Facts.

I’ve  not posted very often over the past four months.  It is not that I have not written a number of posts.  I have just not been satisfied with what I’ve written nor, frankly, have I been very interested in the latest pronouncements of our President, or gridlock in our Congress, or the progress of the current Presidential Campaign.

Part of the reason for my disenchantment is wrapped up in the four words above.  This post will discuss Facts and will be followed by posts on Fairness, Freedom, and Failure.  I might even go for  a bonus “F” and throw in “Future.”

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thanks to Language Arts Games

Facts.  What are they?  In theory, facts are real, provable things that exist or have actually happened.  So in the most basic sense, if you see a tree and can walk up to it and touch it, tear off a leaf and smell it, listen to it rustling in the breeze, you confirm for yourself that it exists.  It is a fact of life.  When Scientists want to establish fact, they use what we call the scientific method.  Use of the scientific method to determine fact is based on a measurable set of criteria that is repeatable and objective and will rule out all but one proposition (that this is the fact).  Most applications of the scientific method are laborious.  They require a great deal of observation and repeated trials.  It is not the easy way to determine what is fact and what is fiction.

It is much easier to confirm facts by attribution, correlation, comparison or other short cuts.  Attribution is when we attribute a fact to a respected  authority or group, e.g., The American Medical Association says that smoking causes cancer so it must be true.  Correlation is when we see that a certain effect is noted regularly at the same time as another action or event.  For example every time it rains, we see dark clouds.  Therefore, by correlation, when dark clouds are present we will have rain.  Or, we compare things to other things to learn what is fact.  Owls have wings and they are birds so if we see a hawk and it, too, has wings, it must be a bird, too.

The problem with determining facts by correlation or attribution or other short cuts is that they can mislead and mislead badly.

In her book The Watchman’s Rattle, Rebecca Costa devotes a fair amount of time to counterfeit correlation.  It is used by lazy (or deceptive) people to find the truth or fact but can also be used to imply fact when no such implication is warranted.  One example she gives (paraphrasing) is:  The Japanese drink very little red wine and eat very little fat and have far fewer heart attacks than Americans and the British.  The French drink lots of red wine and eat lots of fat and have far fewer heart attacks than Americans or the British.  Italians eat copious amounts of fat, drink lots of red wine and have fewer heart attacks than Americans and the British.  It is therefore obvious that speaking English causes heart attacks.  Well, it isn’t.  and this is where the correlation is counterfeit and causes problems.

I see politicians every day giving ‘facts’ in support of their beliefs.  The problem is that many, if not most, of the facts are conveniently contrived opinions that are given the ‘factual’ stamp of approval by way of counterfeit correlation, or, more often, attribution.

Just recently, Harry Reid used attribution to create the ‘fact’ that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for a period of 10 years.  Reid claimed this fact was based on a highly reliable source within Bain Capital where Romney worked for many years.  That sounds convincing to some, but hopefully, reasonable people will pass judgment only after knowing who the “reliable source” is and what he/she has in the way of evidence.  If you are easily led to agree with the attribution and the argument based on it, you fail to challenge the ‘fact.’  This can lead to being easily manipulated.  If you don’t ask the question, “Do most executives share their tax information with their colleagues?,” you may fail to find the flaw in this proof.  Or you may not ask why would a person want his name kept secret if he no longer works for the person he is discrediting?

My purpose in this post is merely to suggest that you to challenge so called ‘facts’ when politicians speak.  In an attempt to heed this advice, myself, where I can, I go to the organic document: raw video, congressional records, organizations websites, original documents, etc.  I often find that the ‘fact’ is anything but.  At least, I try to keep a healthy skepticism about political speech.  If you do nothing more than look at the promises made by Mr. Obama, the candidate, in 2008 (or any candidate’s promises) and weigh them against the facts of his accomplishments, you will wonder why you don’t challenge ‘facts’ more often.

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