Monday, September 29, 2008

What happened to good old fashioned skepticism?

So, I'm another year older and, therefore, entitled to be grumpy. And today I'm grumpy with a capital GRR!

It seems that more and more people, particularly in the media, are prepared to accept things at face value without question.

1. "Fish Oil makes children smarter, study claims" is the headline in the Telegraph (I wouldn't mind if it was the Sun, the Sport or the Mail) despite the fact that if you read article you see the significance of the lurking comma. If you want to dig behind this story go to Ben Goldacre's excellent Bad science page.

2. I'm getting stupider as I get older. My elder niece got 10 A's in her GCSE's this year, of which, five had stars attached. I am very proud of her and would not suggest for a moment that she did not deserve these grades nor that the exams have got easier (I think I got one or two A's in my "O" levels. However, helping with her "A" level history at the weekend, I realised that she does not even have a cursory understanding of the difference between left and right wing politics. This despite the fact that she was being invited to address the reasons for the Labour government's loss of the 1951 election and the conservatives staying in power for over a decade.

Cut a long story short, why argue every year about standards falling, when demonstratively they have not. Ask about the standards themselves. If your yardstick is the percentage of pupils attaining 5 GCSE's graded A-C including English and Maths, then a growth in that is what you will get. Not a growth in the numbers of people who can think for themselves.

3. Blame the spivvy short sellers for the credit crunch. Even the Church denounced short sellers last week despite being happy to profit from it. I got into quite an entertaining discussion with my father at the weekend on this. I suggested that him blaming the hedge funds for the financial crisis is a bit like blaming the little boy in the story for pointing out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. It couldn't be our fault for spending money that we don't have and perpetuating a myth of ever rising property prices, could it!?

He countered that his problem was really the "obscene" amounts of money earned by bankers and that at heart he was really a socialist. I suggested, fresh from my conversation with my niece, that the problem was the dialectic between equality (or if you wish to be British, fairness) and freedom and that you couldn't have both. The crime of the right is disproportionate wealth the crime of the left is disproportionate waste. (come on Andy K you know you want to argue that one...)

Ask more questions, argue and more interesting things come up. Don't believe everything you read in the papers or on the web.


Andy K said...

The left is wasteful? Whilst on a Soviet basis this proved to be true, the "third way" is proving no better.

I believe it is the free market and the "light regulatory touch" which has led to the government being forced to support the private sector to the tune of £300 billion (that's £300,000,000,000) and for the taxpayer to pick up the toxic debts incurred by the short-termism of the market economy. Greed is good...

Hugh Greenway said...

Fair comment Andy but I would hardly categorise the current government in the UK as left wing.

I take it you would agree with Barack Obama's comment last night that it is time, "for some adult supervision"?

Andy K said...

As you are no doubt aware, I also wouldn't classify the current government as left-wing, hence my use of the dreaded "third way" term. The current government has continued and expanded further on the free-market, light-regulation ways of the Thatcher government.

I'd have to agree with Obama's statement.