Friday, January 27, 2017

What Happens to Democracy When the Experts Can't Be Both Factual and Balanced?

Yesterday Stephen Bannon, one of Trump's closest advisors, called the media "the opposition party". My op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times is my response to that type of thinking.

What Happens to Democracy When the Experts Can't Be Both Factual and Balanced?

Does democracy require journalists and educators to strive for political balance? I’m hardly alone in thinking the answer is "yes." But it also requires them to present the facts as they understand them — and when it is not possible to be factual and balanced at the same time, democratic institutions risk collapse.

Consider the problem abstractly. Democracy X is dominated by two parties, Y and Z. Party Y is committed to the truth of propositions A, B and C, while Party Z is committed to the falsity of A, B and C. Slowly the evidence mounts: A, B and C look very likely to be false. Observers in the media and experts in the education system begin to see this, but the evidence isn’t quite plain enough for non-experts, especially if those non-experts are aligned with Party Y and already committed to A, B and C....

[continued here]

5 comments:

Arnold said...

Internet and Soul searching reveals some of us are afraid The United States of America is becoming a "Flawed democracy"...
...Different from our Founding hope The United States of America could become a "Full democracy"...Hope springs Eternal and every two years Vote...

F. E. Guerra-Pujol said...

Although I understand and appreciate the gist of this blog post (and of the corresponding chapter of his excellent new book on jerks, zombie robots, etc., where I first encountered Eric's critique of experts who are not committed to truth), I need to "pushback" against Eric's analysis. Specifically, I wish to offer the following three critiques:

First, Eric does not define such key terms as "truth" or "democracy". Considering that Eric takes great care to define his terms in other parts of his book (e.g., what constitutes a "zombie") and considering the importance of definitions in philosophy, this omission is inexcusable.

Second, Eric's simple two-party/three-proposition model is incomplete. Even if Party T is committed to the truth of propositions A, B, and C, that same party might also be committed to the falsity of X, Y, and Z (even when propositions X, Y, and Z are likely to be true), and vice versa with respect to Party F.

Finally, and most importantly, the truth of any given proposition might be a probabilisitic value and not a binary or all or nothing true/false value. As an aside, I explore this issue of probabilistic truth in my own work. Here is one place to start: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1978017

Arnold said...

Isn't, that when truth is in the balance, everything is in change, truth is change, maybe...

Here's to Eric the columnist...

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, F.E.! I don't disagree with any of that. The extent to which the current actual situation reflects this simplification is a matter of debate. *Usually* it has not been this way, which is part of why (I think) the U.S. has been a stable democracy for a long time.

As for defining "truth" and "democracy" -- I'm hoping that these remarks don't depend on matters of nuance about such terms, so that we can suffice with are varying intuitive notions. (I set aside, here, radically relativist notions of truth, of course, as should be evident already in the original post.)

F. E. Guerra-Pujol said...

Agreed. Also, love the new book; I will be writing a review over the holidays ...