Saturday, March 24, 2007

Episode 9: Wherein I can't even maintain a token protest

After reading the headline only of what was bound to be another execrable article by Slate's Steven Landsburg, I had had enough:
Dear Editor,

I am afraid I will have to launch a personal -- and, I realize, merely symbolic -- boycott of Slate as it continues to publish columns by Steven Landsburg.

I cannot complain specifically about the most recent Steven Landsburg article because I refuse to read it. I have, however, read all of his previously published Slate articles as far as I know, as I have read Slate devoutly since 2002.

Do not think this is fretting about something I haven't seen. I have seen, and commented on, Dr. Landsburg's articles any number of times. I have read perhaps one article by him that I didn't consider to be purely amateurish, poor science, provocative just to be provocative and without any sound evidence or reasoning to back up its contrarian argument. It seems as if Dr. Landsburg gets up and decides to write an Everyday Economics article by thinking "What can I prove using 1 or 2 studies that will surely piss off at least half the readership enough to angrily slobber over my article? I know! 'Is it in the economic interest of black people to eat lots of watermelons and fried chicken, while dancing entertainingly for white people?' Of course it is! Not just before the end of Jim Crow, but now as well!"

As a recent example, view the responses to his prior article, "Women are chokers." I direct you to a post at least nominally by a fellow scientist, Ian T. Ellwood. He reviews how thoroughly poor a study it was that Landsburg relied on almost entirely for his argument. Sure, Slate is not an academic journal, but single-sourced non-peer-reviewed "science" article? No, thanks, that's alright, I'll pass.

If you were to look in the Fray, you'd see that Dr. Landsburg has consistently been critiqued there on scientific sloppiness, sloppiness that goes beyond merely being "casual science" to "almost pure contrarianism with poor scientific reasoning added for rhetorical value."

I cannot for the life of me fathom why Slate continues to publish him, except for the possibility that his provocative churlishness brings in readers and ad revenue. In any case, this issue and Slate's lack of response to readers -- to defend Landsburg, or any other reaction from the top, really -- speaks doubly ill of the Editors, both in terms of publishing tripe and in terms of utterly wasting the Fray, which was notably largely unmentioned in Slate's anniversary self-congratulations. It seems to be a place where we readers can talk to ourselves (and the Freditor), but neither the quality nor quantity of our postings have any effect or elicit cogent responses from those we are writing most often to or about.

Perhaps it's time for Slate to get a Public Editor? That's something I'd like to see, if and when I come back.


"J Continuum's name"

(This post was greeted by a resounding lack of caring on anyone's part.)

I'm sad to say, I am indeed back, I couldn't keep myself away from Slate for reasons I haven't entirely grasped. I guess because it is the most tolerable -- at times, enjoyable -- way to get a sense of mainstream thought. I love me some Counterpunch, but they are laughably, unfortunately far from mainstream consciousness, and though their articles usually do take mainstream thought into account (and to task), it is not the same as reading and attempting to understand mainstream thought. Which, by the way, is very important -- that is, to understand how people other than those who agree with you think. I'm still occasionally horrified by a liberal who says "Oh, really? I don't really follow mainstream news." WHAT???!! As Chris Rock said about women (and implied about men) who don't give head, "They still MAKE you??" I mean, if you want to effect change, you can't do that. If you're a "Fuck 'em, they're going to screw it all up and kill us all anyway" liberal, then fine, whatever.

I'm drifting away here into digression, so I'll finish with a SNAFU that happened while I actually was (mostly) observing my Slate boycott:
Thursday's headlines here on Slate featured a story, beneath Barack Obama's image, described as "Why Obama is Like a Serial Killer." The featured article, by Jacob Weisberg, was entitled "Candidates and Killers." Generously, we could say it was a light-hearted piece sending up the vapidity of childhood clichés. Somewhat more awkwardly, we could acknowledge that its tentative concluding note about Obama's lonely childhood, in tandem with our promotional headline, struck some readers as downright racist... I'm a scrawny white guy, so I can't speak from a black perspective (I'll leave that to BLACKMOSES). But, aside from the guys talking about God knows what, I can say we created a pretty grumpy mood in The Big Idea Fray.

Is it just me, kiddies, or is Jacob Weisberg's Slate ever-increasingly, if not circling the (toilet) bowl, at least drinking out of it?

No comments: