Opinions...Everybody Has One

Phil Anderson

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sociologist and former U.S. Senator.

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.” Bertrand Russell, British historian

“Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John F. Kennedy  Stephen Colbert, comedian.

Opinions are important in a democracy. We need people to have opinions and to express those opinions to their elected officials. But not all opinions are created equal. Some opinions are based on sound reasoning, knowledge, or experience. Others are based on superstition, misinformation, and religious or political dogma. In a democratic society certainly everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But we do not have to give equal credence to the opinions of the ill informed. And we should not run our society based on these misguided, misinformed, poorly thought out opinions.

It should be obvious that public policy needs to be guided by the best available information. Policy that ignores documented knowledge (generally known as “facts”) can only lead to disaster for the economy and future of our country. But increasingly, established science, research, and even rational thought are being replaced by “alternative facts.” Campaign bluster, unsubstantiated opinion, blind ideology, and Medieval religious dogma are guiding too many public policy decisions.

Many people are resisting this trend. This past weekend hundreds of thousands came together in 600 cities across the country in a “March for Science.” They were advocating respect for science. They spoke out against proposed, shortsighted cuts to science funding. They advocated for factual, evidence based public policy. One thousand gathered in Duluth. Minneapolis had 10,000 at the march. Milwaukee had 2000 participants. Madison had over 5000.

Our modern world is the result of scientific achievement. Our homes, workplaces, and communities are filled with technology created by scientific knowledge. We live longer, eat better, survive diseases, and have more comfortable lives because of science. As one marcher's sign pointed out, “no science... no beer.”

These marches began as a reaction to the current administration's $54 billion cuts to all domestic spending including science, research, and education. The cuts include $5.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health and $2.4 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency. Locally the Great Lakes Initiative and the Sea Grant programs are slated for elimination. But this debate is about more than budget cuts. It is about the importance of science in our lives, our economy, and our future. It's about the need to have evidence based public policy. The current wrecking crews in Washington (and Madison) do not understand this. Or, they do not want to understand because facts get in the way of their ideological agendas. They persist in making up their own reality. The list of examples is lengthy.

The current administration insists crime is increasing despite years of evidence that violent crime is declining in most cities. They continue to accuse illegal immigrants of being criminals despite evidence that immigrants, legal and illegal, are no more likely to commit crime than anyone else.

Immigrants are enemy number one despite all the evidence that they are important to our economy. CNN Money reports that 1500 economists sent a letter to Congress opposing the current administration's immigration policies as a “mistake” and bad for the economy.

Anyone with half a brain knows that walls do not work. They will not prevent illegal immigration but will cost a lot of public money that will end up in the pockets of private contractors.

This administration believes in coal mining despite evidence that it is economically not competitive with natural gas and renewable energy. The same is true for nuclear power. New nuclear power plants are not being built because they are not economically viable. Private insurance companies won't insure the risk and the federal government props up the industry by assuming this risk.

They support pipelines but clean energy creates more jobs than pipelines.

Education spending fuels more economic growth than military spending but they are cutting education and increasing Pentagon spending.

They insist on gutting “regulation.” But centuries of historical experience demonstrate that government oversight of business and industry is essential to the economy and public well being. A classic example is the Clinton administration repealing banking laws and allowing the excessive, fraudulent speculation that led to the 2008 financial meltdown.

And then there is climate change. They believe it is a hoax despite all the well documented scientific evidence from all over the world. This not only denies the science but is simply poor risk management. I am reminded of the bumper sticker, “When you have a massive spill of solar energy...you call it a good day.” There is no downside to acting to reduce carbon emissions. There is no problem with conserving energy, developing, green technologies, and saving fossil fuels for uses more important than driving to the mall. There are many downsides to continuing to our current consumption practices. Rational policy would embrace green technologies rather than clinging to old fossil fuel technologies.

This Saturday people will again stand up for evidence based public policy. As part of a world wide effort, people will be marching to support action on climate change. It starts a Lief Erickson Park at 1:00 PM. Come out to express you opinion and to support reasonable action.

Reasonable people can reach different conclusions from the same set of facts. But what is occurring in our country is the wholesale disregard for facts by our leadership. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. “Alternative facts” do not serve us well.