>> Thursday, September 10, 2009
I wrote a comment on a left-leaning blog, First Door on the Left, noting a rather interesting exercise done by the New York Times today regarding the President's speech on healthcare reform last night.
Now, ignoring the subject of the speech or politics in general for a moment - because most of you know how I feel on these subjects any way - but I wanted to stress the significance of the diversity of responses to the speech. All of them seemed to claim they knew what the President was "really" saying, and yet the diversity and diametrically opposed nature of much of what was used to describe his intents were, well, shocking.
My comment ended with: "This article, in my opinion, emphasizes why relying on any opinion giver to give you an objective read on a topic is all but impossible. And why, if you want to make an informed decision, you’re going to have to go to the sources and think for your freaking self."
And that's what I want to talk about.
People can believe and think as they want, but it takes a certain amount of nerve to think you have a better grasp on what someone means or thinks or intends than the speaker himself or herself. Actually, it takes a bit of nerve to give the implication of anything - scientific results, guilt in a criminal case, gossip, etc. without making clear the distinction between the facts in the case and one's opinion. But people do that. What bothers me is that other people will - without listening to the original - take that interpretation of whatever with more trust than the original.
Politics is just one of many venues where this is common, but it happens in many places. People get on a blog and complain that so and so got off in a criminal case. OK, maybe someone did, but I'd be careful about taking that assertion at face value without knowing the facts of the case, and I would remember that the jury got the facts in this case not filtered by the media or anything else. Sometimes, I've agreed with the angry blogger or whatever, but only after I've checked the facts myself (such as the case with OJ Simpson). Many times, I see that much of the cited evidence was spurious or ambiguous or that a heinous crime was crying out for someone to blame. Now, I might have a gut reaction to something, think something was true, might even express my opinion, but I do know there's always a chance that a difference exists between what I thought was true and reality.
It happens in science all the time. Some media mogul (or, at least as often, someone with an agenda) puts a slant on scientific results oftentime completely counter to the actual lessons learned from the research. However, if the scientists who created this research complain or object, they are ignored, dismissed or belittled. Now, I tend to give science credence for several reasons, not the least of which is that I'm one of them and believe most of us take our scientific ethics pretty freaking seriously. But, even if I didn't, I also know that scientists are required to show their work and that, if I have questions, concerns or don't agree, I can check it out myself.
But we can do the same. We can find out information on criminal cases or opinions by qualified experts. We can listen to the actual speeches people make or read the text of the actual reports or bills. And, using that information, we can make up our own minds, decide for our own selves what we believe and what we don't, what is the truth and what is speculative. We can do our own thinking instead of having someone do it for us.
And we can figure out whose opinions we should stop trusting.
I know for a fact, I'm much more likely to take an opinion seriously if they include links to the source. It's one reason I still use Wikipedia routinely. It's one reason why snopes is the first place I check if someone forwards some "shocking" something to me via email. In both cases, I've followed the source material, followed the links and done my own reading (and, usually, they are both in excellent sync with the sources). And, if I find an article or story that's short on sources (or objective sources), I know to take those postings with a grain of salt.
Remember, when trying to learn the truth in any situation, get sources as far up the chain as you can is the best way to obtain corrupted data. And, when evaluating, garbage in, garbage out.
When someone lies to you, shame on them. When you cough up lies, well, you haven't done your homework. And that's your fault.