Saturday, January 09, 2010

Time to biff The Economist?

The Economist has been a weekly fixture of my mailbox for nearly all of the last 28 years. During most of that time, I found it a compact way to become at least conversationally informed on what is going on throughout the world, across a wide span of subjects. It also gave the appearance of "straight" reporting; that is, one could feel comfortable that the facts reported actually happened, were salient, and not selectively chosen to substantiate any particular conclusion.

Lately, perhaps, not so much.

Within the last couple years, The Economist has given the distinct impression that it doesn't know much about its eponymous subject.

More recently, The Climate Narrative has become paramount. The cover story of the December 5th issue was Stopping Climate Change. Huh? We are going to freeze the climate in amber for all time? Seriously? Has anyone talked to the sun about this?

Continuing in the global warming vein, The Economist simultaneously insists on how really horribly awfully terribly catastrophic climate change will be, laments the ignominious end of the Copenhagen talks, and spares not one syllable, ever, to discuss the potential for geo-engineering our way out of iceless apocalypse.

Providing another example of sermonizing, last week's survey article about women's greatly increased presence in the workplace, Female Power, contains this factoid: "Women earn substantially less than men." That is easily demonstrable nonsense, casually deployed, although to no apparent end.

Sadly, this reminds me of Scientific American jumping the shark, although not yet to the same extent.

My subscription came due for renewal this week. Still haven't decided to part ways. The twee literary stylings and increasing penchant for sloppy sermonizing is getting increasingly annoying. On the other hand, though, what else covers the territory like The Economist?


Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Yes, we have the same problem here. SWIPIAW likes to read it but I frequently skip it for the reasons you lay out here.

The New Scientist has the same problem but they're so flaming socialist that it's easier to forgive idiocy. I just find it funny that they call AGW skeptics "deniers" when you read editorial after editorial in flagrant denial of the implications of the CRUtape Letters.

January 10, 2010 6:18 AM  
Blogger erp said...

I felt the same way about the "New Yorker" -- kept renewing hoping they'd come to their senses. They didn't, so we had to part company.

January 10, 2010 7:28 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

"On the other hand, though, what else covers the territory like The Economist?"

The post-Judd alliance? :-)

When I was doing the futures trading thang a couple of decades back, I quickly learned that the economist knew little about economics and I cancelled my subscription then. It's hard to believe they're even worse now.

January 10, 2010 8:02 AM  
Blogger Bob Hawkins said...

"The American Scholar" was a particularly transparent example of this phenomenon. It was a great magazine under Joseph Epstein's editorship. I don't know of anyone who disputes that. Then one issue, there was a publisher's note saying that Epstein was a great editor, and there was nothing wrong with the magazine, but they had decided to replace him with a new editor "with a more diverse Rolodex." I don't need to tell you the rest.

January 10, 2010 9:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't think there ever has been a weekly news magazine that wasn't selling a POV, going all the way back to Horace Greeley, except that
I used to read Atlas/World Press Review, which was a collection of excerpts from the world press, no commentary or in-house text at all. It kind of faded away.

January 10, 2010 11:49 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, it's true, magazines, newspapers, news programs, writers of fiction and non-fiction always had a point of view, it was when they started making things up aka lying that they lost me.

January 10, 2010 12:34 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


The post-Judd alliance? :-)

Well, duh.

I'm faced with two problems here. First, my employer is so stingy that we don't have internet on the flight deck.

And if the first problem wasn't a problem, than I would have to be worried about becoming so absorbed that I ended up pulling a Northwest.


"The American Scholar" was a particularly transparent example of this phenomenon.

I had heard of, but never read it. In the SciAm case (which still annoys me), I think it was as much a desire to pursue a mass market as it was POV promoting.

Was it a circulation driven dumbing down that put Scholar into a ditch?

erp, Harry:

I don't think there ever has been a weekly news magazine that wasn't selling a POV ...

I don't think it is possible for a magazine (outside technical journals) to not have a point of view. Certainly, The Economist always has: libertarian leaning with a pronounced preference for Smith/Ricardo/Hayek.

But at one time I had the impression that honest reporting substantiated the POV, rather than the POV substantiating the reporting.

Their climate reporting has gotten so hideous it might shame Joe Romm.

The article on women in the workplace is symptomatic of something else, although I am not sure what. The article itself is actually pretty straight. But much of it is a grab bag of facts just tossed into the piece, some of which are undoubtedly true, others patent nonsense, and yet others rather demanding some further explanation. Left me thinking that the managing editor's niece got the assignment.


Is there any replacement for the pre-shark SciAm? Are you even old enough to know what I am talking about?

January 10, 2010 1:43 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...


Not that I have found. Science News is still good but it's more like a science weblog than a magazine.

I will note that I am plenty old enough to remember the SciAm left turn. I dropped my subscription over a "theme" issue filled with political polemics instead of actual science.

January 10, 2010 6:41 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Odd. I haven't looked at Science News in decades, but I dropped it over 20 years ago because of its naive (or worse) reporting about climate. Maybe it's swung back since then?

January 10, 2010 8:31 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Hmmm, I don't remember that although I am not completely sure I was a subscriber 20 years ago. It tends to take a pro-AGW stance but avoid (1) monomania on the subject, including not infecting other reporting, and (2) doesn't spend effort on smashing the denialist front. Because of this I find that aspect easy to just skip over.

January 11, 2010 5:59 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

The global warming stance is annoying as is the continuing drift to social liberalism and even the soft-headed Keynesianism. Still, their reporting on foreign events and the business world is much better than anything else put there. The article on Waziristan in one of their recent issues was excellent.

January 15, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I got Science News once upon a couple decades ago, but stopped for reasons that now escape me.


You are right. I'm going to give The Economist another year.

January 15, 2010 2:04 PM  

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