Saturday, 30 June 2012

Sources and Politicos - second in a series

This series of posts has been inspired by one of my best friends, Dr Kirsty Newman who's been blogging on a similar theme from a scientific perspective over at  http://blog.inasp.info/why-scientists-seem-to-change-their-minds-1/ . It's also been inspired by this post on lifehacker , on how we can think critically about the information we are presented with.....

So I turn to examining your sources. I've been tripped up in the past, (and so have those around me who admit it with varying degrees of honesty!) by facts changing, or not being as first presented, or having reacted on the basis of a theory or a principle, finding that our opinion simply doesn't fit the facts.

This can result in the amusing spectacle of someone trying to reduct and argue their way out of the situation, or if they have slightly more humility and maturity, simply admitting they were wrong or like one of my heroes,  John Maynard Keynes said, much better than I: 

"There is no harm in being sometimes wrong — especially if one is promptly found out."

or, if the situation changes or has changed:

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
  • Reply to a criticism during the Great Depression of having changed his position on monetary policy, as quoted in Lost Prophets: An Insider's History of the Modern Economists (1994) by Alfred L. Malabre, p. 220


What stands in the way of politicos doing the same thing? Two things - fear of our over-powerful media and and the baying mob of public opinion called Twitter, but moreover I think something closer to home - pride.

Pride prevents us backtracking. Pride prevents us doubting our own "rightness" enough to do some research and some understanding of what lies behind what we have been presented with - for you must always remind yourself that there is some interest for the presenter in whatever they are presenting you with - or they wouldn't do it.

Lifehacker's article says:

" One thing I like to do before I write about or share any news article that's based on a study of some kind is to see if I can get to the study itself. Is it mentioned in an article, or did someone say "a study said X?" Fire Google back up and include the journal name and publication date, if you can. "Include "research" or "evidence" or "study" in your search terms. With enough digging, you will often find several scientific papers related to your topic," McRaney suggests. Read the full-text if it's available, or at least the abstract. It'll help you get a picture for what the study really concludes."

Finally:

The more I experience in politics the more I think that there are two types of politician - those who genuinely want to make a difference, and egotists. The first group are actually far more prevalent than you would think, and the second group are very good at pretending they are not. But I'd say it's also a very good test of character... learning to test your opinion against others, how you react and argue, and moreover how you respond if wrong (or indeed right) can tell you a lot about people....

Right, that's probably enough deep thinking for this weekend, off to the Stone Roses..... enjoy!!!

2 comments:

  1. Is the being found out and changing your mind a result of bad research and bad judgement for politicos?

    But of course if you are to push the boundaries of the possible in science you have to be bold and be prepared to adapt and changes ones mind without becoming entrenched. But again good research is required or ones reputation could be in tatters very quickly!

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  2. Hi Will, thanks for your comment

    Well what I'm trying to talk about is the option of "holding your opinion lightly" instead of jumping in with your opinion or thoughts - I've learnt to do this since I've been involved in politics

    Judgement is a curious concept, a lot of the time you have imperfect or incomplete information, so really have to make a call. If you're proved to be wrong, then best to admit it and change your mind, than carry on regardless...

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