Friday, July 21, 2017

Knitting my brows in consternation

Tyler Cowen recently posted a list of public institutions that he thinks are still working well.

His list includes
  • The Congressional Budget Office
  • The courts
  • The Senate
  • The media
  • The think tanks
  • The bureacracy
He wrote the following about the media:

The media as investigators have been excellent, though as summarizers of what is really going on I see their performance as much weaker, due to selective reporting.
At a technical level, I wonder how he can have enough data to reach a conclusion regarding the media's investigative prowess?  What basis does he have if all of the news is "filtered"?  Looking at the conundrum through the lens of an economist (and Tyler Cowen is an excellent economist), why would any business invest resources in "investigation" that will produce output that is not salable? 

Lack of a market is an a priori indicator that there will be little or no research.  If there is little or none, then how can it be judged?

I also wonder how one goes about setting standards for research.  In general, we hold the academic model of peer reviewed and replicated studies to be the gold standard.  Even the gold standard has been tarnished.  According to the BBC, two-thirds of peer reviewed studies could not be fully replicated by other scientists.  Given a confidence level of 90%, one would expect 1-in -10 to not replicate.  If the gold standard is failing, how can one hold the slap-dash research of not-very-bright journalists in high regard.

Am I too rough on journalists?  Perhaps.  But if most interesting things are motivated by money and the allocation of resources, then a good newsroom would have several accountants/CPAs on staff to follow the money.  They would also have some retired cops and maybe even a couple of former FBI guys banging on keyboards. 

Who do you see in the news room?  Burned-out 27 year olds who graduated with $100,000 in student debt.  They are expected to put in 50 hours a week and travel on their own dime.  They might as well be selling Cutco Knives or Kirby Vacuum cleaners.  They are desperately looking for gainful employment in other industries, any other industry.

Finally, why is "the media" included in a list of public institutions?  All of the other inclusions are arms of the government.  Is the media an organ or agent of the government?


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