Skip

" the false equivalence between experts and non-experts"
October 12, 2012 3:37 AM   Subscribe


 
Actually, Republicans intend to curb the deficit by cutting back on entitlements, starting with your opinion.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:10 AM on October 12, 2012 [20 favorites]


No, you're not entitled to your opinion.

Oh, I... Uh... All right.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:13 AM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


No, you're not entitled to your opinion.

Yes dear.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:15 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I guess my opinion is that you're entitled to your opinion that I'm not entitled to my opinion, so...eh...but maybe since we're all entitled to our opinions, you're not entitled to the opinion that I'm not entitled to my opinion. That means...um...

Maybe nobody is entitled to any opinion? I'm not sure anymore...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:22 AM on October 12, 2012


Maybe the formulation should be, "You're entitled to any opinion for which you have empirically verifiable, broadly recognized evidence."
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:27 AM on October 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


I outsourced my opinions up until roughly 2008 when things became economically untenable to do so, at which time I began crowdsourcing them.

But this again proved unwieldy as my opinion became too difficult logistically.

I've tried surveys, focus groups, mailers and guerrilla-style "man on the street" versions of my opinion to mixed results.

Now, I've found the best method is simply to rock gently back and forth, back and forth.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:29 AM on October 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


Christ, opinions are like assholes.
posted by orme at 4:31 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Christ, opinions are like assholes.

For a bit, when I was a teenager, my email sig was, "Opinions are like assholes: they both drive SUVs."

It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:33 AM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


But I get to keep my notions, right?
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:33 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well that's just, like, your opinion, man.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:33 AM on October 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Maybe the formulation should be, "You're entitled to any opinion for which you have empirically verifiable, broadly recognized evidence."

The first one is more punchy. That's not my opinion, either: Professor Stokes actually punches students while he says this. True fact.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:37 AM on October 12, 2012


I actually quite enjoyed that first article- haven't gotten to the other two yet. Thanks for posting.
posted by windykites at 4:40 AM on October 12, 2012


You're entitled to any opinion for which you have empirically verifiable, broadly recognized evidence.

I'd argue that no opinion is worth anything unless it can be proved with mathematical certainty, the way we know that the area of a circle is pi times the radius squared. If we remove pi from opinion, all we have is an onion.

That has to mean something.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:41 AM on October 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


I for one welcome our new tear-inducing overlords. Hail Onions!
posted by fleetmouse at 4:49 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm entitled to my opinion. But media outlets are not entitled to broadcast just anyone's opinion on an equal footing with an expert's.
posted by DU at 4:54 AM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Today I learned that I was mistaken about the origins of the word op-ed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:01 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


" the false equivalence between experts and non-experts"

Amen. This is definitely a huge problem in the public discourse over... just about everything serious today.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:08 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


All fine and good, but the people who understand what he's saying aren't the problem.
posted by Ickster at 5:17 AM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, you're entitled to your opinion. It's just that no one else is obligated to respect it.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:20 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


was that

an OPINION

posted by elizardbits at 5:23 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's instructive to look at conservative and liberal reactions to the Presidential races these past two months. When Romney was down big in the polls and sliding, conservatives became convinced that the polls were wrong. Whether from insecurity, paranoia, or a deep inability to claim responsibility, conservatives largely decided to create their own reality and "unskew" the polls. When Obama tanked the first debate, liberals blamed, well, they blamed Obama. They blamed themselves. There was no conspiracy to make it look like Obama had done worse than he did; it was simply acknowledged that he did poorly and that was that. Last night, during the debate, you may have seen it in your Facebook feeds as I saw it in mine: conservatives complaining about the debate moderator. Again, there is a conspiracy here, you see? The moderator and Obama went to a wedding together 20 years ago or something? Not even really sure.

So the problem isn't facts vs. opinions. It's your facts vs. my facts. Conservatives have created an entire alternate reality with their own facts. Their own polls, their own news organizations, their own universities. To argue with some of them is as difficult as arguing with someone who speaks a foreign language. I appreciate this man's effort in his classroom, but sadly his classroom utopia does not and cannot exist in the real world.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:30 AM on October 12, 2012 [41 favorites]


You have the right to be wrong. I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to be a complete asshole.
posted by howfar at 5:36 AM on October 12, 2012


I think the article is saying that the more common stance is:

You have the right to be wrong. I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to be a completely uninformed asshole.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:43 AM on October 12, 2012


To argue with some of them is as difficult as arguing with someone who speaks a foreign language.

It's a thousand times worse, because barring extreme situations, normal human beings speaking different languages make good faith efforts towards mutual comprehension. They WANT to be able to enter into a discussion with others. Instead, it's basically the same thing you see when certain Americans go abroad on vacation - rather than attempt to communicate in the local language, however poorly, they just shout frustratedly in english, louder and louder, all the while thinking smugly to themselves how stupid the locals are for not speaking english.
posted by elizardbits at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


If you can prove your point, it's not really just an opinion, is it?
posted by Longtime Listener at 5:56 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why I follow a doctrine of Truthiness - not an option, but the truth, enhanced by vitamins. Gut vitamins.

Everyone knows Truthiness feels right, because it comes from the gut.
posted by fragmede at 5:59 AM on October 12, 2012


I use a similar approach in my philosophy classes. Roughly goes like this:

"you are entitled to your own opinion" can mean that you have a political right to believe whatever you want, or it can mean that you have a logical or intellectual right to do so. You DO have that political right--no one has the right to give up any believe you have, no matter how absurd it is. But you don't have a logical or intellectual right to believe whatever you want. You have a political right to believe that the sky is red, that trees are carnivorous, that Uganda started WWI, that you are the President of the United States, that you live on the Moon...or whatever. But you have no logical (or epistemic or intellectual or rational) right to believe these things, because all the weight of evidence is against them. If you believe stupid things, things that run against the preponderance of the evidence, you shouldn't be forced to give them up; but you are violating your logical obligations--you are doing something intellectually wrong, something unreasonable, something stupid, and the rest of us have no obligation to take what you think seriously. In fact, we have an obligation not to take it seriously.

That is to say: you have a political right to be a fool, but you have an epistemic duty not to be.

There are a couple of phrases that are like mind viruses, that get into students heads and prevent them from thinking. "I have a right to my own opinion" is one of them. "Everything is relative" is another. These phrases wreak terrible havoc on young minds.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:21 AM on October 12, 2012 [33 favorites]


If you can prove your point, it's not really just an opinion, is it?

Not if the other side can prove their point as well. Facts can inform opinions, but they don't necessarily change them. And facts don't always agree.
posted by maryr at 6:25 AM on October 12, 2012


Is anyone really shocked or surprised by this? I'm sorry, but not all opinions carry the same weight. Sometimes people are wrong because they can't make an argument. Some things are impossible to argue for unless you are an expert rhetorician. In most cases, you will be wrong, and it is ok for me to tell you this in no uncertain terms.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:31 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

This is the heart of the matter. "De gustibus non est disputandum" is an obvious truth; there is no point in arguing about matters of taste. I can't convince you that kim chee is tasty, for example. You have the right to dislike it, and I have the right to my understanding of the universal truth that you are a dummypants.

Obviously, I also can't force you to believe that the earth revolves around the sun, that the moon is made of rock, or that Obama is president. You have the "right" to disbelieve them, but that doesn't mean you are correct in any way.

You have the right to be wrong. I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to be a completely uninformed asshole.

Well, sure, as long as you accept that I will also defend to the death your right to experience the fruits of your assholiness.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:35 AM on October 12, 2012


I've had a thing against "common sense" and basically it sounds like this is the same thing.

