When ‘Best Practice’ isn’t Best

Like any other journalist, I get a torrent of press releases every day. Certain words and phrases feature prominently. Too prominently, too often. This post is not specifically about those words and phrases, it’s about how these words and phrases have come to be so numbingly banal. The phrase is ‘best practice’, and this post is a cautionary tale of when ‘best practice’ actually leads to failed practice, and why.

It seems as though ‘best practice’ would, by definition, always be the best way to do something. But sometimes it’s not. This is because some problems aren’t conducive to the creation of one ‘best practice’, but instead need to constantly adapt to a changing set of background conditions.

There are, broadly, three types of problems in this world: those with static background conditions; those with changing background conditions; and those where the background conditions change in response to your actions. ‘Best practice’ only works well for the first of these problems, less so for the second, and often fails entirely in the third.


Politics is Psychology

Which comes first, psychology or politics? Contrary to popular belief, it’s psychology.

Politics is often talked about as if it’s about ideology first, and that people are drawn to a particular ideological stance because of their life circumstances – i.e. grow up in a working class family and you’ll vote left; grow up in a wealthy family and you’ll vote conservative – or that we are able to detach ourselves from our individual circumstances and reflect on political ideology in an idealised rational way, and we eventually settle on what we think is the ‘correct’ political ideology.

But it’s not like that.

Certainly, circumstance plays a roll, as does reason. But the dominant factor that decides the political ideology we’re likely to identify with is our psychological disposition and accompanying worldview.

This is the sentiment underpinning my recent analysis of a speech given by our new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, published on the ABC’s Drum website today. The analysis isn’t as much about her political views as the implicit worldview that underpins them.


How the iPad *might* Save Journalism

A bit of departure from philosophy, but wait for it, I’ll squeeze in some game theory at some point, as I do with most conversations. You should see me order coffee.

There’s wailing and gnashing of teeth about the future of journalism. I hear it. Being a journalist myself, I have occasionally wailed and gnashed along with the chorus. Then there’s the ‘iPad will save journalism’ rally, led by ex-Australian News Ltd. Grand Moff, Rupert Murdoch. And in response, there’s the ‘no, the iPad won’t save journalism’ gang. It’s all happening.

What surprises me is the lack of sophistication in much of the commentary about this issue. Don’t get me wrong – it’s complicated and the media faces an unpredictable future – but there are some important elements that seem to be frequently overlooked, particularly when discussing the curly issue of charging for content. When these are factored in, charging for content, particularly on tablets and the iPad, becomes a much more viable prospect. (more…)

Is New Scientist Losing Its Way?

Science journalism is a funny game. I know that only too well from my experience editing two quite different science magazines. Building a bridge between the often esoteric world of science – with its breathtaking complexity, arcane language, super-specialised practitioners and often tangential relation to the real world concerns of Read more…

The Failure of Freedom: Clive Hamilton’s Freedom Paradox

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” – ¬†Thucydides

Why, after two centuries of unprecedented expansion of wealth and liberty in the Western world, are so many of us left feeling unfulfilled? Were not these liberties meant to unshackle us from oppressions of mind and body and allow us to flourish according to our own unique capacities?


At least, that was the idea. Yet people today are on average no happier than their parents or grandparents, despite possessing many times more wealth. Major depression is also on the rise in developed nations, peaking in the United States, the very paragon of a free society. Odd.

This conundrum is the topic of Clive Hamilton’s latest book, The Freedom Paradox (unmistakable in its shockingly Spartan red cover), which I finished, and thoroughly enjoyed, reading recently.

Hamilton seeks to establish a ‘post-secular ethics’ – an endeavour that deserves much more attention than it currently receives – care of a re-imagining of the metaphysics of Kant and Schopenhauer. But while his analysis of contemporary popular culture is insightful, and his perspective on metaphysics refreshing, I feel his attachment to Kant to be a hindrance to his ultimate end. In fact, were it not for the taint of Kant, his views are strikingly similar to my own.


Evolution is Science, Not Religion

Not according to this news piece (not opinion, news) from the Florida, US, based News Chief. Apparently even atheists admit that evolution is a religion: Scientific philosopher and ardent Darwinian atheist Michael Ruse has candidly admitted this. “Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion-a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, Read more…