when a stranger shows up, or if someone lacks the right credential, then the guards feel like they have to do their job. This is the basic modus operandi for places like Vox, which seek to explain not the facts or the news, but why liberals are right about the facts and the news.
December 20, 2016
At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall looks at the ginned-up outrage over “fake news” in the media:
The comment page of The Guardian is a useful place to watch the latest alarum and mass delusion to which we humans are distressingly subject take form. The one so taking form at present being the outcries over the false news which so obviously won the election for Trump (or Brexit, The Italian referendum, Beppe to be, Le Pen and, well, select from whatever will annoy those who write the Guardian‘s comment pages).
The truly astonishing thing about it all being the alarming lack of self knowledge on display. Because of course fake news is nothing new at all, indeed it’s been a standard tactic of various on the left for some time now.
And closer to home here think of the UK Uncut saga. The story about Vodafone and the £6 billion tax bill. There never was such a bill, there was no deal to cut it and yet that isn’t what our media has been telling us, is it? Richard Brooks, the originator of the story in Private Eye, has actually explained to us how the figure was reached. If tax law was different then more money would have been owed. We’re sure that’s true but there’s a certain promulgation of not quite an entire and whole truth to move from that to an insistence that £6 billion was owed, no? Or the campaign about Boot’s tax avoidance, something they achieved while obeying every jot and tittle of the law about what people should not do to avoid tax.
At least one of the perpetrators of that little, umm, piece of truthiness, has openly agreed that it was all about creating the narrative, exact details were not the point.
Or even the continued wails that inequality is rising to unprecedented levels. Global inequality is falling and within country inequality is nothing at all like the levels of the historical past – we’ve welfare systems explicitly designed to make sure that it isn’t. The spread of food banks – is this evidence, as claimed, of massive need? Or evidence of an always extant need now finally being met?
We’re going on a length here because this is an important issue. Yes, indeed, there is fake news out there. But what is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of those complaining about it is that a close examination of “truth” is going to leave an awful lot of supposedly established facts about our modern world looking terribly exposed.
November 20, 2016
Apparently we needed a new national symbol so we’ve been given the “Grey Jay” as our new national bird. I’ve never seen one, as far as I can tell, and its normal range doesn’t extend into southern Ontario. Blue Jays are quite common around here, but I didn’t even know there was a Grey Jay until now. They’re apparently also known as “Whiskey Jacks” in the west and I’ve at least heard of that term from a Stan Rogers song. Colby Cosh is, as you’d expect, unimpressed:
Congratulations to the grey jay, Canada’s new national bird! Canadian Geographic magazine made the big announcement on Wednesday, having completed a two-year search for a suitable representative avian. The big news was greeted with a national chorus of… well, to be honest, it did sound suspiciously like a “meh.” For my part, I needed a minute or two to establish that the grey jay is what I was raised to call a “whiskey jack”.
But I did recognize it. I fear many Canadians, perhaps most, will not. I grew up north of Edmonton, adjacent to the boreal forest, and my nature-loving father made a point of bundling me into snow pants and dragging me into the woods from time to time, usually on some slender pretext. The whiskey jack is a northern bird — one of the characteristics that recommended it to Canadian Geographic is that it lives in Canada almost exclusively. On a map of Canada, the range of the whiskey jack is a band that covers almost the entire surface, with gaps where all the people happen to live.
That a species is seen only in the bush is probably no reason not to choose it as the national bird. The magazine wanted a bird that is not already the official avian emblem of a particular province, and this all but eliminated more obvious, popular, and attractive choices, such as the loon, the snowy owl, and the black-capped chickadee. The rather plain and uninspiring whiskey jack thus seems to have been the bird of destiny from the outset of the selection process, which involved an online vote and an expert panel.
But wait. Where does Canadian Geographic actually get the authority to choose a national bird for Canada? If you read carefully, you find that it doesn’t claim to have any. It made its choice, and says it is going to ask the federal government to endorse that choice formally.
Well, any other magazine or newspaper might do as much. The real answer to the question is that some sly editor cooked up the whole rigmarole in order to sell magazines.
November 18, 2016
Donald Trump is President-elect, but he didn’t get there by pandering to white supremacist and racist voters, but you’d never know that by how his campaign was reported in the media. Scott Alexander says that the media still hasn’t learned its lesson and is still crying wolf:
Back in October 2015, I wrote that the media narrative of Trump as “the white power candidate” and “the first openly white supremacist candidate to have a shot at the Presidency in the modern era” were being fabricated out of thin air. I said that “the media narrative that Trump is doing some kind of special appeal-to-white-voters voodoo is unsupported by any polling data”, and predicted that:
If Trump were the Republican nominee, he could probably count on equal or greater support from minorities as Romney or McCain before him.
