Be informed, not just opinionated

Phil Anderson

We recently drove through western Wisconsin. It was disturbing how many Trump yard signs were still being displayed. This is happening all over Douglas county as well. I saw one that was obviously newly erected. It wasn’t enough to leave the old ones up to rot.

Recent polls show large numbers of people still do not accept the presidential election results. A CNN poll found that 3 in 10 Americans think Biden didn’t legitimately win, despite there being zero evidence for this claim. More alarmingly, 20 percent believe THERE IS EVIDENCE OF FRAUD even though numerous recounts, court cases, and assertions by state election officials prove the opposite. Polls say HALF of Republicans believe these lies.

This is disturbing because it is a growing trend and it indicates disintegration of civil society. Democracy can not function without informed citizens. I wrote about this in 2017 (“Opinions...Everybody Has One”). This article is an update.

“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
“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all.” 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.

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. So the anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-climate change misinformation being propagated by the far right is very dangerous and self defeating. Science and accepted knowledge is important to our lives, our economy, and our future. We must have evidence based public policy.

The current anti-evidence Republicans 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.

• They insist 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.
• 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.
• They believe 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 government “regulation.” But centuries of historical experience demonstrate that government oversight of business and industry is essential to the economy and public well being.
• They have opposed common sense pandemic control efforts recommended by medical experts. This is simply irresponsible behavior from a public official.

Then there is climate change. Republicans 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.

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 our current excessive consumption. Rational policy would embrace green technologies rather than clinging to old fossil fuel technologies.

I am reminded of the bumper sticker, “When you have a massive spill of solar call it a good day.”

You may think politics is dirty and you don’t want to get involved. But politics is the way we organize and run our society. Whether you like it or not, POLITICS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU WHETHER YOU ARE INVOLVED OR NOT. You don’t have to be political junkie, but you do need to pay attention to what is going on. This involves learning about the issues (not just swallowing the TV sound bites) and thinking about the real impact on you and your community. Now more than ever ordinary citizens getting involved is critical not only to their own well being but to the survival of our country.

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 half the country. This is a recipe for disaster. Everyone must be informed and not just opinionated.