Education

The present media environment is long on soundbites and short on careful analysis. So here are some outlets that do in-depth analysis and reporting to help you cut through some of the noise. But before you go out into the woods, you might want to arm yourself with some personal study on logical fallacies. That way when you hear politicians accusing each other of “straw-man arguments”, you’ll know whether they’re being helpful or simply committing the “fallacy fallacy” – a move so nice, they named it twice.

NPR’s Planet Money

Planet Money explains what they do this way:

Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.” Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.

That’s probably pretty accurate. They produce entertaining and highly informative medium-length pieces (about 15 minutes) on a variety of topics dealing with the economy and economic analysis – they also run a blog and collaborate on longer pieces with This American Life. I’d recommend subscribing to the podcast, which normally comes out twice a week.

EconTalk – hosted by Russ Roberts

EconTalk is an interesting and highly-rewarding listening experience. Nominally, the show is an educational economics podcast with an emphasis “on using topical books and the news to illustrate economic principles.” That’s not terribly difficult to find elsewhere, though. What sets EconTalk apart is both its level of technical discussion meant for a non-technical but interested audience as well as the host’s openness about his own bias.

Some listeners will love Roberts’ affinity for Austrian economics and Friedrich Hayek, while others will find his libertarian arguments a tad-bit dogmatic. But for the most part, Roberts’ commitment to open discussion and academic exposition means that you don’t have to agree with Roberts to find EconTalk worth following. Most listeners won’t be convinced to abolish the dollar or to privatize all K-12 education, but you’ll walk away with a good sense of why those might be coherent ideas that some people find compelling, as well as an understanding of how to incorporate some of those insights into public policy. Roberts also does a terrific job of explaining why we should be wary of over-confident analysis.

At the very least, you should listen to Roberts’ joint-production with John Papola of “Fear the Boom and the Bust” as well as “Fight of the Century”. Those are music video rap-battles between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. I can think of no way that last sentence could be more awesome.

On Point w/ Tom Ashbrook

On Point is a call-in show, with two hour-long segments going out every day, including a Friday Week-in-Review show. They’re eclectic; covering everything from ancient poetry and modern literature to science news to politics to foreign affairs. In other words, they’re a National Public Radio show. I can’t recommend all of their content as high-quality and entertaining but they’re on this list for two reasons.

First, their public-affairs coverage is top-notch. They bring in top thinkers from across the political spectrum and they have a commitment to a constructive back and forth on contentious issues.

Second, Tom Ashbrook is amazing. The show is worth listening to regardless of who’s hosting, but Ashbrook embodies a commitment to civic virtue that is Norman Rockwellesque without the naiveté. It’s not unusual to hear him remind a rude caller that the people he’s insulting are his “fellow citizens.” We could use more of that.

The Economist

The American penchant for making sense of all political disagreements through the tired left-right prism of our own politics leads too many to classify The Economist as a conservative newspaper. What they really are, instead, is a classically liberal newspaper. Some of you might find a British take on the economy as well as on American politics interesting and refreshing. Others might want to see what it’s like when free-market ideology is decoupled from social-conservatism and accepts the idea of raising taxes from time to time. (Spoiler alert: The Economist supports a carbon tax.)

I’m recommending them because their foreign news coverage is both high-quality and easy to digest. If you want a manageable way to catch up with what the rest of the world is up to, you could do much worse.

Science News

Whether it’s the proper role of public funding in scientific research or the effect of environmental policy on economic growth or the efficacy of public health policy, a ton of public policy interfaces with science. If you’re getting most of your science news from politicians, non-scientifically-literate journalists, or talking heads on cable news, then you’re in for a rude awakening when it turns out that fruit-fly research is really, really important. To go straight to the source, you might want to explore Science or Nature. Alternatively, Scientific American does a pretty good job of covering a wide array of topics.

I’d also point you towards a few podcasts. The BBC’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, hosted by Brian Cox and Robin Ince manages to be both informative and funny, while The Naked Scientists, put out by the University of Cambridge, is a bit more spartan.

Lastly, you might want to listen in to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. In addition to science, they also cover pseudo-science. They’re like a little vaccine against really horrible scientific arguments. Though, be forewarned, they’re not gentle on religious believers.

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