Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NaBloPoMo Round 2, Day 28: Some Thoughts on Advice, and Punditry

Many of my favorite podcasts have been on hiatus. I just can't listen to the radio anymore because there are so many commercials, and NPR is doing some end-of-year fundraising. I've been listening to back episodes of the Dr. Joy Browne show while I drive.

It's somewhat interesting to hear the questions people have and eavesdrop on people's problems. The interesting thing to me is that most of them seem to be calling more to have someone listen to their question or story, but Dr. Browne inevitably cuts them off. I know that a radio show can't allow people to ramble on endlessly, but she seems determined to jump to advice before really hearing them out.  I find this frustrating, since hearing people's questions is a lot more interesting than hearing her answers. The show is almost the opposite of real therapy, where the shrink listens to you while you figure out your own problems.

I have developed a sort of typology of people's questions. A fairly large percentage of people's questions could be rephrased as Category 1: "Tell me how I can stick my nose into something that is none of my business." To her credit, Dr. Browne tells them they can't.  Another hefty chunk fall into Category 2: "Tell me it's OK to do the thing I am doing even though I know I shouldn't." Again, they get no love from Dr. Joy.  There are also the Category 3: "Tell me I'm right in this argument I'm having with my friend/family member." Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't, but usually being right doesn't matter because it's really a Category 1 question.

It's hard to tell how many people actually find the advice and answers useful, since Dr. Browne likes to wrap up her calls by repeating her advice two or three more times, verbatim, instead of checking in with the caller to see what they think of it.  I know the show is more for entertainment value than to really help people, but sometimes people call in with very serious problems.  I hope there is a way to keep those callers on the line for referral to real resources. I also wonder if there is ever any attempt made to see how the advice worked, they way they do on "Car Talk" with Stump the Chumps.

My guess is no, because it's probably better to think of people like this as pundits than as serious professionals.  They are judged by their audience according to their entertainment value, not their accuracy.  A recent study found that most pundits are less accurate at predicting the future than a coin flip, and that the more popular the pundit, the less accurate they were:
You show up, you say a bunch of stuff, and you never worry that you'll ever be held accountable for whatever you get wrong. That's why if you choose that path in life, you may as well be bold and make a bunch of insane predictions, because you're just as liable to accrue renown for being crazy as you are for being correct.
That explains Ann Coulter. And Judge Judy, and Dr. Laura. Actually, that explains a lot.

I'm looking forward to my podcasts going back to their regular schedules. In the meantime, have a good podcast to suggest?

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