Author: Andrew Glover

Journalism in the Age of the Populist Right

Yesterday, Steve Bannon was dropped from a headliner at the New Yorker’s yearly ideas festival after a backlash from readers, potential audience members and other speakers who were also slated to attend. Bannon was headlining the festival, with Jim Carrey, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith and Jimmy Fallon also on the bill. In explaining Bannon’s inclusion on the line-up, the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick told the New York Times that: “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation.” But the opportunity for a combative conversation did not come to pass. After a backlash online, with several celebrities declaring that they would no longer attend the festival, Remnick reversed his decision. In his announcement he wrote “I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff member to think that I’ve ignored their concerns”. Bannon is still slated to appear at The Economist’s yearly festival and was recently interviewed by Australia’s national broadcaster, which aired on Monday night. In the past, Bannon has expressed opposition to immigration to the United States, …

Beware of Root Causes

What does it mean to claim that something is the ‘root cause’ of a problem in society? It’s common, for instance, to hear the assertion that ‘the root cause of terrorism is Western foreign policy’. The implication being that the responsibility for terrorist attacks ultimately lies at the feet of the West since its interventionist foreign policy has destabilized the Middle East – irrespective of any other source of causality. The phrase ‘root cause’ invites us to become privy to society’s underlying pathologies that, if remedied, could improve the world beyond the scope of someone merely observing the surface. Much like a bug in a software program causing a computer to shut down, or a leaky pipe causing subsidence under a house, the language of root causes implies that problems can be traced back through a cascading chain of events to an initial fault. Under this assumption, our goal should be to target that underlying problem rather than the ways in which the problem manifests itself in society. A framework based around root causes is …

Using Social Media Scientifically

It is often said that we need more science in our public debate. By this, it is usually meant that people should base their views on scientific facts, which have more authority than mere opinion. It is said that political leaders and public commentators should be both scientifically literate, and base their views on scientific findings where it is relevant to do so. While this is a noble goal, it is not what I’m proposing here. Instead, I’d like to argue that we should attempt, on a day-to-day basis, to approach social media and news consumption scientifically. What do I mean by ‘scientifically’? Social media, and the internet more broadly, have afforded us tremendous potential to access information, and to interact with people beyond our immediate social circles. Interacting with others helps us to develop our knowledge of the world by digesting information, disseminating it, or engaging in dialogue about it. We can test our views about the world—however informal or loosely formed they are—against the views of others. However, social media debates can often …

Terrorism Denial on the Left

At the end of last year I attended a large conference of social science academics and researchers in Melbourne. Speaking on a plenary panel in front of hundreds of attendees was the director of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Australia’s primary refugee advocacy organisation. He opened the plenary by describing the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers, decrying the cruelty of Australia’s policy of offshore detention toward refugees, and the need for a more humane approach. He pointed out that funding for refugee services had been cut by a seemingly callous government that was indifferent to the plight of refugees. These are all legitimate — if familiar — points in the debate about this topic. However he then went on to say that all of this was happening whilst we spent billions of dollars on a “fictitious war against terror”. Hold on, ‘fictitious’? A fiction? Made up? I looked around the audience, and no one seemed perturbed by what he’d just said. No one challenged him in the Q&A session afterward. Was I the only one bothered …