He Gets Paid for This?

William Safire wrote one really great book and a number that are not shabby. (The great book is the one no one reads, “Before The Fall,” his account of the Nixon White House.) Hard to believe it's the same guy who wrote this column, Sarin? What Sarin?.

The column contains the following gem of illogic, purporting to criticize Iraq war defeatists:

… no stockpiles of W.M.D., used to justify the war, were found. With the qualifier “so far” left out, the absence of evidence is taken to be evidence of absence.

Get that? It's wrong to say “no WMD were found”. You have to say, “so far”. Because we know they are out there. And since we KNOW they are out there, it would be quite wrong to take the failure to find them as “evidence” of their not being there at all. Given the intensity of the search, that's almost as illogical as saying 'finding a big stash of WMDs should not be taken as evidence of their presence.”

Although, by this stage, I'd want evidence of provenance if a big stash turned up.

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4 Responses to He Gets Paid for This?

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    I beg to disagree. I find _Before the Fall_ fundamentally mendacious at its core. The underlying story is of a good but flawed man–Richard M. Nixon–trying to aid his country, but being driven insane by unpatriotic critics and demonstrators.

    That ain’t what happened…

  2. Michael says:

    I think the book is more complex. It begins 100% mendacious, and then half way, which must have been when Safire found out that *HE* had been bugged too, it gets more nuanced from then on, as it becomes infused with a danwning sense that, if these guys were nuts enough to mistrust a True Believer like ME, then they really must have had something wrong with them…

  3. Randy Paul says:

    With the qualifier “so far” left out, the absence of evidence is taken to be evidence of absence.

    What a world of possibilities this opens up. I haven’t slept with Monica Bellucci, Salma Hayek and Paz Vega so far, but I remain hopeful . . .

    You know it would have been more interesting if his column read something like Finnegan’s Wake. Then we could just ascribe it to dementia.

  4. ts says:

    I’ve searched my apartment for pink elephants, but have found none. But that’s no evidence of their absence IF YOU”RE AN IDIOT LIKE WILLIAM SAFIRE.

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