/ "I'm entitled to an opinion" - not if it's ill-informed...
(I found it via Simon Singh on Twitter)
A lesson Jeremy Hunt needs
Thanks for posting that - very interesting. I've never liked being made to feel intolerant for essentially saying/feeling the same thing, I've just not been able to put it so eloquently!
Thanks TC, I enjoyed the comments at the bottom of the article as well.
Well that's UKC killed stone dead then :-)
What he says is that it's about backing up your thoughts with evidence for your position, if you want it to be taken seriously.. Not sure how that's 'wrong'.
My next thread will involve a campaign to allow footnotes and citation tools in the forum software :-)
Cheers, that's an interesting article.
This exact point was made on a Radio 4 show on the representation of science in the media, about a month ago - I can't remember which show. An interesting point made was that the BBC, in an effort to be 'fair' and to show all view points end up giving credence to views and opinions that have nothing to back them up.
You're right that dissenting, awkward, contrary and speculative opinion is often the most valuable but it does have to be an informed opinion to have that value.
Some times a dissenting opinion (eg I will survive jumping off this 100m cliff) is just plain wrong.
Aaaaargh, don't mention the R word, Coel will come wandering along and sit heavily on my thread, squashing the metaphorical sandwiches of its content!
I think that evidence whose rigour and veracity can't be questioned can be respected even if people don't agree with the argument it's being used to support.
Indeed, but some evidence as yet hasn't ever been discovered, so the dinosaurs can rightly argue in this case, you have no evidence come back after I've gone say in 25 years and someone will then accept what you say as fact.
Can you hope for any more influencing power if your opinions are supported by robust evidence?
No for that you need lots and lots and lots of money, or some organisation to bank roll you so you can state your opinions as fact. Quite interesting really if I was to collect a lot of bus tickets, or if a lady was to collect lots of cats, people would assume we were somewhat strange, but if I were to collect lots of money people would more than likely assume I was more important and my opinions would then be taken more seriously.
It doesn't matter how robust your evidence is unless the people you are trying to influence can understand it. This unfortunately is why the general populous believe such utter sh1te.
The non-science put forward in the popular media is always presented in an easy to follow manner. The proper science is often exactly that- proper science, written in scientific language that the public either can not or choose not to understand.
> Can you hope for any more influencing power if your opinions are supported by robust evidence?
Probably yes. But possibly more important is your own communication and influencing skills. Hitler was good at that...
Great article. It's bloody obvious stuff, but sadly it does need explaining.
Of course, those who actually need to read and understand it don't follow Simon Singh, Tim Harford, British Humanists etc on Twitter, so nice one for posting it on UKC!
Governments making evidence based decisions - that would be novel.
I think this is the wrong way around (because I like the idea of free speech very much). Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but everyone has a duty to critically analyse the opinions that they hold or are presented to them.
Good piece btw, chers for the ink.
Of course, that's just his opinion......
Well, well, I have a half-finished chunk of writing on that very same argument, must finish it off ... after tea.
PS to Tall Clare, I've spotted the R word but was out at the Roaches with real rather than metaphorical sandwiches.
This article is typical of the arrogance of teachers and university lecturers in particular... what they mean is they know better than the the great unwashed majority. If it were true it would be pretty neat as we could do away with elections, political parties, debates elections and such like... all we'd need to do is let an enlightened oligarchy of these brilliant spirits to govern us.
Strangely no country in the world has taken this obvious road to happiness, I wonder why?
> 'This article is typical of the arrogance of teachers and university lecturers in particular... what they mean is they know better than the the great unwashed majority.'
Not sure what you are arguing here. The article referred to issues such as climate change and immunology for each of which there is a body of scientific evidence. I would have thought that it is reasonable to suggest that in order to comment on such issues you should have researched the scientific evidence. It's quite easy. All you do is google 'climate change' or 'immunology' and you get the background. Isn't it better to be informed than to be ignorant?
I think perhaps it's a post of emotion rather than thought through reasoning.
No, they are only useful when being disproved, they are never vital. Most of the time all they do is waste time and effort.
