Opinions should be supported by facts

Jun 27th, 2009 | By | Category: Blogs, Opinions

by Mike Courson

We’ve all heard what opinions are like. Everyone has one and they all stink! Actually, not all of them do, and it’s time to debunk the myth that “well that’s just your opinion.”

Years ago in school, we had an activity where we were given an unimportant event, say the arrival of the blue M&M, and asked what we thought about it. We could not say we did not care. The activity must have worked because I have more opinions than I know what to do with.

A good opinion is just an extension of the scientific method. Reasonable people can look at a situation, take the applicable facts, and make some kind of conclusion—often times an opinion because a degree of certainty is lacking, and a degree of personality is injected in its place.

Bad opinions have no real basis. These are often personal, inflammatory attacks because a solid conclusion cannot be reached with known facts. Think Rush Limbaugh attacking Michael J. Fox and his Parkinson’s disease. Think Ann Coulter attacking 9/11 widows. Think Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck warning us of the dangers of Obama’s presidency. There is never any fact, just comments that evoke visceral reaction from those who agree and disagree. Frankly, it is this type of opinion that gives all opinions a bad name.

Opinions are different than preferences. Preferences really do not require a factual basis. My opinion is that preferences are often mistaken for opinions for this reason. I may enjoy a certain type of food, but I do not have the empirical data to convince others they should also like it. Sexual preference can certainly be included in this group. While many have the opinion that sexual preference is up to the individual, no one has ever provided real evidence for why they feel what they feel and not the other way. It simply is what it is and we never even think about it.

Finally, both the truth and opinions are tied to perception. Imagine someone striking another person. A police officer arrives and wants just the facts, ma’am. To one witness, the truth is the victim was punched. Another victim is positive the victim was slapped. If I were a juror, the difference between a punch and slap could mean a lot in a courtroom.

What if that officer took it upon himself to make the decision in his report? In my opinion, it would be irresponsible to specify whether the victim was slapped or punched. That opinion is based on precision of language. The officer should say the victim was “struck,” and leave the rest to a jury to decide the severity of the blow.

In a recent friendly debate with a friend, he told me the difference between he and I was that he knew he was right, and I only thought I was right. And I said right, just like all those people who knew they were right but later found out they were wrong. This concept is featured in the movie “Doubt,” where a woman makes a decision with no evidence, and has to live with her decision, right or wrong.

I have always found it interesting that I fall in the category of someone knowledgeable and admirable when I agree with someone, but when I disagree with that same person, the difference becomes a matter of opinion. But is it really?

I generally do not pull opinions out of thin air—those are preferences—so if I have an opinion, I have probably done some sort of research. If I think my research and the logic involved are better than what the other side offers, a disagreement ensues. That is not a matter of differing opinions. That is a matter of one side making more sense than the other, and me changing my mind if need be to accommodate the more logical idea. To hold to the idea that does not make sense just because it feels good or is what I know best is irresponsible. At best, it should be reduced to a preference and left at that.

It is never easy to offer an unpopular idea to a bunch of strangers, or even to loved ones. There is always the very real chance of rejection. But isn’t that the point of education? Free speech? Freedom of thought? Imagine a college classroom where whatever the instructor says is accepted as absolute truth. Nonsense! Yet the student who asks questions is looked down upon at least by his peers, if not also his instructor. I’ve always thought if the side making the claim is so sure of itself, it should be able to handle questions without resorting to personal attacks. As mentioned earlier, that usually means it lacks the facts to back the opinion.

So my opinion is that an opinion is not inflammatory merely because it is unpopular. Might has never made right, and it is those arguing against the majority that often affect the greatest change on society. Sadly, those arguments are often only heard after some form of tragedy. That, in my opinion, is no way to run a free society.

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2 comments
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  1. Opinions are generally perspective based conclusions, which should be developed by arguments, supported by facts

  2. “Think Rush Limbaugh attacking Michael J. Fox and his Parkinson’s disease. Think Ann Coulter attacking 9/11 widows. Think Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck warning us of the dangers of Obama’s presidency.” And in nearly the same breath, “But isn’t that the point of education? Free speech? Freedom of thought?” You suggest that we deny those freedoms to Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and Beck.

    Maybe those are freedoms when they are convenient to you.