The Importance of Being Rigerous

rigorous
ˈrɪɡ(ə)rəs/
adjective – extremely thorough and careful.

The unpredicted ascendency of Donald Trump to the presidency of the USA has exposed yet again the “lack of quality” in the public discourse of the important issues of our time. Maybe it is time to remind ourselves of “The Importance of Being Rigorous!”

The quality of disseminating daily “news” by, what used to be trusted media organisations, like the ABC, Fairfax, The Times and others, has taken a perceptible dive in recent years. In his book ‘Flat Earth News’, Nick Davies, a journalist with impressive credentials as a senior contributor to fleet streets finest publications, explains that the decline of quality reporting coincided with the advent of the Internet and the consequent takeover of major news organisations by profit and ideology driven proprietors. Our own Rupert Murdoch, not surprisingly, gets quite a few mentions.

In order to maintain or restore profitability, traditional news gathering by senior “bloodhound” journalists, always expensive and time consuming, has been largely replaced by reliance on third party news agencies, such as Reuters, Associated Press and UPI. As profitability issues continued, even rudimentary fact checking was pared to the bone.

Remember “Weapons of Mass Destruction”? Not one major newspaper or TV network reported on the glaring and obvious holes in the United States governments case for going to war with Iraq. If ever another dogged and brilliant “Watergate” exposé was needed, this was the time. Alas, to their great shame, our news organisations let us down, badly.

At first, going to war with Iraq didn’t appear to have any discernible consequences for Australians. To be sure, we all felt deeply for our servicemen and women and their families. To our credit, wether we agreed with our involvement or not, their brave effort was universally appreciated. As time goes by though, it is becoming more and more obvious, that these events have changed the world as we know it.

Governments caught out doing the wrong thing, by whistle blowers and Internet sites like Wikileaks, prefer pursuing the messengers rather than the perpetrators and thus destroy public confidence in our institutions. Meanwhile, the Middle East is awash with displaced people seeking refuge from the carnage, any place they can. Perversely, the very countries bombing the living daylights out of the place in order to “free it’s people”, refuse them shelter from those very bombs.

Yet, we hear our politicians justify refugee policies, that are clearly inhumane and unjustifiable, by talking about “queue jumping”, “flood gates opening”, “turning back the boats” and prioritising the “smashing of people smugglers business models”. Even a cursory check into the extraordinary monetary cost of these horrendous “offshore detention policies” exposes them as idiotic and unsustainable in the long run. According to the government’s own figures, almost One Billion Dollars is spent on the program per year – that is One Thousand Million Dollars!!!

As to the cost of human suffering, most fair minded people cannot bear thinking about it and many, clearly don’t. No nation can sustain prolonged and wilful disregard for the rights of others, for human rights, without being damaged and diminished by it!

News Organisations have skimmed over these important issues and prefer to show pictures of refugees “flooding” Europe or dying to do so. In-depth and insightful exposés on the consequence for ALL concerned are thin on the ground.

Quality and impartiality of reporting is, of course, difficult to quantify. Scrupulously giving proponents of opposing sides of an argument equal weight and/or airtime may make sense when discussing, say, the IsraelI/Palestinian conflict. However, when reporting on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon and giving conspiracy theorist’s insistence that the whole thing was faked equal billing is clearly silly.

So, being ” rigorous” is not the same as being “scrupulous” and herein lies the rub!

It is NOT enough to scrupulously check the facts before examining an issue or making an argument for or against the topic of discourse. That is not to say that fact checking is not important.

The “common sense test”, frequently applied by many “who are not necessarily always right, but never seem to be in doubt”, all too often ignores glaring inconsistencies with empirical facts. It is “common sense”, that imposing the death penalty for murder will make would be killers think twice before taking someone’s life. However, study after study have shown no correlation between the death penalty and the murder rate! Used as a deterrent, putting murderers to death simply does not work. Yet, basing ones personal opposition to the introduction of the death penalty in Australia just on this fact alone, does not make the argument rigorous! Other factors, such as victims rights, social/moral/ethical/religious considerations, cost to the public purse, rehabilitation and law & order issues all come into play.

The problem with common sense as I see it is, that a) it is not as “common” as the name suggests and b) its efficacy is vastly overrated.

It is not ok to criticise our politicians for relentlessly mouthing sound-bytes of their ideological mantras, while engaging in less than rigorous discussions ourselves.

It is even less ok to vote for, or uncritically repeat the unscrupulous “common sense” bullshit dished up by some of our populist political wannabe’s. Bullshit, because it is devoid of any observable application of imperical facts and wilfully ignoring “The Importance of Being Rigorous!