Paul Krugman on epistemic closure and how life is short

Here’s Paul Krugman:

I gather that philosophers are upset over the use of the term “epistemic closure” to refer to the closing of the movement conservative mind – that’s not what they mean by the term. Never mind: that’s the term everyone is using. And recent reports are a reminder of just how closed that mind really is.

Start with Bruce Bartlett, who mentions in his mea culpa that when he asked conservative colleagues what they thought about some politically incorrect remarks quoted in the New York Times, it turned out that they were completely unaware of the whole thing – they didn’t read the Times, not even to find out what their enemies were saying.

And here’s a Krugman post from a few months back:

A followup on the post about mostly economics reading; on politics, culture, etc. there are other blogs I read fairly often. On politics, Greg SargentJosh MarshallDigby, and I still get a kick out of Atrios, who gets to use all the words I can’t. And I’m a big fan of the folks at Crooked Timber.

Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …

PS.  If you intend to disagree with this post in the comment section, please put in quotation marks the specific assertions that I made that you regard as inaccurate.  Then tell me why they are inaccurate.

Oops.  Saturos just pointed out that I plagiarized a Bob Murphy post.  My only defense is that great minds think alike.  Sorry Bob.


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35 Responses to “Paul Krugman on epistemic closure and how life is short”

  1. Gravatar of Bryan Bryan
    2. December 2012 at 09:31

    This makes me very sad. Paul Krugman has a first-rate mind. As a liberal, it seems to me such a waste that we can’t rely on his great intellect engaging with the better ideas on the right. He should consider adding Reihan Salam, Will Wilkinson, the fantastic folks at The American Conservative, and this blog to his regular media diet.

  2. Gravatar of Kevin Donoghue Kevin Donoghue
    2. December 2012 at 09:32

    No disagreement. Both quotations are from Krugman, as stated. Other than that, you made no assertions at all that I can see.

  3. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    2. December 2012 at 09:54

    Scott, didn’t you just rip off the post that Bob Murphy just did?

  4. Gravatar of PrasanthK PrasanthK
    2. December 2012 at 09:59

    Writers, including Nobel Laureates, are prone to make mistakes, be contradictory, polarizing and hypocritical when forced to write day after day. It’s basically the Monday Morning Quarterback syndrome in sports writing. You have to always write something to get an audience. Even if it is at the expense of accuracy or your dignity (present bloggers excluded, of course).

  5. Gravatar of Allan L. Allan L.
    2. December 2012 at 10:03

    Is there a point to your post?

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. December 2012 at 10:10

    Oops, I added an update.

  7. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    2. December 2012 at 10:42

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/02/glenn-beck-and-the-fed-1935/

    And here is Krugman discussing something Glenn Beck said.

    Making an implication and then imposing the requirement to have a quote is quite devious. But I’m not disagreeing with what you posted, so I don’t need a quote :)

  8. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    2. December 2012 at 10:55

    “And here’s a Krugman post from a few months back:”

    I disagree. March 8, 2011 is more than a few months back.

  9. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    2. December 2012 at 11:00

    “great minds think alike”

    And yet you still haven’t linked to his blog in the sidebar… it’s surprisingly good for an Austrian blog.

  10. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    2. December 2012 at 11:49

    “for an Austrian blog.”

    and theres the catch

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. December 2012 at 11:56

    Jason, Only people who hate Krugman would think I was making some sort of negative inference. Those who love Krugman would see a positive inference. Which one are you? Are you defending him by showing he links to conservatives, or ridiculing him by showing that he lies when he claims not to read Beck? I’m sure this sounds crazy to you, but I honestly can’t tell.

    Vivian, When you are my age even 20 years seems like a few months back.

    Saturos. Yes, he’s talented, but so are Ezra Klein and Noah Smith and dozens of others I haven’t gotten around to putting on the sidebar. What did Krugman say . . . life is short?

  12. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    2. December 2012 at 13:42

    That is awesome Scott, that we literally had the same post. When I saw Krugman say the thing about “not even to see what their enemies were saying” I ran to my computer.

    BTW Scott just between us, who has more talent–me or Ezra?

  13. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    2. December 2012 at 14:47

    Bob, At political humor, or incisive political analysis?

  14. Gravatar of Kevin Donoghue Kevin Donoghue
    2. December 2012 at 15:13

    Bob has a talent for explaining what Scott’s point is.

  15. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    2. December 2012 at 16:04

    Karaoke, duh.

  16. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    2. December 2012 at 19:47

    Jimmy Carter talked about the “inordinate fear of Communism.”

    On Right of Center econ blogs it’s an “inordinate fear of Krugman.”

  17. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    2. December 2012 at 20:19

    If they ever hold a World ‘Pot, Kettle, Black’ Championship, Krugman’s just got to be on Team USA.

    He earned his place on it years ago, and many times over.

