Saturday, January 15, 2005

Doing the Research

The two stories from this morning (Advocate, Advertiser) on the back and forth petition mess project the strange spectacle of the petitioners complaining that they had so messed up their petition drive that they could no longer hope to succeed being countered by the city-parish and LUS saying that they could still run a petition drive if they wanted to, was really pretty astounding when you think about it.

And really there should be a lesson in this for us as the observers of the situation. Whatever virtues the anti-fiber petitioners might have, doing the research is not one of them.

Let's go through it slowly: first the petition drive sponsors decided to go forward on the basis of the wrong law; likely had they admitted to themselves that this was the wrong law and faced squarely the daunting task of getting 15% of the voters to agree with a specific ordinance requiring LUS to not offer services over the network LUS builds they'd would have know they'd never succeed.

So they did the research. And discovered a happier truth.

Trouble was that it wasn't true. Reality, finally, intruded.

When that happened the response wasn't particularly pretty. They called a press conference to complain that, somehow, the city was responsible for their wishful thinking.

But, and this is the strange twist in the tale, the response from the city (albeit reluctantly) was no, they had it wrong again, they could still, if they were willing to abide by the rules that had been open to them all along, go ahead.

But this morning at least one of them was out in a parking lot getting signatures on the old, useless petition. It doesn't conform to the law and all the signatures to date are simply not valid. What funds such behavior? Wishful thinking. They appear unable to let go of what they believe ought to be true in favor of what is true.

The take home message in all this is that guys are prone to believing what they wish were true and that the "research" they do doesn't lead them to new conclusions (as real research must) but only confirms what they previously believed. A briefcase or folder full of papers doesn't constitute research unless the reader was open to being persuaded by the truth. The great weakness in these guy's positions is that they are not open to being shown they are wrong.

But that weakness is also their greatest strenghth. They are true believers. They are sincere.
They can share that conviction with assurance and say things that just aren't true with confidence.

But eventually they (and we) will find out that the stories they are telling really aren't true regardless of the faux research the believe they have done. Wireless will not cure all our bandwidth ills. LUS is not some stalinist boogie man. Fiber is not even beginning to become obsolete. The incumbent monopolists will not play fair if the petitioners hand them a referendum. In modern political/PR campaigns it isn't truth that wins but bankrolls. That they may sincerely believe these lies does not make them less the lie. Reality will intrude. The danger actually lies in believing them. What is most encouraging about the current debate, the continued delusions of these guys aside, is that, astonishingly, we've reached the point where no one is seriously arguing that LUS should not build and maintain a fiber-optic network regardless of incumbent distress. We (and, to give proper credit, they) agree that it must happen sooner rather than later and that LUS should do it. We are down to arguing the details of the business plan and whether it is wise to encourage a train wreck in order to get a plan that agrees with the ideology of a small minority.

There is a reality out there—a political, economic, and technological reality that will not go away just because it is inconvenient for some beliefs. The petitioners would do us all, but most of all themselves, a favor if they'd realize that.

1 comment:

Mike Stagg said...

This part of your post, John, caught my eye:

"But that weakness is also their greatest strength. They are true believers. They are sincere. They can share that conviction with assurance and say things that just aren't true with confidence."

These guys sound like typical Bush/Cheney supporters! :-)