February brought the greatest number of monthly hits to this blog to date, by about a factor of two. The traffic boost was mainly due to interest in Ian’s post on Austrian economics and a series of posts reacting to Megan McArdle’s Atlantic Monthly piece on the relationship between health insurance and mortality. The common element is that both Ian’s and McArdle’s posts were provocative, as perhaps were my posts in response to hers.
Through blogging and the more focused attention on the media and politics that it demands I’ve come to understand that information and entertainment are inseparable in all but a theoretical sense. For example, you’re reading this sentence because it entertains or interests you. That it is also informative may be a reason why it interests you, but entertainment and information are nevertheless inexorably linked.
A sure way to entertain is to be provocative. Ian was provocative in one way–asking about the degree to which Austrian economics is taken seriously. McArdle was provocative in another–claiming that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that health insurance reduces mortality (despite all the evidence that it does just that). Apparently people really like to debate the value of Austrian economics and the sufficiency of the empirical literature on the insurance-mortality connection. And, thanks to multiple links from prominent bloggers and journalists, those people flocked here to read our posts on these topics.
Don’t misunderstand. Ian and I do not write blog posts for the sake of provocation. We write them principally to advance our own thinking and understanding. That they also entertain and invite debate is an additional benefit. Ian’s post on Austrianism was published after a week or so of back and forth with me and other economists about the nature of macroeconomics and the role of the Austrian perspective in it. We both concluded that we wanted some answers and his post was one way to attempt to obtain them.
My posts, and that of Michael McWilliams, in response to McArdle were motivated by a desire to correct the record and to infuse the debate over health reform with the best evidence available. In the process I learned a lot from Michael (the literature he reviewed was not one with which I was intimately familiar). Hence, though we may have entertained, we were motivated by a mission to inform.
But, as I said, the way in which we experience information cannot be separated from entertainment (perhaps broadly interpreted to include motivations that aren’t immediately rewarding, like the desire for a high grade). At the risk of being provocative, I’d go so far as to say that anyone who tells you otherwise is attempting to entertain you with clever theory that belies the practical truth. If you fall for it that only proves my point.