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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Will ELS Forge a Political Consensus?

John McGinnis (Law, Northwestern) has an article in Policy Review (the same issue as my essay on cosmopolitanism) on how empirical studies and their ascendency in the academy might contribute to forging political consensus on hotly contested matters that have some basis in empirical claims.  He claims that the ever-increasing power of the computer is helping the ease and sophistication of empirical studies -- which, in turn, will lead to broad consensus on matters of fact relevant to core policy debates that divide us politically.  Are you in favor of school choice?  It would be useful to know if it works in facilitating better performance.  McGinnis also argues that blogs and information markets (like Tradesports -- on which, see our own Yair Listokin's thoughts on PB) will "amplify the power of empiricism."

The ELS Blog is hosting a discussion of the essay -- and I recommend the discussion there.  I'm less optimistic than McGinnis because I tend to think popular opinion sees empiricism as "fun with numbers": voters will use heuristics to evaluate empirical studies based on the partisanship of the authors and/or the funders.  But at the level of elite discourse, empiricism will likely help focus the debates on facts -- at least when the facts are relevant to the much more intractable and polarized value disputes underway.

UPDATE: More reason than ever to go to ELS Blog's discussion on the matter: a dialogue between Dan Kahan and McGinnis on the viability of McGinnis Policy Review thesis.

Posted by Ethan Leib on June 27, 2006 at 02:27 PM in Article Spotlight | Permalink


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