Tag Archives | answer

Beware of Dr. Foxes

Be sceptical of the experts who are confident and cocksure.

Time’s Healthland Blog has an informative interview with Dan Gardner, the author of a new book, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless and You Can Do Better.

Now, there’s a confusingly named professor in a study of experts that you write about.

‘Myron Fox’ is whom every person should model themselves after if they want to be media superstars. The name was invented by the researcher who created this stereotype. ‘Dr. Fox’ is an erudite, confident academic who gave a lecture specifically designed for the experiment. The researcher hired an actor to play the role and wrote a lecture for Dr. Fox to give, which was complete gibberish but was brilliantly delivered.

[The original lecture was given to an audience of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and was about "mathematical game theory as applied to physician education." It was full of contradictory statements and non-sequiturs.]

Did the audience recognize that he was talking gibberish? The answer is no. Even educated audiences who witnessed the performance were very impressed. It is one of most depressing pieces of social science research ever conducted.[Link]

The fascinating story of the Myron Fox experiment of 1973 can be read in this extended chapter from The Mad Science Book by Reto U. Schneider.

For full technical details of the Dr. Myron Fox experiment, you can check Naftulin, D. H., Ware J.E., Jr. and Donnelly, F.A.  “The Doctor Fox Lecture: A paradigm of educational seduction,” Journal of Medical Education, 1973, No. 48.  pp.630-35.

But the more important insights from the Gardner interview, particularly because of the public policy expert views we consume every day, lie here.

And Dr. Fox helps explain why. It’s people who tell simple, clear compelling stories who are perfectly confident that they are right who become media superstars. Reporters turn to them, audiences turn to them, corporations pay huge money to them to give lectures.

…One reason is that the media don’t check accuracy rates of experts, so the consequences for making bad predictions are: Heads, I win; tails, I forget that we had a bet.

There’s also a psychological aversion to uncertainty that drives demand for expert forecasts. When a reporter wants to answer questions for the reader like, What will happen with the economy? An economist would say, ‘Well, I think there are nine key factors, maybe 10. Some point one direction. Others point in a different direction. It may be possible that…’ By that point, the reporter is pulling his hair out; it isn’t a satisfying response.

A hedgehog would have one big idea, a simple story, a final answer, and that satisfies the psychological craving for certainty. Harry Truman once said that he wanted to hear from a one-armed economist [so that the guy wouldn't say], ‘On the other hand…’

…We’re also deeply susceptible to confidence. We find it compelling, and think that they must know the answer. We have to learn to distinguish between the type of expert who is worthy of serious consideration and the blowhard who is trying to bowl us over.[Link]

We have a surfeit of hedgehogs amidst us, experts hailed by the media who are likely to use words like certain and impossible. Unlike the foxes, who are dismissed as being ‘fence-sitters’, the hedgehogs’ confidence is seductive not only for the lay-reader but also for other fellow experts.

Perhaps it is time we followed Gardner’s tip:

Frankly, when I hear somebody making grand pronouncements with perfect certainty, I write them off.[Link]

Now, there’s a confusingly named professor in a study of experts that you write about. 

‘Myron Fox’ is whom every person should model themselves after if they want to be media superstars. The name was invented by the researcher who created this stereotype. ‘Dr. Fox’ is an erudite, confident academic who gave a lecture specifically designed for the experiment. The researcher hired an actor to play the role and wrote a lecture for Dr. Fox to give, which was complete gibberish but was brilliantly delivered.

[The original lecture was given to an audience of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and was about "mathematical game theory as applied to physician education." It was full of contradictory statements and non-sequiturs.]

Did the audience recognize that he was talking gibberish? The answer is no. Even educated audiences who witnessed the performance were very impressed. It is one of most depressing pieces of social science research ever conducted.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/05/mind-reading-why-expert-predictions-in-the-media-are-so-often-wrong/#ixzz1UB1jQgl6

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Nationalism is not an epithet

Why is Nationalism an anathema to some Indian commentators?

After the Americans took out Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan in a stunning military raid, the mainstream Indian reaction has been one of vindication — telling the world “I told you so” about Pakistan. After all, having suffered for many decades from the terror unleashed by the Pakistani state, schadenfreude would be a perfectly acceptable emotion among Indians.

