Tired of Ebonics jokes?

Me too. I think heard a funny one once, but I’m not sure.

Most of you, like me, probably read a few news and op-ed pieces on the subject and formed an opinion. Par for the course in how we assess public policy.

And then I read one more item, telling me the Oakland School Board’s goal was to help teachers learn to understand their students, which they can’t right now because their students speak ghetto English … Ebonics.

I’m not attacking or defending. That’s neither my charter nor my inclination. My point: most of you, like me, formed your opinion based on an entirely different understanding of the controversy. We’ve been salingered.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the need for “Trusted Information Providers” and introduced the verb “to salinger”, taken from Pierre Salinger’s embarrassing advocacy of an Internet-driven rumor about the downing of TWA Flight 800.

Wrong facts can be either honest mistakes, or lies. Either way it’s easy to correct wrong facts. Things get far more complicated when you try to scrutinize spin doctoring. Here are two timely examples I found in Edupage (www.educom.edu), which I highly recommend.

The first item, sourced from the 2/10/97 St. Petersburg Times, reports that The Software Publishers Association and the Business Software Alliance have puffed up their piracy numbers. “We’ve been hyping the numbers that might or might not be true,” says a spokesman. “Look, all we can do is guess how many people who use computers in China or Bulgaria might actually be willing to pay for Microsoft Office or Doom. But larger numbers get more attention, so we go with the biggest estimate we can get away with.”

The other item, from the 1/18/97 Economist, questions the Network Computer’s (NC) benefits. It cites the Gartner Group’s well-publicized $13,200 annual cost number, breaking it down into about $2,800 per year for the PC and network, $4,800 per year for administration, and the rest – about $5,600 – for “end-user operations”. Most NC savings would come from reduced administrative costs, but would be lost again as companies have to beef up their networks and servers.

Now let me get this straight: almost half of the thirteen grand cost of a PC is the cost of people using the danged things? Puhlease! And let’s look at the other two numbers: $4,800/year for administration translates to about one analyst for every ten users. Sounds pretty luxurious to me. And how about $2,800/year for the PC and network resources? Try to tote up that number without counting your mainframe as part of the network.

The Gartner Group hasn’t shared its model with me in years, so I have to do what most of you do: draw inferences from what I do know. My guess: They took the total cost of IS and divided by the number of PCs. Ignore end-user operations and you get $7,600 per user as the cost of information systems. That sounds about right to me, and nothing to be concerned about.

So here’s my gripe: Subject the allegedly high costs of PCs, tallied by a company that sells advice on how to improve IS management, to any kind of scrutiny and they turn out to be grossly misleading. Shocking software piracy numbers, in similar vein, are the invention of an advocacy group that can’t back them up with much more than air.

When you receive information I suggest you ask, as the Romans did, “Cui bono? (for whose benefit?)”

A little-recognized side effect of the information explosion is the ease with which spinmeisters can introduce uncontested non-facts into the public dialog. Reporters on deadline grab high-impact quotes and, if nobody contests a bit of nonsense, it gets repeated as gospel. With all the information to digest, there’s just not time to independently verify everything.

Which leads you to more Latin: caveat emptor (buyer beware).