> No, they are only useful when being disproved, they are never vital. Most of the time all they do is waste time and effort.
Another vote for an enlightened tyranny, eh?
Can't let stupid people express themselves, can we?
Or Emmeline Pankhurst, terrible time waster that one!
I think you are perhaps missing the point. It's not whether "stupid" people should be able to express themselves its whether they should be given equal weighting.
> Or Emmeline Pankhurst, terrible time waster that one!
what relevance is this?
While the title is somewhat misleading the actual article is more nuanced with the key bit being "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."
Exactly what do you think is wrong with that stance?
The OP's title was quite clear, only opinions that are not "ill-informed" are "entitled", and who will decide this?
Let a thousand flowers bloom, as Chairman Mao used to say, any other road leads to tyranny... and a lot of time wasting obviously but have you anything better to do?
I'm guessing you'd say yes being from an engineering background of some kind...
you mean in all these years you haven't noticed that headlines are often used to grab attention and aren't, necessarily, an accurate representation of the full article and thats when its written by the same person.
Now considering you ranted "This article is typical of the arrogance of teachers and university lecturers" i thought you had got beyond the headline.
I guess not though.
Keep on guessing.
This sort of tripe from teachers is not exactly new though, it comes from a professional distortion, all those years going on to youngsters, professing their god sent wisdom gets to them after a bit and they start to really believe they know better than the plebs.
They should move to France, here the government is dominated by these unworldly clowns.
What about my science question?
> While the title is somewhat misleading the actual article is more nuanced with the key bit being "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."
> Exactly what do you think is wrong with that stance?
Well that's not what having an opinion means, is it? It's also a pretty trivial point.
which is why reading beyond the headline is useful.
not really, many news organisations get confused about it with regards to having "balance" on a story.
Let's put this into some perspective, this is a Philosophy lecturer discussing what he tells his students, he's not advocating a new world order.
He's says "as soon as you walk into this room...you are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” That's pretty much the same message any student of philosophy will get from day one. Within the sphere of philosophical research that seems a pretty fundamental place to start and any philosophy department that lets their students write "in my opinion" in an essay clearly has problems. The lecturer is obviously trying to get this point across. Quite why you have a problem with that I have no idea.
Any academic subject will have it's standards, you may think that some people think that that places them above "the plebs" as you say but I personally didn't get any hint of that kind of opinion in the linked article.
Exactly. The thread title was intended to be attention-grabbing, and it worked. Not particularly surprised by Bruce's response, mind...
> Exactly. The thread title was intended to be attention-grabbing, and it worked. Not particularly surprised by Bruce's response, mind...
Your talent is clearly wasted here, you could get payed for "attention grabbing headlines" by the Sun or the Daily Mail :-)
Personally I don't think it is trivial to imply that only some opinions are entitled to be expressed, which may, and I insist may, not be what the lecturer was saying but is the conclusion that those on this thread who applauded him were drawing. Please feel free to back-pedal though.
> Personally I don't think it is trivial to imply that only some opinions are entitled to be expressed, which may, and I insist may, not be what the lecturer was saying but is the conclusion that those on this thread who applauded him were drawing. Please feel free to back-pedal though.
Perhaps, in the spirit of this thread, you could back your opinion up with some actual evidence of posts which appear to misinterpret the lecturers comments in the way that you object to.
I don't think anyone has advocated anything as black and white as that. It's not that some opinions shouldn't be expressed it's about the context that those opinions are expressed in. A doctor can express any opinion he wants in the pub but there's things as a professional he shouldn't express with a patient.
If you have an opinion that is not backed up by evidence and is merely your personal taste, then there are situations where it is not appropriate to disclose that opinion as if it were backed up by fact. That's what I took from the article and I think that's a pretty reasonable assertion.
> Can you hope for any more influencing power if your opinions are supported by robust evidence?
One would hope so. If one can't persuade other people with robust evidence, there's still some value in knowing about it I think, and if you air the evidence on somewhere like here, other people can see how odd people are if they don't agree, even if the person it's aimed at can't/won't accept it, and it might influence other people as well.
