Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who can you trust?

NYT - U.S. Concedes Uncertainty on North Korean Uranium Effort
For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.
This just further illustrates why we should not take the government at it word. And really not just this administration, but any administration. When anyone says anything, it is always necessary to determine whether that person might have some ulterior motive for saying it. Often times they do.

It doesn't seem to matter whether it is the CIA overstepping the bounds of logical reasoning (as many argue was the case here) or if it is someone like James Cameron making a documentary full of speculation and faulty logic, or whether it is Al Gore making an Academy Award-winning documentary on global warming, one has to be willing to ask one's self if the source might have some reason to lie or distort the truth. The answer is often yes they do. It is true that we can never have all the information necessary to make the absolute right decision all the time, but we should avoid blind faith in any particular authority. We should always be willing to question. I'm reminded of something I read at one time, it's good advice:
This section [the Lost Legends section] graphically demonstrates the pitfalls of falling into the lazy habit of taking as gospel any one information outlet's unsupported word. We could have put up a page saying "Don't believe everything you read, no matter how trustworthy the source," but that wouldn't have conveyed the message half as well as showing through direct example just how easy it is to fall into the "I got it from so-and-so, therefore it must be true" mindset. That's the same mindset that powers urban legends, the same basic mistake that impels countless well-meaning folks to confidently assert "True story; my aunt (husband, best friend, co-worker, boss, teacher, minister) told me so."

No single truth purveyor, no matter how reliable, should be considered an infallible font of accurate information. Folks make mistakes. Or they get duped. Or they have a bad day at the fact-checking bureau. Or some days they're just being silly. To not allow for any of this is to risk stepping into a pothole the size of Lake Superior.
With Iraq, we stepped into a pothole the size of Lake Superior, there is little doubt at this point. The article above indicates that we probably made the situation in N. Korea worse by making our accusations in 2002. It is not always best to assume the worst case scenario and it is important to realize when you are dealing with a source that likes to deal in worst case scenario, i.e. the CIA.

That leads me back to my title question, who can you trust? I don't really have an answer to that, unfortunately. In each situation you have to judge for yourself. There are, however, two question you should probably ask yourself before you decide:
1. Does this person/group have something to gain from making me believe this?
2. Do I have some ulterior motive for wanting it to be true or false?
Answer these questions honestly and you are probably off to a good start.

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

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