  18. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    2. December 2012 at 22:07

    It’s like Krugman has some sort of disorder where he must immediately say whatever the progressive-cheering thing to say is at that moment, without even looking over his shoulder at his own past columns to make sure he’s not shooting himself in the foot. (Which is over his shoulder, apparently.)

  19. Gravatar of Dave Dave
    2. December 2012 at 23:20

    Say what you will about Krugman’s economic views, but he’s a good writer. Note the use of the caveat “regularly”.

    You may think it’s a gotch moment, but it isn’t.

    All he’s claiming is that Republican operatives/officials/supporters/whatever ignore other views as evidenced by Bruce Bartlett’s experience. He then states “I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing”.

    There is no contradiction.

  20. Gravatar of joe2 joe2
    3. December 2012 at 01:16

    Krugman used to be good once. In the 90′s he was actually a mainstream economist. He wrote a piece in Salon magazine that was fabulous in explaining to the layperson why international trade adds to human economic well being.

    Krugman once admitted that his wife vets a lot of the columns and blog pieces he writes- often changing the tone. This makes it difficult to know if Robin is saying what is being said or her hen pecked husband.

  21. Gravatar of jason11 jason11
    3. December 2012 at 10:01

    False Equivalence

    Big frowny face. :(

  22. Gravatar of dbeach dbeach
    3. December 2012 at 10:14

    It’s a decent gotcha, but I’d argue there’s a substantive difference between refusing to read the New York Times and not reading either liberal or conservative blogs. Regarding the NYT as principally a partisan mouthpiece, as Bartlett’s right-wing friends evidently do, is borderline delusional.

    Also, Krugman actually does read some blogs, such as Tyler Cowen’s, that if they’re not conservative *political* blogs, are at least ideologically somewhat to the right.

  23. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    3. December 2012 at 10:50

    I don’t disagree with anything you said, but with what I believe you are implying (granted, others may see other implications in your post). The degree to which one ignores the other side is important. In the second quote, Krugman is saying that it is not worth his time to read John Cochrane’s daily argument against fiscal stimulus. However, this does not mean he is completely unaware of the argument. Indeed, he often quotes conservative economists and politicians and argues against them. I’m sure he spends more time than he would like to let on perusing the Wall Street Journal and getting worked up over the opinion pieces.

    Yet, according to Krugman, some conservatives do not even do this. They are practically unaware of the existence of other views, or believe those views to be radical and not mainstream.

  24. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    3. December 2012 at 10:55

    With regards to your comment that different readers could interpret your tone differently: aren’t you playing the game that you complained about when Krugman didn’t call economists stupid, but clearly implied it? Yes, you are not explicitly stating that you have shown a contradiction in Krugman’s writings. But, why would you post those two quotes together if not to imply that he is a hypocrite?

  25. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    3. December 2012 at 11:24

    I am not sure if this is really self-contradictory. He didn’t say that he never reads conservative writings. He just said that there is no specific site he reads regularly, but “I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing.”

    His claim in the latter article is that nobody in the Romney campaign apparently paid enough attention to Nate Silver in order to determine what he was saying.

  26. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    3. December 2012 at 12:44

    To be fair, no two situations are identical. Bartlett was butthurt that few of his conservative friends had read his crie de couer in the NYT, and that many of them were allegedly offended at the idea that someone thought they might read it; Krugman is talking about blogs, which isn’t the same thing as a major newspaper. Granted, it’s pretty close.

    I have a bunch of liberal friends who will simply reject any Fox News story you send them, rather than, say, googling to learn if the essential information appears to be true. If a lib told me they never read the WSJ and found its editorial page to be full of conservative hackery, I would find them a little cramped, but not necessarily blinkered. I probably haven’t read the NYT in a few years, excepting a couple of the blogs, and Mitt Romney’s editorial during the recent fact check period. (FiveThirtyEight and their ecology blog often answer questions I put to Google, but I read them when they come up on a search, not to see if Bruce Bartlett has said something important.)

  27. Gravatar of One More on Epistemic Closure and Conservatives One More on Epistemic Closure and Conservatives
    3. December 2012 at 15:07

    [...] Last post on this and I will move on to greener pastures… There are two remaining ironies I would like to point out, in Krugman’s high-fiving of Bruce Bartlett for being so open-minded in his denunciation of those close-minded conservatives. (BTW a funny and apropos aside: I pass the Scott Sumner Turing Test.) [...]

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. December 2012 at 15:19

    Mike Sax, Fear? I do these posts to amuse myself. Don’t care what others think.

    dbeach, In the second Krugman post I link to he basically implies that Tyler Cowen is exactly the sort of blog that he thinks is not worth reading. But of course he does read it occasionally, just as conservatives occasionally read liberal media. Both sides think the other side is mostly worth ignoring, but in both cases they occasionally take a peak to see what the other side has to say.

    I see no difference, except that the liberal media has more intellectual firepower (but not the liberal blogsphere–which is interesting.)

    BTW, I think both sides are well worth reading, so I disagree with both Krugman and the conservatives.

