Lies, Spies, and Soft Paternalists

Lies, Spies, and Soft Paternalists January 18, 2014

I’ve wrapped up my second week at my new job, and I wanted to give you guys links and précis* of the pieces I’ve been writing over there.


A Guide to Lies, Significant Lies, and Statistics

Yup, only waited til post number two to start being aggressively nerdy at the new gig.

Ultimately, the peer-reviewed journal system is, to paraphrase Churchill, the worst approach to understanding the world, except for all the others that have been tried. When we make an idol of empiricism, any flawed result or pervasive bias leaves us feeling betrayed and defiant.

Instead of thinking and talking about science as the purest form of inquiry, we might be better off thinking of it as a somewhat finicky old car. It usually gets us where we need to go, but it’s a good idea to check out the engine and be prepared to swap out or repair parts. The reforms proposed by Simmons, Nelson, and Simonsohn will keep the kludge running well enough until the next element breaks, and it’s time to work out another fix.


Social Conservatives Attacked for Soft Paternalism

One of my friends joked on twitter that of course I only defend social cons when it means I also get to defend paternalism, but I stand by my argument that negotiating over how to price externalities (moral or environmental) can lower the temperature of a debate that was stuck in a legal/illegal dichotomy.

In his internet-infamous anti-pot column, David Brooks didn’t propose any civil or criminal costs for using marijuana. He tried to marshall the softest kind of paternalism: social censure. Whether or not the current drug laws need reform, he argued, we shouldn’t be approving about more people using marijuana.

But the online backlash seemed to have read a different column, where he had endorsed the Rockefeller drug laws, just as Yglesias seems to think that Douthat favors re-criminalizing adultery, or bringing back the term “bastard” for illegitimate children.


Obama Announces Mild Surveillance Reforms

This is a summary of the main points in yesterday’s speech, so not too much editorializing, but I do like getting to explain things.  Plus, I got to use this as my opening graf:

Just as our army has, in President Obama’s famous debating words, moved beyond horses and bayonets, so too has our surveillance moved past using hot air balloons to count campfires. After demonstrating once again his wide-ranging knowledge of obsolete military technologies, Obama used his long-awaited speech today to frame broad new surveillance programs as a similar modernization for cyberwarfare.



*The plural of précis turns out to depend on the gender of the thing being summarized.  I went with masculine plural, since English only uses the masculine form from French, but it’s irking me a bit.  Is there a preferred form among you commenters.

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