Saturday, October 17, 2015

DG XXXII: Election Day

Except yours because you haven’t got one

Election day. That day when we get to decide what kind of national chess federation the English Chess Federation is going to be.

I say "decide". 10,000 members notwithstanding, it seems that only a few dozen people will actually get to vote today. "Discover" would be the better word, I suppose.

Whoever gets to cast a ballot, whatever they decide, one thing that I’m pretty certain won’t be discussed at Euston Square this afternoon is the claims that the ECF has been making of late regarding chess and dementia (see DG XXVII The ECF vs Mrs Sally Williams,  DG XXVIII: The ECF vs The Daily Express and just this week DG XXXI: "many scientists", many claims)A niche subject, perhaps, and yet one which tells us a lot about how the English Chess Federation operates as a collective body, I think.

What kind of ECF do we want? One that accepts, as per Tracey Brown’s recent Sense about Science Lecture (DG XXX: The Ugly Truth), that

some decisions that have to be taken on the basis of uncertain, unsatisfying and conflicting evidence.

perhaps? One that avoids

The temptation is to simplify [or] flatten out the uncertainties [and does not] stay silent while others do that …


Or will we opt for a federation consisting of

people who don’t care about the evidence [and who] say what they like.


It’s a straight choice and I"m afraid I’m going to have get all fundamentalist on yo asses and say outright that there is no middle ground here. You’re either for evidence-based decision making and honesty about uncertainty and the need for caveats, or you're for unsubstantiated assertion and bombastic claims - whether that's because you promote them yourself or because you "stay silent while others do so" doesn’t really matter.

That’s the choice for the ECF today. It’s not one that our - yes, it’s still ours even though we don’t get to vote - national body will make actively. It will do so passively, by quietly sleepwalking along the path of bullshit.

The only question is what do the rest of us do about it from tomorrow.

Chess and Dementia Index


Anonymous said...

The ECF has circulated claims about chess and dementia written by one of those standing for election. In the possible event that "doesn't know what he is talking about" is claimed, the dementia points might get raised.


Jonathan B said...

I very much doubt it Roger, but let’s see

brenog said...

While I'm pleased to see you being tough on the guff surrounding chess and dementia, I think you need to appreciate that claiming chess delays dementia is one of those special propositions that:

- might be true,
- everyone would like to think is true, and
- no one will contest (apart from your good self).

Call it a motherhood and apple pie proposition. Organisations seeking money or self promotion will never be weaned off such claims. And does it really matter, given that the ECF is not going to influence any great decision affecting the matter? It would be different if, say, the Department of Health, made important funding decisions based on wishful thinking rather than scientific fact.

Keep up the good work but mind your blood pressure!


Brendan O'Gorman

Jonathan B said...

Morning Brendan,

Thanks for dropping by and thanks for the encouragement. Fear not. My blood pressure is fine. If only because i’ve not the slightest belief that these posts are listened to by anybody. Least of all the folk who seem to think that whatever they happen to believe trumps evidence.

Anyhoo, to reply to your points in order:

Of course chess might be helpful with regard to dementia. See DG VII of June 2014, for example. It’s the context in which you frame that proposition that’s important.

Yes, everybody would like it to be true, and yes, few people will challenge this kind of proposition from somebody apparently in authority (a national chess federation, say, a Grandmaster, a chess news website, a national newspaper correspondent or an erstwhile World Champion

It’s important to challenge these statements nonetheless. See DG XXX: The Ugly Truth The Sense about Science lecture cited there is included in this post too. A sample quote,

... here’s another reason that diminishes the appetite for truthfulness and that’s liking the outcome … people often stay silent about facts and figures where there pet projects and their social convictions are concerned.

Is it true that organisations "seeking money or self promotion will never be weaned off such claims"? I don’t agree. Although they won’t while they’re allowed to get away with them. Back to Tracey Brown:-

If we want the bodies that influence life to be accountable for the evidence they use - to reckon with reality rather than to make it up to suit themselves - then the only way to achieve that is through public scrutiny not private words.

Politicians, public bodies, companies, NGOs, news organisations will only feel obliged to explain their reasoning and refer to evidence if that’s what they think is expected of them, not just by researchers but by citizens, voters, customers, supporters and readers.

Finally, does it matter that the ECF propagates false information? Yes I think it does. Whether or not it has any significant impact on anybody else - see DG XXIX: On Littering. Back anyway, I think it does matter when a game’s national body misrepresents health information for its own benefit. Especially if I am forced to be a member of that organisation.

Jonathan B said...

that should be "where their pet projects are concerned" in the first Tracey Brown quote, of course.

ejh said...

Note that this also applies to the "605 million" nonsense that I make an occasional and futile hobby of chasing up. Why bother? Why does it matter? Well, apart from a general idea that it is better to say things that are true rather than untrue, because if the world of chess makes ridiculous claims, although you can rely on them to be repeated in the media for a given while (and quite a long while, in the case of chessboxing) eventually somebody will sayt "hang on, where are you getting this from? This is nonsense, isn't it?".

When they do, you won't have anywhere to go. And if you're trying to do something important, like for instance secure funding for chess from one source or another, it might be a good idea to avoid that scenario.