The Corum Incorrectness Spectrum
Fair warned be ye – that’s Ranty up there. I’m likely to get a little harsh in this post. So… political discourse.
While paying attention to the general political discourse of the country over the past few months, I’ve been struck by something. An awful lot of it isn’t correct.
I’m not talking about people’s opinions on particular nominees or stances on one side of the Conservative/Liberal Republican/Democrat spectrum or the other. I don’t like to judge people’s opinions. Opinions are deeply personal things, held for any number of reasons. They can be deeply held, and can go so far as to become convictions. No, I’m not going to tell someone that their opinions or convictions are wrong. What I’m referring to are the facts that people are using to demonstrate their points, or conclusions that are being reached strictly on the basis of stated facts or logical conjecture.
I won’t say that someone’s opinions are wrong; opinions are subjectively held. I will, however, point out where people’s facts or conjecture are wrong. Why the distinction?
I don’t know of any reliable tests to determine the veracity of an opinion. “I think that this is better than that.” Well, to that person, this actually is therefore better than that… who am I to question what they think?
There are, however, tests to determine the veracity of facts or conjecture. These things can be successfully researched and/or analyzed. “This has more stuff than that.” We can measure the amount of stuff possessed by both this and that, and compare the amounts to determine whether, in fact, the quantity of stuff held by this is greater than the quantity of stuff held by that.
All of which is to say that sometimes, people are wrong. It can be demonstrated that people are wrong. The rightness or wrongness of a stated fact is, in and of itself, a fact, subject to testing for veracity.
In viewing the more recent political discourse, a lot of people are using facts which are incorrect. However, calling their facts incorrect appears to be a faux pas. “How dare you tell me that I’m wrong? You’re obviously motivated strictly by your opinion of me or my political/social alignment, otherwise, how could you tell me that I’m wrong?”
It almost seems like people have determined that everyone gets a turn to be right. “All right, your facts were correct in the last season, so this season, we get to have our facts be correct.” This is, of course, not the case, but people DO want their facts to be correct. If one’s facts are correct, their opinions hold more weight.
I won’t tell someone else that their opinion is wrong, you see… but I will take my own opinion over theirs. If, however, someone can convince me that their opinion is more correct than mine, I may (or may not) take their opinion as my own. Opinions are subjective things, after all, and if I hold an opinion strongly enough, I may sustain it over other opinions even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Throw enough contrary (and correct!) facts at an opinion, though, and you may weaken it. A weak opinion is more likely to be replaced by an opinion that is backed by correct facts.
This means that people have a tendency to treat facts as malleable things… “well, MY facts contradict YOUR opinion, even if YOUR facts do not. Therefore, MY facts must be the more correct.”
It is possible to generate facts that are not, in fact, correct. If one is writing a story, this can lead to very entertaining fiction. If one is engaging in political discourse, this can lead to a huge quantity of confused and misinformed people, who are improperly equipped to make intelligent choices.
When I see incorrect facts and conjecture thrown into the public discourse, I often find myself wondering exactly how that particular fact/conjecture was created. For my own measurement purposes, this led to the creation of what I call the Corum Incorrectness Spectrum (CIS). Here’s how it works:
In the center of the spectrum are facts/conjecture that came about because the person who generated the facts/conjecture was Misinformed. This is a fairly neutral level of incorrectness; the person most likely believes in the fact/conjecture they are using, but that is to the degree that they have not used any tests of veracity on it.
At the upper end of the spectrum are facts/conjecture that came about because the person who generated the facts/conjecture is Incompetent. This can be a general lack of the base essential information necessary to generate a correct fact/conjecture, or a lack of the mental faculties necessary to do so, or a combination of both. This may be an extreme case of being Misinformed, in that the entire basis of a person’s reasoning ability may have been undermined by poor or misguided education. Often, the person is simply compiling a series of other people’s misinformation and spewing it out as if it were a freshly generated fact/conjecture.