Within a couple of days of the Abbottabad raid, India’s army and air force chiefs were asked a straight-forward question by the journalists about India’s capability to conduct a similar overseas raid. Their answer was an honest one — Yes. It was a perfectly valid response to a direct question posed to them. We should not expect it to be any other way.

Since then, Pakistani media has chosen to highlight the above themes in its coverage of Indian reaction to the Abbottabad raid. This is understandable because it allows India to be portrayed as one aggressive big-brother with evil and nefarious designs that only the Pakistani military (and its jehadi proxies) can effectively counter.

However, even more amazingly, there is a section of Indian commentators, writing in both the Indian and Pakistani media, which has copied that line. These commentators (and this blogger is deliberately avoiding taking any names in order to avoid a controversy) blame the Indians for being vocal about their feelings of vindication, and criticise the service chiefs for their straight-forward answer. They suggest that Indians need to be more considerate and sympathetic towards the feelings of the Pakistani state, where the army and the ISI feel outraged by the violation of its sovereignty by the US.

Of course, these commentators are entitled to their opinion and have the utmost freedom to express their view. They have been able to establish this viewpoint as the fashionable one, and the influence they wield via the mass media has allowed them to implant these thoughts in many impressionable Indian minds. Unless countered vigorously, it has debilitating consequences in the offing for the Indian society.

These commentators are usually christened as liberals or left-liberals in public discourse. Liberals or not, these folks seem completely dissociated from our past, our history, our people and from our very existence. Their disengagement has become so extreme that everything alien is their fashion of choice. And the more alien, the more fashionable it is. It seems that advocating an adversary’s line is being used by the commentator to bolster her independent credentials.

Observed closely, all their arguments flow from the presumption that India and Indians can never be right. As India and Indians are not right, the corollary then is for India to come up with solutions — making one concession after the other — till it meets the approval of the adversary.

Nationalism seems an anathema to these commentators, an epithet which they shouldn’t be tagged with.

For the first fifty years of the previous century, nationalism was the mantra of public and intellectual discourse in this country. The foundations of India’s independence and its continuing journey as a Republic were laid in that discourse. The word has unfortunately been devalued since. It is now used by joining it to other pejoratives  — communalism, fascism, chauvinism, jingoism and fanaticism. Once nationalism becomes a dirty word, synonymous with fascism, it is explicable that these commentators feel the need to strike a pose — a pose which conveys that they are not Nationalist (any by extension, neither fascist nor communal).

As my colleague Nitin Pai has explained (here), automatically equating nationalism with intolerance is wrong. And dangerous, if I may add, as being witnessed in the current instance. Nationalism must be liberal, and that is what we should aspire for in India. As Nitin articulated in his essay on Liberal Nationalism:

Liberalism (or libertarianism, in its American usage) is concerned about individual freedom. To enjoy freedom in practice, the individual gives up some of it to the state. The state, a nation-state in India’s case, exists to ensure the rights, freedoms and well-being (yogakshema) of its people. So ensuring the survival and security of the Indian state—by maximising its relative power internationally—is wholly consistent with allowing its citizens to live in freedom.[Acorn]

There is no reason for anyone among us to be apologetic about Indian nationalism. Indian Nationalism is fully consistent with the values enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution — our Constitution, which is the lodestar of modern Indian nationhood.

Nationalism is about putting the interests of India and Indians first, without compromising on any of our constitutional ideals. Let us not allow it to be any other way.

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Jha’s Jhaag-wala Kashmir

Prem Shankar Jha’s call for sacking a duly elected government in J&K is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity.

My fellow blogger Nitin Pai pointed me to this column by Prem Shankar Jha, Lessons for India from the Egyptian people’s revolution in the DNA newspaper. Here are the last two paragraphs of his column:

But India will not escape the reverberations either. For it too must answer the question that Tahrir square has posed: what can even the most heavily armed state do when its own people repudiate it? This question needs an urgent answer in Kashmir valley, which has been in a virtual lockdown since June. What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks? Will it fire on them? Will it deploy water cannon and rubber bullets as the Egyptian police have done but the JK police and the CRPF have not? Will it declare curfews, and try to prevent demonstrators from getting to Lal Chowk? Or will it forestall having to choose between these grim alternatives by giving democracy one more chance in Kashmir.