Well, guess what? The votes are in, and Trump got greater support from minorities than Romney or McCain before him. You can read the Washington Post article, Trump Got More Votes From People Of Color Than Romney Did, or look at the raw data (source)
We see that of every racial group, the one where Trump made the smallest gains over Romney was white people. I want to repeat that: the group where Trump’s message resonated least over what we would predict from a generic Republican was the white population.
Nor was there some surge in white turnout. I don’t see official numbers yet, but by eyeballing what data we have it looks very much like whites turned out in lower numbers to vote in 2016 than they did in 2012, 2010, and so on.
Of course, the media quickly responded to all of this undeniable and freely available data with articles like White Flight From Reality: Inside The Racist Panic That Fueled Donald Trump’s Victory and Make No Mistake: Donald Trump’s Win Represents A Racist “Whitelash”.
I stick to my thesis from October 2015. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.
I avoided pushing this point any more since last October because I didn’t want to look like I was supporting Trump, or accidentally convince anyone else to support Trump. But since we’re past the point where that matters anymore, I want to present exactly why I think this is true.
I realize that all of this is going to make me sound like a crazy person and put me completely at odds with every respectable thinker in the media, but luckily, being a crazy person at odds with every respectable thinker in the media has been a pretty good ticket to predictive accuracy lately, so whatever.
November 16, 2016
… asking people to “eat local” who live in northern climes where “local” means “nothing green” for six or seven months out of the year, and do not get to spend a few months each winter in Sicily teaching a cooking class, is pretty rich. A food writer who is telling other people how they could eat, if they wanted to, is doing a great public service. A food writer who is telling other people how they should eat (just like me, except without my access to ingredients) is just obnoxious. You can’t possibly know how they should eat, unless you have spent some time living their lives.
It is well to remember that people who spend time professionally writing about food have quite a bit more time in their day for acquiring and cooking food than most people. They also have more resources and recipes at their disposal. And you know, they can move to California to enjoy the produce.
Nor is it just the tyranny of localism; it is the list of ingredients that you ought to like, and the list of ingredients that you shouldn’t, and what the hell is wrong with you troglodytes and your Twinkies? Now, personally, I hated Twinkies before Hostess went bankrupt, and I’m sure I’d hate them now, along with Hostess cupcakes, Ho Hos, Devil Dogs, Snowballs, and whatever other tasteless cake substance they’ve filled with that disgusting white goo that tastes like rubberized confectioner’s sugar. I also despise anything made with canned cream-of-whatever soup, detest marshmallows in any form, and would rather eat paste than Cool Whip. You know what these are? Personal preferences. They are not signs that I have achieved a higher level of food consciousness. There is no such thing as a higher level of food consciousness. There is stuff you like to eat, and stuff you do not like to eat.
Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.
November 8, 2016
The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true.
Emma Roller, “Your Facts or Mine?”, New York Times, 2016-10-25.
November 7, 2016
The jury decided that Rolling Stone magazine and the writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely did defame University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo. Tim Newman comments on the (to him, satisfying) outcome of the case:
As soon as that story was published it got torn apart on the internet. Crucially, those tearing it apart were not just the red pill/manosphere/PUA sites either. Plenty of moderate, mainstream sites cast serious doubts on the story and I read a few of them.
Common sense would have told you there was something seriously amiss. From memory, “Jackie” recounts being thrown onto a glass-topped coffee table so hard that it shattered beneath her and then raped where she lay. You don’t need to be a practicing rapist to know that any guy who did that would be risking serious injury to himself: there are arguments over the involuntary circumcision of males, but I don’t think they cover rapists going about their business in lakes of shattered glass. She would also have sustained major damage had she been subject to those levels of violence: lacerations, fractures, bruising which she could have shown to the police and would have needed hospital treatment.
It was bullshit, but that wasn’t what made people angry. Lots of stories in the media are bullshit and nobody cares. So what made this one different? It was because those who supposedly supported “Jackie’s” version of events and abused those who questioned it wanted it to be true. For them, it was a better outcome that she had really been raped than for the story to have been fabricated.
So have they learned their lesson? It would appear not:
In a statement, the magazine added: “It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students.”
Those “pervasive issues” being complete fabrications which exist only in the minds of a handful of mentally disturbed students who were cynically exploited by some of the worst people ever to infest academia and journalism anywhere.
I hope the lawsuits keep coming and they are sued out of existence.
H/T to Jeff Scarbrough for the link.
November 5, 2016
In Vanity Fair, Ken Stern peers into the murky depths of the right-wing media bubble:
Virtually every day during the past year, I’ve digested a daily dose of Breitbart, the alt-right Web site that many journalists, including myself, have described as “Trump Pravda.” A typical day on Breitbart includes any number of articles extolling the rise of Donald Trump, including the massive size of his rallies and (on and off) his fast-rising poll numbers. There are also several pieces attacking the “mainstream media,” usually CNN, The New York Times or The Washington Post. Recently, there have been a slew of pieces from the Clinton WikiLeaks cache, which are part of a larger set of articles showcasing the couple’s venality, arrogance, and sexual peccadillos. The reporting, such as it is, is generally factually accurate, but mean-spirited and fantastically one-sided. If Breitbart were your primary news source, you would receive a view of the election that would be largely distorted and wholly unrecognizable to swaths of the American public.
When I checked the news the other day, it was more of the same. I counted some 20 articles about the presidential race, each espousing the unequivocal view that one candidate is collapsing due to moral failings, financial improprieties, and complete and utter lack of judgment and ethics. Notably, I was not reading Breitbart. Instead, I was reading The Washington Post, delivered to my doorstep, and the attacks were squarely waged not against the Clintons but rather against Trump.
In the Front Section, there was an incredible array of Trump-phobia, ranging from attacks on his business acuity to his ethics (“How Trump got a personal tax break by defaulting on loans”), to his personal knowledge (“Trump’s map of black America needs an update”), to stupid opinions about Trump (“Nader predicts fastest impeachment in history for a President Trump”), to smart opinions about Trump (“A contemptible candidate — and the party to blame for it”).
If you think this is limited to the National News portion of the paper, you would be mistaken. The Metro section, which typically reports on the Washington, D.C. area, was headlined by a news article describing the dysfunction at the Trump campaign in Virginia and a column arguing that Trump watching should be rated R for children. The top article in the Style section sported a massive feature on the Trump meltdown, supplemented by a column attacking Steve Bannon, the C.E.O. of the Trump campaign and the former head honcho at Breitbart. The sports section featured a column attacking Trump and defending, of all things, locker-room culture. Only the Health section lacked a Trump hook. (Trump, as you may recall, temporarily banned WaPo reporters from his campaign events.)
Rather remarkably, there was virtually no mention of Clinton or any other candidate running for president on this particular day. And so I repeated this little thought experiment again last week and the results were largely the same. The Post should not be blamed for criticizing a candidate who has demonstrated xenophobic, racist, and sexually predatory behavior. But even at the end of perhaps the worst stretch of weeks for a candidate in modern American electoral history, perhaps 45 percent of the electorate, some 55 million voters or so, still will vote for Trump. And some of them may wonder if the Post put their fat thumbs on the electoral scales.
September 1, 2016
… he’d have a brief but glorious career of getting the magazine a lot of media attention:
It is well that I am not the editor of Sports Illustrated; for were I so, I might commission a special burqini swimwear issue, just to provoke … everybody. All my lithe supermodels would be wearing burqini and veilkini variants, some with Marianne liberty caps and so forth. In the shoots, I would have them all posed on beaches surrounded by French policemen in their various uniforms, striking extravagant dance poses. There’d be a dwarf traffic cop in the traditional Paris “aubergine” raincoat, who’d turn up in set after set, blowing on a whistle. Perhaps one model in a wetsuit, with oxygen tanks, made to resemble a suicide vest; and other subtle topical allusions. In the background there’d be men and women in Edwardian beach attire, of extreme modesty, expressing shock. An old bathing machine would be lying on its side, with a sea turtle crawling out, mounted by an avatar of Vishnu, to extend the multicultural range.
Of course, I wouldn’t last long at “SI” — the only question, whether I’d be fired or assassinated first. But in the interim I might have the pleasure of being denounced by world leaders, and getting the company account banned by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, &c. With luck, an outrageously goading defence, and the help of Drudge and Breitbart, I might be able to stretch my fifteen minutes of infamy to twenty or twenty-five.
