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Politics, Mathematics, and Wiggle Words

In mathematics, placing additional constraints on the premise of an if-then statement greatly restricts its application. In politics, those additional constraints are sometimes referred to as "wiggle words". An actual example from Accuracy In Media is shown below.

Mathematical Statement With No Additional Clauses The Politics Equivalent With No "Wiggle Words" Added
If x is a real number, then I can find a solution to the equation
x2+3x+2=0.

The solutions of x2+3x+2=0 are x=-1 and x=-2.  Since both x=-1 and x=-2 are real numbers, this if-then statement is true.

"If you vote for me and I am asked to approve stem-cell research on human embryos, then I will oppose Federal funding."

If Federal funding is allowed for any type of stem-cell research, this promise would be broken.

Now, let's add the "wiggle words" and additional clauses.

Mathematical Statement With Additional Clauses The Politics Equivalent With "Wiggle Words" Added
If x is a real number and x > 0, then I can not find a solution to the equation
x2+3x+2=0.

The additional clause "x>0" is added. Again, the solutions of x2+3x+2=0 are x=-1 and x=-2.  If I claim that there is no solution, I am not making a false claim since only negative values of x solve the equation and the premise (if-part) requires the use of positive value of x.

 

"If you vote for me and I am asked to approve stem-cell research on human embryos, and the research involves destroying living human embryos, then I will oppose Federal funding."

Note the addition of the word living. So funds could be approved for use on cells that had been obtained from a previously destroyed embryo without breaking the original campaign promise.


Here is another example from kansaseducation.wordpress.com.

In July the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Education Department, undermined this national effort. A report on expenditures for public elementary and secondary education for the 2003-04 school year contained this finding: “The percentage of current expenditures spent on instruction and instruction-related activities was 66.1 percent in 2003-04 for the nation as a whole” (emphasis added). Seasoned students of government verbiage noted the suspiciously vague phrase “instruction-related activities.”

In reality 66.1 percent of education dollars already reach the classroom. If the “instruction-related” criterion is not added, the percentage of dollars devoted to instruction has declined for five consecutive years, to 61.3%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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