At the lower end of the spectrum are facts/conjecture that came about because the person who generated the facts/conjecture is Lying. They are likely fully aware that what they are presenting as correct facts/conjecture is, in fact, incorrect, but as it generates proofs of the opinions that they want people to hold, they present the facts/conjecture as correct anyway. Though they may even have noble intentions (such as believing that their opinion is the only way to save a large number of lives), they are still deliberately forwarding something they are fully aware is not true.
So, the question is, how do you find someone’s position on the CIS? Well… did the person in question have access to the resources necessary to generate the fact/conjecture correctly? If they had no access to the data or methodology that pertains to the subject they are working with, and/or they lacked the ability to get the right information, then they fall into the Incompetent category.
Is Incompetent a bit of a harsh label for someone without access to the correct information? No, not really… because they’re talking about the subject anyway. “I’ve never studied the human body, medicine, or neurology, but I’ll hold up the process of governing the nation to loudly talk about the chances of a woman in a coma, whom I have never examined, seen medical data on, been in the presence of, or in fact seen, to recover.”
If all of the information that the person in question has access to is from sources that are incorrect (for whatever reason), but that person has had no reason to question those sources, they fit into the Misinformed category.
If the person knowingly had access to the necessary information to generate the fact/conjecture correctly, and either did not use it or ignored it, then they fit into the Lying category.
Now, please note… up to this point I haven’t said jack and/or squat about who is guilty of this behavior, and what facts, conjecture, or even opinions I feel that are called into question. All right, maybe a little, as my example of Incompetence comes straight from the Terry Schiavo debacle, but that’s fairly old at this point. I have not, to this point, spoken to any particular current issue. If any particular current issues have come to mind at this point, it’s more a matter of your perceptions than mine. I try very hard not to name names or talk about specific situations. But that IS Ranty, up there.
Now I’m going to talk about Rush Limbaugh. I’m not going to be kind.
Specifically, I’m going to talk about his public treatment of Sandra Fluke, the law student who was initially barred from testifying about contraception to a Republican Committee on the subject, and was later able to give her testimony before a Democratic Committee. Referencing her discussion about the high cost of contraceptives while at college, he referred to her as a “slut” and “prostitute” because, to him, a high contraceptive cost meant a large amount of sexual encounters.
There were some other things he said, as well, which have frankly gotten enough air time. I’m talking about how he’s wrong, not about the fact that he’s a pig of the lowest order of humanity.
No, I’m going to talk about female contraceptives. First of all… they’re not just for preventing pregnancy. Oral contraceptives, or “the pill,” and medications like them, do their job by regulating hormone cycles (yes, I’m horribly oversimplifying). The regulation of hormone cycles has a number of health benefits, not the least of which can be the reduction of the severity of hormone-related conditions.
Secondly… they’re a daily medication. They’re taken regardless of the number of anticipated sexual encounters. The cost of contraceptives for a woman anticipating very few encounters is the same as the cost of contraceptives for a woman anticipating a larger number of encounters. Even if we’re talking about a contraceptive device, such as a diaphragm, there is still no cost difference between a low-encounter scenario and a high-encounter scenario. Contraceptive Implants? Same thing.
Only in very rare cases, using less-than-common contraception options (female condoms, for example), is there a per-encounter cost… and in that case, the contraception cost is much lower.
At the core of Limbaugh’s argument, therefore, is a fallacy big enough to drive a truck through… a conjecture which is easily and demonstrably incorrect. So… Misinformed? Incompetent? Lying? Limbaugh has had four marriages and has had no children, so either he knows something about contraception, he’s doing something SO wrong that conception isn’t possible, or for some reason (likely physiological on his part) there is no need for contraception. In any case… FOUR marriages. He’s had, minimum, four intimate relationships with women. Unless his response to frank intimate discussions about contraception and health options is to put his fingers into his ears and start yelling “LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING TO FEMALE ISSUES,” he knows something about contraception. He knows he’s full of excrement on this point… but of course, he desperately wants people to share his opinion.
I’m not sharing my conclusion… I think it’s fairly obvious. But that’s just my opinion.