strong financial incentive around lying W r i t i n g
YOUR TASK: In The Constitution of Knowledge, Rauch sets out to explain some values that most of us share, but don’t really examine.
He explains what expertise is, and why experts deserve our trust more than random strangers. He explains what good evidence is and why we should pay attention to it. He explains why it’s so important to keep engaging with people who don’t agree with us, and explains the “rules of engagement” for argument. These values, he argues, underpin most of what we take for granted: science, democracy, knowledge creation.
What keeps these values alive? Various institutions, from the New York Times and other mainstream media, to the American Academic of Pediatrics, to the rules of evidence in the court system, to peer-review in scientific journals. But also, he argues, these values are kept alive by habits: by our commitment to sharing our ideas, to engaging with people who disagree with us, to self-criticism – above all, by a collective commitment to the truth.
Rauch writes this book because he feels these values to be under threat. The internet, and particularly social media, has given everyone a platform; worse, it’s created a strong financial incentive around lying, trolling, and performance outrage. We are staring down at what Barack Obama has called an “epistemological crisis.” We’re losing faith in how we distinguish truth from falsehood. And worse, we’re starting not to care whether something is true or not, so long as it boosts our “team” and puts down the other guy’s. Rauch points to a three trends in particular that damage the fabric of our society: lying, trolling, and cancel culture.
ESSAY QUESTION: What do you think of this argument? Discuss, by picking a specific issue raised in the book, and research it further. Consider what light your research sheds on your response to Rauch’s argument.
CONTENT: Or, How to tackle this paper!
You will address the essay question by doing the following:
- Start by selecting something specific to research further;
- deciding what this research adds to your understanding of his argument – does it helps you understand it, or challenge it more effectively, or agree with it?
Your paper could take the form of
- An argument. You might agree or disagree with Rauch (either the whole argument, or a specific claim), and explain your position by applying critical thinking, but also information you’ve found yourself (facts and/or opinions as relevant).
- An overview. You find out more about a debate or issue that Rauch addresses, and fill your readers in on the different positions in the debate (you can take a position, or not – up to you).
- An exploration. You find out more about something that Rauch discusses (Montaigne, the Solomon Asch experiments, Gamergate, etc.) and present a paper on this topic, unified by a thesis you develop as you research.
SOME SUGGESTIONS: The book contains so many things you could get interested in: the history of science, Twitter wars, the framing of the American Constitution. Please start with what interests you! But if you are stuck, here are some possible starting points to get you thinking:
- Specifics: Rauch discusses specific events and people. You can research more about one of these examples.
- Algorithms, echo chambers and the outrage machine: How is social media changing how we make knowledge?
- Biases: How do our minds work? How do we make mistakes, and how can we correct them?
- Cancel culture: Where are we drawing the line between accountability, outrage performance, and tolerance?
- Truth and lies: Is this the era of the troll? And does it matter?
- Journalism: What is the “mainstream media?” Is it better than Twitter or the blogosphere – and if so, why?
- The death of expertise: Why are we turning against experts (in medicine, science etc.) – or are we?
THE CRITICAL THINKING CONTEXT: This assignment asks you to apply the critical thinking tools you’ve worked on:
- Components of logic: An ability to summarize lines of reasoning (not necessarily the same as summarizing a piece of writing); to critique the argument by looking for hidden assumptions, weak generalizations, conclusions that don’t follow from the premises, misleading rhetoric (visual or verbal), misleading analysis, ambiguous language, or ineffective support.
- Epistemology: An understanding of how we make knowledge, both as individuals and as a community; an understanding of the value of constructive disagreement, as well as of error.
- Research: An understanding of what is meant by “the Constitution of Knowledge;” the ability to evaluate whom to trust, as well as why and how; practice in the research process, not only as an academic discipline, but as a guide for effective self-education; an ability to navigate the modern information world.
- Clear thinking and expression: An ability to express ideas clearly and plainly, to make them intelligible to readers; the ability to cite appropriate evidence to support claims; the ability to evaluate your own ideas critically, as well as other people’s.