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Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

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Steve3007
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Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » September 17th, 2017, 10:18 am

I am interested in examining the surprisingly difficult question of how we can decide if a politician or a journalist can objectively and fairly be deemed to have told the truth or a falsehood. I'd like to examine it by considering a very particular example which is currently in the UK media. I apologize in advance to non-British people who might find this example a bit parochial and local.


In the run-up to the vote on whether the UK should leave the EU (the "Brexit" vote) one of the claims made was that if we left the EU we would be better off by £350 million per week because this is the UK contribution to the EU coffers. It was alleged that this figure is misleading because about £80 million per week comes straight back in the form of rebates and other payments. (If I've got these figures slightly wrong, please don't let it bother you. It doesn't affect the principle of what I'm saying.)

The UK politician Boris Johnson recently wrote an article in a UK newspaper (The Telegraph) which mentioned this claim again. Other UK media, including the BBC, have criticized his article, claiming that he is repeating the alleged falsehood that we will be £350m better off. This is an example of an article which reports on those claims:

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4892268/Th ... claim.html

But what Johnson actually said in his article was that the UK would "take back control" of £350m per week. Not that we would be "better off" by that amount, despite what newspaper headlines are saying. Even the newspaper in which his article appeared:

telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/15/exclusi ... 0m-eu-nhs/

So, strictly speaking, he is (arguably) not lying. But a BBC fact checking service which claims to simply check facts and not offer opinions (such things seem to be gaining in popularity ever since we allegedly entered the "post truth world") claims that he was in fact saying something that is factually incorrect.

Johnson went on to say:

"It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS [National Health Service], provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology."

Again, despite what newspaper headlines are saying, this is not a factual claim. It is a claim as to what Mr Johnson's personal tastes are with regard to the spending of money. He claims that a particular way of spending money "would be a fine thing". Clearly an expression of taste.


Nevertheless, despite carefully avoiding saying anything that could conclusively be labelled as a lie, do we think that Mr Johnson has been misleading enough to be labelled a liar? If he states that "it would be a fine thing" for that £350m per week to be spent on the NHS in full knowledge of the fact that this would mean taking millions away from the places where that money is currently spent, can we justifiably claim that he is lying about his personal taste on this matter? Or does expressing something in this language of personal taste automatically get you off the hook? "There's no accounting for taste"?

Is it right for "Reality Check" or "Fact Check" services that are offered by various media outlets to label something as a false statement when it is actually (arguably) the expression of an opinion?

It's often said that "we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts". But is there really such an objective dividing line between the two?

---

For reference, here is Johnson's original article:

telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/15/boris-j ... ed-brexit/

Unfortunately you have to subscribe to The Telegraph to see the whole thing.

-- Updated Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:48 pm to add the following --

Update:

The fact checkers do now seem to acknowledge Boris Johnson's verbal sleight-of-hand in using the expression "take back control":

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41306354

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Ulrich » September 21st, 2017, 3:54 am

Hi,

thank you for this interesting example. I agree with you that the fact-checking services are at least problematic. Political statements are never simply factual statements. They always carry a certain meaning and are aimend at shaping the society in a certain way or according to a certain idea. Hannah Arendt argues that even the blatant lie is a truly political feature, simply beacause they liar wants to change the society so that it matches his falsehood. It is an interessting point, although I do not agree with her in that regard. The simple statement of facts on the other hand is apolitical, scince such a statement would not suggest how the society should be constructed. If, in the worst case, a the public discourse relies too much on fact checking it would run the risk of implementing an indirect form of censorship. However, this does not mean that a political person can simply jettonize any factual basis, as it is often the case in the growing right-wing spectrum. Such a disrespect for facts is just as concerning. An invariable dictum of truth, in my opinion, is therefore just as detrimental to the policitical discourse as the obvious promulgation of lies.

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by LuckyR » September 23rd, 2017, 5:53 pm

Steve3007 wrote:I am interested in examining the surprisingly difficult question of how we can decide if a politician or a journalist can objectively and fairly be deemed to have told the truth or a falsehood. I'd like to examine it by considering a very particular example which is currently in the UK media. I apologize in advance to non-British people who might find this example a bit parochial and local.


In the run-up to the vote on whether the UK should leave the EU (the "Brexit" vote) one of the claims made was that if we left the EU we would be better off by £350 million per week because this is the UK contribution to the EU coffers. It was alleged that this figure is misleading because about £80 million per week comes straight back in the form of rebates and other payments. (If I've got these figures slightly wrong, please don't let it bother you. It doesn't affect the principle of what I'm saying.)

