Opinions vs scientific facts – telling it like I think it is

Opinions vs scientific facts – telling it like I think it is

I’ve decided to try something new on this blog. I want to express my opinions about various topics that interest me.

When I write, I usually stick to scientific fact. Because I can be rather blunt about a scientific topic, for example, stating that evolution is a fact, it may sound like I’m saying “my opinion is that evolution is a fact.”

No. The fact of evolution is supported by over a century’s worth of evidence. It’s not subject to debate. It’s not subject to an opinion. It is what it is, a fact.

On the other hand, an opinion is a preference for or judgment of something.

My favorite color is blue or green, depends on the day. I think that mint and mushrooms taste horrible, and I can’t imagine what they’d taste like together. Doctor Who is boring. Soccer is even more boring to the point of inducing depression. These are all opinions, meaning that evidence, especially the scientific kind, probably could not be found to support them. Except for soccer. I know there’s evidence somewhere that supports my beliefs.

Opinions may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general populations but they all have one thing in common – they cannot be verified by evidence, except that I believe them.

Scientific facts

 

When I write about scientific facts, I spend hours searching and actually reading sources (there’s something novel, because I have an opinion that most people don’t read beyond headlines). I see where the evidence leads me. Of course, I’m not going to spend a lifetime reading every article about evolution, because there must be millions of articles published about it. The scientific consensus on evolution is well established, and who am I to provide any evidence contradicting it. I’m not an arrogant narcissist who thinks their rhetoric contradicts said fact.

There are many other areas of science that are factual:

  • Human caused climate change. A fact.
  • Safety and effectiveness of vaccines. A fact.
  • The earth is over 4.5 billion years old. A fact.
  • Safety of GMO foods. A fact.
  • MSG doesn’t do anything to humans. A fact.
  • Gravity causes large objects to move to each other. A fact.

I could go on and on and on. There are literally thousands of scientific facts.

But what makes a scientific fact?  A fact, in science, means data, or evidence. It does not state absolute certainty, but that the data or evidence are confirmed to such a level that it would be ridiculous to withhold support of such a fact.

Because they sometimes get confused, a scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of such facts. In other words, the theory explains to us how the facts became facts.

The facts of evolution come from observational evidence of current processes, from imperfections in organisms recording historical common descent, and from transitions in the fossil record (yes there are millions of transitional fossils, despite what creationists babble on about). Theories of evolution provide a provisional explanation for these facts.

Here’s one more thing about scientific facts. You do not get to stand by the sidelines and pontificate about the validity of these facts. You do not get to say “that’s wrong.”

Well, we do have free speech in the USA, so go for it, say climate change is wrong. Or a conspiracy. Or a lie. Or that it’s snowing, so it’s wrong. Or whatever you want. But without the evidence of equivalent quality AND quantity derived from climate change science, you’d be wrong.

Opinions vs scientific facts

 

So what are opinions vs scientific facts – how can we tell?

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion about something that cannot be objectively and scientifically supported. In fact, in the scientific method, an opinion could be like a hypothesis, and through experimentation, one could conceivably turn an opinion into  fact. But don’t conflate them.

Soccer is boring to me, but that’s subjective. Maybe it’s boring to me because of the low scores, or the fake injuries, or it is foreign (literally and culturally). But, I’m smart enough to know that objectively, someone could say that baseball is boring. Or ice hockey. Or any other sport. Everyone has an opinion about soccer, and all of those opinions are equally correct and equally wrong.

The problem with opinions arise when people conflate their opinions, which they think are facts, with misconceptions. If you have the opinion that vaccines cause autism, you are expressing you are simply wrong, it is not an opinion. You are factually and objectively wrong.

Even if you believe that your opinion is right, does not make it so. It’s still wrong. And just because you can troll the internet finding others who share that misconception, again does not move it into the realm of fact, it merely means you’ve found like-minded people who are also wrong. Your wrong opinion is still wrong, and it has no validity. None.

In a recent episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, he referenced a Gallup poll showing one in four Americans believe climate change isn’t real:

Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”

If 25% of Americans believe climate change isn’t real, really, who does give a shit? They are wrong, period, end of story.

If 10% of Americans think that vaccines cause autism, who gives a shit? The real evidence says that they are wrong, but worse yet, like the climate change deniers, they influence the discussions with opinions that are simply wrong. How much time do we spend discussing vaccines and autism, or the fact of climate change, with deniers, when we need to vaccinate children and do something about stopping the environmental disaster of climate change?

