Yesterday’s post was about the recent New York Time’s (NYT) Op-Ed by Bret Stephens. Some people, including a number of climate scientists, are sufficiently disappointed in this that they’re publicly cancelling their NYT subscriptions. Tom Yulsman, a journalism professor and journalist, seems to think that this is essentially cutting off their noses to spite their faces. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that it’s their money and they can do with it as they wish.
I had been minded to ignore this aspect of the issue, but in his post, Tom Yulsman quotes from a brief conversation I had with him on Twitter. Rather ironically, in my view, he somewhat twists it to try and make his point. His point seems to be that we should be careful of scoring own goals; his argument is that
….initiating campaigns to punish the Times plays right into the false claims of climate change deniers who say most scientists are rigid ideologues opposed to free speech.
He then quotes a response of mine that suggests that we shouldn’t care. Well, that wasn’t quite what I was getting at, which I thought I had made clear. I was more suggesting that if you’re dealing with those who will almost certainly twist what you’ve said/done, maybe you should simply do what you think is right, rather than worrying about how it might be mis-used.
Having said that, I don’t actually disagree with the idea that we should be somewhat careful of scoring obvious own goals. However, if Tom Yulsman thinks that we essentially have two teams who are trying to score goals, and avoiding own goals, isn’t his own post essentially another own goal? Hasn’t he just provided more ammunition for those who want to criticise those who’ve publicly cancelled their NYT subscriptions? Personally, I don’t like the analogy with soccer (football?), so I think Tom Yulsman is as entitled to write his post as others are to cancel their NYT subscriptions.
I’ll make, however, a broader point. Tom Yulsman’s basic argument is that
the cure for false speech is more truth telling — not less speech.
Well, this has little to do with more speech, or less speech, or free speech (as Tom Yulsman suggests climate change deniers will claim). It’s entirely about people exercising their right to spend their own money as they see fit, and – if they wish – to make a point about how they’re choosing to do so. What’s more, we regularly hear from social scientists that simply presenting more facts/information is an ineffective way of addressing the spread of misinformation. However, almost every time scientists do something more than simply presenting more facts/information, someone will pop up to tell them that they shouldn’t do that either.
My own view is that noone really knows how best to address this kind of thing. My personal preference is, in fact, to simply try and counter misinformation, by providing more information. However, if some wish to cancel their subscriptions to a newspaper that they no long regard as being reliable, that’s their choice. And, if someone thinks this is some kind of game, maybe they should be careful of publicly criticising those that they regard as being on the same team? However, since I don’t claim any special understanding of what works, and what doesn’t, why not just do what you think is right?