Monday, August 30, 2010

Cricket, pragmatics and denial

The Guardian has run a story about allegations against members of the Pakistan cricket team that they took money to bowl no-balls – with the headline, ‘Pakistan captain Salman Butt denies any wrongdoing over ‘spot-fixing’’.

What Salman Butt actually said when asked about the allegations (transcript) (video) included: “These are just allegations and anybody can stand out and say anything about you, doesn’t make them true,” and “There’s nothing that I have seen that involves me”. This is not denial of the allegations. It can’t be, because the truth of these statements (and the rest of what he said) is compatible with the truth of what is alleged. (‘involves’ is a vague word and Butt himself isn’t in the News of the World’s videos and, not being a bowler, did not bowl any of the three no-balls at issue).

The Guardian has taken Butt to have implicated denial, but I don’t think that’s correct. I think he was measuring his words carefully so as not to commit himself. Bloggers have understood this.

What should the headline have been? Pakistan captain Salman Butt fails to deny ‘spot-fixing’’. That was the news story.

I’m not going to comment on the Pakistan manager’s interesting claim in the same press conference that, “No allegations are true till they proved either way,” beyond saying that some heavy-duty pragmatics is involved in getting to an interpretation that makes any kind of sense. Either that or he’s into some pretty serious relativism about truth...

1 comment:

nick said...

David Lloyd in the Independent has a sub-editor who gets it. The headline there is:
Salman Butt: Anyone can accuse you – it doesn't make it true

Indeed. It's very definitely true that voicing an accusation doesn't make it true. Perhaps this useful contribution to epistemology could be called Salman's Law.