The UK politician Boris Johnson recently wrote an article in a UK newspaper (The Telegraph) which mentioned this claim again. Other UK media, including the BBC, have criticized his article, claiming that he is repeating the alleged falsehood that we will be £350m better off. This is an example of an article which reports on those claims:

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4892268/Th ... claim.html

But what Johnson actually said in his article was that the UK would "take back control" of £350m per week. Not that we would be "better off" by that amount, despite what newspaper headlines are saying. Even the newspaper in which his article appeared:

telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/15/exclusi ... 0m-eu-nhs/

So, strictly speaking, he is (arguably) not lying. But a BBC fact checking service which claims to simply check facts and not offer opinions (such things seem to be gaining in popularity ever since we allegedly entered the "post truth world") claims that he was in fact saying something that is factually incorrect.

Johnson went on to say:

"It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS [National Health Service], provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology."

Again, despite what newspaper headlines are saying, this is not a factual claim. It is a claim as to what Mr Johnson's personal tastes are with regard to the spending of money. He claims that a particular way of spending money "would be a fine thing". Clearly an expression of taste.


Nevertheless, despite carefully avoiding saying anything that could conclusively be labelled as a lie, do we think that Mr Johnson has been misleading enough to be labelled a liar? If he states that "it would be a fine thing" for that £350m per week to be spent on the NHS in full knowledge of the fact that this would mean taking millions away from the places where that money is currently spent, can we justifiably claim that he is lying about his personal taste on this matter? Or does expressing something in this language of personal taste automatically get you off the hook? "There's no accounting for taste"?

Is it right for "Reality Check" or "Fact Check" services that are offered by various media outlets to label something as a false statement when it is actually (arguably) the expression of an opinion?

It's often said that "we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts". But is there really such an objective dividing line between the two?

---

For reference, here is Johnson's original article:

telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/15/boris-j ... ed-brexit/

Unfortunately you have to subscribe to The Telegraph to see the whole thing.

-- Updated Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:48 pm to add the following --

Update:

The fact checkers do now seem to acknowledge Boris Johnson's verbal sleight-of-hand in using the expression "take back control":

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41306354
Using technically accurate information to mislead others is essentially what the Legal profession is based on. It is a well known and accepted part of Modern life. Caveat emptor.

The problem comes with the collision of celebrity and mass media, such that the misleading statements of a few, influence the many.
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Eduk » September 28th, 2017, 8:25 am

He regularly lies. He has been caught many times lying. He has been sacked for lying. He is possibly a pathological liar although I don't claim to know him well enough to be sure of that.

He has been reported as saying this
"once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS".
That is a lie. Our net contribution is nothing like 350m a week. We will have to pay a leaving fee. There are entirely unknown financial ramifications such as lower tax revenue. Whatever is left (if anything) will then have to be apportioned out according to existing commitments. Even if everything left after all that was sent to the NHS and not further shared out (which it of course will be) the amount sent to the NHS could not reasonably be considered a lot of 350m.
Now there is a small chance that Boris literally knows nothing about any of the above, even though it is well documented and very basic, and he is living in some kind of denial land (after all many many people blind themselves to various things). And in that case he could well be sincere, so it's still basically a lie but a more complex one. A lie due to wanton disregard, something like that.
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Steve3007
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » September 28th, 2017, 8:48 am

Eduk: Did you read the OP?

My central point was about precisely that quote of Johnson's that you repeated there. My central point was to analyse what constitutes a lie, and how people can avoid being called a liar, by using that kind of wording. I'd be interested if you could concentrate on the words "control" and "it would be a fine thing" and read the OP.

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Eduk » September 28th, 2017, 9:11 am

First off a lie is normally defined as saying something which is not true in order to deceive. Saying something true in order to deceive is often called a lie by omission. In my opinion both are lies.

Funnily enough I believe Boris is actually lying in both the ways described above. He is saying we will take back control of 350m, in reality the number will be nothing like that and this is a pretty well established fact. He, as you point out, also uses careful working like 'control'. This gives the pretence of lying by omission. It is an odd case where you actually lie but pretend to lie by omission.

Regarding the 'fine thing' quote. This looks like a more basic lie by omission. It's kind of a lie in all directions really. For example it wouldn't necessarily be a fine thing to give a lot of a pot of money to the NHS, other services exists, I don't know which are more deserving at this precise moment in time.
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Steve3007
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » September 28th, 2017, 9:43 am

Yes, I basically agree. There's more than one way to lie. Technically, if he says something "would be a fine thing" then he can't be accused of lying because he's (technically) just expressing a personal taste. But we all know he's lying.

I suppose my point was also about the difficulties faced by media organisations who try to set up these "fact checking" services these days. The politicians can easily leave themselves enough wriggle-room so that fact checking is never quite black and white.

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Eduk » September 28th, 2017, 10:02 am

Who is fact checking the fact checkers?

