13 July 2010

Facts are dangerous things

Especially when you don't have any.

I run into this all the time. Political debates circle around a tendency for one side to possess a set of empirical data it thinks is valid and another side with sometimes objectively false data points that it clings to like a drowning man. And sometimes both sides don't know what they are talking about (very common with economics or ethical issues). I try to avoid this by confronting myself as best I can with alternative views. I read some more "liberal" economists or bloggers (esp. Krugman), though I find ways to disagree with them and think them silly often. I read some very high end libertarians who have some of their own wacky ideas about themselves (cryonics, children are great, etc). And I occasionally still get exposed, not by accident, to some social conservative viewpoints. Though these have the quality of being so remarkably similar to each other that I may as well have read the playbook by this point. Part of this is that I may know what the other side is thinking and perhaps why. For example I understand the raw argument against abortion, even though I think that it lacks an appropriate amount of nuance (ie, fails to understand or engage its opposing argument at all) and often flushes too many alternatives out with it in its practical form. That only happens if I have tried to engage the ideas being used, and the facts as they are understood. If the facts are backwards and not a function of reality, I let people know this, but it does little to change their minds, it simply makes it clear why I disagree. I saw argument like this going on during health care debates, and continuing during things like Afghanistan, oil spills, and even concerning ordinary people. It does not occur to people, even me, to admit the possibility of wrongness. I try to avoid it by collecting and amassing data to support the conclusion and to examine data that might refute a hypothesis, or alter it. I don't think most people have the time or inclination to do this. So very often my data or argument is written off, generally without even consideration.

I think I should just open a discussion with "have you ever considered the possibility you are wrong?". If yes, then we can talk. If no, then shut the fuck up because you don't know what you are talking about.
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