Sunday, September 21, 2003

Liberal application of logic I

I'm trying to understand those who think differently from me. Two such people are Kevin Drum and Mark A. R. Kleiman.

Mr. Drum posted A Taxonomy of Lies. John Cole has already commented on this at length, but I thought I'd attempt to use it. In my experience nothing annoys liberals more than holding them to their own standards, so this could be fun.

One type of lieuntruth Mr. Drum identifies he borrows from Josh Marshall - "the confidently expressed, but currently undisprovable assertion."

This would include pretty much any statement about the future, now wouldn't it? After all, you can't even prove that you will be alive tomorrow, or that there will be gravity or even that there will be a universe - (there are people who believe that universes can appear out of nowhere from a "big bang", after all - maybe universes can just disappear, too). Inasmuch as politicians have to speak of the futures that would result from their policies, this standard does lead to the plausible result that all politicians are liars. But it also means that Mr. Drum would be lying if he said "Josh Marshall will tell the truth".

I was amused by Mr. Drum's example - "For example, the idea that his 2003 tax cut proposal would spur job growth was almost universally scorned by mainstream economists, but you couldn't prove it wouldn't work, so he got away with it". So just what is he saying about "mainstream economists" - that they are almost universally so biased and unprofessional that they must scorn ideologically unacceptable proposals without having proof? Could he be lying?

Mr. Drum also offers the "technical lie" - "a statement that's very carefully constructed to leave an incorrect impression — but that turns out to be technically true if you parse it closely enough." Note that this definition is very carefully constructed to permit users to call true statements lies while technically telling the truth. How's that for an "incorrect impression"? And it's coming from someone who is complaining about "deception".

Mr. Drum offers 3 examples of technical lies. He claims that Bush lied when he noted that 60 stem cell lines existed by saying that at that time only one line was usable. That Mr. Drum makes this distinction is interesting because he later notes that subsequently, per the same flawed and Fisk-worthy reference, with no changes in Bush's policy, now there are 11 lines available. So he should be aware that it takes time for the lines to become available, and he offers nothing to contradict that in time all 60 will be available.

If you think the President of the United States should attempt to explain something as complex as stem cell research in a political speech I'll beg to differ. But if you want to make something of this, let's talk about the Big Lie coming from embryonic stem cell partisans - their failure to acknowledge the scary failures of embryonic stem cells, and the successes if not the very existence of adult stem cell research:
CAMR: “We do not have enough stem cells for research... There certainly are not enough to turn research into treatments.”

FACT: Embryonic stem cell research is many years away from “treatments” – and this is due not to insufficient cell lines, but to inherent problems in these cells. They are difficult to grow, difficult to control, and have a disturbing tendency to form potentially lethal tumors when placed in animals. And they have yet to provide a safe and effective treatment for any condition, in any animal species. Early reports that mouse embryonic stem cells had successfully been turned into insulin-producing cells for treating diabetes are now in doubt, as it seems the cells may only have absorbed existing insulin from surrounding tissues and then released it again (J. Rajagopal, in 299 Science 363 [Jan. 17, 2003]). Researchers are also finding that ample supplies of beneficial stem cells may be produced from many adult tissues, from umbilical cords and placentas (now thrown away 4 million times a year in this country after live births), and other sources, and these are already providing treatments for many conditions.
. Next to this Mr. Drum's tortured "exist" v. "usable" distinction IMO is not merely trivial, but ultimately irrelevant.

I could go on with the other two bullet points, but I'm sure others have done a better job, this post is already long, and I want to get around to see if Mark Kleiman can survive Mr. Drum's standards for truth. So I'll be content to note that Mr. Drum notes that both of the remaining statements he questions are "technically true". And then I'll point out the obvious - technically true = true.

And I'll ask just what is it that compels people to argue with statements that they say are true?

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