Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lets have some intellectual honesty here.

Intellectual honesty.

Is it too much to ask this of our elected representatives?

Is it too much to ask this of our media?

Is it too much to ask this of our peers, our families, our friends, neighbors, community, educators?

Apparently, it is.

A quick scan of the media today provides some headlines that do not in any way approach intellectual honesty:-

1. The Huffington Post: "Grover Norquist: Ending Bush Tax Cuts Not A Tax Hike (updated)"

The story goes on to say that Grover Norquist claims that this quote was taken out of context and that he is against tax increases of any kind, including rolling back the Bush tax cuts.

The headline was misleading....the article at first supported the headline and was followed by updates that revealed the reality. We are lucky to have even had the updates. I suppose that was a slight nod to truthful journalism, even though most people will not read beyond the headline and the first paragraph.

At best, misleading. Definitely intellectually dishonest.

And why are they called the Bush tax cuts when it was Obama who extended them? They should now be called the Obama tax cuts...or at least the Obama extended tax cuts. Of course, that would not serve the left's current agenda so it is ignored as much as possible. Intellectual honesty? I don't think so.

2. Fox news: "White House to Give Congress More Time to Strike Debt Deal"

OK, on the face of it, not a bad headline.  White House press secretary Carney said that given the constraints, the president would be willing to support a "very short-term extension" if a broader deal is reached by the deadline and lawmakers just need more time to work out the details.

The story briefly covers the point that this is a softening of the Presidents position. It also briefly covers the fact the "cut, cap and balance" was passed by the House but faced opposition in the Senate. It suggested that the Gang of Six proposals were being considered, and it inferred that time was of the essence.

What it didn't say was that the so-called Gang of Six had been working on this for a full year and even now has little to show for it. It did NOT say that the democrats had failed to produce a single plan for debt reduction. It did not say a whole lot of stuff that could have put this report in better perspective.

The omission of information is equally as dishonest and the spinning of information.

I am going to be very generous to the media for just a moment. I understand that there are space limitations and that not all stories can be provided sufficient space for full disclosure. Just as TV and radio is being dumbed down to sound bites, written media is being dumbed down to meet the dubious demands of 10 second concentration spans....or word bites!

So, while not giving media a pass on this, I do indeed understand that they are in business to make money. They make money by appealing to a demographic that advertisers will pay good money to get in front of. If that demographic can't understand the media offering, then the advertisers won't the media will find the lowest common denominator...the one thing that all its viewers will "get" and will by necessity do that. Hence the sound bite and the word bite.

Intellectual honesty has no part to play in that particular game, regardless of which political preference you hold.

The problem with this is that the media, along with educators, have been so successful at this, that they have enabled a whole generation or two of people who can no longer determine when a report is honest or dishonest. Who can no longer see past the words and question the motives or the agenda of both the speaker and the reporter. They are no longer capable of seeing a story, or a graphic, and asking whether that is a true representation of reality.

A case in point.

I was sent a graphic yesterday with a notation that said:

Show this to your fiscally conservative friends and family...

An impressive looking graphic that is designed to trick you into believing that Reagan was the the biggest spending President by far.

I want to look at this for a minute or two and see how long it takes to find the intellectual dishonesty present in this graphic. I will not even look at the source until the end.

1. The first thing I notice is the use of percentages. For those of us who are numerically inclined, we know immediately that percentages can be totally meaningless numbers. It is all a question of what the percentage is calculated from and what the base is. As an example, let me show you how 5 imaginary presidents, who all increase debt by exactly the same amount, can end up with different percentages.

Lets assume that each fictional president increases the debt load by $500 million during their term

Let's assume that debt stood at $350 million at the start.

Fictional president 1 will have an increase in debt of 500/350 = 143%
Fictional president 2 will have an increase in debt of 500/850 = 59%
Fictional president 3 will have an increase in debt of 500/1350 = 37%
Fictional president 4 will have an increase in debt of 500/1850 = 27%
Fictional president 5 will have an increase in debt of 500/2350 = 22%

Let me ask you something. Which of my fictional presidents spent more?

If I showed you just a graphic depicting this, would you immediately think president 5 spent less? If you say yes, do not be alarmed. You number among the majority of the population. The fact is that a percentage calculation as depicted in the above graphic does not portray "spending".

2. Nowhere in this graphic does it define "debt". We have no idea what the base numbers are, what has been included and what has been excluded. For instance, do the numbers reflect unfunded SS liabilities? 

3. When looking at spending and percentages, we must also look at economic growth, inflation, unemployment and many other factors that provide a full picture. What factors did this graphic look at?

4. This graphic does not take into account the relevant terms of the President. For example, it is right to compare an 8 year term of Bush and Clinton with a 3 year period for Obama? Just on that basis alone, the graphic is intellectually dishonest.

So, 5 minutes is all it took.

Five minutes of thinking logically and the entire graphic is debunked in the sense that it has applied intellectual dishonesty.

And yet, millions of people, including well educated, smart people, will look at that graphic and immediately believe Obama is the lowest spending President in recent history. The fact remains that in just 3 years he has increased the debt load of this country by 3 trillion. More than any other president in history.

Can we afford another term?

Can we afford the intellectual dishonesty of this graphic?

Of course, a quick look at the source of the graphic tells us why it has been done this way. It has come from and is distributed by said.

Surely those two organisations do not have an agenda?

Wake up people...intellectual dishonesty thrives on the right and is rampant on the left. Question everything you see, and learn to dissect and analyse. Find the information behind the story, and you may indeed find the truth.

Looking for truth within the story will tell you only what the writer wants you to think.



  1. That graphic is all over Facebook... so misleading and frustrating!

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    there are many more graphics that attempt to show the current President as a fiscally responsible leader.

    All they have done is use intellectually dishonest reason and logic to show what they want to show. It bears no resemblance to the truth.

    Our job is to show exactly what is going on, and to educate the unthinking so that this sort of manipulation can not continue. At times it seems like an exercise in futility but if we do not stand up and call it a lie, nobody else will.

    Stand strong and call out the liars every time you see one.