Lies, Damned Lies and Propaganda

Propaganda trumps scientific evidence everytime.

Face it, there is nothing like propaganda, backed by some hearsay evidence and a few vivid examples. And science cannot offer anything to counter that.

It used to be “Statistics” in that title-phrase, but that’s not true anymore, if it ever was. You don’t need statistics to make people believe global warming isn’t happening. You don’t need statistics to convince a nation that some other nation has “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. You don’t need statistics to convince an entire world that monopolies are good for it. Nobody except scientists bother with statistics if they want to convince you of something.

Statistics aren’t appealing to your gut-feeling, examples are. No matter how scarce and how much the result of some other unknown influence they are, examples is what relates to the public, and also what causes fear and anxiety. It doesn’t matter if a few hundred-thousand people get killed in some faraway land. But if something happens to a person you know, no matter how faintly you know the person, or maybe you only read of it, this is obviously evidence for whatever malfaisance or problem-du-jour exists, and is a big problem. A freak accident gets a “security problem” with something, a robbery a “crime problem”, somebody killing himself a “suicide wave” and so on. It does not matter if said accident is the only in the world that ever happened with that specific device, your crime-rate is the lowest on the planet, and the suicide-rate the second lowest. You may now be convinced that this specific thing is a huge problem which must be addressed immediately. Of course, you probably don’t get the idea that there might be a problem yourself, so that’s why we’ve got propaganda.

Or to put the other way: People doing propaganda will use exactly that mechanism, that we tend to believe in examples and not in statistics, to convince you their lies are the truth.

Alright, some of the examples initially used are pretty far off, you you might think that you’re not afflicted with believing such lies. I’ll give you some examples (ha! See?) of things you might believe in, that have no scientific evidence whatsoever:

  • In the middle ages, people thought the world was flat — That’s actually a fairy tale from the 1830ies. Since at least Aristotle nobody believed in a flat earth. Certainly not people in the middle ages who revered Aristotle as the greatest philosopher of all.
  • Copyright is necessary for the compensation of the efforts of creators of works and to ensure that they will produce more. — You should have told that Shakespeare and Beethoven
  • Patents are necessary for innovation — There is absolutely no scientific study which can prove that patents are in any way beneficial to innovation. There are however studies proving monopolies are always inhibiting innovation.
  • Patents are at least necessary recouping costs of research and development — Well, Ciba, Sandoz, Novartis and so on didn’t need them until 1954. And they where already huge multinationals then.
  • Harsh weapon laws reduce crime — No, they don’t. There’s no correlation between the availability of weapons and violence. In some places there is, but this is most probably a coincidence, resulting from some other reason.
  • Knife-bans will reduce violent crime — Scissors get lumped into the same category as knifes in criminal statistics. Now guess what’s actually used most often?
  • Data retention helps to reduce crime — No, it actually produces crime. Not the same ones it tries to address, but things like fraud, extortion, theft of services, privacy breaches, stalking etc.

And this goes on and on. For all of above mentioned things we hold for self-evident, there is either no scientific data backing them up, or even data refuting them. But most of those are actually the result of propaganda, the result of someone trying to get its agenda accepted. Even the flat earth is the result of (in that case anti-clerical) propaganda.

Of course, asking “cui bono” (who benefits) will often yield interesting questions about such a belief in the first place, but often might be misleading as well. Usually it boils down to “who benefits more”. More often, trying to get hard scientific data — statistics or better the raw data of the statistics — supporting your belief will immediately tell you if what you think is true really is. Because typically, you won’t find any.

The search for a flat earth in medieval sources turns up nothing — but pictures of round earths. My request for data and methodology regarding so-called “software-piracy” (a propagandist term, of course, we’re actually talking of “copyright infringement”) from the Business Software Alliance turned up only some vague statements about “estimations regarding past sales and sold hardware”, but not a shred of hard data. My quest for evidence of innovation-fostering of the patent-system turned up loads of citations of people iterating a mantra, and one paper; the paper coming to the conclusion that “there is no evidence”.

My impression is, that scientists, and scientific methods, and data, gets completely overwhelmed by propaganda. A spectacle orchestrated by propagandists to further their agenda, and also by unwittingly victims of that propaganda. It’s actually hard to believe that somebody does not have an agenda, but somehow, some scientists gave me the impression that they don’t really have an agenda — and furthermore, that they do not understand why somebody could consider the results of their work not desirable. And it’s clear, if you don’t understand why you’ve got enemies, and what they are using, you’re going to loose.

I don’t have any solution to this, apart from educations, but it’s terribly hard to get people to get themselves informed when everyone is surrounded by propaganda and propaganda-induced misconceptions daily spewed by mass-media and repeated by websites every day. And, most of the above propaganda is actively backed by powerful interests in economy and politics.

I didn’t include any links to research in this post, but you’re welcome to do your research on these topics yourself. Otherwise, you’ll also find some posts on this blog which sum up some of the topics mentioned and link to further articles and research.