    Josh, The entire post is a big joke–don’t take it too seriously.

  29. Gravatar of One More on Epistemic Closure and Conservatives – Unofficial Network One More on Epistemic Closure and Conservatives - Unofficial Network
    3. December 2012 at 17:28

    [...] Post navigation ← Christmas party fund-raiser How to Fix the Economy for Dummies → One More on Epistemic Closure and Conservatives Posted on December 3, 2012 by admin Last post on this and I will move on to greener pastures… There are two remaining ironies I would like to point out, in Krugman’s high-fiving of Bruce Bartlett for being so open-minded in his denunciation of those close-minded conservatives. (BTW a funny and apropos aside: I pass the Scott Sumner Turing Test.) [...]

  30. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    3. December 2012 at 17:54

    Scott
    Beside you, who on the right do you think Krugman should read regularly ?

  31. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    3. December 2012 at 19:28

    Scott,
    Your Paul Krugman is so different than my Paul Krugman.
    When it comes to the big papers… the academic stuff… the kind of stuff that you economist write for each other… DO you think Krugman ignores the right?
    I ask because you are implying that Krugman is just as guilty of “epistemic closure” as the folks he was criticizing. Is that possible if Krugman is reading and understanding the best academic papers that the Right has to offer?

    Or maybe you are saying instead that it is unfair of Krugman to accuse others of “epistemic closure” just because they don’t read the New York Times ?

    Well lets take a look at the quote from the Bartlet piece that Krugman was referring to…

    Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

    The quote of Krugman’s that you selected to show parity between what Krugman reads and why, and what Barlet’s friends read and why, Fails to show parity.

    In fact it highlights the difference…Krugman may not agree with Much of what the WSJ has to say. But he reads it quite often, He has had enough public beefs with them. He may think you a dupe for believing the much of WSJ… but not for reading it. He my think the WSJ is wrong… but he cares about what they have to say.

    Scott, To quote Inigo Montoya…“epistemic closure”… I do not think it means what you think it means.

  32. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    4. December 2012 at 06:38

    Bill,

    I don’t care “in the slightest” what either the NYT or WSJ editorial staffs are saying. Sometimes they’re fun to make fun of, but I think the marginal utility of tracking either paper’s editorial opinion approaches zero for me.

    As for the actual news in the NYT or WSJ, I don’t care much about that either. To the extent that it tracks the news in every other source, I don’t need it, and to the extent that it differs, I don’t think it adds enough value for me to try to get through the paywall. Very occasionally, they come up in a Google search for something I want to know, and they’re useful when you want to convince someone on their side of the spectrum that something they reported is probably a fact, but why read them if I’m otherwise up to speed on the news?

    I still haven’t read the Bartlett piece that started this whole brouhaha and don’t see why I should. I don’t know if Krugman reads the WSJ op ed page, other than to find grist for his mill, and doubt he watches Fox News. Based on the things he blogs about, it looks more like when everyone else says “here is something dumb Rush said,” he reads the second hand source, then joins in the outrage. (Which is to say that Krugman gets outraged in the second wave of lefty dudgeon over most non-economic issues, not the first wave.)

  33. Gravatar of Alan Breedlove Alan Breedlove
    4. December 2012 at 19:16

    Assuming Bruce Bartlett did have the experience he claims in 2004 that his right wing friends hadn’t read the New York Times, his “mea culpa” story still doesn’t wash.

    First, the article in question was in New York Magazine. I have no doubt few of my conservative friends read it. But it’s quite a stretch to conflate not reading a publication of the Sunday NY Times into not reading the NY Times.

    Second, the article in question literally exploded in all media that Sunday in 2004, and most especially in conservative circles, as it contained the famous “reality-based community” quote. Bartlett’s story is all very Pauline Kaelish: Since none of his conservative friends read the article, then no conservatives could have possibly read it.

    Finally, if Bartlett’s former conservative friends truly are as closed-minded as he claims, they deserve the bashing. If not, it’s been a great career move for him to construct conservative straw men who fit into the progressive stereotype so that he can bash away.

    As for Krugman and his ideological Turing test, this was dealt with fairly effectively back in 2011: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/06/the_ideological.html

  34. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. December 2012 at 07:38

    Bill, I don’t think he needs to read me, but he’d benefit from reading any number of top conservative/libertarian bloggers.

    Of course conservative academics read liberal academic papers and vice versa–that’s a given.

  35. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    10. December 2012 at 08:06

    Sorry to be late to this discussion, but just got to this one. I’ve got a long memory on some things and recall that both Bob Murphy and Scott Sumner are plagiarizing my comment of January 12, 2012. That’s ok. Plagiarize all you want.

    Kailer
    11. January 2012 at 07:49
    Quoth Krugman:
    “[I]f you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can’t do it. They can’t get it remotely right.”

    Vivian Darkbloom
    11. January 2012 at 08:54
    @ Kailer

    Is that the same Krugman who wrote this?:

    “Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …”

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/other-stuff-i-read/

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