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Sat 26 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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Clever advice and nonsense

Greg Whitaker on the nature of disinformation and the influence of the vested interest.

Clever advice and nonsense

Nine-tenths of the existing books are nonsense and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense," wrote long-dead British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He has a point though. For every article you read where ‘experts' opine their views, very few really know what they are talking about, instead relying on speculation and hearsay.

This is the case for almost every field, where an opinion on, say, the future price of sugar due to wet weather in China is just that, if the speaker introduces variables, such as market trends, consumer preference for frosted sugar puffs over cornflakes and so on.

Nowhere is this more true than the self-appointed czars of the environment and the economy. Over the last two years global warming has been written on endlessly, with freak weather being blamed on all manner of scenarios.

Now, I'm not denying such an event is taking place, but out of the 42 million results one gets after typing ‘climate change' into Google, how many of those authors do you think have even read the fourth IPCC report on the subject? The recent debate on green building rankings is a good case in point. As an aside, I remember asking a chap at the launch of a LEED tower if the only way his project could be of environmental benefit would be if he demolished several other old-style inefficient buildings first. He nearly choked on his air-freighted, glass-bottled mineral water.

On the subject of the economy, you don't have to have a particularly long memory to recall the talking heads that would pop up, speaking about how the regional construction market was ‘well insulated' from the credit crunch that was unfolding in the US and elsewhere. Despite being proved wrong, these mouths for the most part have not zipped up. Instead, some have gone as far as to say that they predicted the exact moment when it all changed over here - and as a result you should continue to listen to their ‘advice.'

Of course, such weasel-words are a bit different to the practical skills needed in the heavy equipment industry. You can't argue with the solid reality of a wheel loader. However, there are plenty of slippery folk who will come out with suggestions that plant managers up their inventory while prices are down.

For the most part, this advice comes from a handful of manufacturers who have a vested interest in reducing their own stock holding. This also applies to some of the emerging machinery manufacturers, who are looking for investment in the region. Some of them look like a sound bet, where as others... Well. Look up the Saudi Ghazal SUV for an example - to my eyes it looks like a crash between a chest freezer and a drain cover - yet one of its creators is confidently predicting sales in excess of 20,000 per year.

Elsewhere, more than a few machine makers will be regretting the advice to build the biggest and the best stands at this year's Bauma exhibition. The general guidance given by the show's organisers was that when the market does eventually come back, visitors will remember those who had built the most impressive stands. Of course, those promoters were not to know about the volcanic ash cloud which prevented the majority of international visitors from attending - but this will be small comfort to one firm who spent a whopping reported 18 million euro on its stall.

By the way, I realise the irony of writing a puff-piece full of conjecture and speculation in order to decry the practice. Disraeli also said: "The most successful man in life is the man who has the best information." Be sure your information comes from the best sources.

Greg Whitaker is editor of PMV Middle East.

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