It's always a good thing if evidence is shared.
That's my reckon. (:-))
> Please feel free to back-pedal though.
And why would I want to do that?
> >> Can't let stupid people express themselves, can we?
> I think you are perhaps missing the point. It's not whether "stupid" people should be able to express themselves its whether they should be given equal weighting.
I wanted to say that! ;-)
> The OP's title was quite clear, only opinions that are not "ill-informed" are "entitled", and who will decide this?
Speaking as a stupid and ill-informed person, it's heartening to see someone standing up for my right to be taken seriously on any subject I choose. First off, I'm going to Switzerland to sort out those scientists and their Large Hardon Collider. I don't see why the taxpayer should fund their giant sex machines. Too big for their boots, those people.
Book learning - I don't hold with it.
> Keep on guessing.
> This sort of tripe from teachers is not exactly new though, it comes from a professional distortion, all those years going on to youngsters, professing their god sent wisdom gets to them after a bit and they start to really believe they know better than the plebs.
Here's some god-sent wisdom:
I think any opinion may be expressed, although, of course, most countries have laws that say otherwise. Nobody is obliged to take any opinion seriously though, as I'm sure you've discovered!
> Here's some god-sent wisdom:
> Depressing stuff.
God help us.....
> God help us.....
Is there an "irony" button?
Excellent article and very appropriate for UKC - not that any of the offenders will take heed.
There are some great people on here who know more about climbing than I will ever know, and have taught me loads of useful tips via their posts, but who also insist on going on and on about subjects they blatantly know nothing about. I think you do have to just accept this as a minor flaw and try and see the good side of people.
> Perhaps, in the spirit of this thread, you could back your opinion up with some actual evidence of posts which appear to misinterpret the lecturers comments in the way that you object to.
Just read the early posts, clearly they were referring to applying the prof's rule to forums and further afield, later on an example amongst many:
> In reply to Tall Clare: Be well informed, or be quiet. Great stuff, more please.
If one considers the prof is just suggesting a pedagogical method to be used in his course, ie. opinions must always be backed by arguments then there's obviously nothing to be said outside of a debate about the pedagogy but applying the same ideas more globally questions the whole basis of British democracy, the oldest in the world which has evolved in a this way over centuries so might not be just a random system. Until not that long ago only those considered "competent" had the vote and the "ignorant" masses were excluded - you can find the use of the word in old texts if you look. Lack of ignorance was judged, not surprisingly, by wealth, and gender.
Nowadays we have universal suffrage, no one has to justify their opinions as expressed by voting which is secret. Anyone, capable of arguing or not, is considered equal before the most important bit of opinion using he or she is likely to have to do - vote for a government. Personally I think that this is how it should be, that public opinion goes well beyond what most of us are capable of expressing or even fully understanding. Our opinions come from a huge number of experiences, conversations, snippets of information, even songs poems or whatever. All of which are crystallized at the key moment by choosing one of other of the very limited choices proposed.
Our whole system is based on the notion that every person "has the right to their opinion", and they have absolutely no need to justify it.
I think you're missing the point of the article here. No one here is suggesting that you shouldn't be allowed to vote if you are ill-informed. (Although Chomsky makes a pretty convicing argument for exactly this).
Any choice of government is a valid opinion, because there is no right or wrong goverment. Even a vote for Abu Hamza as prime minister is a valid opinion.
On the other hand, some subjects do have a right or wrong answer. Take the perennial debate about which knot to use when tying in. There are several valid opinions on this and they deserve to be heard. But, if someone suggests using a granny knot then they are simply wrong. This is not a matter of opinion, it's a fact.
It's not a view one hears expressed often though, is it? A better example would be global warming, the PC view is that there is "overwhelming scientific evidence" that it is a reality but a minority view challenges this. Many argue that this is a "matter of fact" too. So should we simply refuse someone the right to hold a contrarian view on global warming if he has no solid arguments to back it up?
you seem to be having trouble grasping the basic argument.
Can they have the opinion, sure.
Should they be given, say, equal time on the news at 10 then no.
