My new blog

I start my new job at the Grattan Institute tomorrow, and one thing that will change as a result is my blogging. The change won’t be too big, but as one of Grattan’s public faces I need to make sure that my blogging doesn’t detract from Grattan’s focus on areas where ‘fact-based analysis’ can contribute to public debate.

While I don’t think facts alone can settle all or even a majority of debates in contemporary politics, the most productive debates are usually around evidence and empirical relationships.

I don’t believe that more than a small minority of people acquire their basic worldview from reading or intellectual reflection. Worldviews are largely the product of socialisation, life experience, and personality. While I have an enduring interest in political philosophy, and especially liberal political philosophy, I don’t think this kind of intellectual endeavour is primarily about persuading people who are not already in the same broad ideological space. Rather, political philosophy helps turn the intuitions that come from a general worldview into something more coherent. For this reason, my overtly classical liberal writing has been aimed mostly at people who share some of my normative assumptions, rather than a wider audience.

People are far more open to persuasion on empirical grounds, and this is one reason I have generally taken this approach (apart from being the kind of person who reads ABS reports out of pure interest). While some people insist on their own idiosyncratic take on what the facts are, not many flatly deny that empirical evidence is important. The way I read Grattan’s approach, it is to work in this empirical space – not denying that more ideological perspectives are important, but leaving those to other people and organisations. So that’s what I will be doing too during my time with Grattan.

I decided that the easiest way to keep blogging while keeping within a slightly narrower brief was to set up a new blog, andrewnorton.net.au. This blog will stay online, but from 15 August 2011 upates will be at the new blog.

5 Responses to “My new blog

  • 1
    Welcome to andrewnorton.net.au | Andrew Norton
    August 14th, 2011 19:48

    [...] reasons for the switch are explained here. Uncategorized ← test post /* [...]

  • 2
    Shem Bennett
    August 14th, 2011 20:10

    I agree that empirical approaches are effective and important.

    My only concern with empiricism is that it can lead to Gnostocracy. I’m seriously concerned that within my lifetime I’ll see increased moves towards authoritarianism using “science” as a base.

    As a good example look at the debate surrounding junk food and unhealthy lifestyles. Empirically people ought to eat less junk food. Yet this has been translated by some people as a social imperative- that government should force individuals to eat less junk food. Without any ideological or philosophical base to the contrary, fact-based analysis can imply “absolute right” in political discourse.

    That said, I don’t think “fact-based analysis” will prove problematic in your field of Higher Education, nor do I think you’ll ever forget your philosophical roots. I just worry when places like the Grattan Institute claim to be fact-based. Empiricism still relies on a particular philosophical or social paradigm for interpretation, after all.

  • 3
    mk
    August 14th, 2011 20:17

    Reason v argument

    ‘Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better
    explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.’

  • 4
    caf
    August 15th, 2011 13:10

    I am not sure that I share a lot of your normative assumptions, but I have always found your writings useful and relevant.

    I believe that the best way to refine and sharpen ones own arguments is to test them with those that do not share the same assumptions. They are less likely to overlook or forgive the holes in the argument!

  • 5
    Club Troppo » Missing Link Friday – 19 August 2011
    August 19th, 2011 06:10

    [...] Norton’s new blog: With a new job at the Grattan Insititute, Andrew Norton has decided to start a new blog. He writes: "as one of Grattan’s public faces I need to make sure that my blogging [...]