An FWE question was posed, “Will [specified news media] report by [specified date] that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
At the time, there was speculation that either the regime would go chemical, because the war was going against them, or that the insurgents would capture weapons and use them against the regime.
Based upon a simple analogy with the adage, “money burns a hole in the pocket”, I predicted “yes.” This was not reported by the specified media within the specified time frame, so I lost the question. Later, some media reports retroactively supported my prediction.
I was intensely searching for clues, ie., studying the media. The following sequence of reports was noted:
1. In December 2012, the regime claimed that while they had not used chemical weapons, seven soldiers (7, make note of the number) were killed by chemical agents used by the rebels. This was not corroborated by any visual observations or independent reportage.
2. A few days later, the rebels reported that seven (note the number) of their number had been killed in a chemical weapons attack. This was accompanied by visuals of bodies and patients receiving treatment.
If the occurrence of (1) had been after (2), the explanation would be simple: a regime fabrication to dilute the impact of the the rebels claim. But the reports were dated in the reverse order.
This is not an indication of an elaborate conspiracy. For all practical purposes, broad, hidden conspiracies do not exist. The conspiracy-minded make terrible predictors. Since chemical weapons cannot be calibrated to kill exactly seven people, there is obvious fabrication. But I never formed an opinion about who authored this fabrication. Nor did I bother myself with exactly how false it was.
The importance of noticing this kind of incongruity is as a check on the general reliability of the reportage. It’s like tugging on a rope to make sure it’s tied to something firm. Over time, integrated with other piecemeal disclosures, discrepancies can acquire unexpected importance. This did not, which leaves it an excellent example of a reliability check.
Another adage comes to mind: Waste not, want not. There is more to be gleaned. Fabrications are a form of propaganda, and the kind of propaganda hints at how close or distant a culture is from the Western viewpoint. The authors have a poetic, mystical, hyperbolic mode of expression, which could confuse the literal-minded Westerner, even one who already has experience with the Goebbels variety.
Half in jest, look for the number seven.