Archive for August, 2012

Fight “Lying for the cause”: time for the pillory.

August 7, 2012

Too many people speaking with authority on serious public controversies are “either lying or incompetent”; too few interviewers / debate participants call them on it.

I don’t mean just that they are pushing the predictions of a model which has not yet made reliably accurate predictions – a model may only fit known results, but it is arguable that it should  be considered in decision making if no other model has yet succeeded.

I mean claiming that which has been tested and found not so, or denying the existence of things which are.  For example, in the former case, claiming that the MMR vaccine puts children at greater risk of brain damage or death than not vaccinating despite the statistics.  For an example of the latter,  claiming that there are no GM [genetically modified (other than by selection of natural mutations)] crops in existence which are not designed to need increased use of Big Chemical Companies’ products – despite the news, months before, that activists had whippersnipped a test-field of three types of wheat GMd (a new abbreviation as far as I’ve read) for better nutrition and for better growth with less fertilizer ; depite Golden Rice; and despite statistics showing that GM cotton resulted in lower use of industrial chemicals.

Also, there are those who make claims that a high-school student who has followed the news can see are laughable.  For instance, one said (of the Queensland premier blaming previous governments for budget problems) “What’s he grumbling about?  So he has a budget shortfall – his state is barely a year past two major natural disasters, and his budget is only 10% in deficit! That’s pretty good.  Catastrophes will happen, and cut our income – isn’t that why we save in good years?””

This “lying for the cause” attacks the foundation of Western democracy – serious decisions the electorate makes on on the basis of best available information cannot be good if the information is corrupted.  Most citizens have not the scientific and mathematics training to see flaws in research, and do not follow scientific news enough to know of the background to claims, so they rely on those “who ought to know”.  Appeal to Authority may be a logical fallacy, but it is the basis of daily decision making.

It is time for a public pillory: a program which is watched in full school assemblies, where top experts in the field which was misrepresented stand together to say that the person (picture and name of organization in backdrop) was “either lying or incompetent”, and making clear the facts.  The person concerned is invited to  provide expert support foot their claims – but the expert support is tested and the case decided by qualified people before the program is run, as many “expert” claims are not based on scientific and mathematically sound approaches.  The expert support – if found to be unconscionably flawed – is also criticised in the program.  And the experts’ faces are shown, with name and organization,  as their claims are demolished.