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Factual errors vs lies - and admitting mistakes

  1. Apr 1, 2003 #1

    russ_watters

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    For some reason today seems to be the day for people making all sorts of factual errors. Maybe its the April 1st thing, I don't know. What bugs me though, is people who do not own up to their mistakes.

    When an error is made unintentionally, it is a mistake.
    When an error is made intentionally, it is a lie.
    When a mistake is pointed out, but still clung to, it becomes a lie.

    It is human nature to not like being wrong, so I'm not naive enough to think its abnormal to not admit being wrong. Everyone hates being wrong. But admitting your mistakes and taking corrective action is the first step in the maturation process. Little kids say "I didn't do it" even when caught red-handed. Some people never grow out of it. Why? Because its seen as a sign of weakness to admit a mistake. But thats wrong - when you refuse to admit a mistake, you now have made two. It isn't easy to admit it, but it really is a sign of maturity and moral courage to openly admit a mistake, correct it, and move on. But unfortunately most people lack that level of courage and maturity.

    Now proving someone wrong factually isn't always that simple. When its a numerical error, it is. For example someone today claimed that the atom bombs in WWII killed 1.5 million people each. Since as someone pointed thats more than the total residency of those cities from before WWII to today, thats impossible. The highest current estimates are an order of magnitude lower.

    But for non-numerical facts, it gets pretty fuzzy. Generally when someone doesn't want to admit being wrong, they take to misdirection (thats not what I meant) or hairsplitting (that depends...). And certainly there is room for interpretation. Definitions are somewhat subjective. But only somewhat and people use fuzzy definitions to justify logical fallacies. The famous quote "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is one such logical fallacy. Once you nail down and agree on a specific definition of terrorism, its very hard for two people regardless of bias to argue opposites. But people do because they refuse to accept the implications of consistent definitions. Clinton made this acceptable - even fashionable with his famous quote on definitions. Now many people think it really is true that you can change your definition arbitrarily to suit your needs. You can't. Definitions are ground rules people must agree on BEFORE entering a discussion. Since we are discussing things in English, it is understood that the definitions in use are the generally accepted English definitions (found in the dictionary).

    Now I know people hate the implication that not owning up to an honest mistake makes one a liar, but there is a great physics example of this: cold fusion. Pons and Fleishman made a simple error in their experiment. When pointed out, they denied it vigorously. What started as a simple error turned into fraud - and lawsuits flew back and forth over it. Read about it in the aptly titled "Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness [or substitute "error"] to Fraud"

    The way you choose to evade or cover up your errors says even more about you. Some people turn to sarcasm. Others to hairsplitting or misdirection (I'm a hairsplitter myself). Some just launch into namecalling. And still others just turn and run. Which you turn to speaks volumes about the content of your character.

    So what's my point? Admit your mistakes and move on. You end up getting more respect and your valid arguements immediately increase in validity. Clinging to a mistake for the sake of saving face is immature and changes the mistake into a lie. People who don't admit mistakes are immature liars.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2003 #2

    russ_watters

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    Sorry, factual error in my post. The assertation was 2 million for both atom bombs, not 1.5 each. My mistake ;)
     
  4. Apr 1, 2003 #3
    Good point, a few things:

    1) The easiest way to get lies and distortions into a discussion is to be confrontational. No one likes having their beliefs attacked, and if you begin an argument with "you're wrong," 99% of the time the other party will immediately begin thinking how can I prove this argument wrong? and not does this argument make any sense? OTOH, if you start with "I understand your position, but have you considered..." you are far more likely to get the other person to at least give it a little though. IMO this makes for much more fruitful and less nasty discussions.

    2) The problem with definitions is that words often carry emotional connotations beyond their actual definition. The terrorist/freedom fighter quote is designed to illustrate this. Most of the time charged words like "patriotic", "socialist", or "reactionary" are used not because they actually mean anything but simply to press people's emotional buttons.

    Clever use of such emotionally-laden terms is a great way to win debates, but IMHO they should almost always be avoided or used sparingly if you want to have an intelligent discussion.