It is true that the Omar Abdullah government is an elected government. But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown, it is also a government that has lost the support of most of the people in the valley. Is it asking too much of a nation that prides itself on its democracy, to give democracy a chance to sort out the mess in Kashmir? As we are seeing in Egypt, the very least this will do is to empower the moderates and weaken the extremists clustered around Geelani and Masrat Alam. All that Delhi has to do is make up its mind. What it can no longer afford is to do nothing. Today it is like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding train. It has to jump off the tracks , and is rapidly running out of time.[DNA]

This blogger’s  first reaction to Mr Jha’s diatribe was, in twitter-speak,*Face Palm*. The second reaction was of dismissive anger. Having let those emotions subside, this blogger realises that engaging his… rather, not letting his uneducated nonsense go unchallenged is  important.

Just to refresh your memory, Mr Jha suggested in 2008 that India should give up on  Kashmir because he was convinced that the Kashmiri awam was overwhelmingly against India. Unfortunately for him, he was to be proved wrong within a few months when more than 60 percent of the residents of the state turned up to vote in the assembly elections. But we can’t let facts come in the way of a good old venomous rant.

Mr Jha avers, “Kashmir Valley has been in a virtual lockdown since June.” Of course, this Kashmir Valley must be existing on Mars or Jupiter for the one in the North Indian state has regained normalcy, albeit slowly, since September last year. Things have improved to such a degree that by December 2010, Mr Geelani was forced to unceremoniously withdraw his protest calendar which was evoking little response even in the separatists’ strongholds in the Valley.

“What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks?” is the rhetorical question that Mr Jha poses. Precisely the same thing Mr Jha, that Delhi will do if lakhs of Mumbaikars converge on the Azad Maidan and refuse to leave till the Prithviraj Chavan government resigns, Maharashtra Terror Act (MACOCA) is repealed and the security forces deployed in the Naxal areas are withdrawn. A rhetorical question deserves no better than a rhetorical answer.

Mr Jha continues in the same vein: “But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown…”. So an opinion poll conducted by some media house carries more credence than the voters’ mandate for a constitutionally elected government in an Indian state. Here is a guest post at this blog by Sushobhan Mukherjee, who designed and executed the first-ever opinion poll in Jammu & Kashmir for the launch edition of Outlook magazine in 1995, deconstructing one of the many polls that Mr Jha probably refers to. In any case, democratic processes in  country can not be made subservient to any number of opinion polls (whether conducted face-to-face, or on internet, by twitter or by Facebook) and Jammu and Kashmir can be no exception to this rule.

Even more disingenuously, when Mr Jha refers to the results of opinion polls, for whatever these polls are worth, he takes into account the opinion only in the Valley while asking for the  sacking of the Chief Minister. Forget for a moment the fact that the state also has two other regions of Jammu and Ladakh which have elected this government, even the Kashmir region itself is much bigger than the Vale of Kashmir, which is presumably the Valley Mr Jha refers to.

For a country that held elections in 1996 and 2002 in Jammu and Kashmir at the peak of terrorism, India doesn’t need to be hectored about giving democracy a chance in the state. Even now, the state is gearing up to hold Panchayat polls in the state. Is that not the real and most participative form of grassroots democracy in the state? Perhaps, Mr Jha’s idea of democracy is only met if his favourite is voted in as the CM of the state. If someone he personally abhors ends up as the CM by a legit vote of the electorate, it is no longer a democracy in Mr Jha’s book.

Mr Jha then goes on to implore: “[Delhi] can no longer afford is to do nothing [in Kashmir].” Delhi is in fact already doing enough in J&K. It has got a team of interlocutors in place to talk to all shades of opinion in the state. The “moderates”, that Mr Jha expects will take part in the next elections if held today and thus marginalise the extremists, have refused to meet the interlocutors.

After 1987, the separatists have never participated in any democratic process in the state. There seem to be no indicators of any change in their stance so far. In any case, for argument’s sake, it is for the separatists to first declare their preference for participating in state elections if they are held now; the political parties in the state and the Union government can then take a call accordingly. It would otherwise be ridiculous to sack a duly elected government in the state when it has finished only one-third of its constitutionally mandated tenure.

