An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Don't go looking at FP magazine.

If you are a fan of the Rachel Maddow show you have probably already seen her wonderful segment on the undisputed King of Wrong, Paul Wolfowitz, and how he has co-authored an "article" about the war in Afghanistan. She did a wonderful re-cap on Friday night's show of all of the "wrong-ness" when he was in a position of power and influence. I particularly like this zinger:

"If you hear something clangingly, obviously wrong in America - look around - Paul Wolfowitz is somewhere near you."

You may be tempted, like me, to go to the magazine's site and leave a comment. Two bits of info to keep in mind:

1. This is a web 'zine and not a publication with much of any reputation at all. Even free web publications that have any proven reputation for having good quality content show up in at least one or two commercial databases. I checked. None of the half-dozen databases to which my library subscribes carries this title.

2. "Publications" like FP magazine like to publish "controversial" (English translation: dead wrong about everything) people in order to increase their page views and even gain more registered users (you must register to comment). Visiting the site in the hope of leaving a snarky comment about how the author and therefore the publication lack credibility actually plays into their hands. They want you to get angry, go to the article, register to leave a comment, then tell them off.

Information is not the commodity, information is not the product sold in this venture. You are. We are. Our eyes on the page seeing the ads. Any evidence that verifies the number of viewers, or registered users, obtains more advertising revenue.

If anyone tries to tell you that the invisible hand of the free market guarantees the best quality at the lowest cost - keep this in mind. Given that information that we actually seek is not the product, we continue to have to witness such spectacles as Wolfowitz pontificating on war, Penn Gillette served up as a public intellectual (his highest educational level is clown college - not kidding) by a site calling itself "Big Think" and worse.

Sadly, often times information that we find useful, meaningful and actionable does not make enough people angry enough to generate lots of comments and draw page views. Presenting controversial points of view has a very important role in journalism and I commend any effort to introduce ideas with evidence to support them which make rational inferences from verifiably real evidence. We do not see enough of that. There exists a very big difference between finding conflicting viewpoints on matters of public policy which have intelligent, articulate people disagreeing with each other on the one hand and serving up crap designed to piss off lots of people to generate traffic on a web site (serving no other useful purpose) on the other.

Ultimately, no one should consider Paul Wolfowitz a controversial figure, anymore than we would consider a controversial thinker someone who believes in unicorns, or Big Foot. When the "Big Foot spotter" of foreign policy writes anything about foreign policy, the best way to proceed is just not to click on the link. Don't go there. Nothing worth looking at there.

1 comment:

  1. Steven, sorry for the off-topic comment, but I wanted to get in touch with you about the commeny you posted on the Chronicle's RWA-is-dead article.  "Elsevier bought up the "must have" titles. Then they jacked up the price
    1000%. And that was just the beginning. A journal that cost $150/yr in
    1980 cost $15K/yr by 1990."  I'd not realised that the hikes were THAT extreme and would like to talk to you about references, for a possible newspaper article.  Please contact me on