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Do we live in a post-truth world?

Society and popular culture portrays honesty as noble and lying as immoral. We claim to hate lying politicians, but at the same time happily vote them into office without hesitation. Andrew Wong explores this paradox.

A pragmatic approach to free speech

What exactly constitutes “free speech” is a highly controversial issue. Should ultimate freedom of expression be allowed regardless of the offence it might cause, or should we take a more tempered approach? Chris Kounelis makes the case for the latter.

Budget Cutting the ABC is Crony Capitalism

May’s edition of Quadrant Magazine gave Tom Switzer space to argue ‘Why the ABC Should Be Privatised.’ Tom Switzer is a fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think-tank that gave birth to the Liberal Party of Australia in the 1940s.

Assuming Tony Abbott and his Coalition win the 2013 election, Switzer argues “budget cuts will most certainly be on the legislative agenda if only to save tax dollars. But privatisation—or at least rationalisation—of the public broadcaster remains a sound policy option.”

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Has inflation targeting become a sporting event?

At the time of writing, available odds for this Tuesday’s RBA meeting are $1.40 for rates to remain unchanged, $2.20 for a decrease of up to 25 basis points and then a respectable $19 for a cut between 25 and 50 basis points. Any increase in the cash rate pays $34 but putting money on that would surely be the equivalent of backing a horse with a broken leg – unless it is called Black Caviar perhaps.

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Statistics, social science, and the media

Everybody likes to hear a confident opinion. Take Truman’s wish for a one-armed economist, for example, who would be unable to tell him ‘On the other hand…’. Headlines are often written with a confident certainty. Qualifications and conditions aren’t as convincing. The problem is, it can be difficult to distil even a single scientific study without distorting the complexity of the work.

Unfortunately for scientists (whether social or natural), while people prefer statements delivered with certainty, we are in the business of uncertainty. Our methods are based on scepticism, our conclusions full of caveats. Unlike Truman’s fantasy economist, we do have another hand and are often obsessed with what might be on it.

This is why if someone conducts a study showing one kind of relationship, others will be eager to see if they can find the opposite or no relationship. But this healthy scepticism is sometimes transmitted to the broader public in unhealthy ways.

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