Surely, a veteran journalist like Mr Jha knows that democracy is not merely about elections and voting but also about democratic systems, processes, structures and institutions. You can not weaken those very democratic institutions and processes in the name of furthering democracy. The answer to problems in Kashmir lies in strengthening the democratic institutions in the state, focusing on improved governance, and ensuring peace and security so that the average Kashmiri can live a normal social and economic life without any fear.

Mr Jha’s argument is neither about Egypt, nor about India or Kashmir. He is actually making a case for sacking a duly elected democratic government in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir. This is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity. We must treat such bunkum with the contempt that it deserves.

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An unfriendly Kabul

Can India willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul?

In accordance with the prevailing wisdom about an impending end-game in Afghanistan, Eurasia Review has a provocatively titled piece — Should India Also Talk To The Taliban? While it is easy to dismiss this as a rhetorical and impractical question because India has nothing concrete to talk to Taliban about, there is a related question that ought to be considered — Can India willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul?

Fortunately, there is a quasi-official answer available to that question. And it comes from the report on Is a Regional Strategy viable in Afghanistan? by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which has a chapter on India. This chapter has been authored by Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who is incidentally the Indian Ambassador-designate to Afghanistan. Here is Gautam’s answer to the question:

…for India to willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul, it would minimally require that such a regime (1) maintain normal diplomatic relations with India and ensure the safety of its embassy, consulates, and development projects; (2) guarantee against its use for Pakistani or jihadi ends; and (3) that Pakistan abandon its own use of jihadi militancy and terrorism as instruments of state policy against India.

A couple of quick points here. One, it suggests that India has no problem with any non-jihadi government in Afghanistan, even if it is a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government out there at Kabul, provided certain conditionalities are met.  However, it is clearly evident that India today has little leverage over Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban to enforce these conditionalities. Because India has focused exclusively on an economic and developmental aid programme for Afghanistan, it will thus be forced to live with the government — and not a very friendly one at that —  that eventually comes up at Kabul.

Will we then again be back to the pre-2001 era where the Taliban’s symbiotic relationship with a revanchist military-jihadi nexus in Pakistan threatened India and Indian interests with a series of security challenges, political reversals and terrorist incidents?

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The answer that the PM never gave

To the question about his government’s failure to estimate the Maoist threat.

At the Prime Minister’s press conference, one of the questions that evoked a lot of interest in the media coverage afterwards came from Smita Prakash, Editor (News), Asian News International. Asked if his government had underestimated the Naxals, the Prime Minister said, “We have not underestimated the problem of Naxalism.” Here is the complete video of the question and the answer.

And here is the answer that the Prime Minister should have at least provided to the important question. Mind you that this is not the ideal, strong-worded answer one can come up with, but the least (and a politically correct answer) that the nation expects on such a grave subject from the Prime Minister.

That’s another tough one from Ms Prakash. But it is an important question which deserves to be answered in its entirety. If I were to be candid, and with the benefit of hindsight with us now, I’d agree that we could have done much more in our first tenure about finishing the Maoists. As you know, my government for the better part of its first tenure was guilty of the same misconception that continues to grip many of us even today.  Many of you out here, supported so vociferously by many intellectuals in the public domain, still hold the view that Maoists are just misguided youth, fighting for the rights of the tribals and it can be handled as another law and order problem. We in the government were also guilty of holding this view till we realised half-way through that tenure that it was the biggest internal security challenge facing the country. I have since articulated it publicly at many forums. But the government is an elephantine machinery which takes its time to change course and act. Yes, I’d confess that we have been guilty on that count to a large degree.

What is even more worrying however, that while my government, and particularly the Home Minister, seems to have realised its folly and directed all its energies towards undoing the mistakes of the last tenure, the political consensus still eludes us. As a hallmark of a vibrant and healthy democracy that India is, there are varying opinions within the Congress party and the ruling coalition, but also within the political opposition on what should be the ideal anti-Maoist strategy. While we may have different ideas about finishing the scourge of the Maoists, let me reassure the nation that we all seek the same goal and we are all fully united and committed to this onerous task.

