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Weekend read: The best Europe we’ve ever had

My recommended read for this is weekend is a column by Robert Cooper of the New Statesman, in which he puts forward a too-rarely-heard positive view of the European Union.

land area in Europe the night

The debate on the EU, as with so much in UK politics, is too often boiled down to a meaningless series of (usually factually inaccurate) soundbites: binning straight bananas, banning the imperial measurement system, and demolishing firemen’s poles. Doubtless, the EU does some crazy stuff – look at the right to be forgotten debate, for example – but rational discussion is all to hard to come by. All of which is to say: click and read.

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Weekend read: My grandma the poisoner

My recommended read for this weekend comes from Vice. It’s a gripping article in which John Reed describes his gradual realisation that his grandmother is – perhaps intentionally – poisoning people, and his reflection on his sense of denial and how he dealt with the situation.

coole Oma

Reed’s article is a chilling story, perhaps evoking the banality of evil. It grips from the start. It’s great.

People were always dying around Grandma—her children, her husbands, her boyfriend—so her lifelong state of grief was understandable. To see her sunken in her high and soft bed, enshrouded in the darkness of the attic, and surrounded by the skin-and-spit smell of old age, was to know that mothers don’t get what they deserve. Today, when I think back on it, I don’t wonder whether Grandma got what she deserved as a mother; I wonder whether she got what she deserved as a murderer.

On reflection, perhaps this would have made a good Hallowe’en read for last weekend. Do click through and have a read.

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Weekend read: You’re wrong

Hans Rosling, the popular Swedish medical statistician, does a great line in pointing out the degree to which most people’s perceptions of the world are just plain wrong. My short recommended read for this weekend is much the same sort of thing, but based on a very recent survey.

Businessman wearing a dunce hat

This month, Ipsos MORI has been conducting a 14-country survey to find out people’s perceptions of the make-up of their populations and the scale of social problems. On most questions, the population of each country was way out of whack with reality. My recommended read is Zach Wener-Fligner’s snappy blog post about some of the key findings – but if you have time, it’s worth exploring some of the detail of the survey on the Ipsos MORI site, too.

Or if you haven’t got the time for that, here’s an infographic they put together with some interesting findings:

perils-of-perception-infographic_lightbox

 

Of course, there are lots of interesting implications here for democracy and social norming, and some interesting thoughts about responsibility, too. Though, before getting into this, we should take a moment to recognise that Great Britain did pretty well in the survey ranking, for all that we criticise ourselves for this sort of thing.

When articles have been published about similar surveys in the past, many commentators have reacted by blaming the media. I disagree: I don’t think that non-Public-Service media has any implicit responsibility to inform the electorate. I think their responsibility is to their shareholders, and if distorting the truth without breaking the law increases profit, then sobeit.

This is why Public Service media is so important, and so valuable. Public Service media outlets should, indeed, have a responsibility for educating and informing. This is a difficult task against the torrent of inaccurate information from elsewhere, especially when those outlets choose to pursue large audiences at the same time as giving entirely accurate information. I would challenge the existing industry assumption that Public Service media should obtain a large audience. Does it matter how many people consume BBC News, for example, provided it is understood to be a reliable source in times of uncertainty?

But then, I guess, there’s a reasonable counter-argument that if it doesn’t pursue an audience, the widely understood social narrative will likely deviate further from reality.

It’s a complicated problem – and shouting about the Daily Mail doesn’t help.

This post was filed under: Weekend Reads, .




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