osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Source amusement

I have been interested in the twin reactions of folks to two divergent phenomena.

1) The reactions of liberals and progressives to the recent CDC Recommendations;

2) The reactions of conservatives to the NSA wiretapping revalations.

Ah for the days of jackbooted thugs and suspicion of the government that once permeated conservative blogs!

Source and history make a huge difference in perception, no doubt about it. In any case, simply ask yourself -- would your reaction be different if Kerry were now President?

For example, I cannot immagine Fox News so enthusiastically supporting NSA's data mining program if Clinton were President rather than Bush. While most folks may not remember the fights over Clipper Chip and encryption freedom, I can't help but wonder why many of the "this T-Shirt is a Munition" crowd suddenly think a modest trade off for data mining is a good price to pay for protection against another 9-11.

At the same time, the absolute conviction of many that the CDC "pre-preganancy report" is the latest assault on the freedom of women forces me to similarly raise an eyebrow. When I say a bunch of postings yesterday, I asked my wife what she thought of the CDC report. She is (a) a woman, (b) a pharamcist, and (c) not terribly political in orientation and outlook (probably a natural defense that has allowed her to endure nearly 15 years of marriage with my highly-opinionated self), so I figured I could rely on her judgment. Her reaction was "none of these receommendations is particularly controversial or even new. What's the big deal?"

The answer is the rather human issue that we interpret information based on source. That's why we have so many laws about disclosure and why so many companies speak through "astroturf" organizations.

Mind, this isn't irrational or bad. We should ask ourselves about the interests of various pieces of information and how they get used or abused. It's not that truth is indeterminate or relative, it's that its complicated. So while source or actor should not always be the determining guide, it is a very valuable datum to assist in evaluation.

The problem is that most people I talk to really dislike that. They prefer to believe either that source is determinative (and truth is either relative or amatter of faith) or that consideration of source is an inappropriate datum. More often, while agreeing with the general principle, actual application runs rather weak. This leads the vast majority of people to wonder why "they" (whoever "they" may be) are so dumb, stubborn, whatever that they believe "X".

It's a constant problem in public policy, because developing trust and expertise in the same place is extremely difficult in such an environment. The environment is made worse by an array of vested interests actively seeking to confuse the issue (whatever the issue is), exploit favorable data, and discredit unfavorable data.

Sadly, the world shows no sign of getting any less complicated. No surprise too many people give up on forming their own opinions and either (a) decide not to have any, since they will never know the "truth," or (b) turn over all crtical judgments to someone else.

For myself, I try to decide between what I know, what I don't know, who or what I trust, and how far. I resign myself to the fact that the universe contains far too many variables and issues for me to act with certainty, and do my best to see good systems with a high tolerance for an imperfect reality created instead. It's one of the reasons I suppose I care at least as much about process as result. Results are for today. Process last a heck of a lot longer.

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