Skip to main content

You are not entitled to your opinion

Thanks to Prof. Joe Barranco for linking to an excellent, short article called No, You Are Not Entitled to Your Option. The author nicely articulates a feeling I've had for a while: "You are not entitled to your opinion, you are only entitled to what you can argue for."

This is something that is almost trivial when it comes to scientific beliefs among scientists. No one would ever give a colloquium talk and say, "Well, it's my opinion that the Big Bang never happened. I know everyone else says otherwise, and I know there's tons of evidence in support of it and that many different areas of science rest on the truth of an expanding universe. But, look, I just feel that it's not true, and I'm entitled to my opinion." Nope. Sorry. It doesn't work that way.

For anyone to challenge something like the Big Bang---or even something actually debatable, such as whether the initial mass function of stars is universal or not---they would need to present evidence to back that belief. This is obvious. It's just good science.

However, I find it interesting that even scientists fall victim to the mentality of "well, I'm entitled to my opinion" when it comes to non-science issues, such as teaching methodology or whether certain traditions should change or why students behave certain ways.

And, of course, we see this mentality quite a bit among politicians, particularly on one side of the aisle, when it comes to their level of belief in certain science-based conclusions about our world. Take the climate-change deniers, anti-evolutionists on the Texas and Kansas school boards, or anti-vax people who think that vaccines cause autism. As stated in the article

So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion? 
If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven. 
This isn't just elitist, high-minded academic thinking. Adhering to the rule of entitlement to only opinions you can defend is the only way that we can reach sound conclusions about our world. There are truths out there. The world does, in fact, work a certain way, and we can figure this out. But only if we are to be intellectually honest and avoid sloppy thinking that allows us to wiggle out of uncomfortable challenges of our beliefs. I'm saying this to myself as much as preaching to the choir that is my audience :)


Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:

It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…