There It Is Again

A small point. But I’m going to make it anyway, because I think it matters. Just the other day (well, September 21, actually, I find upon looking) I was talking about that translation problem – when sensible people say ‘There is evidence/there is no evidence that etc.’ and their hearers translate that (apparently without even realizing that they are translating) into ‘That is proved/proved not.’ I’ve just noticed another example, in a teaser at Arts & Letters Daily (where you would really expect them to know better, frankly, since Denis Dutton is a bit of a shark about Bad Thinking himself).

Capital punishment. Janet Reno says it doesn’t cut murder rates, Orrin Hatch says it does. Who’s right? Easy question? No!

And here is what Reno actually said:

I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent, and I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point.

It’s really not a small point. It’s on journalists’ thinking such re-wordings are small and trivial and don’t matter that so much confusion and misunderstanding gets around. There just is a huge difference between saying ‘I have not found any evidence that X’ and saying ‘X is not.’ And if people are so blind to the difference that they make the translation without even noticing – well they just have no idea how anyone knows or thinks anything about anything, do they, which is an alarming thought.

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