Friday, August 25, 2006

How to (and not) Handle errors

Getting caught having a major fact wrong is embarrassing and hard on the ego. I've certainly experienced it many times. But what's far worse is not correcting the error and pretending everything's fine. When you correct the error promptly, and are a bit humble about it, you get a good amount of respect. Try to bluff, and you lose respect.

Radley Balko, an analyst with the Cato Institute, may have to learn this the hard way. I usually agree with what Balko writes, but he simply got a major fact wrong -- actually two facts wrong.

Balko referred to a jury nullification decision as being handed down by the Supreme Court, when the decision never reached the Supreme Court. He also said the decision was favorable to jury nullification, when it wasn't.

Balko corrected the first error, pointed out by blogger Patterico, but has yet to correct the second, an error emphasized by blogger Xrlq. Making things worse, Balko referred to Xrlq on Patterico's blog as a " dim-witted, quick-tempered, angry douchebag that nobody reads".

Yes, Xrlq has a temper, but Balko was dim-witted for not checking the decision more closely before citing it a Fox News commentary last year -- and even more dim-witted for not correcting his errors more graciously.

In the article, Balko quoted the decision, U.S. v. Dougherty, but falsely said the decision upheld jury nullification. In fact, the decision said courts do not have to instruct juries about nullification. Balko picked out a quote from the decision that did not reflect this outcome.
Balko has presented this as a prosecutor vs. Libertarian disagreement, which is sad and wrong. It is a question of factuality. Regardless of one's political beliefs, one has the obligation to be factual, and to correct errors once found. If Libertarian philosophy is correct, it can withstand intense factual scrutiny.

Patterico wrote: "The key to credibility is not failing to make mistakes, but correcting them when you do." I couldn't agree more.

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