It Must be True, I Remember Imagining It Yesterday

it is late, I am tired. expect even more errors than usual. Feel free to tell me of my mistakes. 

Twitter can be an infuriating distraction and a voracious absorbent of your time. It can leave you spent and with no sense of achievement as you realise you are only a few minute hand clicks from the dawn chorus, but it has its uses. As I keep quoting in my current show, “the keys to heaven also open the gates to hell”, as a monk of Richard Feynman’s acquaintance once said. Just as it can be a rich source of misinformation, but it can also help highlight atrocities and move people to action. Howard Zinn said that if the people knew what was done in their name, they would be appalled. Propaganda may be made easier by social media, but so is the counter attack of information. I have found twitter especially useful in improving my arguing technique. By seeing abysmal methods of argument by others, I have become aware of the paucity of my own ability. By spending long nights engaged in spats and feuds, I hope I have improved. Tonight, I retweeted this from Positive News

The govt must now consider the impact on women’s rights as part of its international aid spending http://bit.ly/1k8jWLF  #genderequality

Then, I received this tweet (I have removed the name as this was tweeted directly to me)

uk spends four times on foreign aid than USA and Fifty times more than Germany. TOO MUCH.

Crikey, that seemed some disparity. My initial reaction was to think that this might be the sort of statistic that is going around during these grandstanding days of European elections. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to know the source.

I looked around and failed to find anything that came close, or even came distant, to this declaration. I asked the tweeter.

I can’t find anything matching up to that stat you used, please can you send me your source

She/he came back with

maybe if you sharpen up your research techniques you may be more informed.

This is true. I could sharpen up my research teqniques on almost everything, but it wasn’t very helpful. If I wished to persuade people of the ludicrousness of a situation, and I presume this person did as they had replied to Positive News and me, I would be eager to ensure my fact was based on something, not just a Gorgonzola dream or the Daily Express (Gorgonzola dream based bulletin for the fearful). At least this person looked likely to have some source as they must have some pretty sharp research techniques going by the bravado of their response.

good good, you have done the work, so you can send me the link?

Perhaps they had worked so hard to build up their database of overseas aid information that they were not prepared to give it away willy nilly, as they came back with,

I love it. To you research is all down to “links” – try proper research in the corridors of power

I suppose by link, I meant source. In this future utopia we inhabit, many documents, essays, graphs, and research papers cane be found on the internet. Those that are not readily available do at least offer up a tantalising hint of their existence on the internet. But nothing here, was this a grand cover up, by typing “try proper research in the corridors of power”, was this Tweeter hinting that they might be a John le Carre style mole? Or would I soon be Coral Browne to this person’s Guy Burgess?

I continued to ask for any resource that would hint at a back to this fact of of our “50 times Germany’s foreign aid gobbet”. On the third time of asking

“you say our foreign aid budget is 50 times Germany’s, how did you find this out?”

I received this.

“well there is a little more to it than that. I take it you are not big on research”

Actually, I am. I may not be thorough, but I ripple with coquettish joy when it comes to new things to research. In the time I had been waiting for an answer, I had found nothing that suggested the truth of that first offered statement.

I had read these in the minutes I waited for a reply, plus a few other graphs.

http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/aidtopoorcountriesslipsfurtherasgovernmentstightenbudgets.htm http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/06/research_desk_responds_how_gen.html http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_governments_by_development_aid

I asked what this human’s research techniques were.

hard graft in a busy department- and badly paid

I asked if that hard graft was in a department that studied aid figures. I was told, yes, amongst other things. And yet again, despite this hard graft and knowledge, nothing more was forthcoming.

this is a great opportunity for you to educate yourself about the HUGE UK overseas aid budget.

I asked how this twitterer had educated themselves, but answer came there none.

Meanwhile, I read this.

http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/get-involved/myths-about-aid

Later they threw in another fact, again, with no source. 

This boiled down to an argument of hearsay and arrogance, with a smidgen of mystical knowledge found through meditation or drinking with a Farager. This was a reminder of how useful the question, “why do you believe that?” remains, and always will remain. Many debates on Twitter boil down to, “because I said so, and that’s that”. The harassed parent in a sweet shop technique of debating. Increasingly, I notice cultures where the very idea of arguments backed up by evidence creates a sense of suspicion. Facts should be checked, theories poked, ideas challenged, but that doesn’t mean the very concept of evidence is flawed. “Wasn’t it using evidence that led to all those people dying on the Titanic?” “isn’t evidence used by lawyers, and we all know how scurrilous they are, eh”. “what’s so wrong with ‘I think this because I want to’, or are we not allowed to do that anymore, this country is like Stalin’s Russia”.

