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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 :)


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