I saw a video on the BBC news website yesterday that kept me tossing and turning most of the night. It’s a piece about army intelligence officer, Brian Gemmell, who was gathering information on loyalists in Northern Ireland during the troubles in the 1970s, when he stumbled across evidence of child abuse at Kincora Boy’s Home in east Belfast.
‘ A former army intelligence officer has said he was ordered to stop investigating allegations of child sexual abuse at a boys’ home in the 1970s.
Brian Gemmell said a senior MI5 officer told him to stop looking into claims of abuse at Kincora Boys’ Home in east Belfast.
He said he presented a report on the allegations to the officer in 1975.
In 1981, three senior care staff at the home were jailed for abusing 11 boys.
It has been claimed that people of the “highest profile” were connected to abuse at the home .’
Anyone who watches TV detective stories knows there are certain rules all good investigators must follow. The same rules apply in all kinds of inquiry – in law, journalism and science alike.
The rules are essentially what’s called the scientific method. A method for acquiring knowledge which has been at the foundation of all liberal democracies for more than 300 years.
Take nobodies word for it. Hearsay doesn’t prove anything. Forget any theories and assertions, especially from the authorities, and just focus on the facts – the empirical evidence – the things we can experience with our common senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight.
That’s one of those sayings anyone over the age of 60 probably heard quite a lot when they were young but rarely hears now. Like nursery rhymes and coal scuttles, it’s a relic of a bygone age. But that doesn’t mean its not worth preserving, because what is says could be very useful in the times we’re living through now.
What that saying reminds us is that every picture has its shadows and it’s source of light. Every positive has a negative. Every thesis has its antithesis. Every bad has a good. Every good has a bad. Or, in other words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
Here’s a video not many people have watched, or are ever likely to watch. It’s a 40 min speech given by barrister Michael Shrimpton at the Britain on the Brink conference in Winchester on 22 September 2007.
What was the Britain on the Brink Conference you might ask? Well, according to the YouTube blurb is was:
A one day Conference by and for people of all parties and of none.
Hardly the kind of catch line that’s likely to attract many YouTube hits you might think. And you know what? … It hasn’t!
Less than a week after British Gas topped the energy price league, beating rivals SSE by a comfortable 12% margin to set a new high of 9.2%, Npower surges an extra 13% ahead of British Gas and a spectacular 27% ahead of SSE to set a new record of 10.4%
Why would any company want to do that? Competitors are supposed to win customers by lowering prices, not by driving them up! Unless they knew something the rest of us didn’t know: that by the time we’d struggled through the maze of tariffs we’d find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I’ve just been watching the excellent new BBC/Open University movie, The Challenger, starring William Hurt, telling the story of how Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman uncovered the truth behind the 1986 space shuttle disaster.
As a former physicist with a passion for science stretching back as far as I can remember, I’m getting increasingly concerned about the way the the meaning of the word “evidence” has been subtly changing over the last 40 odd years, to the point where it now means the opposite of what it originally meant.
Language is, of course, constantly evolving. There are many words which now mean something very different to what they originally meant. For most of human history that’s been a natural, organic process. But ever since Edward Bernays combined the science of crowd psychology with the psychoanalysis of his uncle, Sigmund Freud nearly a hundred years ago now to create the ‘science’ of Propaganda’, the practical applications of Public Relations, Messaging and Language Management have been going from strength to strength.
“Technology is the art of arranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.”
– Martin Heidegger
So, as technology is based on science, and science is based on empiricism, and empiricism is based on the experience of the senses, then the more technology we have, the less we experience the world, the less empirical science we understand and the less new technology we can create.
Or, put it another way:
“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”