Also - I really love it when conservatives start making it sounds like relativity (of the moral or thought kind) is how things work when 20+ years ago they railed against it.

Let's put it like this. A fact is true, period. Facts always must agree, otherwise they are not facts. Your interpretation may diverge on the root causes or solutions to the fact, but the fact in itself is always true via the fact IT IS A GODDAMNED FACT. It's a fucking tautology. Jesus.
posted by symbioid at 6:38 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Amen to this. The truth does not lie somewhere between 150 year of meticulously documented research by some frighteningly high-powered intellects and some shit you read on Red State.
posted by Mister_A at 6:39 AM on October 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


No, you are not entitled to your opinion...

Mr Romney.
posted by stormpooper at 6:44 AM on October 12, 2012


Old'n'Busted: Yes dear.

Longtime Listener: If you can prove your point, it's not really just an opinion, is it?

You two didn't read the article did you? No? Your opinions have been revoked!
posted by quosimosaur at 6:46 AM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Aren't you all entitled to your half-assed musings on the devine? You thought about eternity for 25 minutes and think you've come to some interesting conclusions?
Well let me tell you, I stand with 2000 years of darkness and bafflement and hunger behind me,
my kind of harvest is the souls of a million peasants, and I couldn't give a ha'penny jizz for your internet-assembled philosophy!"
posted by ts;dr at 6:52 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the first link:
This response confuses not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all – or to borrow a phrase from Andrew Brown, it “confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue.” Again, two senses of “entitlement” to an opinion are being conflated here.
Absolutely! Unfortunately, this is in the second-to-last paragraph and the same thing could be said about the first half or more of the essay itself -- it confuses rather than clarifies the argument against false equivalence in public discourse.

I had a class unit in fourth grade or so where we learned the distinction between a fact and an opinion (though without mention of Plato). A fact can be empirically verified or dis-proven. Opinions, as I learned it, are what Stokes called "tastes or preferences". What Stokes seems to set up as a gray area in between (or his second and especially his third type of opinion) is covered by analysis, conclusions, or inferences (hopefully based on fact). That is, not the basic facts themselves, but conclusions that we draw about what we ought to do in light of those facts, often also drawing either on some ethical or moral framework or on some opinions-in-the-original-sense as well. Since we have a word for this third class (multiple words, even!), I see no need to blur the distinction between it and the class of taste/preference-type opinions by expanding the definition of opinion as Stokes does. (I.e., what Longtime Listener said.)
posted by eviemath at 6:56 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

Words of the blessed prophet David Byrne, praise and glory be upon him.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:56 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in complete agreement with the article; it's perfectly possible to be competent (even brilliant) in one area and not have the knowledge/background to have an opinion about another.

I suppose the problem is in getting the holder of an opinion to know where the line is, and how far they're standing from it.
posted by Mooski at 7:01 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You two didn't read the article did you? No? Your opinions have been revoked!

That's your opinion.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:02 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Real life example of my previous comment. Consumer confidence crushes expectations, highest level in 5 years. Conservative reaction: conspiracy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:10 AM on October 12, 2012


I really liked this article, obviously the college level academic context is important but it really gets at what has poisoned the political discourse in the US and sadly hints at a serious intellectual poverty here in the US. It's not even a right or left thing (If I hear another gutter punk say, "it's 'cause rich people, man..." I'm going to rip that nose ring from his face) but the right has an entire media network that does nothing but put crazy conspiracies on par with mainstream thinking and lets "you decide", as though this is the democratic American thing to do; this completely ignores the fact that just because two thoughts oppose each other, that doesn't make them hold equivalent intellectual validity. And they sell it as though if a someone makes you question or defend your opinion, it's fascism and instead of, you know, focusing on the reasoning for your opinion, you should counter attack -- why won't the Other Team accept that people hold different opinions, why are they trying to suppress us? Everyone's entitled to their opinion.

