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24 February 2012

Shut Up and Listen to the Data!

My last post was about the problems inherent to claims-making in public discourse. Further reflection has led me to a conclusion about public discourse itself. Do we really need to have a dialogue around claims that are verifiable? If a claim is empirically testable, what is there to discuss? All that is needed is the exposition of evidence. Discourse, therefore, only happens in two circumstances: when contradictory untestable claims are made or when discussants are unaware of falsifying evidence. (A third, and important, case could be made for those instances when there is evidence for contradictory claims, but in those cases, further evidence should be able to ultimately determine which claim is actually valid.)

I think there are three social facts that might be expanding the problematic nature of public discourse:
  1. Democracy tends to make all opinions seem equally valid when, in fact, they are not.
  2. The right to free speech allows us all to say whatever we want, but that doesn't mean that everything we all say is correct.
  3. The long term increase in individualism disconnects us from others and from groups that might force us to entertain competing claims.
In no way am I making an argument against democracy or free speech. We do, however, need to be vigilant about the unintended consequences of these factors. Overall, I know that I am being rather simplistic, but the point is that we're having unproductive discussions in unproductive ways.

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