Those of you familiar with my writings will recall that a little over a year ago, I published an article on the nature of anti-intellectualism. Among the five characteristics I discussed, one such characteristic deserves further attention: the belief that personal opinions hold equal or greater weight compared to systemic research and data. This fallacy has become more prevalent with the exponential rise in social media platforms. In these arenas of constant information flow, the ability to have an opinion about anything has lead many folks to believe that they can be an expert on just about everything.
Within this realm, the tools of logic, reason, and research are easily replaced by the gut reaction. And in a world of 140-character blurbs, status updates, picture memes and YouTube videos, the “truth” can easily become whatever you say loudly enough, often enough, and forcefully enough.
Ironically, in this world, actual experts – who have the necessary years of training and schooling in their respective fields – are often targets of distrust and scorn. They are seen as aloof elites who have no connection to the real world. Their systemic research and theoretical frameworks are often dismissed as just one more opinion to add to the mix.
And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is where this type of anti-intellectualism becomes particularly insidious.
The belief that personal opinions hold equal weight to research and data is based on two false premises: (A) the idea that every opinion is equally valid; and (B) the misguided notion that opinions and theories are exactly the same thing. Simply put, having the “right to your opinion” does not translate into “your opinion is always right.”
Sure, you are free to believe whatever it is you want to believe. But opinions can arise out of a vacuum, without any examination for meaning and justification. Conversely, scientific theories are systematic, heavily grounded in previous research, verifiable, and based on an accumulation of knowledge. More importantly, scientific theories can be systematically tested, verified, replicated, and generalized – all of which add to the validity of the theoretical framework.
Yet, in the realm of social media, many individuals use their platforms to spew whatever misinformation they so desire. If that misinformation is presented loudly and forcefully enough, it can be digested as truth, even in the presence of mountains of contradictory data.
Herein lies another issue: opinions that are easily debunked by systemic research are no longer opinions, they are falsehoods. And falsehoods are characterized by an extra degree of insidiousness, for they lay the groundwork for the creation of false narratives. In this world of created truths, our president can be a radical Muslim with a hidden agenda to destroy the country, Mexican migrant workers can be the primary reason for the existence of economic hardship, and the poor are just lazy folks who lack work ethic.
As citizens of this world, we bear an obligation to use our vast ability to spread information in a manner that instead fosters awareness, compassion, empathy, intellect and social consciousness.