Evidence versus ideology

After Kevin Rudd it seemed unlikely that the words evidence-based policy would pass the lips of many politicians other than infrequently although few would have realised that the alternative, Tony Abbott’s evidence-free policy, would suddenly make it fashionable again.

Indeed, despite all the media talk about the Abbott government’s communication problems the real problem is clearly one of evidence-free ideological attitudes tinged with a fair degree of visceral nastiness. There was little or no visceral nastiness about the Napthine government but their failure on a cornerstone policy lacking any evidence base, rooted in ideology and urged on by News Corp may have lessons for the Abbott Government. In this case it was the Napthine government’s law and order policies – and those of politicians as diverse as Tony Blair, Bob Carr and hundreds of US legislators – which are both increasingly seen to be failures when the evidence is examined and losing their political effectiveness. read more

Who was right and who was wrong

If the weekend’s Victorian state election made anything totally clear it was that if you want accurate information about a likely election outcome it is probably best not to turn to most of the pundits or the media.

Right up until the last minute most of the media was saying the election was too tight to call and the result may not be known until a week or so after the election, despite the last minute polls suggesting the probability of Labor winning was at least 60% and possibly higher. Indeed, the only part of the speculation which was vaguely right was that a few close seat results won’t be known until later in the week. read more

All staffed up

A good indicator of how well a new government goes in its early days is how quickly it gets its Ministerial staffing into place, how it goes about it, how the staffers are briefed and the operational guidelines they are given.

The Howard Government may have been very successful over much of its life but it got off to a very shaky start losing Ministers, sacking Departmental Secretaries and putting in quite a lot of inexperienced staffers whose main characteristic seemed to be a distrust of their departments. A blog colleague was not surprised when talking to a new Howard staffer to be told how busy and overwhelmed the staffer was. But he was stunned when the staffer said it was because he was snowed under by the Ministerial correspondence. The blog’s colleague asked whether the department wasn’t producing things quickly enough and the staffer replied: “I couldn’t trust them to do it, I’m doing it myself.” read more

Interpreting the Victorian election sub text

The blog got an email this week from the Victorian ALP State Secretary and Campaign Drector, Noah Carroll, imploring the blog to help the cause as the election was ‘too close to call’. About the same time the blog read a background briefing from a ‘Coalition strategist’ which pointed out that the current polls may  be unreliable because the Coalition could expect to get a bigger share of the undecided voters than the polls assumed. read more

Memes and truthiness

A major Indiana University research project on how memes spread on social media has thrown unexpected light on what the US satirist, Stephen Colbert, calls ‘truthiness’ – a term defined as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” read more

Ebola: what we should be worrying about

Is a woman more likely to be killed by a terrorist, attacked walking down a street at night, or killed by their partner?

That was the question the blog asked during a talk it gave at the Melbourne Forum recently on why pundits get it wrong and which canvassed probabilities, predictions and election forecasts. From the murmurings it was clear that the audience knew the answer. But from media coverage, and political reaction to, the concurrent issues of Ebola and terrorism it is clear we could be seeing an example of what Peter Sandman described as a tendency to be worried about risks we needn’t worry about and not worried enough about ones we should. read more

From papal PR to Harriet Beecher Stowe

The latest International History of Public Relations Conference proceedings are now available. As usual they contain fascinating, surprising and enlightening insights into PR history – from papal PR to the anti-slavery UK celebrity book tour by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Perhaps the most significant paper, however, is by Professor Michael Kunczik on public relations for money, particularly in the context of German historical experiences. The paper explores the communication realities which have been based on Talcott Parsons’ and Adam Muller’s theories about money as a medium of language and a general instrument of communication. The blog wasn’t aware of Muller (a 19th century German economist) who apparently pre-dated Parsons in forming the theory. Obviously, after German hyperinflation, post-war reconstruction and then reunification monetary policy, money and communications around it are extremely important to German consciousness but Kunczik takes his investigation much wider including looking at currency and national identity. read more

Weasel word apologies

If George Orwell was alive today no doubt he could write a scathing condemnation of the weasel word apologies which emerge from companies and institutions after lawyers and PR people have laboured over words which seem right but deep down don’t really say much at all, murder the English language and obscure the truth. read more

Getting forecasts right – a new project

Philip Tetlock (see the blog seriatum) has launched a new program – the Good Judgment Project – which is designed to help people make better forecasts about politics and other things. Tetlock is the famous psychologist whose 18 year research project, published as Expert Political Judgement in 2005, demonstrates that most forecasters get things wrong and that the more famous the pundit the more likely they are to be wrong. An indication of how significant it might be is the enthusiastic praise from Daniel Kahneman, of Thinking Fast and Slow fame who has said of Tetlock’s new project: “With some confidence, we can predict that another landmark of applied social science will soon be reached.” See www.edge.org The blog will be talking about all this, along with some other things, at a Melbourne Forum members’ discussion Why pundits get it wrong: Polls, probabilities and election predictions on October 8. Researcher John Armitage will be sharing the discussion which will be moderated by John Ridley of Clifton Consulting under Chatham House rules.  The Good Judgment research team is based in the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California Berkeley. The project is led by Tetlock, Barbara Mellers, an expert on judgment and decision-making, and Don Moore, an expert on overconfidence. Other team members are experts in psychology, economics, statistics, computer science and interface design. The projects website, https://www.goodjudgmentproject.com/ , says: “We are participating in the Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) Program, sponsored by IARPA (the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity). The ACE Program aims ‘to dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision, and timeliness of forecasts for a broad range of event types, through the development of advanced techniques that elicit, weight, and combine the judgments of many intelligence analysts.’ The project is unclassified: our results will be published in traditional scholarly and scientific journals, and will be available to the general public.” The fact that the project is being funded by US Intelligence may worry many but, as the blog reported in July this year, some of the best recent research on forecasting was carried out by a team at a Canadian defence agency. See http://noelturnbull.com/blog/more-predictive-perils/ The new Tetlock project is already getting quite a bit of publicity- see https://www.goodjudgmentproject.com/ , http://www.economist.com/news/21589145-how-sort-best-rest-whos-good-forecasts and http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140612-the-best-way-to-see-the-future Some of the project is based on the wisdom of crowds approach which Francis Galton talked about in the 19th century. Just as one should not discount the new Tetlock and the Canadian research because of the intelligence links one should not discount Galton’s views on forecasting and other subjects because of his unfortunate views on eugenics. What is particularly interesting is that the project is throwing up advice about how to make better forecasts around the acronym CHAMP which the FT (6 September 2014) summarised as: using comparisons as a starting point; looking at historical trends; averaging opinions (the Galton approach); using mathematical models; and, understanding your biases and avoiding clinging to old predictions in the face of new evidence. The last is the hardest for most people needless to say. read more