We’ve all become so obsessed with our ‘right’ to an opinion. We mix it up with free speech and a whole bunch of other buzz words that we take for granted as the crux of our democratic society, but what we really mean is that we want carte blanche to say what we feel like without worrying about the consequences of our words. We champion our individual opinion over logic and reason. We use our ‘right’ to an opinion as an afterthought when we are not getting our way, so obsessed are we with meeting our own immediate need for being heard.
I find opinions confusing. I can’t control or predict how people think or what they believe, and I don’t feel as if I have any business doing so. Ironically, people have often called me opinionated, and maybe I am. I would argue that I am void of opinion when it comes to matters of fact. I am just loud in presenting those facts.
I can’t change the way people see me and to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. In the not so distant past, most individuals had very little scope to express their opinions. We followed the herd, or had people dictate to us how we should think and feel. Since then small freedoms have made us surprisingly ego centric. Its happened so tacitly, so insidiously that we barely challenged it.
But words do have impact. We assign varying degrees of value to words, sometimes without reason. Just ask Adolf Hitler.
In order to navigate 7 billion sets of opinions, beliefs and varying states of need in this global community, I made a pact with myself. Realising that my own thoughts are simply one of that 7 billion, that words do have power and that my needs are no more important than anyone else’s, I feel more comfortable relying less on opinion and more on facts. And I have a pretty high standard to what constitutes a fact. (Though I suppose plenty of people will consider that to be just my opinion).
Most people that read my work know that I find the structure provided by the scientific process to be comforting. There’s no room for error. There is just what is and what is not. Family and friends also know that I frequently get trolled by anti vaxxers and anti science interests, both on my blog and personal social media, and in forums, comments sections and online groups. And, I do some ‘trolling’ of my own – meaning that I feel compelled to respond to misinformation whenever or wherever I see it. I suppose that’s why Donald Trump sends me into an absolute tail spin. But that’s another story.
People constantly say, ‘I don’t know why you bother. You won’t change their opinions, they’re crazy.’ But I prefer not to make an internal judgement about the people that express an opinion that is contrary to fact. I’m actually not trying to change anyone’s mind. I’m simply presenting what I know to be factual as a means of keeping us all honest in this uncritical world of fake news and faux outrage.
So, once and for all in response to anti vaxxers, anti science interests and anyone that is miffed by my compulsion for continually responding in the negative with phrases like, ‘actually, if you look at the empirical evidence…’
I don’t have an opinion and I don’t care about yours.
When it comes to science, (or other sociopolitical issues like rape reporting and domestic violence) I am only interested in what is proven. I’m not going to waste precious brain space that could be used in trying to understand the plot of Homeland on other people’s opinions. They’re not as interesting as facts. And this is the handy cheat sheet I use to make that distinction.
- Can you support your opinion?
So to clarify, supporting an opinion means providing evidence that doesn’t require a leap between correlation and causality. An anecdote from a friend or even yourself is not strong evidence. It’s essentially just an unverified story. One verified story is one (pretty weak) data point. In the health research space, rigorous and methodologically sound studies often contain thousands of data points. And those ones are controlled for. Your story is not.
- What is the source of your information? Is there a vested interest?
The source of your information needs to be unbiased, with no particular interest. So just as a pharmaceutical company is an extremely poor source for information about pharmaceuticals, a natural therapies site is not a great source in and of itself. Each have their own interests. Independence is essential if your information is to be believed.
- Is there a reliable consensus? Has your data been replicated?
A consensus is built over time. So a single study sensationalised in the mainstream media as click bait may or may not have truth to it, but it lacks context. If, say in the case of vaccines, thousands of studies have been completed giving a particular outcome or conclusion over several decades, one conflicting study might be interesting and cause for further research, but it won’t stand on its own.
- Are you being kind and logical in your presentation of this information?
If not, you are probably self interested. Because there’s no reason to get nasty if what you are presenting is fact. After all, if the facts are on your side, why so cranky?
You’re absolutely welcome to disagree with me. In fact, I welcome any rigorous discussion which challenges my opinion of what is factual. Because that’s how I learn. But you had better come at me with more than veiled insults, substandard sources that surreptitiously dress up someone’s grandiose or vested opinion as information, and pretend eye rolling emoji. Because we need to keep each other honest. We need to learn again to critically evaluate information in the midst of regular onslaughts of fake news and falsely presented statistics. We are allowing ourselves to be dumbed down in the name of individual opinions and we must learn to be smarter.