Opinions…Everybody Has One

“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.

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.

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.