The Short Version
I hope above all things that you, my dear reader, will comment on articles.  Part of the reason I’m creating this blog is as a means to move irritating unorganized conversations that I have Facebook (that no doubt annoyingly and frequently popped up on friends’ news feed) to a new forum so that they can be irritating organized conversations, that I still may eventually link back to Facebook to annoy people with.

Most importantly, if I say or suggest something that you think is wrong, then I want to hear from you, and hear what I got wrong.

Pissed off at the title of this blog already?
Good.  Internalize that emotion for a second.  Every time I’ve felt that way before, I’ve either been 1) chatting with an arrogant asshole at a party or 2) about to be completely and absolutely proved wrong about a conviction that I held strongly.  Frankly, maybe 1) and 2) aren’t entirely unique examples.  However, most people, including myself, don’t tend to part with cherished beliefs or pre-established concepts easily.  Feeling some sort of initial anger at the individual who presented the logic that forces us to change those beliefs is usually normal, because it’s uncomfortable discovering that the world is different than we thought it was.

So, I’m getting the uncomfortable bit out of the way from the get go.  Your beliefs will likely be challenged if you read this blog.  I am, however, trying to lean more towards example 2) rather than example 1).   If I’m not successful that’s for you to decide.

Most importantly, though, if I’m wrong, I want you to tell me.  Hopefully this blog will act more as a forum to filter current events and other news-worthy stories through a filter of reasonable discussion.  Don’t be shy about disagreeing with anyone (I’m certainly not), just make sure your arguments are well established with data and evidence that you can cite.

Why I’m writing this blog
When did we stop feeling the need to rely on reason to derive our political views, opinions on economics, sense of morality, or just about anything that we care strongly about?  Maybe it wasn’t always this bad, it certainly feels like it’s gotten to the point where the majority of people I meet, or see on television telling us about current events, or even those who hold the reins of our country, don’t really feel like it’s necessary to actually know the data necessary to make informed decisions.  And why should they, after all?  That sort of logic takes time, and it’s much easier to assume away the work.

Most of the time, whenever I ask someone about why they think what they think, and actually drill down to the foundation of these (often incredibly strong) opinions, there so often appears a complete lack of evidence.  If you ever ask someone like this why they didn’t take the time to do some background research before coming to support such a defined viewpoint, you’ll often hear that they are, in fact, too busy, or don’t know enough about the issue at hand to understand it on a more complex level.  Or, my favorite, they just “feel in their gut” that it’s the right thing to do or think.

This is, of course, nonsense.  It’s true that much of the time folks need to build layers of cognitive dissonance in order to justify the real reason for their beliefs.  However, setting these people aside, there nonetheless appears to be a growing number of people who truly believe something with a complete lack of evidence or information.  This is an alarming trend.  The further we disconnect ourselves from reality, the more likely it is that we – as individuals and as a society – will make terrible decisions.  Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”  We should all aspire to this for the sake of both our society and ourselves.[1]

This is why I’m writing this blog.  That and I need a place to talk out loud and (hopefully) be talked back to when something I say is factually incorrect.  Ultimately, we’re all opinionated people, and I am by no means an exception to this rule.  I am, however, of the conviction that it is critically important to understand the data/facts/evidence first, and then reason as logically as possible to a conclusion before arriving at an opinion.  And when I’m wrong, I change my opinion.  Ultimately, I’m hoping to help create a forum where more people with a similar approach can have a conversation that they know will be persuasive if they present the relevant data and supporting information.  When something I say or write doesn’t add up, I want to be called out it.

I’m calling shenanigans on faulty logic, and if I fall victim to it I shouldn’t be spared either.

So who does this prick think he is, anyways?
If this is what you’re thinking about me so far, then maybe this blog has potential.  At the end of the day I’m just some dude who thinks his opinions are important enough to write about (and what does that say about my ego?)  If my main subject is vouchsafing for data and information integrity, I think it’s fair for you to know a little bit about me, so you can attempt to adjust for any potential biases I may have that I don’t recognize.  Who knows, maybe after calling me out on some of these I’ll become that much more aware.  It’s a win win: I learn something new, and you win a debate.  Everyone’s happy.

Who am I?
What I do: Former analyst in the financial services industry. I crunched numbers all day long.  Currently re-evaluating my former love affair with finance.  It was a love-hate relationship, really, except without all the love.

Political leanings: Most conservatives call me a liberal and most liberals call me a conservative. I personally have no political affiliations (although I am a registered democrat for the sake of being able to take part in primaries), and try not to think of myself as even an independent, but rather someone who comes up with his own opinions without relying on a party platform to think for me.  Realistically, the opinions I’ve developed are probably representative of what most people would consider moderately liberal (in 2013).  However, most would call me a fiscal conservative (however, with the current state of the GOP, this phrase seems to be losing its meaning).

Education: I have a bachelor’s degree in economics

Religion: No Thank you

Who I’m not
I’m not, technically speaking, an expert at anything.  I don’t have a PhD, so I haven’t written or contributed anything to the field and haven’t been published in any academic journals.  I am, however, decent enough at statistics to understand data trends, and knowledgeable enough about economics and financial issues that I can speak reasonably about some of the relevant issues going on today.

I’m not now, and hopefully will never be, running for any sort of political office.  I’m also not supporting one political party or the other.  While at times it may very well seem like I am (especially if I’m disagreeing with you), the truth is that the only opinion I care about is one that’s well grounded.  At the end of the day this type of evidence-based reasoning is party-agnostic.  Except maybe for certain social issues, but even here there’s more that can be done than is generally considered.

I’m not covering the news, but I am commenting on it.  If important data can only be found at a primary source I’ll try to link to it/discuss it in order to provide context.  I’m ultimately going to be writing about issues that already covered – I’ll just be trying to get a cleaner read.

What I’ll be writing about
Economics Given my background, I’ll tend to write a lot about economics.  This will hopefully work well on a site that’s proposing a fuller debate with data.  I won’t be presenting any new predictive theories, but given the importance that the state economy has taken on in the last few years (especially in common political discourse), I can hopefully boil down some numbers and trends and represent them in a clear way.

Politics I’m a huge fan of Jon Stewart (everyone has now branded me a liberal), not because of his opinions (I disagree with many), but because his is one of the few shows left that will cover something a politician said, and do the work required to juxtapose that with a video of that same person 6 years ago saying something completely different.  This is not something I’ll have the time to do, but I am a big proponent of politicians being held accountable (they are representing us, after all), and this will likely be the subject of some blogs.  For example, it troubles me deeply that (as an example), candidate Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse said in 2012, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers” after being called out for presenting false information in an attack add.  I don’t care which side of the aisle this person was on – the fact that people like this are running our national political arena should disturb us all.

Other stuff that can/should be discussed with data and critical reason that usually isn’t
Marriage, education, religion, but only to the extent that there are some cold hard facts behind it (and to the extent that I can understand these facts).

Sam Harris has a great line, “There’s no society I know of that has suffered because people have become too reasonable.” Let’s take a step in that direction.

What I hope to accomplish
Disagreement. But the right type of disagreement – opinions that differ after having considered the same, agreed upon set of facts.  In other words, a difference in interpretation of reality, rather than a collision resulting from skewed perspectives of the same reality.