Tuesday, September 02, 2014

All Opinions Are Not Created Equal

If you waste much time watching talking heads on television or listening to them on the arid wasteland of talk radio, you know that there's truth in the old adage that opinions are like navels - everybody's got one.

The problem is that nowadays we seem to be forced to treat every opinion as equally valid and worthy of consideration, no matter how stupid and disconnected from reality it is.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on this brilliant article by Patrick Stokes, a lecturer in Philosophy from Deakin University in Australia who tells his students that in his class they are not entitled to their opinions, only to that which they can defend.

Dr Stokes argues that the statement “I’m entitled to my opinion” is frequently used to give alleged credence to beliefs that are not supported by evidence, and should be abandoned.  “I’m entitled to my opinion,” he maintains, has come to mean “I can say or think whatever I like, and if you argue with me you are violating my right to free speech." He goes on to suggest that this attitude leads to today's tendency to draw a false equivalence between experts arguing from knowledge and experience and non-experts arguing from passionate beliefs that they cannot support other than by force of volume and repetition.

Here is a brief excerpt that sums up the entire article:

So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion?

"If 'Everyone’s entitled to their opinion' just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

"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."

I encourage you to read the entire article, particularly before you listen to any of the shouting heads on Faux News. Remember that freedom of speech does not mean that all speech is worth listening to (even mine!). You are welcome to believe what you want ... but if you want to argue for changes in public policy based on those beliefs, you'd better be able to support them with evidence.

Remember Bilbo's First Law: Never let anyone else do your thinking for you. And to that I would add, especially when their thinking is not informed by weight of evidence.

There are a lot of abysmally stupid people out there. Don't let yourself become one of them.

Have a good day. Demand evidence rather than blind faith. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

That's a good thought on that old saw.

Linda Kay said...

Great commentary on the talking heads! My mother used to believe that everything she read in the newspaper had to be true because it was in print!

Big Sky Heidi said...

Fox News, MSNBC, CNN .... all the televised news channels are biased and geared to the lowest common denominator. And I'd rather not get mine from the Way-Poh or the NYT.

The local paper is okay, but sometimes Imiss the Tennesseean.

Rudolph said...

It's also alright not to have an opinion. Especially an unstated one.

joeh said...

I have to think about this for a while before I offer an opinion.