Category Archives: Neology


The Principle of the Ulterior Motive

Deep down, everyone needs to be right. So, when Michael Moore was justifiably criticised for dismissing the serious allegations against Julian Assange as “hooey”, his sense of amour-propre must have taken quite a battering.

When you are caught out in this way, the smart thing to do is to hold up your hands, admit you were wrong and go hide under your duvet for a couple of months and hope people forget. There will be a temptation to provide a secondary justification, typically an incongruous combination of l’esprit d’escalier and goalpost-shifting. This temptation must be resisted; it only compounds the original error.

Michael Moore has given in to this temptation and what an exquisite example of this ignoble genre it is. To précis his argument: Sweden has a large number of reported rapes, of which only a tiny proportion are prosecuted; therefore prosecuting Assange’s case is politically motivated and unjustifiable. He sustains this while admitting:

“I don’t pretend to know what happened between Mr. Assange and the two women complainants…I strongly believe every accusation of sexual assault must be investigated vigorously.”

This argument is reminiscent of those skewered in Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica. Moore appears to have added a new entry to below the Principle of the Wedge (you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future) and the Principle of the Dangerous Precedent (you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case).

So I give you:

The Principle of the Ulterior Motive is that you should not act justly now, having failed to act justly in the past, for fear doing right be seen as an exception and motivated by the interests of something other than justice.


Capoeira Columnist (noun phrase)

I have a secret vice. I know it is unhealthy and is probably causing immeasurable harm to my sanity, but I cannot help it. I am addicted to reading comment pieces that are likely to enrage me.  I can’t get enough of the rush of bien-pensant outrage.

So sometimes I find myself in some fairly unsavoury places looking for my fix, which is how I encountered Stephen Glover’s article in Tuesday’s Daily Mail about the recent report by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs published in The Lancet (registration required).

The committee was chaired by David Nutt, the advisor on drugs sacked by the last government. Glover believes that Nutt has an ulterior motive: the legalization of all drugs and that he hides his agenda beneath a facade of academic impartiality. Glover has no intention letting Nutt get away with this and he is here to take him down.

Picture the scene: in the blue corner is Stephen “Iron Glove” Glover, heavyweight columnist; in the red corner is “Dangerous” Dave Nutt, slippery academic. The bell rings. Watch as Glover corners the Prof and prepares to strike. His fist flies out and hits……air.

You are watching a Capoeira Columnist.

Ker-pow. “Iron Glove” launches an uppercut.

The point about drinking is that it can be, and usually is, done in moderation and need not involve a powerful and irresistible addiction.
Show me a moderate heroin addict.

How does Nutt dodge that?

The most harmful drugs to users were heroin (part score 34), crack cocaine (37), and metamfetamine (32)

Whoosh – the blow flies harmlessly short.

But Glover isn’t finished yet. He follows up with a swift left jab.

An illogical conclusion — that alcohol is more dangerous, though even their research does not prove that it is — is drawn from what I suspect is selective methodology.

The crowd gasps as….

Nothing. Which is not really surprising, as this is a published paper in a peer-reviewed journal. The design, the criteria, the weighting, all the information you could possibly want is available, assuming you can complete a two minute registration process. Glover can suspect all he likes, but it’s no substitute for reading the damn thing.

There’s still the killer right hook.

But the really interesting thing is that, having in their view established that alcohol is the most dangerous drug of all, they do not say it should be banned.

The hush descends. Surely this is the knockout blow.

Many of the harms of drugs are affected by their availability and legal status, which varies across countries, so our results are not necessarily applicable to countries with very different legal and cultural attitudes to drugs. Ideally, a model needs to distinguish between the harms resulting directly from drug use and those resulting from the control system for that drug.

Plunk… Glover swings wildly, spins around, loses his footing and falls gracelessly to the floor. That dastardly Nutt has ducked the blow by explicitly excluding it from the study.

So there Glover remains, swiping at shadows. And this is a pity, because drugs policy is a serious matter: literally one of life and death, a multi-billion pound question. Maybe Nutt is wrong, but the wonder of the scientific method is that it provides all the means to challenge him.

Unexamined prejudices, however, are not so amenable.

Trojan Kitten (noun phrase)

Motherhood: it’s a good thing, isn’t it? Who could object to it? Along with apple pie, it is axiomatically uncontroversial to be in favour of it. So, if you were invited to a demonstration in favour of motherhood or were asked in an opinion poll if it was uniquely valuable, you’d say yes, wouldn’t you? How could you not?

Anyways, you turn up at that motherhood rally and you discover that you are surrounded by people with banners saying “No to Gay adoption” and “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. Congratulations, you’ve been suckered by a Trojan Kitten.

A Trojan Kitten is a proposition that, on the face of it, is completely reasonable and unobjectionable, but is used to smuggle something much more contentious within it. For the Intelligent Design movement, that fluffy little traitor is “Academic Freedom”, used by school boards infiltrated by religious extremists to push creationism. For the English Defence League, that perfidious juvenile feline is “demonstrating against Islamic Extremism”

This evening Nadine Dorries has managed to table an adjournment debate on abortion reform. This follows a Comres poll commissioned by the Christian Institute. Dorries’s campaign hinges on the right to “informed consent” on abortion. “Informed Consent”: who could object to that?