Tuesday, 24 May 2016
The ancients, in the absence of physics and Google, used superstition to explain their world. Playthings of mischievous and often vexatious gods, human leaders sought to ally themselves with higher powers and became easy prey to soothsayers who claimed insight and offered a tantalising glimpse into the future. Not too precise, mind, nothing so specific it could ever be held up to detailed scrutiny. The perfect soothsayer would be akin to a modern-day PR practitioner, forever repeating back to the client what the client wants to hear yet appearing to remain impartially aloof and prophetic.
Eventually these high priests of doom wormed their way right to the top of society and became untouchable talismans and harbingers of continued dynastic supremacy. These days they go to Eton and become Chancellor of the Exchequer. And they use technology instead of crystal balls. The government has once again used your money and the machinery of state (which is supposed to serve you) to dole out another helping of thin, cold, fearful Brexit gruel. Using models approved by those people who approve of such things, they have fed in selective data and come up with projections in the time honoured fashion of any proud pseudo-scientist.
Now, real scientists and engineers have used computer models for years; models based on hard, known repeatable facts, such as the properties of materials or chemical reactions or natural phenomena, such as gravity. Feed in the right numbers and you get accurate, reliable output; information which can predict with some certainty the amount of concrete needed to build that bridge and how many trucks it will hold. They can tell you when the sun will rise and set and predict eclipses hundreds of years in the future. Most importantly, computer models allow you to vary the inputs and see the consequences without spending a fortune getting it wrong.
But such powerful tools have to be carefully handled and a hard-learned lesson of early days is summed up by the acronym GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. The government guessing machine is now spewing out so much garbage it is beginning to attract rats and disease. Well, two can play at that game, to which end I have coded a special spreadsheet whose algorithms are arranged such that the desired outcomes are entered and the necessary inputs are reverse engineered to suit.
Thus, if I want to show global warming, it carefully selects from known information the required data sets to produce that conclusion, omitting any inconvenient truths such as this utterly normal May weather we’re having. Should I wish to forecast a reduction in migrant figures it points me at the most suitable year-on-year figures to compare. And if I want to demonstrate the absolute truth about what an existential disaster Brexit will bring, why I just tell the application to recreate 1978-1979, the famous year of discontent.
Government 'scientists' discover new 'facts'.
But David Cameron’s chickens may be coming home to roost as a new generation of John Major’s bastards renounce his ill-considered logic and defy his stance on the EU. For a fee I’m sure I could get my app to forecast his political survival. It might even be possible to select from the pile of evidence actions that exclude the current finagling and misuse of the instruments of state. I could turn his forecast DIY recession into a DIY vote of confidence. But I fear there is only so much bullshit any system can take.