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Objectivity is the claim that some utterance is true for everyone, and is independent of the money the utterer stands to make off you, which may be in the form of a patronage job after you vote for his awful candidate. Objectivity in practice is unattainable, but it is a nice thing to shoot for, sort of like dating a Perfect Ten (pictured).
Objectivity is unmeasurable, because any proof of an utterance's objectivity might not be objective.
Essence of objectivity
“We hold these truths to be self-evident....”
The above is the first recorded case, and still the most notorious, where a writer asserts that not only is something true, but that if you have a problem with it, then you are the problem.
Saying something is objective is better than merely saying it is true. It is saying it is true for everyone, independent of point of view. This is the true mark of a liar.
Objectivity boils down to the ridiculous pretense that the speaker has no opinion on something. If that were true, he would not be giving the speech, and certainly not raising his voice and waving his arms at you. Those who profess objectivity have one of two things going on:
- They are lying to themselves, or
- They are concealing an insidious ulterior motive--that is, they are lying to you.
The latter might actually indicate greater mental health, if you can believe that there is anything good about stockbrokers.
Objectivity in the media
The phrase media objectivity is the world's greatest oxymoron, beating out artificial intelligence, federal workers, and vacation Bible school.
It is a tenet of journalism that all news reporters and copy editors strive to dryly report the facts without imparting their own personal spin to it. Opinion belongs on the opinion page.
The reason they call it a tenet is that the media would rather have a tenet than a scam. But it's a scam. Everyone in the news room knows his audience and prepares the news the way the customers want it. Sell more papers: That's a tenet.
- Examples from the United States
In the United States, large newspapers on both coasts are servants of the Democrats, while talk radio is the house pet of the Republicans. It is an objective fact that the medium you have chosen to keep current on the news is shooting straight (that is, it is objective) while the other media are slanted collections of libel and hatchet-jobs on the nation's finest statesmen (that is, they are crap). Readers in the U.S. can ponder the following examples:
- One of the following statesmen misspeaks, misuses English, or gets the facts wrong every time he opens his mouth:
- One of the following lacks the most basic qualifications to be President:
- One of the following is evil incarnate:
All American readers will regard the above as a knee-slapping joke, and they will be split right down the middle as to what the joke is. Their own objective medium reports every misstep and pratfall of members of the opposition, while downplaying the same facts about their guys (usually with silence rather than overt misreporting). The other (crap) media do the opposite.
In this sense, "Fred is objective" essentially means "Fred agrees with me."
Objectivity in the law
The District Attorney and trial lawyers are formally all "officers of the Court," with a joint duty to discover the objective truth so the judge can render a just verdict. Uh-uh, that's not a tenet either. The wife-beater is paying the lawyer to get him freed, and the lawyer will help the Court see the truth the very day José Offerman confesses to the umpire that he didn't get within three feet of the baserunner he supposedly tagged. The day the accused decides his goal is the truth, maybe he'll write an autobiography. Maybe from prison.
So is the judge the only person in the courtroom with an interest in the objective truth? Sorry, he doesn't care either. He is paid by the same government whose police booked the perp and gathered the evidence, and he knows what a waste it will be if he can't stage-manage a verdict of Guilty. His favorite tool is a "jury questionnaire" that implies that certain answers to questions 1 through 20 dictate an answer of Guilty to question number 21. His greatest fear is that any of his jurors realizes he can vote Not Guilty on a whim.
Objectivity in science
Science is widely regarded as perfectly objective. Scientists formulate a theory, devise experiments that measure the truth of the theory, and revise the theory as necessary to fit the observations. None of this depends on the scientist's personal opinions.
Bollocks! For every scientist, someone is signing his paycheck. The options are as follows:
- The scientist is doing research for a corporation, and the goal is to prove the safety, efficacy, or tastiness of some product.
- The scientist is working for a government agency, and the goal is to assemble data that will prove the worth of the agency's latest crusade to dictate private choices.
- The scientist is in academia--Oh yeah, that's government. His work is to prove the validity of trendy social theories.
The scientist will tell you that his job is to present objective facts. However, in his heart of hearts, he knows he will not get raises and promotions forever by stating things that create problems for the organization.
- Social scientists assemble examples of bad parenting, each of which correlates with the others, and declare it is an objective fact that "We must never spank our children!"
- Geoscientists use new measuring tools to detect infinitesmal amounts of pollution in the water or changes in the atmosphere, and declare it is an objective fact that these changes are the primary cause of every phenomenon, including variations in weather, that we can't yet explain.
- Scientists in the life sciences publish findings that curiously imply that it would be a good thing for the nation to have more, or fewer, abortions. In 2008, both American political parties accused the other of politicizing science.
Scientists now publish journals, go to conventions, vote on what objective reality is, and declare that, based on large majorities, "the science is settled." Objectivity means I'm right. Authorize the huge, new government program. As for which taxes should be raised, that is for you to decide. That is not a question of Science.
Objectivity in accounting
“Any competent executive can show a profit for any desired quarter”
Accounting is the last refuge of objectivity. Studying the financial results of a large corporation vitally requires the absence of personal bias. Moreover, it is such a dry field of study that there is no way to color the results with bias, even if an accountant wanted to.
That's crap too. As with scientists, someone is paying the bill, and accountants must, in the long term, tell him what he is paying to hear.
Most corporations want to report good results, because they are, well, good. But some corporations want to report bad results, for example to minimize the taxes they owe, to avoid a takeover, or to trigger a contract clause. You can't keep two sets of books, but there are many ways to arrange the numbers to support management's spin.
Accountants have created the following notorious fictions to objectively tell management's story:
- The corporation states how much money it earned. Then it deducts lawsuit settlements, scrapping product that it will never sell, and shuttering entire divisions that will never do useful work. These adjustments reduce the earnings, but they are called "non-recurring items" and you are not supposed to consider them when you ask whether the company makes money. At some corporations, non-recurring items recur every quarter, because the only thing management does right is go out of business gradually.
- The corporation overpays to acquire another business. Acme buys XYZ because XYZ has steady customers. They like XYZ (and presumably, don't like Acme), and Acme thinks they'll keep buying XYZ's products forever even when XYZ comes to mean Acme. (That is, Acme thinks XYZ's customers are fools.) The amount that Acme overpaid for XYZ doesn't go up in smoke in the year of the acquisition. It stays on Acme's books and is called goodwill. Then, at some arbitrary point in the future, accounting rules require Acme to "adjust" its books to reflect the objective fact that the "goodwill" has no value. This becomes a "non-recurring item" (see above). Acme reports a "surprise" loss, although it is no surprise to anyone.
- Some corporations that never make a profit under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) report two sets of results: They give the numbers under GAAP, and again "my way." This is usually EBITDA, which stands for Earnings But It Truly Doesn't Align. The company is consistently a moneymaker under EBITDA. It is only a dog when unfairly forced to follow the industry's rules.