By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & and Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
On these pages we usually discuss communication, language and translation. In this blog, we want to talk about information.
Information, whether real, imagined or disputed, is the foundation upon which language, communication and translation are built. Information can be a very slippery thing. What is its source? Is that source reliable? Is there other information out there that could change the import of the information that one has to hand? Is there some kind of linguistic, cultural, political, religious or other reason that might have a bearing upon how one assesses the information one has?
The importance of information—or the lack thereof—has come to the fore recently in the case of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. There is certain information that is verifiable: the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur headed for Beijing. It signed off from Malaysian air control when it entered Thai airspace. After that…. ? ? ?
It appears that the plane turned. Various interpretations of radar and satellite data suggest that it headed south. How high or fast or far it flew is a matter of conjecture at the hands of experts who are trying to interpret the data. In spite of the best efforts of the most technologically able investigators on the planet, there is, as of this writing, no solid information at all as to the fate of the plane.
The majority of the passengers on the missing plane were Chinese. It is fascinating to contemplate the reaction of the families and friends of the missing passengers. The Chinese government controls the media in China. It routinely bans, blacks out or otherwise interferes with the free flow of information to and from its citizens. The Chinese people therefore, quite reasonably, are suspicious of information provided to them by their government. They, again quite reasonably, wonder what information is being withheld from them. It is understandable that they have transferred their lack of trust in their own government to the Malaysian authorities. Based on past information, they have good reason to do so.
It appears to be true that the Malaysian authorities have been slow, non-transparent and inept at dealing with the situation. It is also true that the situation is entirely unprecedented. While all the families and loved ones of the passengers, of whatever nationality, are pressing for answers, it is the Chinese contingent that has been most vociferous in demanding information.
The sad fact is that there simply is almost no information. There are hints and pointers in the radar and satellite data. The flight crew, especially the pilot and co-pilot, have been investigated up one side and down the other. There is the matter of two young Iranians who were travelling on stolen passports. None of the investigations have turned up any verifiable, factual information that relates to the loss of the plane.
Yet the Chinese families and loved ones cannot accept the fact that there is, in fact, no information. They know that their government manipulates information to its own perceived advantage. They appear to be implacable in their belief that information is being withheld from them, or is being manipulated for nefarious purposes by one authority or another.
Perhaps the Chinese people might take a lesson from this tragedy. Sometimes, there really is no information. However inept, non-transparent or slow the Malaysian authorities’ reaction and response to this tragedy has been, they aren’t engaged in a cover-up, they are not manipulating what information there is because, quite simply, there is precious little information of any kind.
It’s a real mystery. Playing the blame game, hiring lawyers and demanding “the truth” are just futile spinning-your-wheels exercises in the absence of that all important factor, information.
Lacking information, the processes of communication, language and translation cannot even begin.
Leaving the case of the missing Malaysian airliner aside, there is a very great deal of misinformation out there, and there a lot of credulous folks who believe that information. Reputable purveyors of information, be they scientific journals with peer-review systems in place, magazines such as the New Yorker, or organizations like the BBC all have rigorous fact-checking processes that can be relied upon—except for when they get it wrong.
The co-mingling of different fossils to create the “Piltdown Man” fraud in the early 20th Century was a staggering example of contrived misinformation, as were the “Cold Fusion” and “Homeopathy” articles that developed into misinformation scandals reported in the most prestigious scientific journal of all, Nature magazine.
But science not only has a way to sort this kind of misinformation out, science is a way to arrive at correct, reliable information. The basic difference between scientific thought and religious belief—and it is a very profound and fundamental difference—is that religious doctrine is accepted as divine communication and as being infallible, unalterable dogma, while scientific facts and information, in order to be considered scientific, must admit to the possibility of falsification; that is, they must be open to the possibility of being wrong.
Newton’s Theory of Gravity is “just a theory.” Nevertheless, the apple will always fall to the ground unless “the ground” is the deck of a spaceship that is far away from a source of gravity like the earth or the moon. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is also “just a theory.” But, in spite of the best efforts of many intelligent religious believers to falsify Darwin’s theory, year by year the evidence in support of his theory increases.
One can, in fact, take these theories as fact and can have confidence in the information that they provide.
All of the Chinese, and people of other nationalities, who are screaming in anguish about the lack of information about Flight MH370 cannot add to the sum of information about the tragedy—which sum is very nearly nil. There are no palliatives, no substitutes for the facts, for real information. We can sit back and wait for information to come to us, or we can go out and try to gather information even in the worst circumstances, as in the search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Whatever we do, if we lack information, we can make little progress towards our goals.
All the best,
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as multi-cultural. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.