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Facts, Opinions, and the Pew Research Center’s Pseudoscience

Hopefully you can’t separate facts from opinions…

Do you remember those grade school exercises where you had to divide a bunch of statements into facts and opinions? The trick to getting an ‘A’ was easy: if a statement could be looked up in a reference book or checked by simple observation—e.g., “Topeka is in Kansas,” “An isosceles triangle has two sides of equal length,” “My sneakers are white,”—you labeled it a fact (even if it was false!); otherwise it was an opinion.

At the time, I gave the exercises little thought, but they should have bothered me. I certainly considered “Hitler was evil,” “Catherine Bach is beautiful,” “Johnny Carson is funny,” and “The food in the school cafeteria is lousy” to all be facts, though none of them could be checked in reference books. On the other hand, “Elvis is alive and working at a Denny’s in Tucson” could be checked, but that didn’t seem like a fact to me.

It wasn’t until my first formal logic class that I thought about those exercises critically. In logic, all statements are claims about the world. Facts are accurate statements (though many facts will never be known because no one will ever prove their accuracy—or even conceive of them), while opinions are expressed statements that are believed to be true but may or may not be facts. “Topeka is in Kansas” is a fact and is an opinion held by many people, while “Topeka is in Virginia” is neither a fact nor—as far as I know—an opinion (because I don’t know anyone who believes that).

Normative and subjective statements can also be facts and opinions, though it can be argued that many of them are vague. For instance, “The food in the school cafeteria is lousy” may be better understood as “Most people dislike the food in the cafeteria.” >>

What do you think?

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Posted by Copperz

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