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Do bloggers make a difference?

June 24th, 2004
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In the light of pieces like Trevor Cook’s in the Fin recently, I was beginning to think blogs were making a difference for the better in the mainstream media. But the fact that the Oz can run an op-ed piece on gun control by discredited ex-academic John Lott suggest that a lot more remains to be done.

Lott has been exposed in every possible way by bloggers (of all political persuasions and none) as a liar, a fabricator, and even as an Internet cross-dresser[1] (for the gory details visit the indefatigable Tim Lambert). Yet not only is he still sitting in a cosy billet at the American Enterprise Institute, but newspapers are apparently still willing to publish him. Clearly bloggers have a lot more work to do. Ken Parish takes on the job of demolishing Lott’s latest piece of nonsense, as does Tim Lambert.

fn1. Having said all this, it’s necessary to confront the ad hominem issue. A logical argument doesn’t become invalid because it is put forward by a liar. But an Op-ed piece about an issue like gun control can’t consist exclusively of abstract logical argument. The arguments have to be given some factual basis. And any piece written by Lott should come with a warning, “Do not accept any factual assertion in this article”.

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  1. March 24th, 2004 at 18:11 | #1

    I think mention of the AEI says it all, surely.

  2. March 25th, 2004 at 02:15 | #2

    Patience, John. This is still a new medium.

    I wrote a ubersportingpundit piece for the second cricket Test in Kandy where I coined the phrase “the Kurse of Kandy” (because Kandy is a place where some distinctly odd things happen in Test cricket) and before the week was out the phrase was being reported in the SMH (minus the first K, via News Ltd papers.

    It may not have been me, but I do know sports journalists read my site and it does have a bit of a following in the places I want it to be read.

    That’s not bad for a blog that’s only 18 months old. As bloggers we tend to suffer from a strange idea of time and get very short-term oriented. This is a very raw medium still.

  3. March 25th, 2004 at 05:10 | #3

    I agree with Scott the evidence that bloggers make a difference is incontrovertible in my view. The challenge now is as he says one of persistence. Australia is behind the US, but even there not all journalists understand blogging yet. But overtime they will recognise bloggers as a rich mine of information and comment.

  4. March 25th, 2004 at 08:21 | #4

    Didn’t have enough time earlier this morning. So to finish that thought. As I read it, the Pew internet survey that came out recently showed that maybe about three-quarters of the blog reading population are also bloggers themselves. This is probably not surprising since we always talk about blogging being an active medium where there is little distinction to be had between content producers and content consumers – that’s what makes blogging far more captivating then much of traditional media which now seems passe by comparison. Yet it probably also dampens the impact of blogging at this early stage of its development I think. For instance, the reaction to my article in the fin last w/e. Bloggers say ‘good introduction’ , ‘nice piece’ etc but hey let’s face it nothing new. Then there is the vast bulk of the population who you know are just none the wiser. No-one has yet said to me – ‘read your article and I’ve started blogging or I’m thinking of starting, or I’ve started reading blogs’. My father was the best of these “I can see its well-researched and well-written, but I still have no idea what weblogs are’. This may be just a very good insight into my ability to present arguments and information. But I think there is another problem – understanding weblogs really is an experiential thing. Unless you do it yourself you won’t get it. Simple as that. Which ties back into the nature of John’s problem. If we want journalists to understand blogging we will have to get more of them to actually do it.

  5. March 25th, 2004 at 09:54 | #5

    Play the ball, not the man. Based on your shocking post below about libertarianism, should I ignore any of your future posts or insist on a consumer warning label?

  6. March 25th, 2004 at 10:04 | #6

    Bravo, John Humphreys. I am preparing a full reply to that post and its comments, mentioning inter alia Heinlein’s remarks against conscription as “slave soldiers” (but I can’t find where he said it!).

    For now, I’ll just remark that JQ is prone to stopping enquiry and judgment when it lines up with his existing ideas, so reinforcing them. It’s very human, and he only falls prey to it on those occasions when he is swept up (i.e. only when it really matters). I think he is aware that it is a fault though not when he is falling victim to it himself.

    Of course, the thought occurs to me that I too am as likely to be a victim of prejudice; however I usually react in these comments, so any opposite point of view is unlikely to get short shrift because of me.

  7. March 25th, 2004 at 11:01 | #7

    Sorry, I thought that no-one would give any credence whatsoever to Lott’s tragically stupid contribution. I can’t even work out what this final par in his piece means.
    “Possibly, Australians can turn now to solving some really important problems. One suggestion: 240-volt electrical currents can kill you. Is it really true that Australians have these overpowering urges to try sticking metal in electrical sockets?”
    For years, now Australians have been working on this problem – which is serious. And there are mandatory requirements about new buildings which ensure that the equipment will shut down if there is any leakage of electricity from the system.
    Why doesn’t lott know this?
    Guns kill people – I don’t want to live in a society where people walk around the streets armed to the teeth.
    There is no credible evidence that arming people reduces the incidence of crime. If there was medieval Rome would have been a peaceful place, because no-one went anywhere without a weapon and yet it was notoriously short, nasty and brutish.

  8. March 25th, 2004 at 12:25 | #8

    Was medievil rome the only place (and time) when people walked around armed?

  9. John Quiggin
    March 25th, 2004 at 21:39 | #9

    Beirut and Baghdad are more recent examples. Of course, if you believe Lott, Baghdad is safer than Washington DC. (Again see Tim Lambert for the details on this absurd claim).

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