Facts Stink And Persuade No-one


Unfortunately none of the above statements are facts, blast.

If only facts were simple and writing FACT in capital letters at the end of a tweet won you the argument. Writing fact in lower case obviously means you don’t really mean it’s a fact, FACT. Let’s start with the caption and facts are something that can be proven. The sky is blue is a fact as our senses tell us, just look up for goodness sake. The fact is that fact is nonsense it’s violet. The second says facts can be true or false when, in fact, they can be true and false. There is not enough matter in the universe so there must be something we can’t see. The fact that we can’t see it means it’s a guess not a fact. As to number three all facts start from personal opinion and interpretation of said facts, plus the fact you’ll never make it as a philosopher.

Facts, like money, seem to defy definition so I’m not going to try, far greater minds have already failed to do so. It seems that deep down somewhere in our cerebral cortex we know facts don’t count nearly as much as our prior assumptions. To test my opinions I comment on a football board and trust me on this, those guys tell it exactly how they see it. One of the pet peeves on there is the lazy scrounging unemployed and especially the cheats. It would appear that no punishment is too severe for these people as they simply don’t count as human beings. Now I have tried to point out that benefit fraud is tiny, indeed so small it’s barely a rounding error. Piffle I’m told, or words to that effect, they just haven’t found about it and out come all the tabloid inspired anecdotes which certainly aren’t facts yet they Trump them. (Pun intended).

I am grateful to Edward Harrison from Credit Writedowns on Twitter for drawing my attention to a couple of articles proving how useless facts are. Yesterday I made the case for the BBC retaining it’s biases because that’s human nature. The BBC is important because it’s widely viewed as an omniscient source of information. The BBC will generally report two opinions on the same story without giving a definitive “correct answer” although it can be perceived as doing so by those wanting their side of the story to be given greater credence. You just pick the bits you want to hear and facts that oppose your point of view can merely reinforce it. “the process by which people counterargue preference-incongruent information and bolster their preexisting views. If people counterargue unwelcome information vigorously enough, they may end up with ‘more attitudinally congruent information in mind than before the debate,’ which in turn leads them to report opinions that are more extreme than they otherwise would have had.”

That last quote comes from a study by Dartmouth (USA) and the full 50 page pdf is here. What is described there is known as the “Backfire Effect” which is exactly what happens to me over on the football board, I have a lot of hard yards to put in before I am considered a trusted source. I think a lot of what I write is counter intuitive so I need more than facts to back up what I write because “people typically receive corrective information within “objective” news reports pitting two sides of an argument against each other, which is significantly more ambiguous than receiving a correct answer from an omniscient source. In such cases, citizens are likely to resist or reject arguments and evidence contradicting their opinions – a view that is consistent with a wide array of research”.

So what’s a blogger like me supposed to do to build trust? We live in a world where fake news is a thing and the loudest voices hold sway, what I call the Well ‘Ard brigade who are right because they are right. Should I go all Fox News and Zerohedge and simply try to frighten the living daylights out of people? I not only don’t want to do that, it’s against everything I believe, anyone trying to frighten you wants something, usually money. So what I’m going to do is look to Scott Adams the guy who does the Dilbert Cartoons but also has a blog that has a different focus. He posed this question, “Do you remember the time you changed a stranger’s political opinion on the Internet by using your logic and your accurate data?” Any keyboard warrior knows it’s an extreme rarity and the longer you argue with someone the more you realise that your views aren’t that dissimilar after all.

Scott identifies another problem, we all seem to live in an echo chamber and “The technology for delivering news to consumers is too good now. Facebook, for example, can serve up only the types of content they already know will interest you”. The key to getting your point of view across isn’t just facts, it’s persuasion and Scott identifies the problem thus. “I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise”. So solutions come as a combination of opinions and a jumble of seemingly contradictory facts. I tried to do this to solve the problem of Brexit by giving both sides what they need not what they want, an idea totally stolen from Scott.

