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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Putting a Beware of the Dog Notice Doesn't Mean You Have One

You know these days the airwaves are full of claims and counter claims that this one or that one is a liar. I don't repeat these claims and don't want to. I don't doubt that there are liars amongst us. But I don't think such claims and counter claims are either useful, or constructive. Others may wish to differ, as is their right. Opinions are not facts. They are thus neither true or false. Theories likewise: they are either confirmed or refuted. Where there is no agreement as to the salient facts, no discussion is possible. One day we may reach that unfortunate state, but until we do, I think we should attempt to rescue what remains of our political process from the degenerative tendencies which are all too evident. I happen to think this is something which is worth the effort. To critise the opinions of others, this is the daily bread of political life. To turn debate into a street brawl, this is something else. Those with some pretension to scientific expertise have a special responsibility here. I may be wrong or I may be right about the economic impact of the demographic transition, but I would never like to feel that your opinion about what I had to say on the topic was conditional on what I think, or don't think, of GWB.

Now here's one expert who manages to get across what he wants to say without calling anyone a liar, and long may he do this. His target is spin, and spin is neither a fact nor an opinion, it is a process, a process of opinion manipluation whose use is more appropriate to the profession where it originated - and even there it's use may often be questionable - than it is to the decision making process in a mature democracy:

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, today accused the British and American governments of spinning intelligence ahead of the Iraq war.
Making reference to the UK's September dossier, over which two intelligence officials have told the Hutton inquiry they expressed concerns, Mr Blix said that information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction was "over-interpreted", with "spin" being allowed to infect the presentation of Iraq's military capabilities.

"The UK paper, the document in September last year, with the famous words about 45 minutes, when you read the text exactly, I get the impression it wants to convey - to lead - the reader to conclusions that are a little further-reaching than the text really means," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "What stands accused is the culture of spin, of hyping. Advertisers will advertise a refrigerator in terms that we don't quite believe in. But we expect governments to be more serious and to have more credibility." Mr Blix yesterday told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he believed Iraq had destroyed "all, almost" of the weapons of mass destruction it had in its possession at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. He said that Saddam possibly kept up the appearance of having the weapons to deter a military attack.

"I mean, you can put up a sign on a door saying 'beware of the dog' without having a dog," he said from his home in Sweden. He today told the BBC that the believed the US and UK were convinced Saddam was developing WMDs - and said he considered it "understandable against the background of the man that they did so" - but said there was no conclusive proof of their existence. "In the middle ages when people were convinced there were witches, when they looked for them, they certainly found them. We were more judicious, we wanted to have the evidence," he said.

He added that it was ironic that the US and UK had not been prepared to give the UN inspection teams the time they needed to complete their work, but those same governments were now insisting that their own inspectors be given sufficient time to complete their own investigations. He said he did not believe WMDs would be found. "We have had a number of months, the US and UK have been there, they have had all the possibilities in the world to interview people who are not intimidated and to go anywhere. They have not found anything. "So I think more and more we are coming to the conclusion that there aren't any. And I think that the Americans and British are also leaning in that direction."
Source: The Guardian

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