Friday, October 05, 2012

Conspiracies in the Labor Department!

This piece of news has fun stuff about how common conspiracy theories have become:

The big drop in the unemployment rate a month before the presidential election brought cries of disbelief and conspiracy theories from Jack Welch and other critics of the Obama administration Friday. But the Labor Department was quick to dismiss such claims.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers," tweeted Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE, Fortune 500). Welch did not respond to a request for further comment on his tweet.

It's also a good reminder that practically anything one says online becomes public information.  Sorta like giving a press conference.

It's hard to say how seriously  Mr. Welch intended his tweet  to be taken, but the proper way of responding to data one doesn't believe in is to do that dratted and fearsome thing:  Research.

Go and find out if the basis for the calculations has changed from last year.  Go and check whether unemployment usually decreases this time of the year.  Think of alternative theories besides the conspiracy one, and test them against the same data.  And so on.  Or for people like  Mr. Welch, have your staff do this for you.

All that is much more work than tweeting, of course.  But I believe that conspiracy attitudes are becoming more common because of the way people use the Internet, by clustering in small circles of co-believers,  and because of the advent of politics-based news corporations which pre-filter reality for their audiences.  After a few years of that it's pretty hard to agree on what reality might be.

By the way, this works even across countries.  The US news media sometimes offer different takes on news than the news media in other countries.  Checking those alternative sources out can be informative, not the least because it helps in understanding why those furriners think the way they do.