Tuesday 2 April 2024

The lies that businessmen tell

The other day I was asked by a good friend and ex colleague whether, by some remote chance, I'd kept a copy of a report we'd written - 20 years ago ...

Well, he stood a chance as I've always been quite hot on backup.  Sure enough, there was the relevant backup folder - on an old CD, my standard procedure in those days.

As I hunted for a USB CD drive, it crossed my mind that back in the early '00s there was a scare, naturally promoted by someone selling another kind of data storage solution, that CDs were destined somehow to degrade over time, and fairly quickly too.  So, getting the little drive whirring into action, I waited with mild misgivings for the old familiar sound-pattern to run its course ... and lo! the report [i] - easily read, thanks to the wonders of backwards compatibility.  

These bloody liars, eh?  Which led to a further train of thought.  I started my energy career in a big old household-name oil company, and at the time the public debate over lead in gasoline was raging.  We had several refineries and some very fine labs, and we were assured - by technical folk one was inclined to believe - that there was no way on earth to make gasoline of suitable octane, economically, without the addition of lead.  Well, the lead limit was reduced from (IIRC) 0.64 g/l to 0.43 [ii] ... then a few years later to 0.15; and thence, without fuss, to zero.  Was this possible without extravagant extra cost?  Oh yes it was! 

In other words, these sage technical types were lying through their teeth, not only to parliamentarians and newspapers etc but even to their own colleagues!  [iii]

It is really difficult to "follow the science" with any confidence.  As Hugh Laurie's character in House  frequently said: everybody lies ...  

Caveat emptor?  How do you stand a chance, hmm?  Follow the money is often a better principle.



[i] It is quite good, actually!  We wrote it for the European Commission.

[ii] I may have mis-remembered the decimal.  Or the units.  It's a while ago, and nowadays nobody talks about lead at all !

[iii] The whole story of lead in gasoline is pretty interesting - see this BBC article.  Be sure to read right to the very unexpected end!


Matt said...

All people suffer from cognitive dissonance whether they are low or high intelligence.

Scientists will spend more time trying to disprove something critical of their work than they do considering whether the critique is valid and adds to the sphere of knowledge.

And, of course, money corrupts... Therefore, once science leaves the lab, it becomes just as manipulated as anything else.

Sobers said...

"Therefore, once science leaves the lab, it becomes just as manipulated as anything else."

You think its not manipulated IN the labs? Where have you been for the last few years?

Anonymous said...

Quite a few of my old home-burned DVDs have gone to pot and the data's dodgy. Even professional (shop bought) music DVDs sometimes skip.

Similarly a hard disk drive I specifically bought for backing up has failed...

What about 100 years hence when no one knows what a .jpg file is because the tech has advanced so much? Already I have problems finding a player for the video files from old Nokias (my kids growing up).

It's an interesting question, long term data storage - even books don't last unless on acid free cotton paper...


Clive said...

You’d think that the blaggers, fibbers and outright lying cheating scoundrels would realised that these days, you have to lie as little as you possibly can and be very careful in how you construct your deceit. After all, we have the internet and facts, or at least a wide range of opinions, are so easily searchable. It’s a big risk telling a lie and the chances of getting caught out are high and, with AI, getting higher.

But no. We see more nonsense, gibberish, stuff that doesn’t pass the most basic of smell tests and easily falsifiable guff being trotted out with gay abandon. I’ve never seen so much lying. By so many people. In so many fields of life. Often as not, it’s lazy, clueless lying. I’d give in if they at least put a little effort into it.

No, I don’t have any bright ideas why this is so. But it definitely seems to me to be on the rise.

jim said...

Did you get out of bed the wrong side? The CD retention story is a bit more nuanced and the failure time can be from 20 years out to 200 years depending on the make, how it was written etc etc.

Similar with the lead in petrol, lead was cheap and didn't require metallurgical changes - they came later for other reasons - engine longevity etc. Then it was possible to get away from lead.

Our SIM cards and memory sticks and SSD disks may have a retention period from 200 to 400 years - or not. The same idea was used in games console cartridges (and some military kit) back in the 70s and 80s. For that kit 'PROM ROT' is a thing - they started to forget after about 25 years.

Parchment and gall ink is good. Baked clay or incised stone better. But our modern temptation is to keep everything - a recent spat was about plans to digitise then destroy non historic wills over 50 years old - yes we are paying to archive a great deal of old paper. Why?, outside of a legal dispute the probate has been done and the property distributed - the rest is just to keep historians amused.