Most arguments revolve around how to achieve the same goal, for example my trilogy on Neo-Liberalism (starting here) shows how persuasion works even with the absence of facts or at least relevant ones. It is perfectly normal for people to look at the same set of facts and reach different conclusions for perfectly valid reasons or more deceptive ones. I just try to tell the truth as I see it which is my small contribution to the wonderful world of the blogosphere. Have a great weekend everyone.




Now that is a fact, FACT!

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20 thoughts on “Facts Stink And Persuade No-one

      1. There are people WordPress do not like. It has to do with their liking certain facts and not others; they can see these facts, but can’t understand why someone doesn’t agree with the WordPress consensus. Their only way to tell people they’re wrong is to shut them up. It doesn’t shut them up in reality, but it does mean that WordPress doesn’t see their comments.

        Which to the brain-dead is the same thing.


  1. Morning, Bill.

    You say, “There is not enough matter in the universe so there must be something we can’t see.” There are two possibilities here: either there isn’t enough matter to support the universe or the thinking that led to there being too little matter is flawed (in other words, there is enough matter in the universe but we’ve not been able to work out why.)

    You also raise a good few questions that are largely ignored on my blog. I’ll rephrase that: the posts that deal with these questions are largely ignored. Your last quotation is largely correct, it takes but a little thinking to realize how facts emerge from such a statement.

    Most importantly you ask “I have a lot of hard yards to put in before I am considered a trusted source” There are a few secrets to trust, all of which are exploited in my book. Which is fiction… nevertheless, the point is that people will trust some of the characters and not others – and will do so because of the way I’ve written the story. Well, those who are able to trust at all. The point here is that there are many people who are unable to trust, and these, by and large, need facts to form their opinions on. For this, please refer to my first paragraph.

    You go on to say, I think a lot of what I write is counter intuitive so I need more than facts to back up what I write” Facts help nobody. Those who believe in facts will believe in the facts they believe in and everything else – proven and factual – is wrong. What you need is reason, a faculty that stands on its own irrespective of personal proclivities or unwitting choice of ‘facts’. Your problem is to find the people who can think in this way, and believe me, they are few and far between. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth finding, because the things they say will make many a winter evening too short.

    The only thing you need to watch out for is when they retreat from a position that can be reasoned out to rely on facts. That is when you know their cerebral shortcomings. Indeed, if someone speaks of facts, you know they are unable to think in this area. Life’s simple, but you do have to work it out for yourself. There aren’t any facts for life…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since comments on your debt post are closed, I will state a few facts here instead.

    Financing the debt cost £4.9bn in June alone, a rise of more than £1bn from £3.7bn in the same month of 2016.

    That is a 30% increase in the costs of financing Britain’s debt.

    The Telegraph (link below) still clings to the fancy that Britain’s debt has not increased since 2014, when it stood at £1.75 trillion. They actually published the 2015 figures (which are roughly double the 2014 figure) so there’s no excuse for them to deny their own journalistic facts.

    The problem here is that these facts are extremely uncomfortable for the Telegraph, not to mention the Treasury.

    Any guesses what the figure for Britain’s debt was in 2016??? If interest rates are nudged upwards, Britain is going to find it very difficult to hide some awkward facts. Sometimes, facts really do stink!



    1. Hi Gemma, have to close old posts due to spam. Yes the Telegraph is trying to censor news about overall debt but no the debt doesn’t matter. The UK can always meet it’s obligations we are sovereign currency issuer.


      1. It isn’t the debt that’s the problem. It’s the amount of money the government has to pay in interest charges (leave alone paying off the debt itself). There will come a time when the government won’t be able to meet its obligations in the real world… that is to say, spending on defence.


        1. The interest on the debt is also no problem, the only question is why we pay it. All the UK’s debts are denoted in GBP which we can never run out of.


          1. ” the only question is why we pay it” don’t you think there’s a clue in what you’ve just said? After all, if the BoE was owned by the government – as some purport – why bother with interest payments?

            Yet there’s talk of it even in the Daily Telegraph, who usually follow the propaganda to the letter.


          2. I think the reason is a throwback to the Gold Standard and these days an artificial constraint on state spending. Nothing would surprise me mind you.


          3. That’s rather a weak answer considering the amounts of money in question – and the implications for Britain if what I am suggesting is correct.