We're not trying to suppress you, Mr. O'Reilly, we're trying to engage you in an intellectually honest discussion and you keep running away, you coward.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:14 AM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


At first I thought this was just another pronouncement from Atheism+.

I'm in solid agreement with the article. This notion that we're living in a post-truth-anything-goes universe of ideas legitimizes literally any old numbnuttery. The Cult of the Amateur is a pernicious mindset that reinforces people's presumption and arrogance.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like Fists O'Fury I start my philosophy classes with a version of this speech too.

"There are a couple of phrases that are like mind viruses, that get into students heads and prevent them from thinking. "I have a right to my own opinion" is one of them. "Everything is relative" is another. These phrases wreak terrible havoc on young minds."

Oh, God, yes. I hear a lot of "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" (which makes me WANT to swing my fists at things) as a reflexive response to any question about morality, as if the issue of "harm" is easy to sort out and as if "rights" are the answer to all possible questions. Also various versions of "I'm being true to what I believe" where they basically feel that attempting to understand points of view that run contrary to their (usually religious) beliefs is in some fashion a profound undermining of their very humanity and it is a disgusting and morally wrong thing to ask them to do; asking them to think someone else's thoughts is like asking them to submit to mind control and give up their personal integrity.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're entitled to speculate, to be wrong, even to scratch frantically for facts however tenuous that may support your emotionally-driven position. But you are not entitled to tell lies, especially if others are expecting to rely on them, and doubly so if you gain some sort of benefit from it.

Idiots I can tolerate. I've been an idiot from time to time. And sometimes human pride and ego has a way of making us reluctant to accept the truth. Incorrigible liars, though - that's a different thing. There seems to have arisen lately a degree of acceptance of that kind of conduct, especially in business, politics and religion, that is wholly unwarranted and is wholly destructive to our ways of life.

A liar is the lowest form of human being. A monstrous sadist, a villainous murderer, a thief or arsonist are all destructive and terrible, but inasmuch as they are honest, they can be dealt with. A liar's actions strike at that core of human interaction. You cannot deal correctly with an unknown, unidentified liar. By lying, one denies others correct information, substitutes it with errors, and thereby entices others into error as well.

We ought to freeze them out of the benefits of group membership: jobs, friends, respect, dignity. Making excuses for the liar continues the behavior. I'd like to see some form of contract, or covenant, a human covenant of sorts, whereby each signatory to that agrees to conduct themselves with honesty and act in good faith, and asks to be held accountable to that standard by all others. Anyone who refused to sign up to that, I'd happily cut off from society. They're bandits in their hearts, they may as well become bandits in fact. Sign up to the principle of treating others fairly, or be homeless and jobless, cast adrift. There need to be real, serious consequences to being a liar. The shield of "free speech" is not intended for their use.

You might ask, what of the self-preserving liar? The victim of prejudice, for example. These people only lie because they are first lied to, and lies are told about them. Giving up lies means giving them all up, and judging others honestly and rationally.

What of the reprobate, the hider of a secret shame, such as a drug addiction or a harmful paraphilia? The 25% of married folks who have engaged in adultery? I don't believe it is necessary to pre-emptively confess every possible thing that others might hold against you. That's simply unreasonable. But those engaged in such things ought, at a minimum, to cease lying to themselves, and if their actions affect others, to take mitigating steps. And in turn we, not being liars, will not exaggerate and misrepresent the degree of others' sins, or pretend that they affect us in ways they do not.

Fair dealing and good faith ought to be expected in all transactions. If there's anything that you want to do that requires you to deceive and take unfair advantage of another, it's not worth you doing it, and it's not worth us letting you do it, either. Seeking win-lose outcomes, unless clearly necessary, agreed to, and acknowledged by all parties, is dishonorable conduct.

