Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A short note on criticism (with apologies to faris for my sloppy use of language)

For me, criticism of something can be divided into two general camps:

1) Criticism regarding whether or not the process is working. For example, the utter failure of the U.S. government to maintain the physical infrastructure of the country, as noted by the bridge collapse in Minnesota, the Katrina levees, and what's starting to come out about the state of the infrastructure in Iowa. These are failures of following through on what is generally understood as the responsibility of the government. Most people agree on the goals and process; what the disagreement tends to be about is whether or not they are being properly carried out.

2) Criticism of the idea or principle behind something. Continuing on the same topic, an example of this would be a wingnut asking whether or not the government should even be in the business of maintaining public facilities like roads, schools, sewer systems, etc. In other words, it's questioning the usefulness of a practice in general.

I bring this up, yes, because of my recent posts regarding the GT and the OSU CoE rankings. In this case, I see the GT as having failed to do an understood part of their job: Sourcing a fact, and, where appropriate, providing context (like the fact that OSU is defining their own metric). I don't see myself as asking the GT to do something different in principle - I'm not criticizing journalism or reporting per se, but more how it was carried out (or not carried out) in this case.

What do all four of my readers think, either about the GT example specifically or the idea of viewing criticisms in this way in general?


Eric Stoller said...

I think it's optimistic to think that you have 4 readers ;-)

Dennis said...

If I could figure out how to ban a certain someone, I'd settle for three.... *grumbles*

Anonymous said...

Was the bridge collapse due to the governments inability to maintain infrastructure, or due to shoddy building by the contractors?

I think the criticism arguments overlap too much to classify that way. Unfortunately, most people who argue a point don't really know all the info to make an intelligent argument. Doesn't stop them, though. I quite often fall into that category. We hear a soundbite, think it sounds good, and run with it. May or may not be true. Plus, I think, even if you and I oppose something, we can and should learn something from the interaction. I think the government SHOULD be in charge of infrastructure, but if you can show me how some privatization would be good, let's talk. Take air traffic control. No good corporation would allow the air traffic control system to continue to function with such obsolete software and technology. A corporation could run it, and probably more efficiently, with government oversight.

I think you are giving the GT too much credit. I think our newspapers are going the way of the steam engine, and one could argue that that is a good thing. No real reporting anymore. Plus, good reporting doesn't always translate into increased newspaper sales. Real investigative reporting versus a picture of a car crash, and the car crash wins most of the time.

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