Guarantee nonsense

copyright Wheels24

For some reason, Grumpy has a ‘thing’ about Emma Barnett, a new(ish) BBC Newsnight presenter. No, not an ‘old man drooling’ thing, but that he finds her intensely irritating. For example, she asks a question to establish a context, and then moves on without allowing the interviewee to answer (e.g. with Matt Hancock, 03.06.19); an allegation without opportunity to refute. She (and she is not alone in female presenters – listen to Radio 4 Today) is also a serial interrupter.

However, the underlying source of Grumpy’s annoyance is that the questions she asks are mainly inane, biased to an assumption of her perception of the ‘desired ‘answer, and frankly, carping. Barnett seems merely to want to ‘get one over’ on her subjects to burnish her credentials as a tough presenter, whereas she actually comes across as a bullying harridan. Grumpy bemoans the rare presence of Andrew Neil on political programs because of his impeccably prepared research and generally neutral questioning.

However, the foregoing is a digression from the main point here , which is about the phrase’must never happen again’ and the word ‘guarantee’ (a favourite of the aforementioned lady) . Both are generally meaningless and annoying when applied to other than a small number of discrete and limited states of events, but doubly so when combined together and uttered by the logically and statistically challenged Barnett.

Now if she is referring to situations with an indeterminate set of out outcomes (the norm) which also include those over which the interviewee cannot possibly control, a binary outcome of a future state cannot be ‘guaranteed’. That’s merely statistics, which the logically and numerately challenged history graduate either cannot grasp or ignores. Indeed, Barnett uses this ploy as a win-win question, because a binary answer is not valid and anything else can be triumphantly picked over as a refusal to respond.

“Can you guarantee” she starts, “that this event will not happen again?” If the hapless interviewee seeks to inject some rationality into the response, Barnett jumps into gleeful action “It’s a yes or no, Mr X! Answer the question – can you guarantee it?” {It’s the equivalent of a witness in the dock being asked “Was the rope long or short? yes or no?” The offered choice of response has no meaning.]

Similarly, the hackneyed expression “this must never be allowed to happen again” where there is a continuous spectrum of possible outcomes is also meaningless. Of course it can (the option of a zero probability here being not valid if that spectrum remains unchanged), but it allows the opposition politician (for such it normally is) to score points, whilst praying that nothing similar happens on their watch.

Come back, Andrew !