You raise some good points. Many politicians dog whistle whereby they say nothing but different people can take different meanings (sometimes the meaning is actually quite clear). So in these cases sure they aren't answering the question, but then politically they often can't (so who's fault is it).

The best you can do is fact check yourself. This is often impractical. For example you would need to a be a climatologist to fact check climatological claims yourself.
The second best you can do is to not 'trust' anyone. You can do some research yourself. For example you can research the consensus of climatologists yourself. You can go slightly further than this. You can look at what a 'trusted' source should look like. For example do they have references, are studies published, are they cited and so on. You can consider factors of influence. You can consider basic logic, for example there are no fallacies in the statements. This goes on, you can learn what a reasonable statement looks like and what an unreasonable statement looks like.

Finally you should proportion belief to your evidence. For example in the last election I had no confidence on which party was better. I still have no confidence about which party is better. I'm forced to vote but I do some from a position of profound ignorance. The best I could do in the last election was that I didn't like May's strong and stable quote and redefinition of citizenship. I didn't like a lot of what Corbyn was saying either, but I found it less distasteful. Recently though he is catching up :)
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Steve3007
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » November 8th, 2018, 3:50 am

In a White House press conference yesterday, a CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, was forcibly prevented from asking questions and had his White House press credentials revoked, with the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, citing the sexual assault of an intern as the reason:
Sarah Sanders wrote:President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern...
Here is a video showing exactly what happened in that exchange:
And here from a different angle:
On this one, the incident in question (the alleged assault) happens between 36 and 45 seconds in.


Is objective truth, even when captured like this from numerous angles, now completely gone?

Steve3007
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » November 8th, 2018, 3:53 am

In particular, listen to the commentary of the Fox presenter from 1:25 to 1:34 and then watch again what she is referring to (36 to 45 seconds).

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » November 8th, 2018, 4:06 am

As it happened:

36 seconds: The intern beings to rise.
39 seconds: She reaches Mr Acosta.
39 to 42 seconds: She is tapping him on the left shoulder. His left arm has been raised the whole time, pointing at Trump. His right hand holds the microphone.
43 seconds: She reaches around his extended left arm to try to take the microphone from his right hand as he continues to point. His left arm drops slightly and he says "excuse me ma'am".
45 seconds: She gives up trying to wrest the microphone from his right hand and sits down again.

Is this an assault? If so, by whom on whom? If it's an assault by Mr Acosta, does the punishment of having his press credentials suspended fit the alleged crime?

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Eduk » November 8th, 2018, 4:49 am

Objective truth was never here to begin with. What humans will happily believe is frightening and, to my knowledge, always has been.
Basically the democrats are simply reaping what they sowed.
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Steve3007
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » November 8th, 2018, 5:15 am

Eduk wrote:...Basically the democrats are simply reaping what they sowed.
As a result of the Kavanaugh thing? Yes, that's the thing that immediately springs to mind, isn't it. But in that case, as in so many such cases, it was one person's word against another. In this case the objective evidence of what happened during those 9 seconds could not be clearer. Yet still people see what they want to see. The commentary by the presenter on the Fox News clip is a fascinating example of this.

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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Eduk » November 8th, 2018, 6:21 am

As a result of the Kavanaugh thing?
No I was thinking longer term than that. If a government doesn't prioritise the general welfare then I think it's fair to argue that welfare could be higher? I would argue that low welfare leads to poor outcomes over time?

On a tangent I suspect the Fox News presenter is merely doing their job and possibly doesn't believe a word they are saying. I'm sure they have many outgoing bills which need to be paid. Not that I'm saying the presenter is blameless and wonderful, I'm just saying that arguing about what is real and what is not real is to miss the point.
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Re: Truths > half-truths > misleading statements > lies

Post by Steve3007 » November 8th, 2018, 6:32 am

Eduk wrote:No I was thinking longer term than that. If a government doesn't prioritise the general welfare then I think it's fair to argue that welfare could be higher? I would argue that low welfare leads to poor outcomes over time?
Ah, OK. Well that's a much larger political point about such things as equality/inequality in society.
On a tangent I suspect the Fox News presenter is merely doing their job and possibly doesn't believe a word they are saying. I'm sure they have many outgoing bills which need to be paid. Not that I'm saying the presenter is blameless and wonderful, I'm just saying that arguing about what is real and what is not real is to miss the point.
Yes that's a valid point. It's the equivalent of the political concept of realpolitik, applied to keeping one's job. It can be argued that the empirical truth or falsehood of our words are incidental, and that their primary purpose is to help us achieve out goals in life, whatever they may be. If our goal is to speak or discover the empirical truth, then the truth/falsehood of our words becomes important because it happens to coincide with our goals. If our goal is to make a living and feed our kids then their truth/falsehood might be coincidentally important, but it's not forced to be. Likewise if our goal is to attain and keep political power.

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