> It's not a view one hears expressed often though, is it?
For the same reasons, the general public (and that includes me) are not qualified to decide whether global warming is real or not. That is why you don't let the general public decide what to do about it.
Why not? If they are right it's pretty important.
You are on a slippery slope here, in my opinion.
No you wouldn't, you'd get a massive majority voting for a fig. eight on the basis that bowlines untie themselves apparently and overhands are much weaker (despite there being absolutely 0 chance of one breaking). On that basis the government would ban all knots other than a fig. eight with a stopper knot, you'd have to do it in a secure and coned off area and would only be allowed to top rope.
> Why not? If they are right it's pretty important.
The rather obvious problem is that most people are wrong about most things. If we give them all equal rights to be on news at ten, we wouldn't get much news!
I think the point is that we as a society need to make space for people to express all sorts of bizarre and apparently wrong views. If they are wrong they will get forgotten; if they are right (or show a good sign of being right) they will gradually get more mainstream and accepted and even be broadcast on news at ten.
What we shouldn't do is, as the article implies, tell people their opinion is wrong and therefore shouldn't be heard at all. The weasel words of only allowing opinions that can be argued for presupposes that what is a valid argument is easily identifiable. With some exceptions, I don't suppose wacky medicine pedlers think they have no arguments for their positions. Since philosophers have made no progress on most major arguments for 2000years, I don't think they are very well placed to judge.
> You are on a slippery slope here, in my opinion.
then they can back it up with evidence.
If joe bloggs claims global warming is caused by giant hamsters living on Everest then there is no reason to give them equal air time.
However if joe bloggs produces good evidence then there is a)reason to give them air time and b)get the SAS their cold weather gear for a trip to collect some hamster pelts.
> Is there an "irony" button?
Er, that was the point.
I'm surprised you can't understand the distinction between entitlement to an opinion on an issue of science (or logic) and entitlement to an opinion on politics (or public policy)... as clearly seperated in the article.
> I'm surprised you can't understand the distinction between entitlement to an opinion on an issue of science (or logic) and entitlement to an opinion on politics (or public policy)... as clearly seperated in the article.
I'm sure Bruce understands the distinction. I think he might be attempting to make a point by expressing an opinion which runs counter to the logical argument. Either that or he's a bit thick ;-)
> Either that or he's a bit thick ;-)
A conundrum that has been amusing some of us for a long time ...:-)
I took it to read that you can express an opinion but if you want that opinion to be respected then it should be backed up with evidence or good argument.
I'm all for that.
Almost certainly the latter, I should definitely not have the right to vote, or an opinion. My thickness renders this altogether too dangerous for the world as we (or you rather) know it.
PS. Logical and scientific truth is only marginally more absolute than political truth. Not long ago scientific truth said the world was flat and found many logical arguments to support this. A few days ago one "scientific" report claimed that GMOs were highly dangerous, others say the opposite, not to mention the debate on global warming.
Really? Which scientists said this and when? The ancient Greeks worked out that the Earth was a sphere, and "science" has not really said otherwise since then.
> the opposite, not to mention the debate on global warming.
There is a *vast* difference between settled science (meaning scientific claims that have been examined and tested for centuries or decades and which are accepted by almost all scientists) and a mere one scientific paper. New scientific papers are often wrong or tentative; no-one says that one paper amounts to "scientific truth", a paper is merely putting stuff into the scientific domain for analysis and critique from others.
Probably much longer ago than you might imagine*. By the time anything resembling our modern conception of the scientific method became established it was well known that the Earth wasn't flat.
Regardless of how the news may have reported the studies you bring up, I sincerely doubt that the studies themselves will have made such broad or strong claims as "GMOs are highly dangerous" or "GMOs are safe". Although I haven't followed this particular issue very closely, I find it much more likely that different GMOs have different risks and that some studies have uncovered, examined or quantified some of those risks whilst other studies have looked at different aspects. Do you really think that there should be only one definitive study on each broad umbrella of issues or that each study should cover an entire set of related topics and come to identical conclusions to everything else. We live in a complex and multi-faceted world so the results of science's exploration of it will also be complex, why should we expect anything else? Nothing you've mentioned there is a discredit to science.
