I sometimes read discussions on the NCFP Comment section and it makes me sad when some readers start with their own opinion and then spend the rest of the discussion trying to support it, ignoring contrary evidence. This is quite common, and this quote attributed to JM Keynes, seems to many people to be a sign of dithering:
‘When the facts change I change my mind, what do you do?
The trouble with ‘facts’ is that, as in another popular quote, attributed to the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, facts can be doctored.
‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’
In the nineties, I was involved in designing a Vocational ‘A’ level GCE exam and one new introduction that excited me was the process of collecting information, analysing it and reaching conclusions based upon this analysis. Students had to also evaluate the sources of the information (‘facts’) and discuss whether they could rely on them.
The example I presented to my students was how this process would work when deciding to purchase a camera. I pointed to magazine articles giving 5-star ratings to a camera and then pointed to user comments which highlighted the faults missed by the magazine articles. We discussed why the article could be so positive while the first hand users were negative and which of the two sets of ‘facts’ we would rate as more valid; which brings me back to NCFP discussions.
Personally, I rate first hand reports higher than opinions supported by cherry-picked ‘facts’. That’s why I rated the first hand accounts of deceased author David Carter’s ‘Aphrodites Killers’ so highly, and the now defunct ‘Britain’s Small Wars’ website from which the book was sourced.
To use an up-to-date example; how do we decide whether Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, performed well in Prime Minister Question Time on Wednesday 20th January 2016. Here are some of the media reports:
‘Jeremy Corbyn challenged the Tory leader over sneaky student grant cuts – but PM returned time and again to Corbyn’s claim Trident subs could be used without nuclear weapons.’ [Daily Mirror]
‘Jeremy Corbyn is getting crushed at PMQs… and there’s no hope in sight’ [The Telegraph]
‘David Cameron used his appearance at prime minister’s question time on Wednesday to accuse the Labour Party as a whole of being a threat to Britain’s national security.’ [Huffington Post]
Then there is the videoed report of what actually happened, from which you can make up your own mind. Which would you trust the most?