Here’s a post from the excellent blog Naked Capitalism that, in the process of making an argument about the history of money and barter, speaks to an issue that’s close to my heart. For context, the post’s author David Graeber is disputing an assertion made by some 19th century Austrian economists about how currency developed.
a. Just in way of emphasis: economists thus predicted that all (100%) non-monetary economies would be barter economies. Empirical observation has revealed that the actual number of observable cases—out of thousands studied—is 0%.
b. Similarly, the number of documented marketplaces where people regularly appear to swap goods directly without any reference to a money of account is also zero. If any sociological prediction has ever been empirically refuted, this is it.
Now I’m not educated on the issues of that post, so I can’t say that these predictions were even examples of bad deduction. But I want to point out that deductions don’t even need to be poorly executed or particularly misguided to end up incorrect. Reality is unpredictable, and for this reason, it has to be understood with empiricism. Not everything is immediately or perfectly accessible to empirical investigation, of course, and deduction is inevitable and necessary. But deduction is usually the beginning of inquiry and is never the end.
Why am I bringing this up? Because it seems to me that, even as blogging is aging and there are more and more professional bloggers, the profession seems content with offering up plausible sounding conjecture and treating it as truth. I can’t tell you how many times a day I read some blogger, from wherever on the ideological spectrum, who deduces some point (even an intriguing or plausible one) and then acts as though this constitutes evidence. You’ve got to check the real world! Life cannot be understood from the vantage of a MacBook.
I suppose I’m close to this kind of thinking these days because I am reading so much pedagogical research in my real life and so often what is expected in teaching and education is defied by empirical research. Dogs just don’t bark, often, in education research. Complexity multiplies beyond the scope of conjecture. Patterns that seem obvious devolve into static.
I guess I just wish that the blogosphere (and forgive the collective indictment) at least demonstrated interest in the question, “how are we making knowledge?” Taken as a whole, I don’t think that there’s a coherent epistemology of blogging out there, even in the most elementary or general sense. For all of the navel-gazing that bloggers undertake, they appear uninterested in the fundamental questions of what value blogs are creating and what systems of accountability there are for ensuring that truth claims are actually true.