David Post makes an excellent point over at Volokh:
Pretty much every day, in pretty much every newspaper in the country, there is a story that goes something like this [taken from todays WSJ]: "Yesterday, the Dow Jones industrials fell xxx points to yyyy on new concerns about interest rates and anxiety over North Korea's missile tests." Or the Dow rose, due to "increasing optimism about prospects for peace in the Mideast." Or whatever. It's complete and utter nonsense. . . Are we really so desperate to believe that we can explain everything that we take some sort of comfort from stories like these?
The comments are interesting, too. I've had a similar thought in similar contexts; it's what I had in mind when I wrote this post, almost exactly two years ago.
They say that law school is supposed to teach you to think like a lawyer. I don't know whether it did that for me, but one thing it did do -- which is perhaps part of thinking like a lawyer -- is to make me very critical of claims about causation. Perhaps it's because I took a fair bit of economics and statistics (dumbed down for lawyers, of course) in law school, or perhaps it was all that discussion of proximate causation in first-year torts, or maybe it was evidence class. (My evidence prof wasn't the most popular professor among students, but I knew I'd like him when he told the class, early in the semester, something to the effect of, "cops perjure themselves all the time.") But in any event, in the past several years I've come to see that a great deal of what passes for "conventional wisdom" or "expert opinion" about many of the phenomena that affect our daily lives is nothing but rank speculation, given a veneer of legitimacy by the fact that it's repeated by "respectable" news media. (My respect for the news media has fallen even lower as a result. It's gotten so I can't even stand to watch TV news, because it hardly ever provides enough information to tell me anything useful.) Generally speaking, people are entirely too credulous and uncritical.