The Constitution of Knowledge | Jonathan Rauch on EconTalk with Russ Roberts

Check out the EconTalk episode page and show notes

Key Takeaways

  • Constitution of Knowledge – Refers to cultivated understanding from the love of knowledge, without a view to profit. Also known as Liberal Science.
  • “The marketplace of ideas is not enough” – Jonathan Rauch
    • Rauch argues that society fails to function without trust and structure in our institutions to pursue truth and advance knowledge. The Constitution of Knowledge are the common rules to uphold these societal values.
  • Institutional sectors our society relies on for truth:
    • Research and Academia
    • Journalism
    • Law
    • Government
  • Free speech alone is not enough, trusted intuitional process in truth definition is vital to support freedom and civility
  • There is no supported and efficient business model for prioritizing knowledge
    • Scientific research and investigative journalism is very expensive and not rewarded
    • Society is quick to reward partisanship and targeted ethos
  • Future goals:
    • Utilize your slow brain rather than your fast brain, be quicker to analyze than to accept proclaimed truth. Realign cultural values with the pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of agenda and virtue signaling
    • No final say: No matter how certain you are, you might be wrong. Adopt an open-ended process of constant criticism and review.
      • “Have strong opinions that are weakly held” – Russ Roberts
    • No personal authority: Truth can not be dictated by authority. Information applies across borders, creates a global network of truth seekers.

Intro

Intro to Rauch’s New Book

  • The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch
    • Our society’s collection of researched and reviewed truths maintain our freedom and civility
    • The internet has rotted the process for establishing and verifying the truth
    • Instead of rulers, we have rules to dictate truth
  • The social argument about truth can only be organized by decentralized methods of reviewing information; it doesn’t solve the debate but organizes the approach to solving the problem through structured arguments to validate truth.
  • Compromise in the political arena is needed for productivity and advancement as a country
  • Goals for the future: Utilize your slow brain rather than your fast brain, be quicker to analyze than to accept the proclaimed truth. Realign cultural values with the pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of an agenda and virtue signaling
    • Multi-layer responsibility from the institution all the way down to the individual

Institutional Norms

  • A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin
    • No society can function without institutions shaping the function of people and  upholding the rules that define accepted truth
    • Behavioral expectations and social norms have changed and diminished over time
    • This requires trust in defined credentials and validated expertise
  • Free speech alone is not enough, a trusted intuitional process in truth definition is vital to support freedom and civility. 
  • Most important Constitution of Knowledge institutional sectors:
    • Research and Academia
    • Journalism
    • Law
    • Government
  • Strategies used to undermine institutional norms:
    • Outside pressure: Using disinformation to drive a counternarrative
    • Inside pressure: Push to politicize topics and drive political agendas rather than maintaining facts

Ideas to Knowledge

  • “The marketplace of ideas is not enough” – Jonathan Rauch
  • Most ideas we have are wrong, especially abstract ideas that are subject to cognitive bias
  • How can society identify the ideas that advance knowledge?
    • Ideas transition to knowledge is through a funnel:
      • Raw materials – Free speech
      • Pumps and Filters – Analyze and review the few ideas that don’t have factual evidence against it
      • Drip – Convert this reviewed information into published and objective knowledge
    • Our internal monitoring of truth has become sloppy, we are quick to share information but not quick to validate

Liberal Science

  • Another definition of the Constitution of Knowledgecultivated understanding from the love of knowledge, without a view to profit
  • No final say: No matter how certain you are, you might be wrong. Open-ended process of constant criticism and review.
    • “Have strong opinions that are weakly held” – Russ Roberts
  • No personal authority: Truth can not be dictated by authority. Information applies across borders, creates a global network of truth seekers.
  • Not groupthink, proven and tested information to pursue and qualify knowledge

Issues with Journalism

  • Institutions, especially in academia, used to pursue knowledge for the love of the process rather than responding to incentives and seeking the end reward
  • Journalism has a problem with lying, it’s incentivized in the current structure
    • Anger, fear is what gets journalists published regardless of fact-based information
  • Twitter is a major problem for journalism
    • While Twitter is a great representation of freedom of speech, the lack of institutional filter has created large problems around misinformation and often ignores the funnel that filters information into knowledge
  • There is no supported and efficient business model to prioritizing knowledge
    • Scientific research and investigative journalism is very expensive and not rewarded
  • Diminishing ideological diversity in newsrooms, too many progressives or conservatives in a given setting
    • Lack of ideological diversity in the workplace distorts the product and hides the bias
    • People choose emotion over truth due to digital media

History Repeated

  • Through the invention of the penny press in the 19th century – newspapers became subscriber-based and fake news and misinformation ran rampant to try and appease readers
  • Solution: Institutions stepped in to create rules and processes as well as renewed incentives
    • Created rules around citing the truth
    • Established journalism in university around standard practice
    • Created incentives that prioritized truth, like awarding the Pulitzer Prize
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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