Thieving Thursday: Factual Errors

>> Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yep, it's time to lighten things up a bit and go with Thieving Thursday. This one comes from the always charming blog of I Do Things. JD and I go way back and it's been a while since I featured one my comments on that blog, so she's is overdo. It was a long comment, but this was the part I wanted to work from:

Factual errors, in my opinion, is not an oxymoron. You can make an error in judgement that has nothing to do with facts - like telling your mother when you actually had sex the first time or mentioning it was in her bed. Clearly, the error, in that case, was using the facts instead of a useful lie.
I'm actually finding it hard to understand why someone would think one can't be factual and still be wrong. One can use a fact, but use it for the wrong situation or in the wrong way. For example, one might know that the acceleration of gravity is 32 f/s2, but if your program is using metric, 32 is the wrong value.

One can have all the facts and still interpret them improperly, thereby making the wrong decision. Like knowing your wife loves coffee and luxurious baths and thinking somehow that making her a coffee bath would really make her happy.

There are the errors that involve using the facts exactly as they were meant to be used and having it be a mistake. Like telling your kid sister the truth about how big her butt really looks in her wedding dress. On her wedding day.

And then there are the errors that don't involve any facts at all. Like picking the wrong number at roulette...unless you want to count the fact that gambling is for idiots.


  • The Mother

    And let's not forget the times that two facts get strung together to make a fallacy: the classic "post hoc ergo prompter hoc" being my favorite.

    Carrots are the most common vegetable purchased at a grocery store.

    Most accidents happen on the way home from the grocery store.

    Therefor, carrots cause car accidents.

    Beware the dangerous carrot.

  • Boris Legradic

    Nice post! I especially liked the coffee bath, are you speaking from experience here?

    I have to disagree with you about gambling though, or at least point out a silent assumption you made, that does not have to apply necessarily: Gambling is only an "error" if you do it to gain money, i.e. if you gamble without understanding the probablilities. I have a couple of friends, all physicist, who love to go to a casino once in a while - only they go there with the clear understanding that they will loose money. It makes sense if you think of gambling as just another past-time you have to pay for, as in "today I'll spend 200 Euro for one or two hours of entertainment..."

    In a completely unrelated matter, did you post something about in your old blog? They offer a free writing course in which I am having a blast right now, but I can't for the life of me remember where I read about it. And I want to approportion blame... eh, thanks to the person who steered me towards it!

  • Boris Legradic

    Yes, I forgot to check the email-box again. It's the bane of my existence.

  • musingwoman

    As sleepy as I am this morning, I could use one of those coffee baths.

  • Stephanie B

    I think of that much like the coffee bath, Mother.

    Boris, I am not speaking from experience (as I don't like coffee) but my first husband, on those rare occasions where he tried to be thoughtful, routinely ended up with similar results. Nothing as dramatic, though.

    Gambling can be a fine way to spend your time, as long as you expect to lose. If you expect to win, you're not thinking it through. (I used to live in Las Vegas, I know). It doesn't mean you can't win, just that counting on it is stupid.

    And I've never heard of so someone else must be to bla--responsible. I'm glad you're enjoying it.

    musingwoman, tell me how your bath goes. I wouldn't want to sit on any coffee grounds.

  • Roy

    I always assumed a factual error was when you got your facts wrong. Proponents of "intelligent design" do this all the time. Of course, IDiots and others in the crationist camp even go so far as to just make things up out of whole cloth. Would that qualify as a factual error? When I was growing up we called it "fudging"; revivalist claims of a sinful life before they got born again usually fell into this category; most of them were goody-two-shoes all their lives.

  • Stephanie B

    I don't disagree that that's what I would think a factual error was, that you got your facts wrong.

    The assertion that "factual error" was an oxymoron struck me as an assumption that all errors are factual, as you say, getting your facts wrong. I was just pointing out that ain't necessarily so.

  • JD at I Do Things

    Gambling is for idiots? Now ya tell me.

    Nice post, ol' pal. I think the person who originally thought "factual error" was an oxymoron (not me, everyone!) was getting confused by the fact that . . . well, I don't really know. Something about the word "fact" screws people up. Like, he was maybe thinking, How can it be an error if it's a fact? I dunno. All I know is you turn thieving into an artform.