Indeed, let's not go there! There's very little to debate.
I'm more interesting on his response on logical truth (vs Political truth: an oxymoron if there ever was one). This must be a windup unless there is some weird leftish faction Ive missed that regard math as a libertarian plot. Logic is almost the definition of truth.
What about jesuits, didn't they use logic?
Whatever, I'm just having a knock at the notion that absolute truth is altogether absolute. To avoid whatshisname's law being applied I avoided mentioning the attitude of the German scientific community in the 30s... I suppose I could give the example of the US scientists who were so keen on eugenics not too long ago, but I can't be bothered to give any proofs or further arguments so please ignore the sentence.
so when using it it should be backed up by the supporting evidence, like the article referenced in the OP suggests?
> Not long ago scientific truth said the world was flat and found many logical arguments to support this.
There is, I believe, an open bet (or if you prefer, an acadamic prize): anyone who can find a reference to a flat earth as a serious hypothesis in a text written between AD500 and AD1500 can claim it
(I think its a fiver, so I'd not suggest giving up the day job)
who needs evidence? I just claim all scientists believe the world is flat and my opinion is as good as anyones.
Its a conspiracy stopping me going on the news and pointing it out.
> community in the 30s... I suppose I could give the example of the US scientists who were so keen
> on eugenics not too long ago, ...
The trouble with this example is that eugenics is not "false", it is undesirable. Eugenics is "true" in the sense that it works, and we know this because all farming is based on eugenics and it works spectacularly well. However, most people find it politically unacceptable and not the sort of thing they want applied to humans.
So this is an example of a *political* error, not a scientific one.
Your right! ALL opinions are valid and deserving of respect.
Jimmy Saville was a great bloke and a shining example to us all.
Fred West was a model citizen and we should all follow his example.
in my opinion David Icke's theories should be given equal time in schools
If these are really your opinions then I'd say you have the right to hold them, even if I don't myself. This would only present a problem if millions all over the country thought the same things.
Fortunately this is unlikely.
To turn it the other way around, how exactly could I prevent you from holding them, take your right away? Seems difficult. When all else is gone our thoughts are all that we have left... which in your case wouldn't seem too much fun, but that's your own problem, no one else's.
PS. I don't think anyone has said all opinions are of equal merit, just that we all have the right to hold them.
Then exactly why did you complain about the original post? Since it doesnt suggest anything like taking the right away just challenges the right to treat them with anything resembling equality in terms of coverage etc given to it.
That is exactly it Bruce. I have a perfect right to hold those opinions but they wouldn't hold much merit in the greater scheme of things. I totally agree with your PS, which is really all I was driving at.
So, for instance, I don't believe that creationism should be given equal weight to evolution in teaching environments but I wouldn't deny anyone their right to hold a creationist view. Some people seem to take the view (not you)that because they hold an opinion it is just as valid as any other which clearly it isn't.
Well to repeat the discussion higher up the thread the OP and other posters are taking an example of how a teacher wants his students to act in his classes with life in general and as the title says, we are entitled to our opinions but not if they are ill informed, a pretty serious limitation - who gets to decide what is ill-informed or not? Well informed people, I suppose?
Or maybe you don't think '"I'm entitled to an opinion" - not if it's ill-informed ' means what it says?
That's a claim not backed up by any sound evidence.
With MMR there was apparently sound scientific evidence that it could cause problems.
I think it is down to the person offering their opinion to show evidence before their opinion can be taken seriously. Just saying I think the earth might be round is an opinion but really you need to back that up somehow other than saying 'Well I just think it is.'
What you say is true up to a point - when elections come along every opinion has the same value, whether valid or not. In the secret of the voting booth all are equal and need to provide absolutely no justification or argument to explain our vote.
And yet it seems to work reasonably well.
again i think you are getting confused about the headline vs content malarkey
I am not sure if you are just trolling or really are incapable of understanding the difference between the two.
