I was thinking the other day about how we teach our kids to distinguish between fact and opinion. For example, consider the following statement:
Global warming is a fact.
Is this a statement of fact or a statement of opinion? Some might say, “Regardless of whether or not global warming is real, this statement is an opinion because the writer is only expressing his or her belief that global warming is a fact.” Is this a legitimate answer? How can we tell?
These are vital questions because we as a nation are basing significant policy decisions on arguments like the above. No matter how many scientists tell us about global warming, and no matter how much evidence they cite, their warnings are swept under the rug on the grounds that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Or in other words, if I don’t like what you’re saying, I’m under no obligation to believe it.
There’s an important distinction here that people are failing to make. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that does not mean everyone is entitled to their own truth. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that doesn’t mean that every opinion is correct, even for the person expressing it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that only means you can be wrong if you want to.
The statement “Global warming is real” is a statement of fact, and we can tell that by examining the evidence. And by “evidence,” I don’t mean “Our survey said” or “I heard on Rush Limbaugh” or even “We report, you decide.” Looking at the evidence means you consider the statement, and then determine logically and scientifically what verifiable real-world consequences ought to exist if the statement is true, and then see whether or not those consequences can be verified.
In the case of climate change, those consequences are many, and well-documented. We call the statement “Global warming is real” a statement of fact because our observations are most consistent with the consequences that would result from real global warming. It has earned the right to be called a statement of fact, and not just an opinion.
All statements, perhaps, start out as statements of opinion, but genuine statements of fact go beyond that by being both verifiable and verified. And once they achieve that status, contrary statements also become something other than opinion. They become lies, just like any other statements contrary to the facts.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not all opinions are true. And once the evidence is in, it’s no longer a question of opinion. Each of us must choose whether to believe the truth or to believe the lie. Choose freely, but choose wisely. If you choose to believe the lie, you’re swindling yourself. And it’s going to cost you.