Facts vs. Rage

Improbable Research makes people laugh first and think afterwards. The Improbable Research group publishes a magazine is called the Annals of Improbable Research,  and administers the Ig Nobel Prizes – honouring achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.  mini-AIR – their free monthly e-mail newsletter, is thought provoking and hysterically funny.  The March edition includes useful notes “for scientists who are confused by the great debate about global warming.”  The piece quotes a contributor who “has been fascinated by reports that there is a debate” and offers a simple tool she uses when analysing people’s arguments during debates. “The arguments I’ve heard and read (saying there’s no global warming problem) nearly always have a very low F/R ratio (or) ‘Facts-to-Rage ratio’…  As soon as I find myself in a discussion with someone whose argument has a very low F/R ratio, I relax and simply enjoy the spectacle. It does wonders for my stress level.”

 Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of New York based Talking Points Memo  (TMP) introduced the F/R Ratio concept in a piece dealing with an unrelated ‘link war’ TMP has over accusations of unverified reporting. Marshall went to check the accusations, and reflected that “when I read the post it was all what lawyers would call ‘non-responsive’ — a lot of claims and facts and noise, none which addressed the points we actually made. What (I found) there was a lot of  … trash talk and insults.”  The post, says Marshall, had “a very low ratio of facts to rage — F/R ratio.”

 Marshall’s ‘Key Metric’, as he calls it, is a compelling, ToingToingable concept. We can look at the facts in any argument, we then consider rage (or other ‘feelings’) words, and we work out the Marshall Index for the piece: if facts outnumber the ‘feeling’ words – (high F/R ratio) – the piece is open for reactions, comments and exchange of opinions. Low F/R ration means that interaction is futile, as one would only bounce off another’s personal feelings about the matter under discussion.

 Armed with this sexy new tool, I went to explore postings online. Here are a few excerpts – harvested at random, with no specific hidden agenda. Can you work-out the F/R ratio in these pieces?


  • Rome Hartman, BBC World News America’s Executive producer, talks about Twitter on the Beeb’s Editors’ Blog: “I’m not sure I can handle the pressure. Suddenly, Washington has gone crazy for Twitter. It seems that to occupy any position at all on the press or political landscape in this town, one must be “all thumbs”; constantly tapping out text messages from the mobile to let everyone you know (and many you don’t) exactly what you’re doing at any given moment.”
  • Ncleeds4life, Leeds United fan, posting on the Manchester United forum – “After Man U won against Fulham earlier 2day it keeps them in the hunt for all trophies and if they can do the impossible and win all of em do u think Sir Alex will retire as it wud be a great time 4 him 2 do so and it is unlikely it will ever be repeated even if he stays, also if he does decide 2 stay the other so called big clubs will be more of a threat in the future seasons making it alot harder to win silverware. What does every1 else think. P.S dont crucify me cos im a Leeds fan I actually interested in ur opinions.”
  • Henry McDonald, The Observer’s Ireland editor, reported that “Two killed as terror returns to N Ireland — Soldiers shot dead in drive-by attack. Two army personnel were shot dead during a drive-by shooting at an army base in Co Antrim last night, raising fears that the grim spectre of terrorism has returned to haunt Northern Ireland. Two more military personnel were wounded along with two civilians in what is believed to be the first major terrorist attack in the province for over a decade. All four are said to be in a “serious” condition.”
  • stinkycheese posted this piece on metafilter.com — “U.S. Customs – in your face.  What has long been touted as the world’s longest undefended border (that running between Canada and the United States) has undergone many changes since 9/11. In an effort to secure its Northern border, the U.S. now employs Predator drones, Blackhawk helicopter patrols, high speed boats, and Google searches. There may even be a big fence in our future. More troubling still are increased demands for information on Canadian citizens, and increased searching powers of U.S. border guards. And don’t ask them to say please either.”
  • CNN’s Jim Spellman follows choices made by people who lost their job — “Sometimes the best way to roll with the punches is to roll the dice. Jerry Goldsmith was one of hundreds of people who turned out this week to apply for a casino job.  That’s Jerry Goldsmith’s attitude. The Colorado man lost his engineering job of 29 years — and the six-figure salary that went with it — and is now applying for a casino job dealing craps, blackjack, roulette and poker.” 
  • I ToingToinged on Disintermediation — “A few years ago, Canadian business guru Don Tapscott published a book called “The Digital Economy.” There, for the first time, I heard the term disintermediation. Tapscott is widely credited with coining the term and his book is regarded as foreteller (almost prophetically) of the state of digital economy today, 10 years on. Simply put, disintermediation (aka ‘removing the middleman’) denotes the demise of intermediaries who – for one reason or another – have become redundant within the supply chain because customers found ways to bypass intermediaries, mostly in order to save the costs involved in using their services.” 
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman on US Cybersecurity Chief’s resignation – “The government’s coordinator for cybersecurity programs has quit, criticizing what he described as the National Security Agency’s grip on cybersecurity. Rod Beckstrom, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, said in his resignation letter that the NSA’s central role in cybersecurity is “a bad strategy” because it is important to have a civilian agency taking a key role in the issue. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense” 
  • Lastly, readwriteweb.com’s Lidija Davis covers marketing tactics used by global wireless provider Verizon – “It is easier to seek forgiveness than it is to get permission according to Verizon, which has once again shown us what large corporations should not be doing when it comes to customer service. David Weinberger, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and the more recent Everything is Miscellaneous received a letter today from Verizon. A “legalistic pamphlet” that informed him he has 45 days to opt out of ‘agreeing’ to let Verizon share his personal information.” 

How would you rate the F/R ratio on these excerpts? If a piece is high on passion and low no facts, is more suspect, less reliable?  Are factual essays more trustworthy than opinion pieces? Do facts carry in inherent seal of truth?  Conversely – are opinions and heart-felt assertions unreliable just because they are not ‘facts’?  In the book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management , authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton argue that management-decisions are often based on fallacious facts and half-truths.  In their website Evidence-Based Management (EBM)  they recommend to “[f]ace the hard facts, and build a culture in which people are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant.” Consider, for example, a quote from American author Truman Capote who said that “[i]t’s a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ every year.” 

It appears that facts in Marshall’s index will remain qualitative entities, just like the ‘rage’ factors he abhors, unless – and until – we can agree on how exactly we can produce “evidence-based hard facts” we can use as benchmark. Nevertheless, I am extremely excited about Marshall‘s F/R ratio concept and am keen to study, research and ToingToing it further. Watch this space! 

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