Pop quiz: spin that answer

Spin Free ZoneQuick, what’s the correct conservative answer to the question, “what does 2 + 2 equal?”


What’s the correct liberal answer to the question, “what does 2 + 2 equal?”


*wrong answer buzzer sounds*

There are no correct “spun” answers to those questions. There are only answers that are objectively either right or wrong. End of story.

Most of the questions we encounter in the civil arena of gladiatorial politics are a bit more complicated than that, but really not so much as one might think.

Case in point: a number of citizens of Spin City notice that the latest waves of high school graduates lack in preparedness for the real world of adulthood. The grads seem to know less, or not enough of the right things, or too many of the wrong things. What do we do about it? Typically, all the contestants run to their red/blue color-coded podia and buzz in with the correctly spun answer for their team’s color. The audience wildly applauds and boos when the answers come out as expected. The team with the most money wins.

But let’s break it down to the bare bones.

“Lack of preparedness” can be operationalized. Define the term, establish the criteria for measurement. Measure. The measured phenomenon will either exist to a certain degree as demonstrated by the data, or not. There is no spin.

If there is no evidence of significant “lack of preparedness” as defined and measured, no issue here. Either redefine and reassess or move along. Nothing to see here.

If there is evidence for such “lack of preparedness” as defined and measured, this is eminently testable in increments that should mitigate potential educational harm to students and financial costs to society. First, establish a baseline. Next year, identify a variable, and each year test a variety of hypotheses across school settings and student demographics in such a way that parents/students can opt in to “the study” with the offer of “free” (i.e., taxpayer supported) remedial education for any students adversely affected by the study as evidenced by outcome data. Identify the modification that worked best. Next year, implement that modification across all schools. Observe and measure. If there is an overall improvement, you’ve found a winning approach. Keep it, use it, continue to observe and test it. Move on to the next variable. If there is a statistically significant improvement for some particular demographic, you’ve found a winner as it applies to that demographic. Organize subsequent bodies of that demographic accordingly, keep the method, use it, continue to observe and test it. Move on to the next variable.

In theory, over a sufficient number of years of gradual, incremental change, graduates ought to better reflect the desired operationalized outcomes in a statistically significant way.

Spin only enters into it when proposing hypotheses to test. From there, it’s only good old-fashioned deductive reasoning and scientific method. When the desired milestone is reached, one can then look at the question in all seriousness and know that there isn’t a correct conservative answer or a correct liberal answer. Ultimately, there is just a correct answer. Should it turn out to be the one initially espoused by conservatives, it would be the height of folly for liberals to reject it solely based on its partisan roots. The converse is equally true. Given that, hindsight would demonstrate that there never was a “correct partisan answer” but only a correct answer. Since that hindsight is possible and we can see that it is so, we can also apply the reasoning to foresight. There is now, to be put into action, no “correct partisan answer,” merely a correct answer that will eventually be shared by all regardless of partisan affiliation.

Perhaps this model is not universally applicable. How would one “test” the correct response to a belligerent, nuclear-armed enemy, after all? That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be widely applied in all the various and sundry manners to which it rightfully can be applied, preferably in parallel, rather than in series. Manipulating many variables simultaneously may introduce confounds, but analysis should be able to show interactions so that approaches could be modified appropriately going forward. We do, after all, have but so much life to burn working on improving upon the status quo.

Do you have a better idea? Please share. Just remember, regardless of whether or not you personally have a partisan perspective, if you have the right answer, that answer, in and of itself, is not partisan. It is merely correct.

True and correct do not have a spin.

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  1. Okay, let me argue with you a little. First, you know me to be a fan of facts. But it’s also true (and boy have I played with this idea through the years as a result of my interest in the history and culture of science) that even things we think of as objective processes really aren’t. For example, let’s say that a research organization does a study on a disease we’ll call Itisosis. And that the study turns out to be a landmark one, generating key insights into the causes and potential cures of the scourge of Itisosis. The science is solid, the method was solid, the scientific community is impressed, etc.

    Nice and objective, right? Except…why did the lab do a study on Itisosis instead of cancer or AIDS or diabetes? You might dig and find a grant from the Itisosis Foundation in there. Funded by a pharma company. Or perhaps there was a donation from a billionaire whose cousin died of Itisosis. In other words, no matter how objective the science, the larger process is open to all manner of subjective influence, and this is especially true these days when such a huge portion of our research mission is funded by corps with a profit angle.

    All of which leads me up to this: not much is actually objective. In the case of your example – the idea of operationalizing the terms – that’s great, but the fight happens at the point of operationalization. WHAT exactly, is it that the education program is failing to do? What ought it be doing? A conservative wants that program geared to produce cheap, uncomplaining worker drones. Liberals want it to produce fully actualized critical thinkers. You can operationalize around whatever you want, but THAT process is going to be ideologically rigged one way or another, right?

    It’s similar to the point I make about best of lists. Greatest bands, greatest songs, greatest movies, greatest books, greatest athletes, whatever. The arguments that invariably ensue are never about who was greatest. They’re about the criteria. It’s just that people never realize it.