    3) No need to take cheap shots at Clinton. :) NewSpeak was around way before him.

    PS - I prefer the downplaying strategy: "maybe, but that's a trivial side point, and doesn't affect my main argument..."
     
  5. Apr 1, 2003 #4

    russ_watters

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    Very true, but it is the responsibility of BOTH parties to avoid getting personal.
    That is certainly true, but thats the problem of the person who attaches the emotional connotation. If people can't argue without getting emotional, their arguement carries no weight. It is not insulting to call someone a communist if they are in fact a communist.
    I tend to see it the opposite way - becoming emotional is a concession of defeat. Its saying "I can't figure out how to attack your position, so I'll just attack YOU instead."
    Too easy and too much fun.
    Forgot about that one - but thats a tough one if its YOUR fact that ends up being wrong. I have seen people end up downplaying their own arguements before though.
     
  6. Apr 2, 2003 #5
    Let's not forget that, especially in America, the person who attacks the loudest is usually seen to be right.
     
  7. Apr 2, 2003 #6

    russ_watters

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    Cultural problem? I'll tend to agree with that, but I think it appies elsewhere too. So maybe its back to the human nature thing was talking about. People should be smart enogh to know that volume doesn't equal truth or relevance.
     
  8. Apr 2, 2003 #7
    people should be, but they arent. People also seem to think that surity is teh same as being right. If one side talks about debate, and the other side says "we KNOW we're right', most people will follow the one who is sure, even if he is assuredly wrong.
     
  9. Apr 2, 2003 #8

    russ_watters

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    Very good point.
     
  10. Apr 2, 2003 #9
    More than any stated ideology, more than any media bias in any direction, what seems to sell things best is simple statements made in a sure voice. It is more about who is the most inspiring and photogenic, rather than who holds the facts or best ideas. Plus, these days, the media seems to embrace any story, without checking facts, if it fits the story they want to tell.
     
  11. Apr 2, 2003 #10

    Njorl

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    My own pet peeve in debating is the "statistics can be used to prove anything" or "lies, damnable lies and statistics" mentality. Statistics are one of the most valuable tools for supporting opinion, and yet they are regarded as subversion by most people. People will accept third hand anecdotal accounts from dubious sources as proof that a sound, statisticaly supported arguement is wrong.

    Njorl
     
  12. Apr 2, 2003 #11
  13. Apr 2, 2003 #12
    Well if someone says it is a mistake and points it out as you said, they could be wrong or they could be saying that it is because they are against what the other person is saying or they don't want to believe it.

    I quoted this again for another point. When you say but still clung to, it becomes a lie.

    What if it is something you really truly believe? Like in FZ's thread in general discussion. Devil's advocate or whatever. He was arguing that killing was right or that it was ok or something (sorry I didn't read the whole thing) Killing is clearly not right! Does this make me a liar?
     
  14. Apr 2, 2003 #13

    russ_watters

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    The problem there is simply people don't understand what statistics are and how they work. Its exactly the same as the way the media treats science.
    Right, Nicool - I did say that it was often difficult to conclusively prove someone wrong.
    I'm not sure I follow you, Nicool. But I think regardless of whether or not it is admitted, both parties know it when a factual error is exposed. It is only when one KNOWS they are wrong and clings to it that it becomes a lie. If he's knowingly following a flawed line of logic, but admits it (by titling it "Devil's Advocate") then he is not really proclaiming it to be true.
     
  15. Apr 2, 2003 #14
    Yes I think that post may have been a little confusing. I will try to make it more clear. If someone really believes something but someone says it is wrong are you saying that the person that truly believes something is wrong simply because someone that doesn't like their ideas says it is?


    I wanted to keep that example. I hope it clears that up.
     
  16. Apr 2, 2003 #15
    The Russ 'retort', By Mr. P

    2003-04-02

    So russ, a simple observation on your honesty.

    In the thread concerning "Why are we at war" in the politics and world affairs forum, you started out with me like this........

