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 . 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."


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!!!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Confirmation Bias and Politicos

After reading this article about how to think critically  I have been thinking about how we, as politicos are affected by confirmation bias and also about how we make up our minds about news stories and happenings around us, both locally and nationally.

I've been quite frustrated in the past by those who would react according to their principles "capitialism is bad" or "everything the LDs do is good", but I've also thought we need to think more independently and critically about both our reactions, and in general, party policy that we seek to influence. 

I think this might end up as a series of posts, but firstly I'd like to look at confirmation bias - from the article referenced above : 

"The biggest problem is one of confirmation bias: finding an answer you already believe. If someone has a question about a belief or opinion—say, that vaccines are dangerous—then when they look it up online they'll tend to be biased toward sites that have information they already agree with! "

I've seen this in many an argument - those seeking to back up their argument with "evidence" - only for both parties to do this and not end up with any adequate conclusion. You can also see it in evidence in the Houses of Parliament, were Ed Balls and George Osborne find evidence for both sides of the argument for deficit reduction, but for people like me sometimes it's a "well they're both right, in a way" - does anyone out there spend time researching the OTHER side of the argument? I follow all sorts of parties on twitter, in part because I like hearing different views  but also to look at their sources and reason out whether they are right or not. 

We can look at the different parties blog sites - for the Liberal Democrats try or for Tories or for Labour

This we should look at critically as they are definitely aligned to particular parties. But I like to look at these and also bloggers at the New Statesmans, The Guardian, Independent and the Telegraph to try to get a wide range of views, so I can see a 360 degree view of the problem.

Does anyone else do this? If not, what do you do?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Open Up Lobbying Manchester - An Activist Perspective

The meeting opened with a welcome and introduction of the panel. I was there mainly as my favourite MP, John Leech, Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, was speaking, and I was interested in his views on lobbying. I'd persuaded two friends to come along as well - all on the evening of the Sweden-England group game as well!
John Leech was joined on the panel by Michael Meacher (Labour MP for Oldham West), Spinwatch director Tamasin Cave and Peter Facey, the director of Unlock Democracy. The meeting was chaired by Dr Colin Talbot, the director of Policy@Manchester and blogger on WhitehallWatch.
I was most interested in Tamasin's views as the director of Spinwatch. She had a lot of good insight into the way lobbying was done and how it is achieved. From the MPs’ point of view I thought John Leech's contribution was valid - that lobbying was useful to an MP to help understand an issue. I felt one of the "takeaway messages" from the meeting was that if lobbying could be balanced, i.e. all stakeholders could be represented, then there could be an advantage to it.  
But it was clear from all the panel members and some of the questions and points from the audience that a lot of people felt locked out from lobbying. We are all free to speak or write to and meet our MP, and Michael Meacher made the excellent point that more of us should make use of MPs’ surgeries to get in front of MPs and make our point directly.  There was some dissatisfaction from the audience about people who've written to their MP and received a reply along party political lines (which I sympathise with as I have experienced that myself). As this is a representative democracy, this is a valid stance for the MP to take. 
Tamasin and Peter's concerns were that as lobbying has grown into such a large industry - and with the recent scandals about charging for access  - we should be looking to register these meetings and record, at least, what is happening. I think the meeting in general was in favour of this proposal, but wider points about access for the general public, the validity of direct action in these times, and the quality of debate and argument in the UK were made - an awful lot for further meetings to talk about. I hope to see more Unlock Democracy meetings in Manchester and more lively debate.

This post was originally posted on Unlock Democracy  -