REVISITING THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF FACT-CHECKING
Michelle A. Amazeen
ABSTRACT: Joseph E. Uscinski and Ryden W. Butler (2013) argue that fact-checking should be condemned to the dustbin of history because the methods fact-checkers use to select statements, consider evidence, and render judgment fail to stand up to the rigors of scientific inquiry and threaten to stifle political debate. However, the premises upon which they build their arguments are flawed. By sampling from multiple “fact-checking agencies” that do not practice fact-checking on a regular basis in a consistent manner, they perpetuate the selection effects they criticize and thus undermine their own position. Furthermore, not only do their arguments suffer from overgeneralization, they fail to offer empirical quantification to support some of their anecdotal criticisms. This rejoinder offers a study demonstrating a high level of consistency in fact-checking and argues that as long as unambiguous practices of deception continue, fact-checking has an important role to play in the United States and around the world.
THE NEEDS/WANTS DICHOTOMY AND REGIME RESPONSIVENESS
ABSTRACT: One of the central claims of democratic theory is that the institutional features of democracy systematically cause government to respond to the people's needs. In fact, however, democracy might logically be expected to be especially responsive only to the people's desires, not their needs. Responses to people's objective needs can be substantially different from responses to their subjective desires. Democratic institutions therefore cannot guarantee (and may even hamper) responsiveness to basic human needs. Democracy, should, at least in principle, thus be confined to the sphere of wants rather than needs.
DEMOCRATIC DELIBERATION IN THE MODERN WORLD: THE SYSTEMIC TURN
ABSTRACT: The normative ideals and feasibility of deliberative democracy have come under attack from several directions, as exemplified by a recent book version of a special issue of this journal. Critics have pointed out that the complexity of the modern world, voter ignorance, partisanship, apathy, and the esoteric nature of political communications make it unlikely that deliberation will be successful at creating good outcomes, and that it may in fact be counterproductive since it can polarize opinions. However, these criticisms were aimed at “micro” theories of deliberative democracy. The new “systemic” turn in deliberative democracy avoids these problems by positing a system-wide division of labor in a nation-state: experts and ordinary citizens “check” each other's opinions; partisanship and even ignorance can spur deliberation among citizens; and citizens may remain apathetic about some issues but deliberate about others. So long as the overall level of systemic deliberation increases, instead of decreases, the ideal of deliberation is still relevant in a society as complex as ours.
ECOSYSTEMS AS SPONTANEOUS ORDERS
ABSTRACT: The notion of spontaneous order has a long history in the philosophy of economics, where it has been used to advance a view of markets as complex networks of information that no single mind can apprehend. Traditionally, the impossibility of grasping all of the information present in the spontaneous order of the market has been invoked as grounds for not subjecting markets to central planning. A less-noted feature of the concept of a spontaneous order is that when it is applied to ecosystems it yields a reasonably strong environmental ethic: It generates a presumption against interfering with their natural functioning in a manner that results in anthropogenic species loss. Such a presumption will permit some interventions in nature while precluding others. Environmental ethics could make welcome use of the idea of spontaneous order without necessarily endorsing its traditional application to markets.
OUT OF TOUCH: THE ANALYTIC MISCONSTRUAL OF SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE
ABSTRACT: The schism between positivism and interpretivism in the social sciences is usually explained by the explicit epistemological and methodological commitments of social scientists and philosophers. It can be better understood, though, as a collision between two contrasting cognitive modes and sensibilities, rooted in the predominant recruitment of two distinct networks in the human brain. Since the activation of these networks is negatively correlated, the analytic reasoning typical of positivists and the empathetic, intuitive, and holistic thinking employed by intepretivists produce incommensurate versions of social reality. The analytic cognitive mode is fostered and privileged in complex modern societies and in institutionalized social-science research. It is nevertheless inadequate for understanding the social world, as it facilitates the modeling of causal interactions between inanimate objects.