This opinion piece on facts contains no facts.
I am annoyed that my middle aged onset ire has come from a seemingly decaying political system.
How lucky the generation were before me, they could be furious at the young people and their punk or drum and bass music or piercings or uncouth manners. I have to cross with the middle-aged and older as they pose, pontificate and strangle language in the hope of being in charge.
Meanwhile, in world where evidence and facts have never been more readily accessible from reputable sources, I told we have made the choice to live in a post-fact world. This isn’t really a post-fact world, there have never been more facts thrown around willy-nilly, it’s just that the facts don’t need to be based on anything factual.
Twenty-four hour news is a boy who cried wolf then lion then lynx then Gigantosaurus. By the time the evidence is in to explain that it wasn’t a wolf at all, it was just a fluffy sleeping bag, the anchor tells us to forget that, they definitely have just had a live report of a giant Boa Constrictor in YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD RIGHT NOW.
I’m sure our cognitive dissonance used to be a little more subtle than this, now it hollers proudly and without dignity.
These are boom times for the Kruger Dunning Effect.
It doesn’t matter how you accrued your facts, what repeatable experiments you used, how many sources confirm it, they don’t mean diddley squat if they get in the way of your required ego inflating, tribal boosting, or paranoid, belief. The zealot somehow views themselves as a humble fundamentalist who happens to have the truth, while the sceptic becomes arrogant for suggesting a need for doubt and a body of evidence.
It is hard to conquer anecdote. Anecdotes stick in the way that graphs don’t.
“Let me tell you a story” is far more successful than “let me explain the X curve and the Y curve and then enlarge on the statistical scattering”. I know this is true, someone told a friend of a friend at the national graph convention, the one where that Boa Constrictor escaped.
Our fears are manufactured for ratings and political gain. Nothing beats the “it’s the strangers what done it” story. Actual evidence based facts are now seen as some sort of cheat, the last refuge of a scoundrel. “I know it’s true, it’s feeling I’ve got in my guts”, but as we know, guts are full of shit, too. The impenetrable language barrier that can be seen between the fundamentally religious and the hot-headed atheist, or the anti-vaxxer versus the epidemiologist, seems to have engulfed an enormous swathe of discourse. The opposition don’t merely become a group with differing ideas, they become villainous. Those caught out by a body of evidence become twitchy and gimlet eyed, muttering with acidic fear, “oh, I know you, you people…with your evidence…”. Soon the academics, the teachers, and the researchers will be denounced as pod people. With so much information out there, it might imagine we would understand it was increasingly necessary to be doubtful, though we seem to have become true believers in whatever we want to believe instead. Mind you, I may be basing that on what I saw on the news today, or maybe yesterday, I can’t be sure.
I spent the morning on a balcony in Singapore, listening to Brian Cox explain his upcoming talks.
In this discussion about the shape and structure of the universe, there is a thick trail of experiment, observation and mathematics. Hubble and Lemâitre would not be remembered now if their work had solely relied on “this funny feeling I have about the universe” and just published a bunch of crayon drawings of things that I had imagined in their head. The ideas had to leave their heads and work out ways of scrutinising and testing them and then being able to share these ideas in a comprehensible manner to others.
As we weigh ourselves down with more and more opinions, we seem to have become worse and worse at explaining why we believe what we believe. This may be okay for café conversations, but I’m not sure it spells success for retaining a civilisation.
The latest Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles, with Sarah Kendall, is HERE (plus all the previous podcasts and reading lists.)