When it comes to the Cato Institute, I agree with far more than I disagree. when I heard Julian Sanchez on the Cato podcast
discussing his theory of "Epistemic Closure," I was shocked by some of the things that he said and I need to set him straight.
Mr. Sanchez coined the words epistemic closure to describe the effect of a closed circle of information. When one gets one's information about the world from all the same sources, who all agree with each other, and who cite each other as sources, one necessarily ends up with false beliefs endemic to that circle of information. For example, a conservative may get information from Hannity, Malkin, the Washington Times, and National Review. This closed circle of media cites each other and even if a story is false, it gains traction from each source citing the other.
This is an interesting idea and I think it has some merit. Mr. Sanchez cites some of the alleged false beliefs as Obama not being born in the United States. OK, I agree that is false and I have blogged about that here
He cites the "death panels" in the health care bills. Here Mr. Sanchez is wrong. The label "death panels" was a dramatization, perhaps, and maybe even melodramatic. Of course, no panel was created by that name. However, the label made the forceful point that under a government run system with limited resources, government bureaucrats would inevitably decide what conditions got treated and which did not (i.e., act as a, you guessed it, "death panel"). In a completely free market system, cost wold act as an invisible death panel. With our insurance based system, insurance companies act as death panels.
In the legislation as passed, the Independent Payment Advisory Board will be tasked with rationing health care. Death panel.
Mr. Sanchez is also wrong, in my observation, when he accuses conservatives of being more affected with epistemic closure (I hate that name). In my observation, the liberals with there more widespread liberal media are just as affected, if not more so. They pass around just as many false beliefs, such as the free market does not work; government will get it right this time (applicable to every new government program) even through it has no history of getting it right, and so on. To be persuaded that conservatives pass around more false beliefs than liberals, I would have to see studies, studies by people who recognize that "death panels" are a dramatization of reality, not a false belief.
The base notion of epistemic closure -- that people who get their information from a limited circle of media that agree with the person's worldview will tend to have false beliefs consistent with the worldview -- is probably essentially correct. It is important to expand one's sources of information.Update
: Julian Sanchez responds to my criticism of the death panels issue:
It’s worth remembering what the original “death panel” claim from Palin was:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
That is not a dramatization or an exaggeration; it’s an insane fabrication. Asked to defend her claim, Palin herself didn’t refer to the IAPB, but to a pretty unobjectionable provision dealing with wholly voluntary end-of-life counseling. But even if she had been talking about the IAPB, as you yourself note, any healthcare system involving third-party payments will necessarily involve some entity (or “panel” if you prefer) making very general decisions about which treatments are covered under which circumstances. I suppose you can choose to call these “death panels” if you’re so inclined, but they bear no resemblance to the ghoulish star chamber described above, evaluating each individual’s social productivity before deciding whether they’re worthy of care.
None of which is to defend ObamaCare, of course, but these bizarre claims make it harder to have a conversation about the serious objections to the bill.
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