Magazine article Online

Proving a Negative

Magazine article Online

Proving a Negative

Article excerpt

We Americans have leaders who seem to be getting more philosophical over time. First there was Bill Clinton and his musings as to "what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Regarding the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." I feel like I am channeling my philosophy professors from the 1970s. Back then, the best we got out of our leaders was, "I am not a crook."

I was thinking of Rumsfeld's comment after I got a call from a client a few weeks ago. She was doing research on a telecom company which, according to press reports, had been investigated by the European Commission for price fixing. However, the latest mention of the case was in 2002, and my client had already gone through the EU (European Union) Web site [www.europa.eu.int]. Could I confirm that, indeed, the case had been dropped and that the company was in the clear? In essence, could I prove a negative?

These are the research projects that get a searcher's juices flowing. For starters, I went over to the company's Web site, assuming that it would have announced the conclusion of the investigation and done the corporate equivalent of a happy dance at being exonerated. Nope; no mention of the case at all, not in the press release archive, not in the company's annual report, not in its news page. OK, I thought, maybe it just doesn't want to advertise the investigation. So I went over to the EU's site. Yes, I know my client had searched there, but it is the most labyrinthine site I have had the pleasure of using, and I thought there might still be something there. If there is, it proved elusive to both my client and me.

I checked the archives of a couple of discussion groups that focused on telecom--thinking that there might have been a discussion about the impact of the EC case on telecom prices. No luck. And I ran as extensive a search as I could through the professional and trade literature, looking for any mention--anything!--of this EC case and found nothing since mid-2002. It really did appear that this case had simply died a quiet, unmourned death.

Inspired by Sec. Rumsfeld, I decided to press on and bring in my personal heavy artillery--a crack telephone researcher whose interviewing skills are a dangerous weapon. …

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