Statistics created in the mind or election pamphlet solely because you want them to exist are what can often make debating hard. Throw in the incendiary device of “EU regulations state that Germans have first dibs on all British people’s internal organs after you die, and in some cases, before that” or “did you know Romanians are 73% more likely to imitate your sister’s speaking voice sarcastically”, and all is derailed. Only after the audience has gone and the sweat has evaporated from the seat cushions, do you have time to check and see that this was another case of made up fact for victory. Like the courtroom scenario of “the Jury will ignore that fact”, it’s too late, it is out there. We bozos have been manipulated.

This supremely arrogant position of scorning decent research and evidence based thinking is what bad governments and shoddy civilisations thrive on. Look, i think there are a few of those just around the corner…

I am touring with an upbeat show in the human mind, its magnificence and its foibles – off to Reading, Hay, Newcastle, Worcester, Glasgow, Northampton, York and a town near you I reckon. Dates HERE

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14 Responses to It Must be True, I Remember Imagining It Yesterday

  1. colin evans says:

    i sent you a source on the childish attack on the working class by harry hill but because he was a friend you chose to ignore it,you could have retweeted it or condemned it but you chose to ignore source and facts because it didn’t suit you,dawkins does the same.

    • robinince says:

      no, you requested I be outraged about something I knew nothing about. I am not a bespoke outrage service.
      you also sent something which I later found out was a few years old. I would be denying evidence if you had sent this on the back of me publicly tweeting – “Harry Hill has never made anything that may be deemed contentious or derogatory about the working class”. You have confused yourself here. Had you sent it on the back of me writing about that issue, then that would have been a good time to do it, not three years after it apparently happened with no link to anything I was currently saying. Next time I write about class and comedy, and I may, that would be the time I may reference it.

      • colin evans says:

        not really correct, although the hill piece was three years old the pattern continues today with his ‘i can’t sing’ musical(thankfully no more)and why i have asked other comics and like yourself about this,little britain,cowell’s shows attacks on the working class have become far too commonplace to be coincidence.you all skirt around the issue.not about outrage but about right and wrong which you wouldn’t acknowledge.

      • robinince says:

        but as you know, I have written on this sort of thing before, just a while back. I wasn’t plugging the musical etc, I had said nothing about Harry Hill publicly or promoted his work etc

  2. Adam Pain says:

    Debates on the internet are incredibly irritating (I’ve just been writing a post about one such incident) but it’s probably to be expected in a binary culture, reduced to 140 character bursts. Besides, everyone knows 97.6% of statistics are made up. By marxists, atheists or the political elite, probably. 😉

  3. I have this problem a lot of the time with climate-change deniers etc. It gets increasingly frustrating when after accepting a few facts through evidence, they get to that one that they just refuse to take on – for no reason. They just refuse =[

    Thanks for writing about it. True, 140 characters isn’t the best way to debate these things, but you make use with what you’ve got – and Twitter has made it incredibly easy to link to sources. It just needs to be common practice.

  4. Words… Evidence is evident. What other sort can there be…? Some phrases just self-destruct. I saw a road sign yesterday. It read “Secret nuclear bunker”. Little thought required to see a problem with that.

  5. sbooder1 says:

    Like the post.
    I once provided links from scientific papers and veterinary sites on Manx Syndrome in cats as a plausible explanation to counter the insistence that Cabbits (a theoretical hybrid of Cats and Rabbits) actually exist, to a well known online presence (I will follow the etiquette of this blog and withhold the name). I was blocked by the person in question. So in a way it was the reverse of your situation Robin? I was dismissed for providing sources.

  6. Ben says:

    I had a similar experience recently with some easily riled people, after I posted a link to the RSPCAs website during a debate on the halal meat issue, in which the RSPCA said that the majority of halal slaughter did involve pre-stunning. I was accused of ‘hiding’ behind links and sources, and besides I was wrong, which was rather perplexing.

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