Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The ACPO Scandal and Logical Fallacy

Well, it seems we have an answer regarding the ACPO reports. One of them was after Power's job. No wonder he said all was rosy when anyone with half a brain could see it was a circus. (Anonymous comment, on Montfort Tadier's Blog)

An ad hominem argument has the basic form:
Person 1 makes claim X
There is something objectionable about Person 1
Therefore claim X is false

The first premise is called a 'factual claim' and is the pivot point of much debate. The contention is referred to as an 'inferential claim' and represents the reasoning process. There are two types of inferential claim, explicit and implicit. The fallacy does not represent a valid form of reasoning because even if you accept both co-premises, that does not guarantee the truthfulness of the contention. (Wikipedia)

I remember hearing Senator Ian Le Marquand on "Talkback" talking about the "scandal" to do with ACPO. And certainly if one of the ACPO team was after Lenny Harper's job, then there was a potential conflict of interest, which apparently is the "scandal", although that is a rather emotive word to use.

What is remarkable is how easily it is assumed that this means that all the ACPO reports were thereby tainted, which is a perfect example of what C.S. Lewis called "Bulverism", and which is also an example of the "ad hominem" fallacy. Listening to comments about the ACPO reports, I have been struck by how much weight is given to who compiled them, and the compilation process, and that they might have missed out information (because as Ian Le Marquand noted, they relied on information to be given to them and not concealed).

That may be true, but it doesn't really get us any closer to assessing their reliability unless we have better evidence which shows their weaknesses or corroborates them. And at the moment, all we have is question marks placed against the motivation of the team writing them up, as if this thereby discredits them.

Writing about motivation, Lewis looked at the way in which truth ignored in favour of motivational analyis; he gave as particularly widespread examples (in 1944), Freudianism and Marxism:

Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are "ideologically tainted" at the source.

Now this is obviously great fun; but it has not always been noticed that there is a bill to pay for it. There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism."

Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father - who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third - "Oh, you say that because you are a man." "At that moment," E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

Now looking at the ACPO reports, and the information about one of the team wanting to take over Lenny's job, and we can see Bulverism taking hold.

It could be the case that if he wanted the job, he tended to overlook deficiencies in the investigation. But it could equally be the case that he actually wanted to ensure the investigation was conducted as properly as possible, so that if he was presenting the final results, he would be assured that they were on a firm foundation.

As an analogy, consider an accountant's office. A is checking over B's accounts preparation work, and hoping that - perhaps as a result of this - he may have the opportunity to take over B's workload when B retires (as he has planned to do). Would A skimp over the checking, or would he or she be more likely to check thoroughly because otherwise A may have a mess to sort out later? From my experience, I'd say the latter was far more likely, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility of skimping.

This means that this new information doesn't really get us anywhere. For of course saying that the results of ACPO are tainted - because the officer in charge wanted a job - doesn't tell us one inch nearer to decide whether, as a matter of fact, the ACPO reports were true or false, were accurate or deficient. Those questions remain to be discussed on quite different grounds - a matter of assessment, and evidence.

The farce that passed for a press conference in 2008 certainly was not a sober critique of the ACPO reports. Perhaps the Wiltshire report will shed some light on the matter. But however the accuracy or otherwise of ACPO is to be decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are. That a member of the ACPO team wanted Lenny's job complicates matters; it does not discredit the ACPO reports, unless logic is chucked out of the window. But logic seems to be in short supply nowadays.



Anonymous said...

Posted on Stuart's blog:

"I agree about the need for those inferring dishonesty on the part of ACPO to be aware of the danger of legal action. The officer concerned is a highly rated individual whose reputation is extremely high and who was too honest and forthright with his views on political interference to meet the criteria wanted by Walker and Ogley. Certainly his reputation remains more intact than any of the idiots inferring this load of nonsense. Furthermore, unless my memory is faulty, the first ACPO report was completed by all three members before the man concerned had even made his mind up to apply for the job. The report was a joint effort between the three of them all with their own areas of special expertise, for instance, homicide investigation or the HOLMES computer system. To be honest, when he rebutted the virulent criticisms of the enquiry he knew Ogley and Co. would never give him the job anyway. However, either way he is a professional who would not want to take over a half baked job. In other words, he did not do the report alone and indeed, much of the stuff he would not have had the expert knowledge to review without the others. As for some sort of peer review there must have been because all three knew the recommendations and came back to check on their own field of expertise. It is also highly likely that someone senior at ACPO would have seen what went out in their name. Really, this is just another in the long line of smears."

Rob Kent said...

And the problem with that line of reasoning is that if ACPO member A can be discredited due to ambition, we should also discount anything said by Acting Police Chief Warcup because he wanted and may be getting Chief Police Power's job.

But to be consistent, Warcup would have praised Power. My head is spinning.

Anonymous said...

Tony's argument is, as usual, a splendid objective analysis of the situation as we, the public, understand it.

We have been presented with what appears to be weighty information which shows two main points -

1. The lack of willingness to prosecute some of the alleged abusers - particularly the Maguires - appears to have been created by the Law Officers. There appears to be little doubt that the "lack of evidence" reason is not the real reason. The Law Officers are unwilling to provide the very information that would put the public's mind at rest - and the reason for this unwillingness is flimsy in reality. So, we are left thinking that the real reason is a sordid one.

2. The suspension of Graham Power - and the sustained attempt at the destruction of Lenny Harper's career - was politically driven. If this was not the case, then the evidence we have seen needs to be rebutted properly. By properly I mean with equally weighty evidence to the contrary - not wishy-washy hints at scandal and half-baked allegations of impropriety.

If those of us who have taken the trouble to read the available information properly are to be convinced that the Law Officers and the Ministers (and Chief Executive) have acted in a proper manner, we deserve to be given the facts which are available to those parties.

Like many others, I am not a political animal but I am a thinking person. I have no personal allegiances to any of the characters in this drama. I merely seek the truth. I am not in a position to get at the truth as an individual and I therefore have to rely on my elected representatives to do their utmost to do so.

I do not believe that all Ministers and Assistant Ministers are evil conspirators. Many of them appear to be decent people. In many walks of life they could turn a blind eye to what appears to be happening here. But, if they truly have any conscience as individuals, they must realise that in their political role their allegiances must, at the end of the day, be to the people they represent and not to those who have some political or personal axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

There is an objective method of reasoning which I find useful in this Jersey case. Do the claims made and the evidence proffered by both sides make equal sense? All I know is that I still can't detect any credible theory from reading all the inconsistent and largely undocumented "evidence" put forth by the curiously strident anti-Harper/anti-Power brigade. If both sides competed on opposing international student debate teams, the official Jersey team would lose on simple failure to produce any demonstrable facts. As an outsider with no dog in this fight, I find this matter surprisingly clear cut.