Only a Summary

While listening to NPR today, I heard a Republican congressman say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the release of sensitive intelligence in the so-called “Nunes Memo,” which alleges abuses by the FBI and Justice Department in their investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election. Why should we not be concerned? Because the Nunes Memo is “just a summary.” When I heard this I let out an involuntary exclamation of exasperation. This congressman is either naïve or intentionally deceitful in this assessment—probably both.

Anyone who works with data knows that summaries are especially subject to bias and manipulation. Even raw data is biased to some degree, but summaries are much more so, for they are highly subjective and interpretive. This congressman argued that no harm could possibly be done by releasing this summary and allowing members of the general public to assess its merits for themselves. It isn’t possible, of course, to evaluate the merits of the summary without examining the source data on which it is based. The source data, however, is being withheld from the public.

It’s ironic that alleged biases exhibited by some members of the intelligence committee are being countered by an obviously biased, politically motivated summary of those biases. The fact that Republicans are refusing to make public an alternative summary of the data that was prepared by Democrats reveals the obvious political motivation behind the action. Republicans in Congress believe that the public is incredibly stupid. I hope they’re wrong, but ignorance about data and the lack of skills that are needed to make sense of it are indeed rife. What a joke that we live in the co-called “information age.” It is probably more accurate to say that we live in the “misinformation age.”

Take care,

2 Comments on “Only a Summary”

By Dale Lehman. January 31st, 2018 at 12:54 am

I heard the same story and had the same reaction. It makes me somewhat sick. It is not an issue of whether you are Red or Blue, or support Trump or do not. It is a matter of whether you believe facts matter and whether opinions/beliefs need to be discussed and defended. I can’t see how the Democratic members of that committee can continue to serve on it. I would immediately resign very publicly. Public discourse and civic society has become a myth – I won’t be watching the State of the Union tonight, I’m afraid I know the state it is in.

By Reed Hedges. February 1st, 2018 at 1:06 pm

The problem with a summary, is that is what most people will actually read and maybe not with care. Easy to cherry pick simple assertions without context. Or just misinterpret or read your own opinion into it, even subconsciously, assuming that the full data somehow backs your previously held opinion even though you actually don’t know much about it.

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