There was an initial study which indicated some further research would be worthwhile. This then got blown out of all proportion by people who didnt understand the details.
That particular study then got shown to be dubious however people then ignored all the evidence and people who are making arguments based on zero facts were still given time to rant about it.
> What you say is true up to a point - when elections come along every opinion has the same value, whether valid or not. In the secret of the voting booth all are equal and need to provide absolutely no justification or argument to explain our vote.
> And yet it seems to work reasonably well.
Exactly, it depends upon the context. If it's about a specialism like metal fatigue, or something in the sciences, or something where simple life experience isn't enough to teach somebody what they need to know, the average person's opinion quite probably won't be as valid or worth listening to as the person who has studied that area of expertise.
Where when it comes to politics, because everybody is having to live within a democratic system, everybody has an equal right to be able to say what they'd like to happen within it.
That's what puzzled me with your innitial post about arrogant academics and teachers and the great unwashed, and us being able to do away with democracy. It seems to conflate two different contexts within which having an opinion can have a different significance.
Context as you say, exactly the point; OP takes a subject out of its original context for the sake of discussion within a different system, no assumptions are given with OP so basically it's fire for effect, Brucey (you got to love him) always takes the alternative view, the situation is polarised before the opening volleys have been sighted, but it justifies the bandwidth and if everything is for sale, well the circular logic is fulfilled.
> when elections come along every opinion has the same value,
I disagree all our opinions have different values yet we still have a right to express them in the voting booth. Hence the BNP will still get in in some areas and religion holds sway over American politics.
It does and that always amazes me. May be it is the law of averages which achieves this and it does go spectacularly wrong occasionally as in 1930's Germany but generally everything balances out with extreme views being sidelined
> so when using it it should be backed up by the supporting evidence, like the article referenced in the OP suggests?
Round we go... How do we assess that evidence? No sane person thinks they believe things arbitrarily, everyone thinks they are rational and believe things for good reason. Are we to let philosophy professors decide who can be heard and who can't? Or should we adopt the approach that has worked well for many years (millennia) and let everyone present their ideas as best they can, even if they appear absurd to many, and see where they lead.
The fact is contrarians have often been proved right (even in maths and logic) and this should be acknowledged by allowing a full range of views to be heard. Of course the reverse (I am contrarian and therefore right) is not true.
yes since you still dont seem to get the difference between entitled to opinion and entitled to equal time to share that opinion.
To take the example in the article of the anti-vaccination loons, exactly why are they getting airtime and being treated with equality to those who actually have a clue and understand the evidence?
should make school lessons more entertaining.
This gets better...so incorrect premises make the logic applied to them untrue? Whatever happened to garbage in, garbage out??
I also don't see what constitutes a contrarian is in math. If most peers think something is wrong they are forgeting thier foundations or if more likely they suspect a 'contrarian' hadnt proved their point yet hardly unreasonable.
> This gets better...so incorrect premises make the logic applied to them untrue? Whatever happened to garbage in, garbage out??
Err, that was my point! It's no good saying ever step of this argument is based on unarguable logic if you starting point is wrong. Since every starting point is open to question, so is every argument.
> I also don't see what constitutes a contrarian is in math.
Google for example Ramanujan
> PS. Logical and scientific truth is only marginally more absolute than political truth. Not long ago scientific truth said the world was flat and found many logical arguments to support this. A few days ago one "scientific" report claimed that GMOs were highly dangerous, others say the opposite, not to mention the debate on global warming.
you ought to watch this. It's from Cosmos in the late 70s talking about how it was discovered that the world is round........... with a couple of sticks, a measured distance and an enquiring mind. In 300 BC.
I've no idea what you mean wrt Ramanujan being contrarian. He was largely self taught and his style of work was unusual and he made lots of conjectures (leaving proofs hanging for later researchers) but at heart he applied the same systems as any mathematician and worked at cambridge for a while. Logic remains truth in my view.
I've always worried about this. Eratosthenes assumed that the sun was sufficiently distant and sufficiently large (compared to the earth) that its rays are parallel. A smaller sun, near to a flat earth would create the same effect.
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