Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A page from Indiana Jones

Way back in the first movie in the Indiana Jones series, we briefly witness Dr. Jones teaching in his college classroom.  He explains that his field, Archaeology, is the search for Fact, and that searching for Truth is a field taught down the hallway, in Dr. Tyree's philosophy class as I recall.  Of course, during all this, he's being distracted by a female student who is clearly attending just because she finds him...appealing.

In that light-hearted environment, his distinction makes sense.  However, in the arena of political theater, the problem is becoming overwhelming, and it's time to put a stop to it.

We can, and as a society do, discuss, debate, and differ about many things.  Politics is alive with those differences.  However, the political rhetoric of today no longer pays the least respect to either Fact or Truth.  Let's look further.  For the sake of discussion let me offer a theoretical example.

Let's say we disagree about abortion.  You believe that all abortions should be stopped.  I respond by saying that there were only actually 13 abortions performed in the US last year, and 9 of those were because the mother's life was in grave danger, so the problem isn't really that big.  Now, you're immediately going to respond by saying you don't believe those numbers.

At this point, we're stuck.  You don't claim to know the real numbers, and I'm unwilling to provide any factual support for what I said.  From this point, our discussion is pointless, because we aren't discussing the same thing.  Our discussion falters because we lack Facts.

During the debate/discussion/diatribe regarding the Health Care Reform bill that is now commonly called "Obama-care" we heard that there were "Death Panels" contained in the legislation that would be charged with deciding who received treatment and lived and who didn't and died.  Of course, that was completely untrue.  However, a well-known Leader said it was.

Of course, the idea took hold, and soon became the basis for all sorts of arguments.  Sadly, it rather reminded me of Dr. Joseph Goebbels propaganda.  The more often you told the lie, the more likely people would believe it.  And, because some people wanted to believe it, those seeds fell on fertile ground.  Even today there are those who still believe, despite the Fact that no one can find any such information in the bill that was passed.

Now, not every discussion can be based upon Facts, and in some discussions the facts carry only limited weight.  In my example, the actual number of abortions probably doesn't really influence people on either side, mainly because the opinions aren't based on that.

However, in other cases...too many other cases...the Facts do affect the discussion.  Or, at least they should.

In recent weeks, we have heard two different perspectives that demonstrate that very well.  Here's the background:

On one side, Mitt Romney has claimed that he created many, many jobs while an executive at Bain.  The number I've seen quoted is 100,000.  Okay, it may be very difficult to determine exactly how many jobs were "created" and more than impossible to credit them directly to Romney, but that's a number his own campaign is claiming.  From what I've found, the number probably isn't too far off.

However, others have suggested that the only fair way to evaluate that claim is to also determine how many people lost their jobs because of Romney's actions.  They say, with some obvious logic, that his claim of "creation" should be balanced with any "losses."  That seems reasonable if we're really going to discuss the situation intelligently.  Let's look at another simple example.

If I said that I created 10 jobs in my company, it would sound like a positive.  However, if, in fact, I created those ten part-time jobs by firing 20 full-time employees, the picture is suddenly very different.  You could easily say I was wrong.  The problem is...I'm not.  I just didn't really tell the truth, or at least not the whole story.  I told you what I wanted you to hear.  I told you what I wanted you to believe.  And...if I say it often enough, some people will.

Let me offer another example, this time from real life and today (actually next week).

The multi-state Powerball lottery is changing their game structure.  According to their web site, the change include:

  • The starting jackpot will rise from $20 million to $40 million
  • The jackpot will increase by at least $10 million with each roll
  • Odds of winning improve...from 1 in 195.2 million  to 1 in 175.2 million

There are some other changes that either increase a specific prize the the effect of the "doubler."

Now, Factually all of that is true.  They also include that the price of a single set of numbers will rise from $1 to $2.  Again, that's Factual.

However, they carefully omit one other Fact:  Despite their claims, the actual odds for the player have decreased.  Here's how.

Since the new minimum purchase is $2, we'll work with that.

Today, if you spend $2, you'll receive two sets of numbers.  Your odds of winning the Big One are 2 in 195.2 million, or 1 in 97.6 million.

Next week, if you spend that same $2, you'll get one set of numbers, and your odds of winning the Big One will be 1 in 175.2 million.

So, for exactly the same investment, the odds against you almost doubled!

When I called them on that, they responded that "While what you say is true, that isn't the way lottery games are evaluated."  They're correct.  The odds of the game are figured on the chances of winning with a set of numbers.  The cost of the numbers isn't figured in.  However, by doing that...they are sharing a Lie!  At the top of the page describing these changes, they include the words "...better odds of winning...."  They aren't really better odds of winning, unless you ignore the fact that the price just doubled, and that's a significant part of having an intelligent discussion about the subject.

In the coming, or continuing, political conversations, we need to insist that the candidates discuss the Facts and tell the Truth!  It's not inappropriate to challenge them when they lie, or selectively present the Facts so that things appear different from what they are.  Sadly, the GOP primary debates have been full of just these sorts of lies.

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