That, in my view, is the necessary end state of the culture war. You can live decent lives as free and respectable people, or you can have consequence-free freedom of dishonest speech. Pick one.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:48 AM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]




A couple of years ago I got into a very weird argument with a commenter on Volokh; the thread was about gay marriage, and I said something about being married and he said "No, you're not." I said well, Canada thinks I'm married, since they gave me an official certificate and everything. He said Canada was wrong.

I stopped commenting on Volokh after that.
posted by rtha at 8:32 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


symbioid: "Let's put it like this. A fact is true, period. Facts always must agree, otherwise they are not facts. Your interpretation may diverge on the root causes or solutions to the fact, but the fact in itself is always true via the fact IT IS A GODDAMNED FACT. It's a fucking tautology. Jesus."

The other day there was a caller on the excellent A Way With Words who was upset because his young daughter (who was in 2nd or 3rd grade, I believe) was being taught in school that "a fact that is something that is either true or false". The curriculum was discussing the difference between fact and opinion, and that was the definition the teacher laid out for "fact".

The caller went in and talked to the teacher and expressed his concerns, and provided numerous citations of why he thought that the teacher had been wrong in that particular definition. The teacher stood firm in that facts could also be false, and gave the caller a lecture on how words change their meaning over time and that her version is now commonly accepted.

Grant (MeFi's Own!) and Martha reassured the caller that his interpretation was correct, that semantic drift is not at all what's happening here, but also sympathized with the teacher's role of trying to teach that distinction between fact and opinion to a bunch of 9-year-olds.

I found that entire call really really chilling and disturbing. I'm hardly one to see conspiracy theories at every turn, but that interaction between the caller and the teacher to me perfectly encapsulated what I find so troublesome about the idea that everyone's opinions and voices carry equal weight, regardless of how informed they are. It's why politicians proudly proclaim the importance of creating your own reality, and that those living in fact-based communities were deluded and behind the times. It's why Fox news can say it's fair and balanced. It's why O'Reilly can say with a straight face that Biden is the rudest person he's ever met. Because if facts can be true or false, then there is no longer any need or indeed any benefit to base your analysis of the world on facts. Facts, far from being objective truths about the universe, can now be as partisan and subjective as anything else.

Facts are true. Full stop. When something is false, it ceases to be a fact. A false fact is a lie. Some facts have more or less significance than others. One fact may not contribute as much to a certain relationship or causality as another fact. But you cannot choose which things are actually facts. They are true, or they are not facts.

That the above statements are now contested makes my head and my heart hurt.
posted by Phire at 8:50 AM on October 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
That's where I stopped reading. It's one thing to believe that no one is entitled to an opinion unless they can defend it on rational grounds; it's quite another to tell someone to shut up because they aren't qualified. The latter, I would posit, is responsible for just as much discord in American democratic discourse as the problem this author is upset with.
posted by anewnadir at 8:58 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


it really gets at what has poisoned the political discourse in the US

Is it not in part a side effect of holding up democracy as the producer of unquestioned good, when it matters as much what the citizenry supports as it does that they are free to do so?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the caller misinterpreted the teacher or the teacher was poor at explaining what they meant? When I read it, I read it as "a fact is something that can be shown to be true or false." That is I can make a factual statement that "the sky is not red" So in other words, it has to be falsifiable. It is either true or false, in that sense. I feel like that's what she meant. But of course, I could be wrong, it's also quite possible the teach really is an idiot and has no business on teaching logic to impressionable young minds.

I've actually thought that instead of statistics class we should really be teaching logic classes. Or perhaps in addition to it. Not that geometry isn't important, but I feel like logic should really be the second year class for math in school instead of geometry. Yes, you deal with proofs and axioms in geometry but I think it seems misleading you're working with shapes, but then you're dealing with proofs and what? Whereas if you go in, saying "this is logic" and then you say "ok, this makes sense, I'm learning about logic"... Anyways, sorry - maybe I'm just bitter about geometry. Regardless, your story, Phire, is certainly a shame :(
posted by symbioid at 9:04 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Upon re-reading, it seems the caller says that she insisted a fact could be false, so... yeah, should not be teaching :\
posted by symbioid at 9:05 AM on October 12, 2012


It's one thing to believe that no one is entitled to an opinion unless they can defend it on rational grounds; it's quite another to tell someone to shut up because they aren't qualified.

