Hilzoy on Iraq War Advocates on Their Error

It sometimes strays a little too far into snark for my taste (despite Hilzoy’s contention that that’s not the goal), but I mostly did enjoy this from Obsidian Wings: A Few Teensy Mistakes…

There’s a deeper issue at work here than just scoring points against the other side, and I’m impressed by someone like Rod Dreher (whose NPR commentary Hilzoy links to) being willing to confront more or less honestly his own error in supposing that invading Iraq was a good idea, and to consider how it was he came to be so in error.

But I agree with Hilzoy’s conclusion, in spades:

Again, I don’t mean this to be some sort of “I was right” triumphalism. What interests me is not so much who was right and who was wrong, but this particular version of being wrong — a version that involves not just error, but errors like “I didn’t realize until it was too late that I had to take reality into account”, or: “I didn’t fully appreciate the fact that making nice speeches isn’t all there is to being President.” And I’m also interested in why people seem willing to confess these kinds of profound error without any sense of intellectual shame, and why they continue to be given platforms in public life. Because until we find some way to ensure that we hear the opinions of people who know these sorts of things in advance, rather than having to learn them after hundreds of thousands of people have died, we are in deep, deep trouble.

2 Responses to “Hilzoy on Iraq War Advocates on Their Error”

  1. knarlyknight Says:

    Thank you for this. It brings to light a long held suspicion that those dominating public debate in America do so simply by framing the discussion to benefit their masters and then relying on the short attention span of observers not to make them accountable for their idiocy. If they are wrong so many times, in such eggregious ways and for such obvious lack of common sense, why aren’t they fried over the coals and ignored forevermore?

    On a more technical level, NIST issued a Final Report that has immense implications with regard to future actions least of all in costs and materials used in future skyscrapers.

    The more the Final Report is examined the more obvious it becomes that it was issued primarily for short term political purposes which undercut any sensible policy, least of which include building Standards from now on. For example, in page 8 of a submission recently made to NIST that is a Request for Correction of Information Disseminated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”)) we find this:

    “The second “key observable” that the less severe case did not match was that “the towers would not have collapsed had the less severe damage results been used.” This justification for excluding the less severe case is invalid because it is based on false logic (namely, begging the question) and is a classic example of faulty scientific analysis. The main goal of NIST’s investigation and analysis was to determine the cause of the collapse of the Twin Towers. This means that NIST is not logically or scientifically permitted to assume that the cause of the collapses was airplane damage plus fire, and only choose computer models to fit that assumption. If the Towers did not collapse solely due to impact damage plus the resulting fires in NIST’s computer simulations, then the impact of the airplanes and the resulting fires were not the sole cause of the buildings’ collapses. It is not scientific to selectively choose only those computer simulations that result in a preordained conclusion. To do so is to invite the accusation of political expediency.”

    There are many more valid requests in this request for correction, I chose that example because it can be presented as an example succinctly. Although of a slightly technical nature, it is fascinating for its elegant attempt to set things right at NIST.

    Also, part VI of the Request for Correction which starts on page 27 is directly related to the topic of this post: “A FEW TEENSY WEENSY MISTAKES…” i.e. how bad information screws people in the future.


  2. knarlyknight Says:

    Forgot to mention that the “less severe case” referenced above contained the “key observables” which best fit the known or most probably plane, fuel, building and damage characteristics, the base case contained more severe “observables” that did not actually match those characteristics very well, and the “severe case” contains what appear to be many key undefendable characteristics. Only the “severe case” caused their simulation to demonstrate a collapse of the buildings.

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