An important distinction


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.

Comments

  1. ericblair says

    “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion…”

    I disagree, and the most irascible person alive, Harlan Ellison, says it much better than I ever could:

    “Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel folks.”

    — Harlan Ellison

    • bmiller says

      While I agree with this post (and the irascible Harlan), we do have to be wary of one thing though: An appeal to authority. We all do this…we have to because there is no way we can be informed about everything in any meaningful way!

      And selecting our authority may be the most difficult and challenging this we do.

      Because Mr. Ellison is only partly correct. There is really no way you or I can become definitively “informed” about climate science. It is a specialized field that requires years of study to truly understand. This reality gives us medical doctors, engineers, and scientists in other, unrelated fields opining on climate change and emitting base nonsense.

  2. eddiejones says

    In the weird world of “denial”, opinion counts as evidence. And actual evidence can easily be refuted by saying “… that doesn’t prove anything.” Climate change denial, young earthism, and creationism are easy when you still have people who maintain that cigarette smoking has never been proven to be harmful.

  3. forestdragon says

    I’m pretty damn certain that climate change/global warming is real due to the difference between two photos of the Alaskan ice fields taken twenty years apart when my elderly parents were taking cruises – the later photo showed a shocking shrinkage.

    But there are still fools out there cheerfully willing to be the frog in the pot of slowly-heating-to-boiling water.

  4. John Morales says

    Deacon,

    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?

    There is no dichotomy; it can be both simultaneously, so obviously it’s a legitimate (if incomplete) answer.

    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.

    As noted above, it’s not a dichotomy. This proposition clearly reaches or exceeds the threshold degree of warrant which suffices for you to opine it has reached the status of fact.

    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.

    I would have preferred it had you written ‘falsehoods’ rather than “lies”.

  5. sailor1031 says

    “global warming is a fact”. Yes it is. Global cooling is also a fact – think ice age. The truth, or otherwise, depends on when.

Leave a Reply to eddiejones Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *