The Social Value of Blogging

I once told Noah Smith that I found little social value in many of the blogs I read online.  For some reason blogs bring out the worst in people who would never behave badly in other situations.  Bloggers refer to each other as “idiots” or “liars” and the like.  Often the blogosphere seems more like a food fight than a constructive dialogue.

So, why am I starting this blog?  I think I am starting it because Miles Kimball has convinced me that blogging may be a permanent part of academic discourse.  For better or worse, blogging may be here to stay and moreover it appears to have an impact on policy discussions outside of academia and the path of academic ideas on campus.  Indeed, academics may have some social obligation to better connect with people outside of traditional academic settings.

I am going to start this blog so as to coincide with my graduate macroeconomics course for the winter semester in Michigan.  There is a fair amount of interest in macroeconomics in the blogosphere so, when possible, some of the posts will be casual remarks and reflections on topics discussed in class.  Typically I will try to avoid technical posts or posts which are of interest only to insiders.  (If you are a student taking my graduate macroeconomics class you have no obligation whatsoever to read any of these blog posts.  Nothing I will write here will be required as part of the course.)

Finally, I am going to try to avoid falling into the common pattern of hurling disparaging remarks at other bloggers. It would be nice if readers could also refrain from intemperate and uncivil remarks in the comments if at all possible.  (Rest assured, I have my spork and a pile of mashed potatoes ready things get ugly.)


Temporary location for three papers:





4 thoughts on “The Social Value of Blogging

  1. Chris! Great to have you in the blogosphere!!

    Realize that people will inevitably call you every name under the sun. Don’t worry, they are just trying to get a rise out of you. If they come into your comment section, use the awesome power of Comment Deletion. 😉

  2. “For some reason blogs bring out the worst in people who would never behave badly in other situations. Bloggers refer to each other as “idiots” or “liars” and the like.”

    I would ask you to think carefully about what really is best to do when someone constantly intentionally lies – or misleads – for their ideology, or other reasons. Should you remain silent on this for “civility” or “good manners”. Is that really best when it’s obvious to you as a fellow expert that this is not unintentional, but it is not obvious to laypeople. I had a post giving my thoughts on this. Here’s the key part:

    …suppose a Harvard Climatologist says the Earth is flat or that carbon accumulation in the atmosphere has absolutely zero effect on global warming, and that these false assertions please a political party he favors and/or is highly paid by. What am I to think? I know he’s saying something that’s not true. And I know being a Harvard Climatologist that unless he just had a serious head injury, he knows it’s not true, but he said it anyway. I don’t want to use the L-word, because so many people say you’re not supposed to, and it can cause a lot of problems, but that is the definition of the L-word, knowingly saying something that’s untrue.

    And note that in this case, yes, the public would know anyway that the Earth is flat is a lie, but there are many things that a climatologist, or any expert, can say which can sound plausible to the general public, but which a fellow expert would know can only be intentional misleading, or lying. Should that fellow expert remain silent on the intentionality of the first expert’s untruth? You can’t say he should just point out why this untruth is untrue, and then it won’t matter if he tells people that the person who said it has a record of regularly intentionally misleading. The reason is because the messenger, and her credibility, does matter. It’s not just the message. The world is too complicated and advanced for that. The message itself can be very strong and convincing to you, but in such an advanced and complicated world, and with an area that you, as a member of the general public, are not expert in, there’s still often a substantial probability that there’s something you’re missing, and the message is, in fact, not correct, or not completely correct. The more credible the messenger, the lower the probability that that’s the case, and vice-versa. So it is valuable for the public in important decision making, like voting, to know if messengers are serial intentional misleaders for causes that they don’t consider good.


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