To Be Well-Informed, Cut the News and Read These 7 Blogs Instead
If you want to become a genuinely well-informed citizen, more and even better information is not enough. Instead, you must learn to think critically and thoughtfully about complex ideas.
You can’t vote intelligently about immigration, foreign policy, bioethics, or tax law without the ability to think clearly. This is something no amount of Fox News or CNN will teach you how to do — in fact, there’s a good chance it will do the opposite.
I believe the following blogs, on the other hand, will teach you to think more carefully about the most important ideas and problems facing our society.
None are overtly partisan, and they represent a range of political thinking from progressive through libertarian and conservative. No single piece of content, underlying belief, or assertion is important. What matters is learning to think differently.
Commit to reading between the lines and observing how these people think about complex issues. And whether you agree with them or not, you will be better for it.
1. Marginal Revolution
Marginal Revolution will teach you how to think like an economist. And maybe a polymath, too.
This easy daily blog is written by economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tarrabock. The brief posts often center around economics, but usually in a fairly accessible way. But they also cover ideas and topics across a wide range of disciplines from art and history to politics and tech. It’s one of the highest-quality blog comments you’ll ever see.
Tyler’s daily link roundup is usually more interesting than just about any other link roundups I subscribe to. And his podcast, Conversations with Tyler, is one of the best there is, featuring some of the most interesting thinkers in the world.
2. Slate Star Codex
Slate Star Codex is a masterclass in clear, systematic thinking from rationalist psychiatrist, Scott Alexander. Topics tend to focus on medicine, science, and education, with a good mixture of philosophy and futurism too.
Includes some of the best book reviews you’ll ever read.
3. Farnam Street
Ex-spy, investor, and writer Shane Parrish’s blog Farnam Street is arguably the best place on the internet to learn how to systematically improve your critical thinking abilities. Many of his posts focus on the importance of cultivating mental models, frameworks for thinking about complex issues, and guides to decision-making.
You’ll learn more in a 1,200 word Farnam Street article than you will by watching a week’s worth of CNN.
His podcast, The Knowledge Project, is very good, too.
4. Behavioral Scientist
A relatively new blog on the scene, Behavioral Scientist is about “original, thought-provoking reports from the front lines of behavioral science,” including evidence-based reporting in psychology, technology, sociology, ethics, and culture.
Some of the smartest and most interesting researchers in behavioral economics, social psychology and a number of other fields contribute regularly. Their weekly newsletter is excellent, and their season reading picks are always intriguing.
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is the closest thing to a mainstream media outlet on this list. And while it resembles one superficially, the approach to current events and issues is fairly unique: data-science journalism.
Instead of relying exclusively on more traditional reporting and interviewing for their stories, they use data and sophisticated statistical models to take fresh perspectives on relevant political and cultural stories.
Reading FiveThirtyEight will teach you how to see through common narrative fallacies in traditional coverage of current events and ask the deeper questions about the actual evidence and empirical support for common ideas and opinions.
Aeon is a blog about asking the big questions in philosophy, science, psychology, and art. They primarily publish essays and long-form content that is always superbly written and utterly thoughtful.
Just a few recent examples of pieces they’ve published: The Problem of Mindfulness, Why Epicurean Ideas Suit the Challenges of Modern Secular Life, and Italy’s Erotic Revolution in Art Joined the Lusty to the Divine.
Aeon will teach you how to think like a philosopher married to a quantum physicist with an art prodigy for a child.
7. The New Atlantis
The New Atlantis is one of the most unique and underrated publications today. They publish thoughtful, in-depth pieces at the intersection of science, ethics, and policy.
Most of their articles take a complex, hotly debated topic in science or technology — bioethics is a common topic of concern — and show how to think through an issue from basic science and empirical data, to philosophic and moral questions, into pragmatic political and policy concerns.
I hope you’ve found the above list helpful, challenging, and thought-provoking.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the very foundation of our culture and society depend on a body of citizens who are well-informed, yes; but more than that, who are thoughtful, critical, holistic thinkers, capable of grappling with society’s most important ideas and questions in a way that is intellectually honest and productive.
A tall order, sure. But we’re not going to get there by watching an hour of cable news every evening.