We can’t even agree on facts – Bob Herbert of the NY Times OP-ED Retracts a Whopper

Amen to this.  If we could at least have facts to agree on and then recognize and negotiate on goals, then pick policies that will meet those goals, would we all better.  These days we can’t even agree on facts to know what the problem if any is.  Global warming is an example.


From:  Environmental and Urban Economics

via Bob Herbert of the NY Times OP-ED Retracts a Whopper.

Bob Herbert needs a new fact checker– the rich aren’t as rich as he thought.  Quote:  “My column on Tuesday incorrectly described the situation of the small group of Americans earning $50 million or more annually. Their incomes declined by 7.7 percent between 2008 and 2009; they did not quintuple. The incorrect information came from a report based on flawed Social Security Administration data. An inspector general is investigating after two individuals filed false W-2 forms that led to the skewed data.”  source

Folks, you do not have to be Jim Heckman to be able to tell apart a 7.7% decline from a quintuple increase.  This is a pretty serious difference.    Suppose you weigh 200 pounds.  A 7.7% decline would mean that you now weigh roughly 185 pounds while a quintuple increase would say that you weigh 1000 pounds. Do you see the difference?

During this time period of left/right screaming, we need to agree on what the facts are.  There is an objective reality that can be measured and described how it is evolving over time.  But, we need more measurement and we need trusted institutions and researchers to spread the word about their findings.   When people turn for information from sources who they know share common political goals, they know that they will solely hear “facts” that they want to hear.  How do we expose everyone to “consensus” facts?

When I taught at the Fletcher School, one student suggested that everyone should be forced to listen to the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour. I laughed at the time but I now think he might have been correct.

Would we make better public policy if we all agreed on what the facts are?  If we disagree about the facts (such as whether climate change is taking place), what collective action decisions are tabled?

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One response to “We can’t even agree on facts – Bob Herbert of the NY Times OP-ED Retracts a Whopper

  1. Bruce, too often the problem is that we DO agree on the ‘facts’. That is, one tribe goes into its corner and agrees to its facts, and other tribes go into other corners and cherish their facts just like other tribes do. This is nothing new. It does seem to be a more frequently and more easily exploited situation.

    There is a ‘tribe’ that cherishes, above almost anything else, the avoidance of such self-serving delusion. It is science. Science abhors wasted effort, money, and reputations. It does a good job (better than any other potential example) of enforcing rules that provide protection from propagated errors. Some of the most famous errors of science are also excellent examples of its mechanisms for self-detection and correction of error.

    Similarly, such institutions as the Congressional Budget Office are recognized by folks with widely differing ideologies as serving to prevent outright delusion. This is the sort of authority which the voting public needs to heed and respect. Too bad we don’t have such institutions (which do exist in many areas of importance) in broad public use and trust.

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