I disagree wholeheartedly with your summation of this situation. A copywriter like me is NOT entitled to equal weight in a discussion of microbiology with a microbiologist. A pundit is NOT entitled to equal weight in a discussion of climate change with a PhD who's studied it for 25 years. That the media gives equal weight and credibility to puffery from PR hacks as it does to statements from experts, especially in the sciences, is one of the biggest failings of the US media in the last 50 years.
posted by Mister_A at 9:10 AM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is a serious, non-snarky question for people who know more about the history of the media than I do: has the definition of objectivity used by the American media changed over time? Has there always been this emphasis on reporting two sides of the story, no matter what the issue and no matter what the balance of proof is?
posted by colfax at 9:13 AM on October 12, 2012


Falsifiable, not false, is the key notion.

Any fact is falsifiable. A given cluster of facts may inspire conflicting opinions.

This means that, although you're bound by law to (virtually) believe the judge, you still have to (actually) pay your lawyer.
posted by mule98J at 9:20 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Journalism has never been static on its approach to objectivity, Colfax. Here's one quick review of journalistic history.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:29 AM on October 12, 2012


colfax, the media has never been a perfect ideology-free organ of absolute truth, but most reputable media did a better job of vetting sources and checking facts BEFORE broadcast or publication. Nowadays, research depts. are a thing of the past, and the emphasis is on speed and controversy, generally to the detriment of accuracy.

So there are economic drivers, to be sure; but perhaps the biggest single event contributing to the downward spiral of our media is the elimination of the fairness doctrine.
posted by Mister_A at 9:38 AM on October 12, 2012


Let's put it like this. A fact is true, period.

The teacher stood firm in that facts could also be false...


I was taught that a proposition is something that can be either true or false and a fact is a proposition that is true. It's kinda screwed up to allow, explicitly, for "false facts" to be a thing.

Here's a direct link to that call, for anyone who's interested.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:38 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


These phrases wreak terrible havoc on young minds.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:21 PM on October 12


Yeah, but everything happens for a reason.
posted by Decani at 9:40 AM on October 12, 2012


It's God's will, Decani!
posted by Mister_A at 9:42 AM on October 12, 2012


It's one thing to believe that no one is entitled to an opinion unless they can defend it on rational grounds; it's quite another to tell someone to shut up because they aren't qualified. The latter, I would posit, is responsible for just as much discord in American democratic discourse as the problem this author is upset with.

This. There's the kind of dogmatism that closes down debate by assuming that all opinions are eqivalent, all evidence is equally reliable, so there's no point in applying logic. But there's also the kind of dogmatism that closes down debate by maintaining that that is just falsehood, and this is just fact, and any attempt to keep the question open is just obstructionism or rudeness.

I think the former position tends to get used more as a defensive stance by the cultural minority at any given point, while the latter is more attractive to the cultural majority who's on the offense. But they're both equally dogmatic, in that both positions foreclose any further critical thinking on the question. Thus, it's completely true that

A copywriter like me is NOT entitled to equal weight in a discussion of microbiology with a microbiologist.

But that doesn't mean that it's not worth considering what information the copywriter has; what kind of argument he's making; what the microbiologist's training is, and how it pertains to this particular question in microbiology; what the prior stakes of each party are in the issue; how representative the particular microbiologist is of the wider field, and how politically divided that field is over this question; and whether the question we're discussing is, indeed, a simple matter of microbiological fact, or a wider policy issue where the ideas of average humans might hold weight. To be content with pointing out that Dr. Smith is A Scientific Expert, so Joe Reporter should just shut up, isn't any more intelligent as a response than "Well, Joe Reporter is entitled to his opinion."

