I Know Venn I'm Getting a Snow Job

Vito Caputo
October 11, 2004

...and that's not a typo.  There was a guy named John Venn who developed a simplistic visual aid to solve problems in logic.  In his honor... this visual aid is called a Venn Diagram.

Readers wanting to protect themselves from being victimized by false arguments are well advised to become functional in the use this crude... but effective... tool.  Doing so would be an excellent investment of no more than one hour of your time.

Now... with only an awareness of the existence of Venn diagrams... and a slight modification in punctuation... read it again:

I know Venn...
I'm getting a Snow Job!

I keep hearing TheirSide attack MySide with this:

You looked at the same intelligence we looked at... and on the basis of that intelligence... you made the same decision we did.  Blah, blah, blah.

The American media - the free press - is charged with the responsibility of reporting the facts.  It's not RocketScience to see how critically important their mission is to keep a democracy intact.

[Sidebar] The Internet allows me to access media outside the United States... so I know that practically speaking... the American media has been a total failure in performing their responsibility... and has placed our democracy in jeopardy.  Worse yet... their continuance says that they're doing it with intent.  That's a whole other story... and extraneous to where I'm going here.

I'm astonished that apparently not one person in the media... reporter, columnist, editor or pundit... has any formal training in logic.  Not one MediaPerson has mentioned the fatal flaw in TheirSide's argument.  By TheNumbers... I would think that at least a few on MySide recognized the flaw.  To make matters worse... nobody on MySide... with wide-spread exposure has done anything about it either.

Here's the story... accurately told by a Venn diagram.  You'll notice that it takes an awful lot of words to describe the construction and interpretation of the Venn diagram... which clearly illustrates it's usefulness - it actually takes only a few minutes to draw.

Suppose the BlueCircle represents "all intelligence about terrorists and Iraq accumulated by all assorted agencies"... the RedCircle represents "all intelligence about terrorists and Iraq accumulated by the BushAdministration"... and the GreenCircle represents "all intelligence about terrorists and Iraq accumulated by Congress".


Before you get your panties in a bunch... I know that the agencies have more intelligence than the BushAdministration... which has more than Congress.  I made all the circles the same size because I could... without affecting the result.

What's the relationship between the three?  We do know for sure that all three collections contained common elements.  What venn?  (Sorry... I couldn't resist.)  The following Venn diagram illustrates all possible relationships between these three collections of intelligence.

Venn Diagram

Surprised?  Did you expect to see all three circle sitting right on top of each other?  Well... that would happen only if the three collections were identical... and we know that's not true.  Section-by-section... here's what this Venn diagram shows...

Agencies = Blue     BushAdministration = Red     Congress = Green
  1. Known only by the agencies.
         (totally outside the red and green circles)
  2. Known only by the agencies and the BushAdministration.
         (totally outside the green circle)
  3. Known only by the BushAdministration.
         (totally outside the blue and green circles)
  4. Known only by the BushAdministration and Congress.
         (totally outside the blue circle)
  5. Known only by Congress.
         (totally outside the blue and red circles)
  6. Known only by the agencies and Congress.
         (totally outside the red circle)
  7. Known by everyone.
         (totally inside all 3 circles)
These are all the sharing of information relationships that are possible.  But for the case at hand... there are some constraints that must be taken into account. There are certain things that we know for sure...
  • The flow of information between the agencies and the BushAdministration is not bi-directional.
  • There is no direct communication between Congress and the agencies.
  • Congress has no means of gathering intelligence on its own.
Now... with these contraints in mind... let's look at each numbered section to determine whether or not it's empty...
  1. Based on chaos within each agency alone... we cannot assume that this section is empty.  We can only hope that the agencies did not purposely withhold information.

  2. We cannot know with certainty that this section is empty.

  3. We cannot know with certainty that this section is empty.

  4. Since Congress doesn't gather intelligence, it would have nothing to share with the BushAdministration.  In the other direction... anything that the BushAdministration shared with Congress would soon be known by the agencies.  From this... we know this section is empty.

  5. Congress doesn't do intelligence... this section is empty.

  6. Since Congress doesn't gather intelligence, it would have nothing to share with the agencies.  In the other direction... there is no direct line of communication between the agencies and Congress.  From this... we know that this section is empty.

  7. Since this section represents stuff that's known to everyone... it's not empty.
Let's now gray-out the areas we know to be empty...

Venn Shaded

Since the purpose of this writing is to examine the statement "You looked at the same intelligence we looked at..."... let's now gray out the remaining section that represent intelligence that the BushAdministration was unaware of (section 1)...

Venn Final

The remaining white areas all lie within the RedCircle and represents the total collection of intelligence that was available to the BushAdministration.  Notice that some of that white area (sections 2 and 3) is outside the GreenCircle (which represents the collection of intelligence that was made available to Congress).

Bottom line?

When TheirSide says we looked at the same intelligence as they did... that's an accurate statement.  Yet the Venn diagram shows that it is possible that they could have had intelligence that MySide didn't have.  Is there any way we can know the truth about this?

Actually... no.  There is no way we can know with certainty.  However... there is good reason to believe that section 3 (intelligence known only to the BushAdministration) is not empty:  TheirSide never uses the word all.  It's a pretty sneaky trick which is probably why nobody (with a voice) has caught it:  same does not mean all... and TheirSide never says all.

So... while it's true that we looked at the same intelligence they did... that does not mean that we got to look at all the intelligence they had.

Without question...there is a reason why TheirSide never say all when they talk about the sharing of intelligence with Congress... or perhaps... just their opposition .  Now you know that reason.  It should be noted that this particular instance is not unique.  If you pay attention... TheirSide uses it often.

It's a SnowJob... I really wish someone would get this factoid to MySide.

There is a BigLesson in this discussion...

Pay attention to quantifiers

© 2004 Vito Caputo

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