We need fact-based decisions – or do we?

Do you often wish that politicians would base their actions on facts? I know I have from time to time, but facts are slippery little things, and in the hands of politicians, they take on a whole new degree of slipperiness. You may recall back in 2003, the “facts” as presented to the world included that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and he could launch on Europe or the UK in a matter of hours. In fact there were no such weapons. Further, at the time there was no evidence at all that anyone who could be described as reliable had seen any such weapons, and further, the UN weapons inspectors at the time kept asserting that they had not seen them, and they were convinced there were no such weapons. At the time even I was convinced there would be no such operable weapons. The reason for that is that something like anthrax needs a dispersing agent, and there was no such fresh agent entering Iraq since the Iraqis were ejected from Kuwait. Had there been weapons from that time secreted away somewhere, with no special preservation conditions, the dispersing agent would have clogged up. Similarly, any of the phosphorylating nerve “gases” would have condensed, and border controls should have been able to stop the importation of a chemical such as methylphosphonyl difluoride. Iraq could not make such a chemical without giving evidence that it was doing so. So we could safely assume there were no chemical weapons, or if you did not believe that, the onus was on you to provide evidence. There was no evidence, nor weapons of mass destruction; merely politicians with an urge to go to war.

It appears that in the recent Brexit campaigning, there were many “facts” floating around that simply were not true, or at best they were misleading in the extreme. Apparently there were also facts that were concealed. I saw a TV interview with Major General Julian Thompson, and he asserted that the EU was floating the idea of an EU army, in other words the EU was taking a further step towards becoming a federation of states as opposed to a collection of countries. The General was in a position to know, so it is reasonable to assume this has some basis. We shall have to wait and see.

A classic example of politicians behaving loosely with facts was recently exemplified here. There was a program proposed in parliament that involved the creation of new social benefits. The Minister of Finance jumped to his feet and vetoed it, on the basis that the cost he quoted would exceed the budgetary limitations. Some time later he was forced to admit the number he came up with was the estimate for a period of four years, not the one year implied by the veto.

One that annoys me is the irrelevant fact. As an example, I recently saw a statement that “enough sunlight strikes the earth in an hour to supply our energy requirements for a year”. The first problem is the undefined “our”, but let that pass. What is proposed? There are 8766 hours in a year, more or less, so for continual supply, we need an area of solar panels normal to the solar radiation equal to the cross-sectional area of the earth divided by 8766, which comes out as about 14579 square km. A square solar panel of 121 km along its side would do nicely, provided it was always at right angles to the solar radiation, and provided it was 100% efficient. Now, I am fairly sure he was not proposing that, so why put up this proposal anyway? It is a startling figure that promises unlimited energy, until you actually put some figures on what has to be done to get it. Politicians let loose with facts are quite a menace unless there are independent agencies with the ability to check them.

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