  • Aron Sora

    This idea is discussed up in the book Hard Times. Basically, one can base everything on fact, but human emotion must be considered to apply the facts correctly. Did you read Hard Times

  • Relax Max

    If you look at the term "factual error" as meaning "one of the facts was wrong", then it is of course an oxymoron: facts, if they are truly facts, cannot be in error. But if you think of that term ("factual error") as meaning "someone didn't get their facts straight", then it is NOT an oxymoron: it is indeed possible, as you pointed out, for someone to think he is using the right facts when he's not. In that case, the person made an error in fact, or a factual error.

    The real question is why some tidbit like this interests a deep thinker like you. :) Hmmmm.

    Okay... Let's say someone thought he had his facts correct. Just theoretically. Maybe this imaginary person thought that... ummmm... Iraq, let's say, had weapons of mass destruction and were about to use them on... I don't know... say, the U.S., ok? And, let's say that all the big-shot advisers thought these facts were correct too. And let's say also that the big-shot advisers even from other big countries also thought these facts were correct. Just sayin'. Hypothetical, you know. And let's say this hypothetical guy acted on their advice... took their word for it because they were supposed to know these kinds of things... would people still be able to call this guy a liar? Even if he THOUGHT the facts were really facts? Like, if YOU thought, really really thought, that the moon were made of green cheese, does that make you a liar? Or just a regular idiot? Which is to say, if a person is "factually incorrect", is that an oxymoron, or is that just not possible?

    And playing roulette, Russian or otherwise, is not a good example of what you were talking about because, as Boris pointed out, the "facts" (odds) are perfectly known and not just a random guess. The "error" occurs when you TAKE those odds. :) Heh.

    God, this comment turned out to be a question for your other blog. Or for a new blog. I am getting behind on my badgering you and I am trying to catch up. Sorry. :)

  • Stephanie B

    Relax Max, I think that was my point on the roulette example, but I clearly didn't make it crystal.

    As for your example, say your individual truly believed it, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary that he rejected if it didn't fit his belief. Like say the antivax crowd. Is he a liar? Only if he says later that no one disagreed with him. But, whether a liar or not, he can do a lot of damage to innocent people (again like the vax crowd). Does that make him innocent?

    I wasn't really addressing dishonesty, but errors where the facts were not in error, but, by all means, leave me a question.

  • Relax Max

    I should hasten to clarify that, in my hypothetical Iraq example [above], of course, there were no "factual errors" - the feared "weapons of mass destruction" were not facts.

    Perceived facts, or the belief that something is a fact, whether that thing be weapons of mass destruction or a believe that God created the earth, does not make it a fact. Beliefs are only beliefs until backed up by facts. Green cheese or evolution, or whatever.

    However, neither does the realization of the truth mean you were a liar before that revelation. Instead, you were only "wrong". Or so say I.

  • Stephanie B

    Oh, and thanks, JD. I love your blog, you know.

    Aron, I have never read that book. This is just how I think.

  • Relax Max

    Well, I wasn't fast enough. Damn your eyes, Stephanie. :)

  • Relax Max

    For once in your life, and easy question. No, a person cannot be a liar if he believes what he is saying, even if he didn't take the time to get all the facts from every possible source. If one believes something, it is not a deliberate deception. That is what a lie is.

  • Relax Max

    I know, I know. Right now you are trying to think of a concrete example of a real lie. Let me help you.

    Let's say a person who wants to get elected to office, say the office of President of the U.S., says "On my first day in office, I will close Gitmo down!" Just for a fake example. And then, let's say that person gets to be president, and he does NOT close down Gitmo on his first, second, third, whatever, day in office. Let's say he only issues an "executive order" that "sometime within the next year we will do our best to close down Gitmo, providing we can find people to take those folks off our hands."

    That there is an example of a lie.

  • Stephanie B

    Relax Max, if you're going to hound me, you need to read my actual response. I said:

    "Is he a liar? Only if he says later that no one disagreed with him."

    That, of course, assumes he truly believed it and no one knows that but him.

  • Stephanie B

    If I tell my kids we're going to Disneyland and I lose my job before I get a chance to, did I lie?

  • Stephanie B

    After all, your non-liar left quite the backlog of fires to put out.

  • Relax Max

    1. It doesn't follow automatically that just because no one disagreed with him he wasn't lying. If he knew, then he was lying. People disagreeing with him is irrelevant.

    2. Disneyland? No. Because when you said it you believed it to be true.

    3. Who? Are you again making the tortuous jump from theory into a real-life example? Leave me out of that. (I didnt' say that the theoretical person wasn't a dolt or that he didn't do my country a lot of damage, only that he wasn't lying. Probably. He or she is only a fictional character anyway.)

