Telling lies #10: Weasel Words

Colgate.jpg

 

Ovid in Metamorphoses, describes how Juno orders the goddess of childbirth, Lucina, to prevent Alcmene from giving birth to Hercules.

Realising that Lucina is using magic to frustrate the birth Alcmene’s servant Galanthis announces outside the birthing chamber that the birth has been a success.

Lucina, in her amazement, drops the spells of binding and Hercules is born. The furious Lucina responds by transforming Galanthis into a weasel.

So we come to the term “weasel words” which are vague, unsubstantiated and easily deniable claims. Weasel words abound in the modern world. Colgate were banned from using their claim that 80% of dentists recommend their toothpaste when the Advertising Standards Authority analysed the basis of the claim.

Anti-vaxxers continue to quote the work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield long after the work has been discredited as junk science.

Once the #Brexit referendum was won the #VoteLeave campaign admitted that there was no £350 million for the NHS.  It was a chimera, a phantasm.

Brexit bus

There is an entire body of pseudo-academic work aimed at spouting out clickbait studies with small, highly biased, carefully selected “judgement” samples, dubiously leading questions and highly conjectural results.  These studies are funded by “interest” groups to deliver on foregone conclusions.  They are then trotted out as though they are science.

Politicians are particularly adept at using weasel words.  If you cannot make your point using science, statistics or aggregate national data then you resort to telling the story of Joe the Plumber.  Go for the down homey personal story of the plucky underdog who nobody can seem to track down.

Journalists will use weasel words to give spice to a mediocre story.  If the police raid the home of a white collar tax cheat the story is unlikely to set the world on fire.  The police will probably seize papers around the house to use as evidence.  They will put the papers in a bag to carry them to the squad car.  The bag may also contain several weapons.  The bag may also contain cocaine.  The bag may also contain undisclosed cash.  The bag may also contain a ham and cheese salad for lunch, but who wants to read about that?

If you find yourself on the receiving end of weasel words alwasy get specific.  “What scientific study are you referencing?  Who are the researchers?  Who paid for the research?  What was the original stated aim of the research?  What questions were asked?  Who was sampled?  How does the sample match the general population?  What is the sample error?”  You need to be very, very specific.

How would Nigel Farage have coped if any decent journalist had hauled him fully over the coals on the NHS £350 million?  How would Boris Johnson have coped if anyone sat down and ran the calculations in front of him and forced him to justify the numbers?

Advertising standards authorities actually impose considerable discipline on commercial advertisers, especially in response to complaints from consumers.  Politicians face no such discipline.  Politicians have the greatest freedom of any group in society to spout lies to the voting public.  Politicians have no interest in passing laws against the telling of lies, because politicians are perfectly happy to continue to use weasel words to fool most of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.

Weasel Words from the Swamp

 

 

 

Consequence

GDYATH

God damn you all to Hell

Consequence : a result or effect, typically one that is unpleasant.

Britain is suffering the consequences of cynical politicking.  David Cameron came up with the idea of a Brexit referendum as a means of remaining in power. He used the idea to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and secured a majority government for the Conservatives in Britain.  Then he had to pay the price by giving what he promised.

The Brexit referendum in the UK has rolled the country back 100 years.  On the one hand you have British people who still think they have an empire.  They want Britain to be “Great” again.  They miss the “good old days” long before they were born when Britain stood in splendid isolation from European politics.  These are people who simply have no grasp of the complexities of international trade in the modern world.  They believe the lies about the EU costing Britain money.  They don’t understand that their jobs are reliant on exports to the EU and on the flows of trade, capital and currency through Britain because they are in the EU.

On the other hand you have Brexit voters who are simple xenophobes.  They have no passport, have never really encountered other cultures and frankly are afraid to do so.  They rail about “poles taking our jobs” while refusing those same jobs.  They are happy to accept the lies about the “Schrodinger Immigrant”, you know;  the one who steals your job while living on state benefits.

The Brexit outcome has divided the United Kingdom.  London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all want to remain in the EU.  Those who voted to leave are the old, the uneducated and the working class;  the very people who are best protected because of EU membership.  They are people who do not understand economics.

The politicians who lied to the voters about the benefits of leaving the EU seem to be shocked that anyone actually listened to them.  Now that they have succeeded they are facing the awful consequences of the outcome.  What is their reaction?  They are all running for the hills.  Cameron, Johnson and Farage are all gone.  Gove will soon follow.  The idiots who launched this ship of fools have refused to step on board and take the tiller.  They can see that there are no happy outcomes to this path.

Sterling is taking a beating on currency markets and the purchasing power of the British has already collapsed.  International companies who sited in the UK to gain access to the EU are reviewing their location options.  This will have enormous consequences in terms of employment levels.  The EU is playing hardball with the UK in trade terms.  The politicians who believed they would have Norwegian style access to EU markets are now feeling like Maxwell Smart with the end credits rolling, as the doors close in front of them.

The Scots voted only 2 years ago to remain in the UK on the Conservative Party campaign slogan of “Better Together”.  For the Scots the idea of better together encompasses Europe, not just England.  If England successfully negotiates its way out of the EU we may see Scotland negotiate its way out of the UK and back into Europe.

That outcome could see an interesting dynamic emerge.  There is a potential for a United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland standing separately from the Britain of England and Wales.

All across Europe it was understood that the ordinary voter finds it difficult to understand the benefits of EU membership.  The layman sees the bureaucracy and the raft of laws and regulations.  It is easy for cynical politicians to make personal capital by attacking the EU.  The truth is that the EU is the greatest force for peace in the history of the planet.  It converted a plethora of quarreling nation states into a peaceful and cooperative economic bloc.  It turned a mixed bag of nations into a formidable economic bloc.  The long lists of seemingly tiresome rules and regulations that underpin this cooperation are designed to protect the citizens of Europe and to enhance their lives.

No experiment is perfect. The EU is a work in progress, but it is a great thing.  It takes a particularly small minded, short-term focused, self-serving politician to attack such a wonderful institution.  But then modern western democracy is based on small mindedness, local issues, the time-frame of the next election and selfish politicians.  When I go to the polls I want to vote for leaders, people who will do their best for the welfare of all the people.  Instead I am faced with candidates who promise to deliver medical cards, hospital beds and planning permissions to people who do not deserve them.  I despair.