On the Nature of Evidence II

Glancing at some of the comments around the ‘net about this “sealed indictment” thing, it seems that yes — God help us all — I do have to explain something about the differences between “normal,” “annual,” “happened once,” and “happened in 2006.”  I know y’all get this, Eight Regular Readers, but for the peanut gallery:

As you’ve probably long suspected, most historians, like Liberal Arts professors generally, are all but innumerate — if your typical historian needs to count past ten, he needs to pull off a sock.  Still, one of the first things you learn in grad school is “never trust a number,” and, following hard on that, “never ever extrapolate a historical trend from a number.”  Numbers are, and always should be, only part of an argument.

Which is obvious when you think about it.  Here are two indisputably true facts about World War II:

  1. Germany fought a lot more battles in 1941 than in 1940; and
  2. In both years, Germany won way more battles than it lost.

From this, should we conclude that 1942 was a banner year for the Wehrmacht, and Germany won the war soon after?  No?  Then why on earth should we conclude that, because there were a lot more sealed indictments in 2017 than in 2006, Soros et al are about to be hung for treason?

Never extrapolate when facts are available.  Alas, sealed indictments are, in fact, sealed, so we can’t know for certain what’s in them (let’s assume “sealed” in this case means “sealed tight, like Obama’s college transcripts” and not “sealed like US covert personnel’s identities when it’s politically convenient for Democrats to unmask them”).  What is discoverable, however, is the number of sealed indictments each year.  The .pdf from whence the 2006 numbers came has a whole section on their research methodology — there’s a search tool called PACER where you can look this kind of thing up.  And hey, look at that, PACER stands for “Public Access to Electronic Court Records.”  You need an account to log in, but surely there’s some freedom-loving, pizza-hating barrister out there who’d be willing to do a half-hour’s pro bono research….?

But since 1,077 and 9,274 are the numbers we have, let’s roll with them.  9274 minus 1077 is 8197 and that sure looks like a lot, BUT: Numbers without context are meaningless.  I can think of a whole bunch of non-treasonously pizzariffic reasons the number of sealed indictments jumped by 8,200 in 11 years, starting with population size (298 million to 325 million) and working out from there.

So, too, with the seemingly dramatic jump from “4,188, sealed indictments as of 11/22” to “9,274, sealed indictments as of 12/22.”  I’m willing to bet there’s a thousandfold increase in most American households’ Christmas-related expenses between 11/22 and 12/22.  Do you think that maybe, just maybe, people are trying to cram work in at the end of the year to pump up their annual numbers?  Maybe for bonus purposes?  I dunno if lawyering works like that, especially lawyering for FedGov, but that’s the kind of thing our hypothetical freedom-loving, pizza-hating barrister could clue us in on in about five minutes.

See what I mean?  I get it, y’all, I really do — Hillary in prison orange and Soros deported into the waiting arms of a Hungarian firing squad is one of my wet dreams, too.  But it ain’t gonna happen, and this kind of loony wishcasting is why Our Thing still turns off the normals.  Yes, we’re winning, and Lord willing we will keep winning, but let us not fall victim to the kind of power-worship Orwell warned us about 70 years ago:

Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London: and so on. This habit of mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires, the disappearance of cultures and religions, are expected to happen with earthquake suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end. [James] Burnham’s writings are full of apocalyptic visions. Nations, governments, classes and social systems are constantly described as expanding, contracting, decaying, dissolving, toppling, crashing, crumbling, crystallising, and, in general, behaving in an unstable and melodramatic way. The slowness of historical change, the fact that any epoch always contains a great deal of the last epoch, is never sufficiently allowed for. Such a manner of thinking is bound to lead to mistaken prophecies, because, even when it gauges the direction of events rightly, it will miscalculate their tempo. Within the space of five years Burnham foretold the domination of Russia by Germany and of Germany by Russia. In each case he was obeying the same instinct: the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible.


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8 thoughts on “On the Nature of Evidence II

  1. P_Ang

    Annual…that has something to do wif da butt, right?

    Seriously though, I have many, MANY times made requests that liberals do their OWN research because I’m tired of spending hours looking up facts and having them repeat their own mantras of “nonononono” for hours with their fingers in their ears. The best I’ve ever seen is cutting and pasting of barely-related HuffPo nonsense.

  2. Toddy Cat

    Lots of truth to this, but it should be noted that, on the whole, Burnham’s predictions have held up better than Orwell’s, for all of Orwell’s perspicacity.

    1. Severian

      True, but as Orwell said, most of what Burnham said isn’t all that original — e.g. Hillaire Belloc in The Servile State. Burnham makes the same mistake all Lefties (and, in his case, ex-Lefties… if there truly is such a thing) make: Assuming that, because “Communism” is a coherent ideological program, so too is Capitalism.

      There is no such thing as Capitalism, big-C. There’s only the exchange of stuff for other stuff, which is going to happen no matter what. “Crises of Communism” are real, because Communism is a theory and Reality is Reality and never the two shall meet. There are no “crises of Capitalism,” though, whatever that fool Marx said — humans will find the form of socioeconomic exchange that suits them best.

      Or, if you prefer, Democracy, Liberty, and Free Markets are all nice things, but they’re all three impossible, not least because each acts as a check on the other — maximum Liberty, for example, leads to a cutthroat economy that Democracy will soon rein in. That reined-in market forces companies to become political actors, and there goes your Democracy…

      All this is common sense, and we all know it. But common sense gets in the way of fancy theories, so we often forget it. That’s why your high-IQ types are generally Leftists — common sense is so boring; there’s no opportunity to show off how smart you are.

      1. Toddy Cat

        “most of what Burnham said isn’t all that original ”
        Yeah, but as Orwell himself noted, sometime noticing what is obvious is quite a feat. Keeping in mind, of course, that while Burnham was a former Lefty, Orwell never disowned the Left, and called himself a Socialist until the day he died. Of course, he also opposed Communism, so that hasn’t saved his reputation with the Left.

        1. Severian

          True. Orwell was in many ways shockingly naive — his idea of “socialism” seemed to be of the “wouldn’t it be great if the Air Force had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?” variety. He also hated all power, and distrusted anyone who didn’t.

          Burnham — as befits a guy who wrote a book called The Machiavellians — loved, and was fascinated by, power.* (As, of course, was Machiavelli himself). It’s easier to make accurate predictions if you’re not repulsed by the subject of your predictions.

          * I haven’t actually read Burnham, though of course I’ve read about him. But I can say with complete confidence that he’s a power-worshiper, because he was the kind of Leftist who called himself a revolutionary. (Orwell, though an indisputably brave man who actually fought for the Left, never called himself that). This is also why I say I don’t think there’s any such thing as a former Leftist (or, at least, a former hardcore Leftist like Burnham was) — it’s all about power for these guys, and power is incompatible with Liberty. But that’s a rant for another day.

  3. Nate Winchester

    Heh, timely quote from Orwell there since that seems to be the belief of a lot of folks about the left & cultural trends today. (i.e. “Transgendered people will get accepted.”)

    1. Nate Winchester

      Here we go, I finally found the quote I was thinking of. From 2016, just some random person in a discussion on the transgender issue.

      Years ago I wished I could just hit the fast-forward button on the gay rights fight, knowing that pathetic battle over ignorance would be won. Wish I could hit it again, because we all know how this is going to end.


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