    Then you quote me.....

    Then russ, we go on....

    I state.......
    To which you counter.......

    Then you tell everyone that...........

    So now russ, here we are in your page about admitting that we make mistakes, well russ, here is one of yours.

    You see russ, when I admitted that (parse)"when I do not have enough information to make an ascertation, I don't....."(snip) it affords me the honesty of self that you do not know of, and tells of the veracity of your judgment about me.
    first you quote me.........

    Now you should understand something very simple, you do not have all of the informaiton that is needed to sit in judgment of just how well I do with that, and here's why, you have not a clue just how many threads I read in all of these forums at PF.

    You have not a clue how many I read, and decide that I have nothing to offer, nothing to say, nothing to add (that will enrich it) at all, no humor, nothing.
    You simply do not know, but that is clearly an aspect of my honest admission that; "when I do not have enough information to make an ascertation, I don't.....", something that you have deemed yourself capable of sitting in judgment of me for, yet devoid of the facts of reality, inasfar as, the number of times I have followed that rule, will NOT show up, there is NO evidence of it BECAUSE I have not posted, and it is the negative side of that, known only to me, and my maker, that you completely missed, causing you to err, and present yourself capable of judging my performance relative to the rule I stated I attempt to follow.

    Clearly russ, what you had said about me, is following the pathway of the signature I had been using, "What you see in others is the truth as it arises from within you" as clearly you are the one missing the facts, and stating only an opinion, and a clearly, well, (in place of the word 'ignorance' which is, in this case, NOT an insult, but a reality) one where you were not capable of seeing the void (In Facts!) in your own knowledge, as it is simple enough to see.

    Tell me russ, do you admit to your mistakes?
     
  17. Apr 2, 2003 #16
    Sorry to butt in, but good grief! What's your point Mr.P?
     
  18. Apr 2, 2003 #17

    Hurkyl

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    You had to have known from the original post that it was merely a matter of time before someone attacked him (or counter-attacked, depending on your perspective)!

    Hurkyl
     
  19. Apr 2, 2003 #18

    russ_watters

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    Uh.... thats more clear (maybe I'm just tired)? Lemme try again. No. There has to be some compelling evidence of the factual error. Someonen simply saying "you're wrong" isn't evidence that you are actually wrong. Is that what you were asking?

    Mr. Robin Parsons, clearly I don't know enough about you to know how you always react to unverified facts. Thats why I said you "appear" to jump to conclusions based on your bias. And that is purely my opinion. That is not a fact to be proved or disproved.
    I calls 'em likes I sees 'em, Mr, Robin Parsons. Its an opinion and I'm entitled to it just like you are entitled to your opinion that I'm lazy based on nothing more than the fact that I don't always use quotes in the way you deem best.
    There is a difference between you and me though. I amdit it when my opinion is based on less than complete information (yes, by definition if I don't have enough information, I'm ignorant). You do not.
    Yes. I do. That is a specific component of my character that others have cited about me and I pride myself on. I admit my errors and work hard to correct them. Thats partially a product of my upbringing and partially my military training (not that everyone in the military is that way, but thats something emphasized in the training). Its also partly a product of mistakes I have made in the past - I've made some doozies (sp?).
    Hurkyl, yeah. I avoided citing specifics from this forum (save for the one number because it was a clear example that didn't get ugly). Knowing that it was probably inevitable (regarless of whether or not I intended there to be a fight), did I start a fight or incite someone else to start one? :wink: Part of the purpose of this thread is to see who would post in it and what they would say. Its a good insight into where people stand on the issue.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2003
  20. Apr 3, 2003 #19

    kat

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    Well..I was going to respond to this post..but first I figured I should consider how I handle admitting my mistakes. After much pondering I realized I had no idea how I handle admitting my mistakes..Why? I wondered.....




    Then it dawned on me..I have no idea..
    because..
    quite simply,
    I have yet to make one
     
  21. Apr 3, 2003 #20

    russ_watters

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    You're not female, are you? :wink:
     
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