A dry muniment room in a stone tower, an oaken chest, a big lock and keeping busybodies away is the best way to save old documents.

Nick Drew said...

Cognitive dissonance? That may be in play on some occasions Matt, but let's call a spade a spade, I'm talking of outright liars!

Jim - yes, Mrs D used to work in museum conservation. We use special conservation-grade plastic sleeves for important docs, having seen cheap ones take off the ink. And of course, the fate of old fax docs ...

Clive - it even has a name: "post-truth". Plenty of people blame Alastair Campbell personally: it's a bit glib, but there's something in that - he clearly persuaded Tony Blair it is possible, and indeed not something to lose sleep over, to fashion or cover up a lie whenever it suits. This translates all the way down to completely shameless liars like Trump, Johnson & Starmer

trouble is, as you say, nobody seems much to hold it against them - where once it would have been the end of a career. Which brings us back to cognitive dissonance ...

... which, to be fair, is as old as mankind - see 'religion' passim - and probably has some Darwinian explanation. Just once in a while, someone like a Canute or a George Orwell tries to shake people out of it. It doesn't work. And I write as a 'scientific realist' in philosophical terms[1]: the hard facts of Truth ought to run lies to ground, and ultimately they do. But (a) don't hold your breath, and (b) even when they do - to someone's satisfaction - someone else will just whistle a bit and look the other way. Even if the unsparing Truth is about to kill them in their state of denial
See http://www.cityunslicker.co.uk/2023/12/what-science-says.html, which gets to some of what Sobers says above

dearieme said...

"long term data storage": experience proves that you should write it on papyrus and store it underground in Egypt.

Or baked clay tablets and Mesopotamia.

patently said...

I couldn't possibly comment.

(or could I?)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone has had an expert backed investment blow up in their face.

If you tell investment executives that 9 out of 10 new products fail, they reply 'it better not be our 9'

Anonymous said...

OT - this Guardian story


"China coal is more than a quarter of current world CO2 emissions"

Even historically (since Ind Revolution) it's 14%.

So as I've been saying, we are paying China to burn coal to make the solar panels and wind turbines for us!

rwendland said...

Glad your old CD was readable ND. Have to report I wasn't so lucky; one of my set of 4 good-brand backup CDs turned out bad after about 15 years, so I'm inclined to believe the CD longevity doubters. Luckily, should I ever need it, I also have the data on an exabyte 8mm tape (Data8) and also a vintage 9-track mag tape - must make sure my membership of the Computer Conservation Society stays current :-(

Sorry I never responded to your great post with much more info on the RAB (Regulates Asset Base) govt attempt to rescue the nuclear power business from its horrible economics. Son #3 had just told us he was getting married in the States in June, so was midst organising a family trip there, and rather ignoring blogs etc then.

Scrobs. said...

I found a whole box of floppy discs in the roof only today! Goodness knows what's on them!

I was returning an old reel-to-reel tape recorder to its rightful place under the eaves, as I'd wanted to take a copy of our daughter's first ever recorded words, and that was all we had...

Haven't bothered to copy them, all she said was 'ug'...

electro-kevin said...

All I know is this.

Photos are better in the hand.

Digital stuff just seems to disappear and get forgotten. Never to be seen again except by some AI thingy.

electro-kevin said...

OK. My thoughts on the lies that businessmen tell.

They're motivated by maximum profit for themselves.

The West has de-industrialised and the locus of power is now in the feminised service sector. So the politics and the businessmen follow that now.

Maximise profit via the path of least resistance - and they will lie that black is white if that's what it takes (* below.)

Nutters keep wailing on about a WEF conspiracy to ruin the West but it really is a natural and organic decay of our societies.

The power and the birthing chambers of ideas reside in the universities and what should never have left the research room petri dish now contaminates every Western institution and area of commerce. The Left have jumped on this (especially during Covid) and instillation of DEI officers in every major organisation (by legislative command) has created Orwell's commissars.

* The trans on the side of the Starbucks wagons was not about virtue signalling to customers. It was the DEI Commisars showing their colleagues who (and what ideology) is now in charge and woe betide any of them who refuse to stand by it.

We are being crushed by Ingsoc.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Leaded fuel has quite an interesting history, mostly as its inventor was Thomas Midgley Jr, who was a real life Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit, along with the real world consequences of his inventions (getting lead poisoning, dying from his own invention.)

First came across him from QI, and maybe from another commentator on here too.