            The real problem here is the British government’s unwillingness to deal with the realities of finance. They are aided in this by the media who have successfully established that the British government is quite correct to put its economic fingers in its ears and sing la, la, la…

            That scenario falls apart when we stumble on the fact that the British government has to pay interest on its debts.

            Someone isn’t telling the whole truth, and there are a lot of people out there who would prefer not to be told the truth…


          4. An oddly boring lecture on why savers need governments to get into debt… it is possible for a bank (who is custodian to a saver’s wealth) to invest in other things than just bonds.

            It didn’t mention why it was necessary for the UK government to pay interest on its borrowings, given that, if the Bank of England is owned by the government, the government doesn’t have to. But then, if you read the paragraphs about the ownership of the BoE with a lawyer’s eye…

            … but that’s not what Britons want to believe. It’s much nicer to think that their government is competent.


          5. Banks are not custodians of savers wealth they are the owners of it and can invest as they wish. As to the corporate welfare that is bonds they really are a throwback to the Gold Standard. Rule 1 in all politics, economics and banking you do not interfere with the money system. Ever.


  3. Banks are not custodians of savers wealth they are the owners of it and can invest as they wish.

    The bank only owns that money through a law that has been established by people who do not understand what a bank is.

    Tell me: if a bank loses the money you put in their care, would you put more money in their care?

    Your thought brings up a point where the law diverges from the reality, and does so through ignorance.

    Rule 1 in all politics, economics and banking you do not interfere with the money system. Ever.

    I have not met an economist who truly understands what money is (any more than they understand that a bank is entrusted with money). Given that they do not, how then can they restrain themselves from interfering?

    There are those who believe gold to be the ultimate value, the problem here comes when you have a ton of gold and nothing to eat. Those who have a slice of bread would not part with it for something they could not eat! It would seem that a modern economist needs to come to terms with a few Greek myths, the one about Midas in this respect. A Midas who has a very interesting relation to the Gordian knot. It seems economists are more interested in the intricacies than the realities.

    “In it was some ceremonial pattern with knotted letters intertwined. Whatever spell it contained, Alexander had no time. No time to busy himself with the niceties of discovering ancient wisdom. For Alexander was a man of action. He made a decision in the light of the moment and acted on it.”


    The secret of the Gordian knot was not in its untying, but in reading it. Understanding it. Money is no different.

    And we still have no answer as to why the British government has to pay interest on its debt. Alexander cannot help us with this, because this something that has arisen because of people who do not want to deal with the realities of economics. The problem for the British government is that they lack the courage to cut through their debt in the way Alexander cut through the knot.


    1. Hi Gemma, you describe what banks should be very well but it isn’t reality. We pay interest on debt because it suits vested interests and if you wish to challenge that you’ll never be put in a position to do so.


      1. you describe what banks should be very well but it isn’t reality

        If banks did what banks should do in reality, there’d be no banking crashes. That, sir, is the reality.

        We pay interest on debt because it suits vested interests

        Yet, you say, “all interest on debt accryes to the UK treasury.”

        But yes, I know the UK treasury are the nasty guys here. But I’m not interested in challenging that because only the people who don’t challenge it are put in positions where they … umm … can’t. Won’t. Don’t. It is how the system works. Put better, it’s how the system’s been kept going until now.

        It’s why I write books. Working out how someone’s going to trip themselves up with their own words is a lot more fun than having the worry of yet another cover-up.


        1. In these starnge times we live QE means we have borrowed money from ourselves and paid it back ourselves with interest. All to keep a charade alive, that’s what happening. It was Paul Krugman btw who warned against interfering with the money system. And yes that’s exactly how the system keeps going.


          1. “QE means we have borrowed money from ourselves and paid it back ourselves with interest”

            So what happens when the BoE finally pulls the plug and raises interest rates? Interest payments, wherever they go – and it’s certainly not into the treasury or there’d be no problem – are roughly 30% of the treasury’s outgoings.

            Something isn’t adding up, and as you mention in your next post, it didn’t add up for the railways. Then or now.


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