Really, in every subject besides mathematics, we're arguing probabilities based on mixed evidence-- even in the hard sciences, given the various issues with replicability and statistical methods. A productive debate is always going to strive not just to declare a winner based on the total balance of proof, but to hack out a reasonably subtle and accurate sense of what the totality of the evidence and reasoning is like on both sides. To do that, you need to ask a lot of critical-thinking questions. I am in favor of allowing everyone to be entitled to their questions, whether or not they're entitled to their opinion.
posted by Bardolph at 9:49 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Dilbert
posted by v-tach at 9:54 AM on October 12, 2012


Just as we're starting to see creepers and bullies called out, derided, shunned, or punished for their miscreant behaviours, perhaps we're also going to see less tolerance of uninformed idiocy and counter-factual lunacy.

If we don't, I think we'll get to witness how a society collapses when it abandons truth and kindness.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:02 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


man what if facts and opinions were different things

i bet talking about how you're not entitled to your own facts would be reasonable, but talking about how you're not entitled to your own opinions would be creepy and fascist!

lol look at me trying to swim against the tides of recession and collapse
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:14 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fact: You are not entitled to my opinion.
If I want you to have it, I will beat you over the head with it.
posted by Goofyy at 10:22 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phire, I find your story kind of confusing. Was the teacher maybe saying that a proposition is a declarative statement which is either true or false (but not both)? I suppose I would call the collection of true propositions "facts" and the collection of false propositions "falsehoods."

If, indeed, the word "fact" now means what I mean when I say "proposition," then I am very sad.

In any event, all this talk of evidence and facts and ability to reason makes me want to put in a plug for Ruma Falk's paper, entitled "Probabilistic reasoning is not logical." Since I see there are a few philosophy/logic teachers in the thread, they might like the the formal approach she describes in her paper. (Also, Ruma Falk is awesome, and everyone should read more of her papers anyway.) Here's a JSTOR link, which may or may not work for you depending on whose internet connection you happen to be on. (If you really want the paper and can't access it, MeMail me and I can get you a PDF.)
posted by King Bee at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2012


If only qualified opinions are of value why should we uphold democracy? I'm no expert on how to run a country, I've never planned for national security, or health-care reforms- why should my opinions on these matters be given equal weight to experts in an election?
posted by jade east at 11:34 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only qualified opinions are of value why should we uphold democracy? I'm no expert on how to run a country, I've never planned for national security, or health-care reforms- why should my opinions on these matters be given equal weight to experts in an election?

Because there are many well qualified opinions on every subject and every infinitesimal little choice on how to run the country.

The method on how to get from A to B or even where exactly A and B are cannot be correct or incorrect, only more correct or less correct in the end when the people decide if they are where they want to be. If the people think that they want the country to be a country where lazy poor don't get the money of hard working citizens then restoring and strengthening safety nets isn't the way to go. But when you get to the point and you realize families are starving under a bridge you might not like the point where you've gotten to.
posted by Talez at 12:20 PM on October 12, 2012


Just as we're starting to see creepers and bullies called out, derided, shunned, or punished for their miscreant behaviours, perhaps we're also going to see less tolerance of uninformed idiocy and counter-factual lunacy.

But "less" tolerance isn't going to do it. I'm sure that the rest of America will get somewhat more pro-active about calling out the Republicans on their blatant lies, but that makes no difference when a large and politically coherent chunk of the population doesn't care.

There needs to be zero tolerance. Intolerance for falsehoods should be so great than anyone, R, D or X, should fear being caught out because it results in a complete collapse of their reputation. Unless there are real consequences to lying, it won't stop, because the positive advantages to doing it are so great - you can just say what you please, and you don't even have to do any research.

If we don't, I think we'll get to witness how a society collapses when it abandons truth and kindness.