There are a few more challenges for us going forward. The first one is to generate a consensus across the complete political spectrum, involving both the centre and the states, and convincing them about our strategy to finish the Maoists. The time for debating the strategy is well past us now. Our security forces, policemen and policewomen, and government employees involved in development of Maoist-affected areas, need the full backing and unequivocal support of their countrymen. There will be setbacks along the way, as we have recently witnessed at Dantewada in the ghastly massacre of civilians and CRPF men before that, but that should only strengthen our resolve to strike harder at these mass murderers.

The next challenge for us, and we are trying our best in this regard, is to build the capacity of our security forces and police forces deployed against the Maoists. It won’t happen overnight but if we stick to it with a sense of purpose, I am certain we will soon see a perceptible difference on ground in the efficacy and effectiveness of our security operations. There is something very important I’d like to highlight here and it is the issue of Police Reforms. Despite directions from the Supreme Court, we have not moved forward in this important field for last four years. Any more delay in implementing these reforms by the states, and we at the centre have already taken some steps with the union territories in this field, will bring further misery to innocent population in these areas. We simply cannot afford this state of affairs as a nation any longer.

Finally, I’d like to assure everyone that we are committed to bringing development to these development starved areas. Our governance structures will have to be made more robust to face these current challenges and undertake fast-paced development in these areas when we have secured them and made the areas conducive for undertaking these developmental activities. Our ultimate aim is to restore governance and bring development to these areas and concerted security operations are only a step towards achieving that final goal.

I take this opportunity to seek the support of all Indians to finish the scourge of the Maoists and assure everyone that we are committed to establishing security so that we can bring development and prosperity to these areas. Next question please.

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Dialogue-baazi (from Mao to Rao)

One quote from the Indian Foreign Secretary says it all.

Political power flows from the barrel of a gun.~Mao

Here is Nirupama Rao’s answer to the sudden surge in media pieces asking India to resume talks with Pakistan.

Karan Thapar: What about the opinion expressed by some analysts that if India were to resume the dialogue process, it might strengthen Islamabad’s hand in delivering on terror?

Nirupama Rao: I know the school of thought and it I think especially has gained some currency in Pakistan in recent months. But let us look at it this way. Terrorism is not a tap you turn on and off because of the absence of or prevalence of dialogue. Dialogue does not flow from the barrel of the gun, Karan.[IBN]

Dialogue does not flow from the barrel of the gun… Well said, Ms. Rao. Take a bow.

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Who does development?

The answer is critical to succeeding against the Maoists.

The first stage of government strategy against the Maoists is to recapture territory controlled by the Maoists. The second stage of this strategy has to be capturing the hearts and minds of the local population. Executing the first stage well will not signal success but not executing the second stage properly will certainly mean failure.

If the first stage is about security, the second one is about development. The Home Minister can assemble all the security forces at his disposal to undertake the first part. But who will undertake the second part — the developmental one: defunct state government departments, planning commission, NGOs, security forces or someone else?

Does anyone have an answer?

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Strategy

A simple flow-chart from the US Army War College.

Strategic Planning Model

If you find this USAWC Strategic Planning Model educative, then try and remember what Plato said many centuries ago: “But if you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy; that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.”

Here is hoping for some nobility in thought and action on strategic matters from the UPA government, when some educated good men get sworn in tomorrow.

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Angry… but at whom?

The electronic media is going to town with stories about the palpable anger brewing among the Mumbaikars and the nation at large. What is this anger about? Who are they angry at?

Most of the people are outraged because their lives are not secure. That is perfectly understandable. It is the answer to the second question that is disconcerting. Most of the people are angry at the government, at the system and at the nation at large. It is very easy for people to turn cynical and despondent when they are still emotionally fragile and are being constantly bombarded by disturbing TV images.

At this point each one of us should ask this question — finally, what do the terrorists want? They want to undermine the Indian state and destroy the “idea of India”. They want to demoralise the nation, instil fear in each one of us, disrupt our daily lives and force us to doubt our fundamental premises, our cardinal beliefs. They want us to start questioning ourselves.

