How confirmation bias works and how to deploy the strawman with Richard Littlejohn

Ah, Richard Littlejohn. I'd decided not to bother looking at his stuff in any detail after wasting my time ploughing through his godawful books*, but today he offers us a masterclass in confirmation bias and how to deploy the strawman argument, so it would be rude not to pay attention. These are the rhetorical flint hammer and rock on a bit of string of the internet comments section buffoon, so it's nice to see them used to crushing effect by the highest paid columnist in all the land.
You might remember that in May's 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award, I looked at how Macer Hall creatively interpreted the existence of a project to promote co-operation between British and French councils in an area called the Arc Manche as evidence that the EU wants to merge Britain and France. Our smellyfaced chum picks up the baton only a few weeks after the Express to let us all know the truth, dammit.

Here's how he does it:
As a general rule of thumb, I always assume that anything dismissed by the EU as a 'myth' is almost certainly true.
That's your confirmation bias right there, explained in a nutshell in his opening paragraph. Even I don't assume everything in a Littlejohn column is hogwash. If you already assume everything the EU denies is probably true, it might cause you to try to mash a square peg into a round hole with your rock on a bit of string and come up with a really bad attempt to explain why you're right. Like Littlejohn does right here.

Before he does this with the Arc Manche, he shows how its done with a stalwart of EU mythology:
We've had all sorts of denials over the years, from the directive banning bent bananas...
There was no directive banning bent bananas. This is a strawman, a misinterpretation of a boring EU directive made to look as ridiculous as possible. Here is the actual EU directive about banana standards (pdf). If you can keep your eyes open long enough to read it, you'll see it's about classification of bananas. Green bananas. Bananas sent to wholesalers. You'll also notice it doesn't talk about how straight or bent bananas must be, but that in the highest quality classification they should be free from 'malformation' and 'abnormal curvature' (the Wikipedia article about the directive mistakenly says the directive mentions 'excessive curvature). These are nowhere defined as 'bent'. Lower down the quality scale, 'defects of shape' are allowed.

But what people often do is point to the existence of the directive as proof that the EU banned bent bananas. Here's a link to a reproduction of the directive on a Eurosceptic site. They've highlighted the bit that says defects of shape are allowed in lower classifications as evidence that bent bananas are banned. There's not a lot you can say to that. "Look, here - the bit where the directive says defects of shape are allowed is proof that bent bananas are banned." You just have to respond with a funny look and walk away.

To be honest, this is all a bit too much effort to go to to refute this old chestnut. All you need to do is remember; have you ever seen a bent banana in this country? Bet you have. Because bent bananas aren't banned.

Anyway, onto the second half of that sentence, and the new strawman:
...to the most recent claim that there were no plans to merge the north-west of France and the south of England into a single European administrative region.
But, as those of you who read May's bullshit award will know, the EU denial was about merging Britain with France. That was the headline of the article it was about.

So, Littlejohn hasn't said exactly what the EU denied. He's given a watered-down version of the claims the EU were refuting, and created a strawman version of the EU denial. It's masterful.

But it doesn't end there. Littlejohn is like a regular Crowman:
This is the precise scheme [the Arc Manche], which would amalgamate vast swathes of both countries from Normandy to Land's End, that official EU spokesmen insist doesn't exist.
It would be bloody stupid if EU spokesmen did insist the Arc Manche doesn't exist. It has its own bloody website. Except, of course, they never did. Here are some actual words an EU spokesperson actually said (you'll notice Littejohn never includes any of these):
There is no proposal to create a new cross-channel region. What exist (and have done for 10 years) are a number of cross-border programmes aimed at things like boosting jobs and looking after the environment.
Some cross-border programmes exist. The Arc Manche is a cross-border programme of the sort the EU spokesperson said exists. But here's your smoking bum that proves the EU are lying bastards!

Littlejohn says:
Arc Manche (also known as Transmanche) even has its own EU-appointed President, a French socialist called Alain Le Vern, and a regional assembly.
The Arc Manche website says:
It is not a 'regional Assembly' like the South East England Regional Assembly. It has absolutely no powers confered to it, no role in governance, law-making or public administration.
So, is Littlejohn playing fast and loose with the definition of 'regional assembly' or are the EU lying bastards because they banned bent bananas and denied the existence of the Arc Manche project? You decide.

Littlejohn says:
Arc Manche is one of the 13 different districts into which Britain will be carved up if we are stupid enough to remain in the EU.
The Arc Manche website says:
It is important to stress that this is an informal, voluntary network of local authorities who can use the network to share best practice, coordinate initiatives and pull together project ideas to draw in EU funding.
There's also a map showing that some councils, all on the English side, natch, have not signed up to be members. Because it's voluntary. The site also includes this handy FAQ:
It is obviously a ploy to undermine national authority, or can you give me any reason why this is not the case?
No it is not ploy, the Arc Manche has absolutely no authority whatsoever. It is not even a legal entity. It merely serves to articulate the concerns of coastal local authorities when it feels they should be heard and taken into account.
And there you have it. The rest of our smellyfaced chum's section on the Arc Manche is rested purely on believing everything the EU ever says about it is a lie. So, are the EU telling bald-faced and evil lies or has the man who thought a dog was a woman and has decided before he starts that the EU is lying when it denies things *ahem*, made a mistake?

Here's what I really love though. Like the Express article, Littlejohn's column rests his claim that the EU are lying, evil bastards on the fact that the EU gave us some money to fund arts projects and cycle lanes. He concludes that we must get out because it costs us too much money. The proof is that it gave us some money.  The Arc Manche is an evil waste of money.  Because it secured us some funding.

Well done, Lumpy.  Give yourself a lolly.

*If you liked my reviews of 'To Hell in a Handcart', check out Atomic Spin's review of 'First Ladies' by Kay Burley.  Seems to share some of the characteristics with Littlejohn's effort.

**UPDATE**  After spending too bloody long searching around for the source of Littlejohn's claim in this article that Van Rompuy recently unveiled plans for a £280 million headquarters for Arc Manche, @nosemonkey has come up trumps with a strong possibility.

It seems that last week, Van Rompuy drew attention to plans for a £240 million headquarters for the EU Council.  So unless the EU have decided to pay more for a headquarters for a small administrative region than for the whole EU Council, it's likely that Littlejohn is 'confused' here.  It seems from a second reading of Zelo Street's excellent post that he already knew this, but I missed it first time round.


acro said...

Perhaps the European Commission's press office should make use of double negatives from now on:

"We are not not bending curvy cucumbers", and see if Littlejohn still follows his bias through to its logical conclusion.

I also like the fact that Eric Pickles apparently "discovered" facts that are in the public domain and publicly accessible through the EU's website.

Christ almighty, what a disgrace.

Unity said...

FFS, not this one again.

I did this over three years ago - http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2008/04/23/pickling-pickles/

What the Arc Manche does is fund stuff like cheese festivals in Sussex - hardly a threat to national sovereignty.

Mr Larrington said...

I notice that when you try to comment on Smellyface's latest demonstration of idiocy personified, you end up getting a 404 error.

Anonymous said...

What does it say about our society that Littlebrain [BNP Nick Griffins favourite "journalist"]is the highest paid columnist in the country?
This odious little mans infantile language and writing would be more at home on a pub toilet wall, he is obviously laughing all the way to his Florida bank.

Bose said...

Richard is an expert of this own. he masters in every subject and stands as an example for many out there, thanks for the share!@bose
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