We've been seeing such quotes here for years - "unless we do [something impossible], then [collapse]." And what's happened during that time? Well, we've made zero or even negative progress on the impossibles...

And don't kid yourself - these lying liars have sold off the smoke alarms, the life preservers and the lifeboats, and pocketed the money. There's no profit now for the rich idiot to invest a little money against averse events - they plan to be out of whatever deal they are in today by then anyway. And nothing got fixed up after the global financial crisis - again, through a bunch of barefaced lying in areas like securities law where very few people have any knowledge at all.

So, thanks to the epidemic of sociopathic liars, we're living in a house of cards.

This year's harvest was mediocre, due to extreme weather. Well, expect more extreme weather ahead - but if there are two actually bad harvests in a row, you're going to see real Change, and not the Hopey-Changey sort of change, either.

(Our plan is moving to Germany, which we believe has a sweet spot for both "truth and kindness" - that is, rational people/government and a Social Democracy...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:00 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


King Bee, cosmic.osmo linked to the clip of the show I was talking about here....it's about five minutes long and tells it much clearer than I could. My understanding based on the dad's reporting of his conversation with the teacher is that, yes, the teacher does indeed think that facts specifically can be false. Obviously we don't have her side of the story, but at the very least I'd be concerned about how carefully the distinction is being taught to kids.

The language experts who host the show did agree that the conflation of "false" and "falsifiable" is not yet a mainstream notion, so hopefully this is an isolated incident.

Thanks for the reading suggestion! I will definitely look into it.
posted by Phire at 1:03 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Our plan is moving to Germany, which we believe has a sweet spot for both "truth and kindness" - that is, rational people/government and a Social Democracy...)

Yep. My way out is an Australian passport.
posted by Talez at 1:24 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only qualified opinions are of value why should we uphold democracy?
¯\(°_o)/¯
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:21 PM on October 12, 2012


You can have my onion when you pry it from my cold, dead asshole.
posted by homunculus at 6:58 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see much wrong with remaining in America. There's lots of good small-scale farmland. The Little House on the Prairie lifestyle was pretty okay at times — once the family settled and their community grew up a bit, it was hard honest work, but also fulfilling, social, and generally happy.

With the energy efficiencies we've gained, it takes half as much work/land to feed, shelter, transport, etc oneself. The rest of the time, you can choose slack or engage in non-traditional/network income generating activities, or do extra subsistence work.

The trick, of course, is finding a reliable farming climate. The old breadbasket isn't what it used to be.

Times are going to become intensely interesting in North America. We're not used to truly massive crop failures. We are utterly dependent on chlorophyll-based energy.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:08 PM on October 12, 2012


Here's a cheery thought! It might be possible to give everyone on earth an opportunity for a Charles and Caroline Ingalls–like quality of life. Very modest homes and less consumerism, using the highest-quality energy-harvesting, food-production, waste-recycling, fuel-efficient, energy-conserving modest homes, appliances, vehicles, and devices.

And, really, how much stuff does one need? Maybe possessions aren't where it's at. Maybe it's relationships. Or introspection.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:21 PM on October 12, 2012




Uh, Mister_A, did you even read my comment? A microbiologist is presumptively better able to defend his view of microbiology with rational bases than the copywriter who seeks to attack his position. But making a blind appeal to his credentials just makes the chance of rational debate occurring that much slimmer.

That my statement elicited such a shrill reaction on your part should give you pause. It hardly makes me feel like our discussion is going to get anywhere constructive, and that's significant, isn't it?
posted by anewnadir at 2:15 PM on October 14, 2012


Times are going to become intensely interesting in North America. We're not used to truly massive crop failures. We are utterly dependent on chlorophyll-based energy.

Erm, yes, but as carbon-based beings that do not dwell primarily in deep ocean or dark caves, that is not a uniquely North American feature.
posted by maryr at 4:22 PM on October 14, 2012


« Older A Family That Will Accept You No Matter What   |   No Prize Awarded Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post