Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is a "Fact?" Fact Free Zones and The Truth About Trump

One of the best classes I ever had in college occurred without warning during a literature class with Professor Rosenblum, a tweedy, humble man who was listening to a student's response and asked, rather innocently, "But what is a fact?"

Eyes rolled all around the room, but I was fascinated.
Eventually, the usual things got rolled out: "Well 2 +2 =4."
"Oh, that's a definition. Math is all about convention. Actually, 2+4 =4 in a base 10 system, but not in others."
"I am sitting in this class," another student offered.
"Well, yes, we can agree on that," Professor Rosenblum added, "But how we apprehend your presence may differ, and while you may be physically perceived to be here, you may be a million miles away in some ways, or, in your mind, you may be back in your dorm room with a girlfriend."

As the years went by, I thought of all sorts of unassailable facts, like, "The heart pumps blood to the brain." These are "facts" of mechanics, which we can see and there is so much every day empirical observation and experience, they are beyond much dispute.

Nevertheless, it all comes down to evidence, definition and perception.

When I watch Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo, they struggle with their exasperation with President Trump for his fact free tweets and comments, or for his denying "facts" which they know to be true facts.

But much of what they assert are true facts is open to interpretation. Take Trump's claim crime is up in America, that inner cities are rife with and riven by crime. They play a clip of Newt Gingrich defending Trump's assertion about high crime rates and what he says is the experience of the inner city citizen makes him think crime is up, emotionally, even if crime statistics suggest otherwise. The murder rate is down. Rapes are down. Armed robberies and assault are down, according to police and FBI statistics and yet Trump says crime is up.

But what Gingrich is saying is, if you are the victim, it doesn't feel like crime is down to you.
And as anyone who has watched "The Wire" will know, crime statistics in particular are often "massaged" to make police departments look better.

Murder rates are more intransigent, because when you have a dead body, one would think, it's hard to deny there's been a murder. Unless...the dead body is ruled by the medical examiner to have died from natural causes, and again, as Wire viewers know, police may argue with the ME to classify a death as natural causes because they do not want to be saddled with a murder they cannot solve. Makes their statistics look bad.
Trump claimed his inauguration crowds broke all records, but the Washington Post published the "fact" that the crowd was smaller than for Obama. They published photos to substantiate this "fact." But crowd estimates are notoriously inaccurate and who knows when the Trump crowd photos were taken? Were they shot after he finished speaking or well before?

In medicine, we are dealing with "facts" in every New England Journal of Medicine article: People eating a high fiber diet are found to have, despite previous claims, no reduction in colon cancer. But for how long were they eating the diet? Was it long enough to affect the development of colon cancer, which may take years? What did they consider a "high fiber diet?"  How were the colon cancers detected? Is it possible some were missed?  The statement of facts often generate long debates over analysis. 

The thing about a statement like: "Hispanics love me," or "Women love me," is they are statements of emotion, not subject to measurement. Surely, some Hispanics love Trump, and you are not meant to think all Hispanics love me. That is understood. Same for women.
Trump, in a sense, deals in the unassailable because he strives to reach a data free zone.

She is so crooked. Well, how crooked is so crooked? And what exactly is crooked? If she takes a fee for a speech to Wall Street while she is Senator and she may govern some legislation which regulates Wall Street is that crooked?

Trump is also well attuned to indemnifying himself against fact checkers. He'll say, "Well eighty percent of those immigrants are rapists. Or something like that. I don't know but a lot of them. A lot. Really incredible. Just too many."

So, he'll back off, immediately, saying, essentially: "Don't hold me to a number. Whatever the true number is, it's too high."

Then there is the area which is simply untestable, which Trump seeks out: So 6 million votes, the number he lost the popular vote by, were all "fraudulent" votes, cast by phantom fraudulent voters.  And President Obama wired tapped Trump Tower. How do you prove President Obama did NOT wire tap Trump Tower? Just because nobody has located those wires...Just because nobody FOUND those weapons of mass destruction doesn't mean they weren't there. Just because Obama's birth certificate was presented to the press, well documents can be forged. Oh, you'd be surprised what Trump's men were finding about Mr. Obama's birth.

What is frustrating Camerota and Cuomo is that Trump won't play their game and argue about what the "evidence" says is actually happening.
Another problem they have is they have no real news many days, so they talk about the latest Gallup poll, as if the Gallup poll on the President's approval rating means anything.

The truth is, news media people like Camerota and Cuomo, who I like, are simply not all that well educated, in the liberal arts sense. So they get emotional about "facts" and they are not capable of analyzing what really frustrates them with Trump.

You'd think CNN would have people to help them with this.

Personally, I'd like to respond in kind:
1/ Mr. Trump's hair is fake hair. He is more than a comb over; he is bald.
2/ Mr. Trump has erectile dysfunction, which may explain his over compensation with respect to women.
and all like that.

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