All the cool blogs are doing it

A couple months ago, Tyler Cowen kicked off a “top ten influential books” list.   Ezra Klein, Conor Friedersdorf, Matt Yglesias, and Ta-Nehisi Coates (twice!) quickly followed, although Klein substituted magazines and blogs.  Cowen even compiled a handy list of other bloggers’ books.  I figure I should follow suit, although somewhat like Ezra I’ll include articles as well as books.  And like TNC, I’ll list fewer than ten just to show my ignorance.  Here it goes.

  1. Liberal Pluralism: My first introduction to political theory, William Galston’s book is quite accessible even though it was written by an academic. His eighth chapter lays out a great, simple history of the philosophy of education.
  2. The Practice of Liberal Pluralism: I have to include Galston’s second book.  This phrase on page 5 on the limits of politics continues to blow my mind:  “not parsimony in declaring truth, but restraint in the exercise of power.”  This sentence alone greatly influenced my approach to the intelligent design debates.
  3. Frontiers of Illusion: Dan Sarewitz’s eloquent, extended critique of the social contract for science should be required reading for all Ph.D students.
  4. The Fifth Branch: Sheila Jasanoff’s dense treatise is one of the best on regulatory science and science in policy.

And now for the articles:

  1. The lies we must live with: Dan Sarewitz (yet again!) on science and religion is fantastic.  It’s the type of writing I dream about doing.  Check out these few sentences:
    As is so often the case when we frame a problem as bimodal, however, we get the problem itself wrong.  The alleged debate between science and religion is an incoherent distraction from the real issue, which is how to most satisfactorily reduce the conflict, injustice, inequity, and suffering that seems so intimately a part of humanity itself.”
  2. The resolution of technically intensive public policy disputes:  Harvey Brooks’ journal article is a classic, and offers one of the best explanations of the interplay between facts and values in regulatory science.  He describes something I call the Harvey Brooks rule to help resolve disagreement:
    “Differences among experts resulting from disagreements over the burden of proof might be “smoked out” by requiring each side in a controversy to specify in advance what type of experiment or evidence or analysis would convince them to alter their policy position on a controversial issue.”
    (Brooks, H., The resolution of technically intensive public policy disputes, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 1984, pp. 39-50.)
  3. The politics of problem definition: The first few pages of this article draws a great analogy between policy and the Rodney King incident.  The rest gets a bit dense, but is still insightful.
    (Rocheford, D. and R. Cobb, Problem definition: an emerging perspective in David Rochefort and Roger Cobb (eds.) The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda, University of Kansas Press 1994, pp. 1-31.)

There are definitely more that could make this list, but I’ll cap it here for now.  I may update when I have time to go over my journal.


  1. I like your list a lot. I too am a fan of Sarewitz. I didn’t think Jasanoff’s book was especially readable (and at this point it’s dated), but I agree it’s indispensable. In terms of papers, one of my faves is Wendy Wagner’s “The Science Charade in Toxic Risk Regulation.” The recommendations at the end aren’t the greatest, but most of the (lengthy) paper is an amazing deconstruction of the ways science gets used and abused.

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