One more thing. Science doesn’t have opinions. It’s a method to provide evidence which supports or refutes a hypothesis. It’s data, and data only. So science doesn’t have an opinion about climate change, it has overwhelming evidence that man causes climate change. Science does not have an opinion about vaccines, it has overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective.

Oh one more thing after that. Because it has no opinions, there are no debates (in a general sense, sometimes there’s debate about data and conclusions from data). Once there’s a scientific consensus, the debate is over. Don’t conflate political debate with scientific debate. Climate change is settled and is a fact.

What’s this got to do with this blog?

 

Well, I want to start writing about things that may not be supported by evidence. My opinions. Now, my opinions will never be about issues that are scientifically supported facts. You’ll never read that I have an “opinion” that sasquatch is real. Or aliens crashed in Roswell, NM. Or that ghosts visit me at night. Those have been scientifically debunked, or there’s no evidence supporting their existence.

Really, you think that a giant ape can hide from humans for thousands of years? Leave no trace? No fossils?

I will write about my opinions about science and medicine related topics. I may or may not link to studies, because, I’m writing an opinion. For example, I might write that homeopaths are thieves that do harm to people who are tricked by the lies of homeopathy. Those charlatans should be arrested. That’s an opinion.

But homeopathy is just water, and water can quench your thirst but not cure cancer. That’s not an opinion. That’s a scientific fact.

Going forward, you’ll easily spot when I’m telling you an opinion. The title will say Opinion. Or Point of View. Or something similar.

For example, “Opinion–let’s arrest all homeopaths” could be the title of a blog post. We all know the fact that homeopathy is quackery, but it’s my opinion that we should arrest them. That could be a harsh article.

I hope you enjoy this series. If you don’t, beat me up in the comments. If you don’t like my opinion, beat me up in the comments.

One more thing. There will be a full opinion piece on soccer. That will be fun. I know, not science, but really, what’s more controversial than the American loathing of soccer. Except when American men or women are in the World Cup.

Have a great day.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!
  • Pingback: Racism sucks and isn't scientific – opinion()

  • Pingback: Opinion – anti-vaccination cult hates autistic children()

  • Pingback: Opinion – science denial harms humanity()

  • Sandy Perlmutter

    I can’t wait to hear your opinion on guns and what we should do about them.

    And “American cheese”.

    Yes, homeopaths belong in jail, with all the other sociopaths.

    Did you catch the anti-vaccination drivel on the latest Republican debate? Letting those oafs have opinions about medical subjects on prime time TV is criminal.

  • Pingback: Honey and high fructose corn syrup – no health differences()

  • Catte

    Good blog, found via your (much appreciated) posts at DKos

  • Pingback: Opinion – vaccine deniers annoy the shit out of me()

  • Pipercat

    I noticed that you are getting those dreadful hypens in the body of your text. Here’s a gift:

    Put this in your child theme style.css under body:

    body {
    background: white;
    word-wrap: normal;
    — these lines below—
    -ms-word-wrap: normal;
    -webkit-hyphens: none;
    -moz-hyphens: none;
    -ms-hyphens: none;
    hyphens: none;

    }

    Worked for me. Took some doing to find this. Remember to back up your style.css and the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

    Oh, like the piece too!

    • Sandy Perlmutter

      Wow, valuable info!

  • Ben Fairbanks

    Great post. I look forward to reading your informed opinions. Two things:
    1) I think soccer would be a lot more exciting if they got rid of the goalies. Or just applied the same, “no hands” rule to them.
    2) “If 25% of Americans believe climate change isn’t real, really, who does give a shit?” Yeah, reality isn’t determined by popular sentiment. But politics is. I know that your point is that delusions of any percentage of the public has no bearing on science, but please forgive me for taking this chance to despair in our collective lack of education. We can’t ignore the ignorance of the electorate because they elect the idiots who write and execute the laws. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a civil, economic and scientific literacy requirement for voter registration? Unfortunately, literacy tests, with their storied history as a tool for racial disenfranchisement, and their potential for abuse will never be a reality (maybe we could require literacy tests for the candidates?). And so when you and Oliver ask, “who does give a shit?” Well, unfortunately, we all have to.

    Again, looking forward to your posts.