My Sources

It has recently been pointed out to me that I know far more world news(which, of course, very often means US news) than national news, and that I know much more national news than local news. The actual phrasing was “you know all about the US elections, but nothing about what’s going on in India”, and although I don’t agree with it literally, I admitted to a certain “imbalance” in my knowledge. My reasoning was that my feeds on Google Reader are heavily biased towards “global” events or abstractions than anything specific to India or Tamil Nadu (or Kerala, to an even greater extent), and that I only give the barest of glances to the paper that is delivered to my doorstep every morning. An examination of my feeds proved that this was correct. This is my reading list: (no links, because there are too many for me to bother and all would come up in first few results in a search anyway. Well, except the first category.)

1) Blogs by people I know (well, comment regularly on)

  • Stuff
  • The Prestidigitator
  • Trainspotting

Please don’t be offended, people who aren’t on the list, which is the vast majority: I just added people who aren’t among my Google Talk contacts, because those who are will generally inform me of new posts through their sign-in messages. I prefer actually going to the blogs to read posts by people I know, because the comments will usually be interesting.

2) Econ Stuff

  • Freakonomics –Always fun, although it has increasingly little to do with economics. Not that I mind… I just wish they’d give the entire story in the feeds.
  • Greg Mankiw’s Blog -Mostly links now, but still interesting.
  • Marginal Revolution -Interesting takes on anything related to economics.
  • Paul Krugman -A new addition. Let’s see how it goes.
  • The Becker-Posner Blog – Also a new addition, but I’m more sure of this one. I love the contrasting viewpoints! Everywhere else I’ve seen this, it sounds a little…fake. Or one source is obviously more trustworthy than the other. Here, it works flawlessly.

This is probably the folder that I spend the most time on. See below for additional commentary.

3) Geeky

  • BoingBoing
  • Futility Closet
  • Lifehacker
  • TIGSource

4) Technology

  • Wired Top Stories

Both Geeky and Technology have a very high number of posts per day, but the vast majority are things I browse through very quickly. Lifehacker used to be in Technology as well, but I thought that since it dealt with “geeky” solutions for every day life as much as technology, it fit better there. Rarely, if ever, do I open up an actual page from these. Again, this is in direct contrast with the “Econ Stuff” folder.

XKCD isn’t in the Geeky folder because I check it every monday,wednesday and friday in any case. And also because SOMEONE would share pretty much every single episode. 🙂

5)Thinkers

  • The Dilbert.com Blog -Perhaps inappropriate for this category  as it’s largely “comedy”, but I thought it fits.
  • Overcoming Bias -A new addition; it’s fantastic!
  • Shtetl-Optimized – Scott Aaronson’s blog-primarily of interest to those who are into heavy maths and computer science, but still a fun read. Even if I understand far too little of what he says.
  • Whatever –John Scalzi’s blog-also an interesting read. I would put it under a general “blogs I read” category instead of Thinkers, though, if only it had some company.

6) Others (things I haven’t managed to find a category for)

  • Abstruse Goose -wonderful comics!
  • Accidental Hedonist -Yes, I read a cooking blog! You got something to say about it?
  • PostSecret -Maybe I’m just a voyeur, but I love the idea. I highly recommend this blog to absolutely everyone. I’d buy the books if I could find them. And afford them.

Clearly, NONE of these have any direct connection to national news, except the very occasional mention of India in some context or other. So, by the above reasoning, I determined that I should correct this “flaw”. Since I was paying for the newspaper, I started reading it more carefully, only to find…

It’s Just Noise!!!

I mean, seriously. Perhaps I’ve been unduly influenced by The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness (also excellent reads), but I found that the exercise  requires too much effort in sifting the relevant from the irrelevant. The vast majority of the items in the paper were things I find not only uninteresting, but also more or less useless in terms of gaining an overall perspective of the world. Of course, I need to know about bomb blasts in Delhi, and perhaps out of basic human empathy I need to know how many were killed/injured, and where, and it’s big enough news that I find it interesting anyway. I DON’T want, or need, to know that Major General AK Lal has been found guilty of molestation, but it sounds like something I could use in a debate, so maybe I’ll file it away somewhere. However, I am absolutely certain that the fact that a family in Tiruvalluvar has been found guilty of stealing and slaughtering cattle is completely irrelevant to my life. Or that an angry teen killed her sister in a fight over their boyfriend. Strange, yes. Interesting, somewhat- if I were truly jobless, I’d be driven to read it out of some morbid curiosity. My point is that I don’t NEED to read it. I find that the only real news I need to read is some part of the front page: if anything else IS interesting/ sufficiently important, I’d like to think I’m enough of a social animal that somebody would tell me.

(The usefulness of reading business news, particularly for someone who wants to enter the field at some point, is a whole different topic. The books referenced above have strong views on it: namely, don’t. I’m not entirely convinced, but I figure I have time to make up my mind. Also, I’m a good skimmer: if something’s REALLY relevant, I can probably pick it out from a cursory read of the business section.)

A stronger problem that I encountered while examing my sources was the question of bias, and more specifically, positive feedback. (Ha! I DO write about engineering concepts!) Does the fact that the posts I’m reading generally espouse views that are considered liberal, libertarian (they DO go together!!!), economically right-of-centre, agressively scientific/geeky/anti-superstitious/anti-religious(at one point, I had Pharyngula among my sources; now, I rely on Mathew’s Shared Items to give me anything really interesting from there) make me drift more towards these points of view, irrespective of the actual nature of the world? Am I judging accuracy or what “makes sense” from internal coherency, like the more fervent bible-thumpers who I ridicule? (You know what I’m talking about: the earth is only 6000 years old, because that’s what it says in the Bible. And so on, and so forth.) I still haven’t found an answer for this one. One answer was that since I’d already decided that these positions were reasonable, accurate andworth espousing, I shouldn’t be inordinately concerned about the “drift”. But if that were so and I’ve already made up my mind, why am I reading anything at all? Just to check if things have changed? That doesn’t seem to be a very strong argument. I’m still on the lookout for this one, with the temporary consolation that, consciously or unconsciously ( i.e. if you read something with both sides mentioned, you’d still end up paying more attention to the side you’re biased towards in the first place) everyone does it. Any suggestions/explanations/advice?

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5 thoughts on “My Sources

  1. Done 🙂
    Yeah, I know about that… I was just wondering how effective “working against the bias” will be, in the long run, and whether there’s something “external” that I can do about it.

    Btw, I have no idea why your comment was marked as spam: only one link, and written by someone who’s commented several times already. Guess even Akismet screws up every now and then…

  2. I don’t think it would be very effective. You will never reach a totally unbiased state. Not humanly possible.

    I’ve noticed that a couple of times already, with the spam… Well… as other than that, Akismet is doing well, I’ll forgive it. 🙂

  3. Well, it doesn’t have to be total, I can just keep approaching infinitesimally close. 🙂 Remember Achilles and the Tortoise? Also known to engineering students as convergence of an infinite sum. (Score! Twice in(about) a post!)

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