Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

This blog is primarily an account of how one slightly crazy and unscrupulous pseudo-scholar has succeeded in poisoning the well and spreading lies and misinformation about the Irish language throughout the world of cyberspace. However, this is not only about the Irish language and American slang. The same kind of misinformation is being spread continually about a host of subjects. As a matter of urgency, people need to be taught how to think and how to recognise nonsense when they see it.

In other words, learning the techniques that people like Cassidy and his supporters use to further their absurd claims is an important first step in the struggle against this rubbish.

The statistical argument is one of the gambits that comes most readily to these people.

I don’t swallow everything in this book, nor do I find every section of it 100% plausible. Yet there is enough here that I do swallow. If only 50% of it is correct, and I suspect that that is so, it throws all the theories about the lack of Irish influence on the language into a cocked hat.

Even if only 15-20% of Cassidy’s word connections are correct, he still has pointed out a …

Let’s think about this a minute. Try substituting other things for Cassidy’s arguments. What about “If only 5% of bigfoot sightings are real, there is an undiscovered species of primate alive in North America.”

Or “If only 10% of alien abduction stories are true, then we will have to rewrite the science books and accept the existence of alien intelligence.”

But statistics have no place here. Bigfeet and alien abductions probably aren’t true, so it doesn’t matter how many sightings or testimonies there are. They are all likely to be untrue, just as Cassidy’s illiterate ramblings can be shown to be nonsense over and over again, so it is safer to assume that all these claims are rubbish and work on that basis unless and until someone can offer incontrovertible proof of the extraordinary claim, rather than assuming that some of them have to be right because there are so many of them.

After all, 100% of nothing is the same as 50% of nothing, which is the same as 1% of nothing.

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