Ignoring The Obvious Solution: A Partisan Press Business Model

The Washington Post media guy, Erik Wemple, agrees that coverage of the Trump-Clinton race was screwed up.



But then he throws up his hands and says, "What can you do?"

News organizations might consider looking back and evaluating their roles in contributing to the Clinton email pile-on, though countermeasures will be difficult. That’s because instituting restraint in covering big stories grinds against the entire ethos of journalism in the Internet age, which preaches the virtues of publish, publish, publish, even when you have very little to say.

So, look for similar results the next time an outsider with a deep history of unethical, outrageous, misogynistic and racist conduct takes on a career Washington insider.

What if a competitor, call it The New York World, had the same resources as the Washington Post or the New York Times but was build on the business model of selling newspapers to Democrats like me? I wouldn't want them to lie. I wouldn't want them to ignore the most serious problems with Democratic candidates. But I would want them to ignore bullshit problems with Democratic candidates, as Matt Yglesias notes:

In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way.

I would want them to not repeat lies about Democratic candidates, as explored in 2007 in a Vanity Fair retrospective on the 2000 election:

Eight years ago, in the bastions of the "liberal media" that were supposed to love Gore—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, CNN—he was variously described as "repellent," "delusional," a vote-rigger, a man who "lies like a rug," "Pinocchio." Eric Pooley, who covered him for Time magazine, says, "He brought out the creative-writing student in so many reporters.… Everybody kind of let loose on the guy."

How did this happen? ...Were the liberal elite bending over backward to prove they weren't so liberal?

The New York Times could continue to market itself to people who wanted to read garbage stories about Hillary. But I would be able to read a newspaper that didn't seem to hate me.

Survival of the fittest is science, but it's not predictable

One very Newtonian definition of science (popular with economists):

Science is about theories that make testable predictions. 

This is obviously true of physics: the theory of gravity predicts that an object falling to Earth will accelerate at a rate of 9.8 meters per second, squared. 

This is true in biology, too. The theory of evolution by natural selection predicts that if we look into the past we will find species that change over time.  It predicts that over long periods of time we will see the species around us change in the future.

Notice that the physics example predicts the specific events while the biology example explains the events without being able to make specific predictions. Biology explains the future, but unlike physics, it doesn't  predict the future. 

For example, an exciting area of study in biology is called "the microbiome". Basically every big living thing in the world is itself home to a whole world of smaller living things. Humans live on the surface of the earth. That's our biome. But a ton of bacteria live on our skin and in our stomach. Those bacteria inhabit our microbiome. Obesity seems to be tied to something wrong with our microbiome. Turns our coral reefs have microbiomes, too, and sick or "stressed" coral have microbiomes that are out of whack. From A Grand Unifying Theory Of Unhealthy Microbiomes:

Scientists have conducted hundreds of similar studies in humans. They compare healthy and sick people and look for differences in their microbiomes—the vast community of bacteria and other microbes that share our bodies. They aren’t looking for a specific disease-causing bug, like the ones behind classic infections like plague, leprosy, or tuberculosis. Instead, they’re looking for imbalances, where certain species rise to the fore, others slink into obscurity, and the entire community changes for the worse.

That’s what Vega Thurber expected to find in the corals. But that’s not what her postdoc Jesse Zaneveld found when he analyzed the results. The extra nutrients and the missing fish both changed the coral microbiomes—but not in any consistent ways. “It was a pretty dark day after three years of work,” says Vega Thurber. “A lot of students would have thrown up their hands and cried a bit. But Jesse said: You know what, I think I see something strange. It’s a pattern but one we didn’t predict.”

The microbiomes of the stressed corals had become more varied. They didn’t shift in any particular direction—they changed in every direction. And shortly after Zaneveld realized this, he spotted the same pattern—but this time in chimpanzees. Researchers at Yale University had studied the gut microbiomes of chimps that were infected with an HIV-like virus, and found that their microbiomes had also become more variable.

Zaneveld and Vega Thurber now think that this trend applies to all kinds of microbiomes, whether in corals, chimps, or humans. All of these hosts use a range of tactics to control which species and strains get to share their bodies. When the hosts are stressed or diseased, their control breaks down, and their microbiomes start to change. But they change randomly, rather than predictably. They don’t shift to any one specific unhealthy state. Rather, they veer off in unpredictable directions and enter a wide range of new states.

When people say economics is a failure because it did not predict the crash of 2007-08 they are confused. Economics is a disaster because the entire field thinks that predicting the future is a thing that you can do. In life science, predicting the future is simply not possible the way it is in physics.  



In June 1918, we knew that on August 21, 2017, the moon would once again block the sun in a total eclipse. But no amount of science, not even an infinite amount of understanding of the world in 1918, would have been able to predict that on August 24, 2017, the President of the United States would do this:


Equilibrium is a concept from physical science; The status of "women's work" is not physical science.

Obviously equilibrium's a metaphor that has run riot over economics which, ostensibly, is a study of living things (humans). But here it is popping up in a feminist history.  


The gradual exclusion of women from coding is not a modern story. Instead, it's just one of the more recent manifestations of what historian Judith Bennett calls the "patriarchal equilibrium." Essentially, Bennett argues that, while women's experiences change, their status generally remains stuck behind that of men. Bennett has elaborated this idea through decades of work on medieval brewing, textile production, and other areas that reveal gendered hierarchies in medieval and early-modern society.

Take brewing. In 14th-century England, women did most of the brewing, as Bennett first explores in a 1986 article on the village alewife. These brewsters made ale, which spoiled quickly after the cask was broached, so they would keep some for their family and sell the rest. Often, the small profits from these sales would enable them to buy ale, in turn, from other women while they waited to make a new batch. But then beer arrived in England from the Low Countries. Thanks to the preservative power of hops, it could be brewed and sold at commercial scale. The village alewife was gradually replaced by larger and larger brewing enterprises, requiring access to capital. Although there were exceptions, men had much easier access to capital than women. By the end of the 15th century, men dominated medieval English brewing.

It seems an apt enough metaphor. As status flows in, women flow out in order to keep things "in balance." But I'll bet it gets the underlying mechanics quite wrong. Maybe not. Either way, a good example of what I mean by "Newtonian metaphors for Darwinian processes."