July 27, 2016
Colby Cosh says that the media really is a world unto itself and it’s difficult for denizens of that world to pretend to be part of our mundane world:
Why are the news media so disliked? On Sunday, New York Magazine published some results from a “navel-gazing questionnaire” it sent to about a hundred reporters, editors, and broadcasters. (Is there a term for gazing at someone else’s navel-gazing?) About half the answers it printed acknowledged that journalism is practised by a particular class whose members all have similar life histories, and that this class is vulnerable to urban liberal groupthink. Half the respondents, by contrast, preferred the “corporate/Republican Satan running amok in the world” theory. At least one person apparently thought it was all the fault of the Broadway hit Hamilton. And, obviously, there is some truth to all three of these explanations.
But perhaps the best one, which nobody gave, might be that we in “the media” spend a lot of time encouraging ourselves to be hated.
The word “profession” is defined here as a job in which a practitioner might sometimes speak of outsiders, or “civilians,” as being of a different order of humanity. When you take up journalism as a career, you agree to accept ethical and behavioural responsibilities that do not pertain to the general public. Like a priest or therapist, some things are forbidden to you that are not forbidden to others. You are also unofficially licensed to do some unusual things — ask intrusive questions, barge into certain settings. Sometimes you may be asked to quiz the grieving, interrogate athletes or politicians in the aftermath of public humiliation, photograph the wounded and dead. The journalism trade also has a large bundle of legends, jargon, and traditions. All of this was equally true a hundred years ago, before there were “J-schools.”
This serves to create a real, unspoken bond between practising journalists. There are the folk who have deadlines, and there are the Others. And the Others will never totally understand. Any professional journalist who denies having this habit of mind is lying.
But you cannot think of yourself as set apart from the world without having it show through in your writing and speech, affecting your preferences and interests. Journalists are constantly making self-deprecating, incoherent apologies for being part of a priesthood, yet most of them clearly think the existence of some such thing necessary to a liberal democracy. Well, we would, wouldn’t we? But it is hard to like, or even bear, someone who thinks that way. And that goes double if the thought is factually true.
July 24, 2016
Every 4 years the GOP nominee is literally Hitler. A few years later — sometimes, as in Mitt Romney’s case, as few as 4 years after he was accused of giving a woman cancer — that formerly-Hitler nominee becomes the standard of once-great GOP nominees to which the current nominee fall short.
Glenn Reynolds, “LIZ CROKIN: Trump Does The Unthinkable”, Instapundit, 2016-07-11.
January 28, 2016
Someone has just sent me a copy of an American fashion magazine which shall be nameless. It consists of 325 large quarto pages, of which no less than 15 are given up to articles on world politics, literature, etc. The rest consists entirely of pictures with a little letterpress creeping round their edges: pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, step-ins, panties, brassières, silk stockings, slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polish — and, of course, of the women, unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of them.
One striking thing when one looks at these pictures is the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty that now seems to be striven after. Nearly all of these women are immensely elongated. A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard are quite universal. Evidently it is a real physical type, for it occurs as much in the photographs as in the drawings. Another striking thing is the prose style of the advertisements, an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random:
“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.
A fairly diligent search through the magazine reveals two discreet allusions to gray hair, but if there is anywhere a direct mention of fatness or middle-age I have not found it. Birth and death are not mentioned either: nor is work, except that a few recipes for breakfast dishes are given. The male sex enters directly or indirectly into perhaps one advertisement in twenty, and photographs of dogs or kittens appear here and there. In only two pictures, out of about three hundred, is a child represented.
On the front cover there is a colored photograph of the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet, doing something to the edge of her skirt. If one looks closely one finds that actually he is about to take a measurement with a yardstick. But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment — not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization, or at least of one important side of it.
George Orwell, retitled as “George Orwell Wrote One of the Most Incensed Takedowns of American Fashion Magazines”, The New Republic, 1946-12-02.
January 4, 2016
I have noticed a tendency of mine to reply to arguments with “Well yeah, that would work for the X Czar, but there’s no such thing.”
For example, take the problems with the scientific community, which my friends in Berkeley often discuss. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”
And I answer “Well, yeah, that would work for the Science Czar. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status. And since we all follow the Science Czar’s Science Decrees, it would all work perfectly!”
Why exactly am I being so sarcastic? Because things that work from a czar’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along.
Likewise, no journal has the incentive to unilaterally demand early registration, since that just means everyone who forgot to early register their studies would switch to their competitors’ journals.
And since the system is only made of individual scientists and individual journals, no one is ever going to switch and science will stay exactly as it is.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.