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Dead Cert

Michael Blastland
Michael Blastland is certain a little more doubt would do us good.

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Dead Cert is broadcast on Thursday 6th November at 20:30 GMT and repeated on Sunday 9th November at 21.30 GMT.

Doubt seems a dangerous thing in politics. If possible, you don't admit it; not about your values, nor your analysis, nor the policies that will magically bring about the change that you are certain is needed.

Confidence, by contrast, thrives: confidence in the power of our own analysis, of who is to blame and why, the strident confidence of politicians or business people in their preferred remedies

Stock Market trader holds his head at the Manila Stock Exchange
We had become a little too confident that we thought we could see the big picture, and now the big picture has come back and hit us rather hard where it hurts.
Paul Seabright

In this edition of Analysis, Michael Blastland asks whether these common assumptions might actually have their own dangers.

Do those in public life often drift through events of which no one is the master, all the while pretending to a false confidence, or even certainty?

Are our leaders incapable of saying what all should surely now admit, that often they don't know? Perhaps the wreckage from the past is all the evidence we need, for didn't they speak with certainty then too?

Michael investigates the risks of over-reliance on certainty and hears some extraordinary stories of the mistakes it can create.


David Aaronovitch, Columnist on "The Times"
Professor Alister McGrath, King's College London
Professor Paul Seabright, Toulouse School of Economics
Professor Gloria Laycock, University College London
Eileen Rubery, Girton College Cambridge
Baroness Estelle Morris
Professor David Spiegelhalter, Cambridge University

As theologian Professor Alister McGrath says: "We like to have things sorted out and there are very few who are prepared to say can we just stop? It's not that simple. And those little words, 'it's not that simple', are words our culture doesn't want to hear, but it needs to hear them."

And former Education Secretary Estelle Morris candidly admits that many of her favoured policies were based on little or no evidence.

"People who do politics are not prone to doubt about their vision and about their values," she says.

"In terms of policies, I think they are far less certain than they sound, but I think their certainty about the vision sometimes overflows into certainty about the means. And then the worst of politics is of course when you confuse it."

Presenter: Michael Blastland
Producer: Ingrid Hassler
Editor: Hugh Levinson

Coming up

The normal Analysis programme on Thursday 13th November will be replaced by "In Afghanistan: Should we bring the troops home?". On Sunday 16th November we will be repeating "Analysis: Revealing Religion" presented by Andrew Brown - originally broadcast in March.




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