“Credible sources: Journals, Books, & News Articles. Sources that aren’t credible: letters, opinions of people you know, and, most importantly, BLOGS.”
At one time or another in your debate career, you’ve probably heard something like this. In some respects it’s correct: the majority of blogs are simply unqualified individuals spouting their opinions on the internet. However, it would be a huge mistake to dismiss blogs altogether. It’s often considered a given that we simply don’t quote blogs. However, I believe it’s time to re-examine the warrant for this: why can’t we cite blogs? We need to understand why blogs are usually avoided in order to determine where they are & are not useful.
I already briefly touched on the first reason to avoid blogs. Simply put, anyone can write a blog. I write a blog. So, apparently, do Britney Spears & Jackie Chan & a host of other celebrities. Beyond minimal internet literacy, there’s absolutely no educational & or professional level required to blog.
But you probably already knew that. You’re smart enough to avoid blogs by unqualified nobodies & what you want to know is why not quote a blog by someone smart like Glenn Beck? Ok, so that was a joke. But seriously, a lot of legitimately qualified experts do have blogs. Here’s the problem. Qualified academic journals – Energy and Environment for example – usually have a peer review process in which experts papers are read & critiqued by other experts in their field. Check out that long list of professors in the right column on the Energy and Environment website. Only after the paper has been revised & approved for publication by experts will it be published in a journal. In the case of a book, writers usually hire professional editors who comb through the book looking for errors. Most newspapers & newswires have a trained editing staff as well, although since they have publication deadlines, slip-ups do occur. Blogs on the other hand, clearly don’t subject each post to a grueling peer review, and only a tiny minority have professional editors. That means blog content is much more likely to be factually or conceptually flawed than news, book, or journal content.
If that’s the case, then why bother with blogs at all? Even though I don’t cite them, I’ve found blogs extremely useful for two purposes: linking to new studies or articles, and innovative concepts that can be made into arguments.
I may spend a lot of time on debate, but I still miss a lot of new reports on the debate topic. One reason is that most search engines rank results by popularity, and new reports or studies haven’t had time to develop the reader count that older articles have. And, many articles have ambiguous names, and get passed over in favor of articles whose titles explicitly state their subject. Blogs often solve this problem. Bloggers are constantly trawling the internet for new information to write about, and often report on studies I never would have found. At the same time, they generally give a brief synopsis of the article, which eliminates the possibility that I’ll miss a study because of its ambiguous title.
Possibly an even bigger reason to read blogs is that they’ll give you ideas for arguments. For example, it wasn’t until reading posts by economist Paul Krugman that a reverse spending disad might have some potential. I’ll elaborate on this topic in future posts, but to summarize, Krugman frequently argues the dangers of deflation. So if, as everyone seems to think, excess government spending causes inflation, isn’t it logical to assume that decreased government spending causes the reverse? Anyway, that’s just one example of the innovative arguments you can get out of blogs. Bloggers have more freedom to test wonky policy ideas on their audience through an uncensored blog than in a prestigious newspaper, and oftentimes those wonky ideas are exactly what debaters need.
What blogs to read? Hard question. Just as there are millions of idiots who blog, there are a host of very smart people who also blog. Below, I’ll give a sample of the blogs I’ve found helpful. Feel free to suggest others in the comments section.
General Domestic Policy:
· Democracy In America (The Economist)
· Ezra Klein (The Washington Post)
· Free Exchange (The Economist)
· Paul Krugman (The New York Times)