In a rare move… I’m posting a link to something that I do NOT consider worth reading. I’m normally a big fan of the NY Times “Room for Debate” series, in which hot topics in politics, culture and the media are approached in a series of opinion pieces by various experts. Today, however, I have been sorely let down by this publication. Today’s edition claims to debate the origin of the unusual illegal trade in Tide brand laundry detergent. The unusual story was originally chronicled in a New York Magazine article that I linked to on facebook. Here’s a copy of that link: Suds for Drugs. You can also find today’s Room for Debate here, though again I don’t recommend you waste your time.
My mild anger with the opinion pieces stems from three failures: First, the editor failed to secure a variety of experts to speak intelligently about this topic. There are three in this edition, when normally there tend to be around 4 to 6. Today’s ranks included a “laundry expert at about.com” and a sociologist who was an advertising consultant (!) for Proctor and Gamble (not for their Tide product though). Perhaps this speaks to the relatively insignificant amount of debate to be had on this subject. More importantly, the second failure is that there is no significant debate taking place. In a series centered on opposing views, one would expect there to be at least some noticeable disagreement, and yet nothing of consequence is actually disputed. Finally, and perhaps most annoying to me, is that this opinion piece utterly fails to bring any new opinions, relevant facts, or insights to the table that were not previously presented in the original article by Ben Paynter. One wonders what merit, if any, this opinion piece has.
Regardless of what I see as a major misstep on their part today, I still find the series to be a generally great read, and would encourage you to check out some of their other discussions. Skip this one though, and read the NYMag article itself.