    4. I'm not hounding you. I am only playing frisbee with you.

  • Stephanie B

    1. People did disagree with him and that's been documented. He's only a liar if he said there was no dissension (and he has to know if he rejects their first findings until they told him what he wanted to hear). However, it doesn't mean he was lying about believing in the WMDs.

    2. I suspect that getting into office and addressing priorities might not be as simple as envisioned while campaigning. That doesn't mean the intent wasn't honest as long as he believed it.

    3. You're ability to pick theoretical examples bites, no offense.

    4. I prefer swimming.

  • Relax Max

    1. If people (important and informed people, at least) dissented and he said there were no dissenters, then that was a lie. To be sure. I'm not sure what that has to do with the theoretical lie about WMDs, but, yes, a lie. A lowlife damnable lie.

    2. Ah, yes. In CERTAIN cases certain people can be given passes and still be honorable, as long as they truly believe it. I see. Well, that's cool, I guess. Doesn't seem all that fair, this flexible standard of yours, but... why not. I surrender.

    3. I don't care.

    4. I'm guessing NOT in coffee. :)

  • Relax Max

    I have to go now. Someone who can crush me is looking over my shoulder now and telling me to stop. Take care.

  • Stephanie B

    1 and 2. Since I agreed that believing something to be true (even if it didn't match reality) wasn't a lie, I don't understand how the standards are flexible. But I'll accept the concession.

    3. Why should you? It was all in fun.

    4. You'd guess correctly.

    Have fun not getting crushed.

  • Aron Sora

    *Crawls out of foxhole*

    *Reloads argument*

    Ok, lets say that a blogger got something completely wrong. For example, I write an article about NASA going open source. I really believe this, but it's wrong. After I find out, is it my duty to retract the argument? Should NASA be able to sue me for... ok I'm sure they could think of someway to sue me if they wanted to.

  • Stephanie B

    People can make mistakes and it's unlikely that NASA would sue you.

    However, for myself, it is my policy to correct my mistakes at least as publicly as I make them, not because I'm afraid I'll be sued, but because one should always admit one's mistakes.

  • Relax Max

    NASA is an agency of the U.S.Government. NASA belongs to you. The first amendment gives you the right to say things about your government (and its parts) that would normally even be considered slander.

    So go ahead - tear down your government or even spread lies about it. Just don't betray it to its enemies. That's a no-no.

    NASA can't sue you.

    However, the U.S. Government has a Justice Department which can go after you if your act is criminal. But, no, your government doesn't have the same civil rights that you have.

    This is especially true if, as Stephanie points out, you make a good-faith effort to set the record straight.

    If the Government or its leaders could sue citizens for putting out false information about it or its officers, George Bush would be the richest man in America right now and all the Dems would be in debtor's prison.

    That's a joke.

  • Stephanie B

    Relax Max makes an interesting point. Actually, betraying your government (which usually involves telling the truth, just too much of it to the wrong people) is indeed illegal. Your example doesn't count as such.

    Slander (and libel) involve falsehoods told about the government and, I believe, they actually can be sued over (but I'm not a legal expert). However, to do so, one must prove (a) the allegations are categorically false and (b) the one "slandering/libeling" knew it was a lie.

    The same logic Relax Max demonstrated before, that one could believe a falsehood despite it's inaccuracy, absolves such people of slander if they honestly believe it.

    It is my personally belief that, if former President George W. Bush actually challenged such "slander" he would be more likely to face treason charges than he would become rich on the proceeds of such suits.

    But then, one's personal opinions are never slander as long as they are stated as such. No one can prove what you actually believe.

  • Aron Sora

    Questions, would ITAR apply in any discussion of US space tech. I could get punished under ITAR. Since we are talking in the context of blogs which are international.

    *Runs and ducks into foxhole*

  • Stephanie B

    ITAR is intended to prevent the dissemination of proprietary and national-security technologies to foreign governments and nationals.

    If you find information on the internet or through public resources, like any public NASA website, chances are it is not ITAR controlled. In order for any NASA office to publish anything on a public website or in any venue where there are foreign nationals, the information must go through export control to ensure it is not ITAR controlled.

    As long as you keep to public sources, you won't have to worry about it.

  • Aron Sora

    *sticks white flag out of foxhole*

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