Should we, as the public, play into their hands by training all our guns on the instruments of the state? The post-mortems and the blame-games have already started. Indian politicians are venal and nincompoop. India doesn’t have an internal security policy. The police is worthless. It is an intelligence failure. We are doomed as a nation.

Politicians are the easiest targets, the softest ones and they rightfully deserve a major share of the blame for the mess we find this nation in. But can we wait a wee bit longer before going all out against them?

Can these TV anchors turned arm-chair experts suggest the way ahead rather than merely decrying the system and the nation? Media acts as a force multiplier for the terrorist. A similar incident in the heartlands of Bastar would have achieved little except a byline in the inside pages of a national newspaper after two days. If this kind of media coverage provides oxygen to terrorism, then the electronic media and the society needs to introspect about the role of media in the Indian society today. It is about TRPs and revenue figures for the media while it is about pandering to voyeuristic tendencies in each one of us.

Comparisons to the US during 9/11, although not very exact, will continue to be made. Let us look back at another famous siege in India that happened nearly a quarter of a century back. Was Operation Blue Star less gruesome or worse than these Mumbai attacks? The terrorists inside the Golden Temple had even laid mines and shot down army tanks with anti-tank weapons. But it wasn’t a media spectacle and the mood in the nation was not of despondency and vexation. The nation then said — let’s fight and eradicate terrorism. What is the feeling in the nation now — let’s berate the government and eradicate this system of governance.

If that be true, then the terrorists and their ideology have already won. Let us be cautious and careful in venting our emotions. Each one of us has a right to be angry, but at the right target — the terrorists and our countrymen who, wittingly or unwittingly, further the terrorists’ agenda for their petty, selfish gains.

The immediate goal of neutralising terrorists inside Mumbai has been met. There is an urgent need to identify and lay out a short-term plan for ensuring internal security, along with a long-term vision for restructuring the internal security system in this country and a medium-term strategy that bridges the short-term plans and the long-term vision.

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The suppression of India’s war histories

…continues as the Government prevaricates over the recommendations of another committee.

It can only be providence, a serendipitous and fortuitous coincidence; within a fortnight of Pragmatic Euphony asking for the release of India’s official war histories, the Defence minister provided some cues by a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

The terms of reference of the Kargil Review Committee was to review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District. The Committee among other things emphasized on the necessity of publishing authentic accounts of the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 besides the Kargil War of 1999.

A Committee to review the publication of War Histories was constituted by the Government. The Committee has given its recommendations which are being considered for arriving at a final decision on this issue.

The noteworthy point is the missing part – no mention of the official history of the 1962 war or the Henderson-Brooks report. They were probably not even included in the terms of reference of the ‘Review Committee’. In other words, the government is not even considering the release of any document pertaining to the 1962 debacle.

The pontification by the minister has raised many more questions. An RTI plea or a supplementary question in the Parliament is sine qua non to seek the answers.

What is the organisation and mandate of this ‘Review Committee’? Is the committee pitched at the ministerial level or at the bureaucratic level? Is it an inter-ministry group, where every babu is trying to protect his turf or a committee of the defence ministry? Does it include some Generals, Air Marshals or Admirals as well?

When did the committee furnish its recommendations? What were those recommendations? Who is considering those recommendations – the Cabinet Secretary, the Defence minister or the Prime Minister? By when do we expect a final decision on the consideration?

The ‘consideration’ towards ‘arriving at a final decision’ is a bureaucratic euphemism for maintaining the status quo. Let us not be surprised to pick up an identical answer in the parliament, ad verbatim, from the same or another defence minister, a few years down the line.

There is no doubt that the minister’s verbal sophism would have done the ‘Yes Minister’ duo of Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby proud. Nevertheless, the original Sir Appleby is matchless in his eloquent pedantry-

Sir Humphrey: Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple, and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifying assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated, and the facts insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.
Jim Hacker: Epistemological, what are you talking about?
Sir Humphrey: You told a lie.
Jim Hacker: A lie?
Sir Humphrey: A lie.
Jim Hacker: What do you mean, I told a lie?
Sir Humphrey: I mean you … lied. Yes I know, this is a difficult concept to get across to a politician. You … ah yes, you did not tell the truth. [Wikiquote]

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