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Old 12-19-2013, 09:48 PM
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BacteriumFendYoke BacteriumFendYoke is offline
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Location: Kent, United Kingdom
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Default The 'Validity of Opinion'

Perhaps a somewhat incendiary topic. I'll hold up my end and keep this civil.

There have been debates recently that have ended up focussing on the validity of opinions.

In my view, there are several different layers to this. I'll explain.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. There are, however, subjects that are closed from opinion and should be looked at with hard facts. If I were to join a discussion based around experimental pharmacology (for instance), I may have very strong opinions about the effectiveness of particular medications. I am, however, speaking from a position of relative ignorance on the topic given that my only experience in the field comes from some study of psychology at University and half an A-level in Biology.

Posting my opinion on the matter would hold little weight, especially if I didn't back up any of my posts with logical reasoning, evidence or experience. If somebody else were to post factual information counter to my argument, I would be expected to admit my position and in the eyes of many 'lose' the argument - or at least have my opinion invalidated.

That is to say, that in most situations, opinions hold different weight. I am simply not qualified or experienced enough to discuss drug interactions in experimental pharmacology - even if my opinion was very strong. How strongly you hold such an opinion does not make it any more valid unless you are speaking from a position of strength.

I'm not quite sure where people get the idea that all opinions are equally valid. They are, quite simply, not. Why is it that some people hold higher office in their respective academic or employment fields? Quite often it is because their opinion holds more weight and they are able to judge actions based on their knowledge and experience.

I work in mental health. If I consider that somebody is not at risk but my manager or CEO decides that the individual in question is at risk, I defer to authority. The consequences of not doing my job - however right I think I am might be dire. This is why we have teachers, lecturers and the like. It doesn't mean that my opinion is not important to me but it does mean that I may very well be wrong.

I'll take an example from the media. This idea of a 'balanced debate'. In many debates, there are often two sides. Unfortunately, the media seems to believe that a 'balanced' debate is one that hears both sides - often, this is actually not 'balance' at all but biasing towards a distinct minority position.

It is also important to consider the quality of evidence. If I were reading about a particular subject and found 'evidence' that came from a party with a vested interest (financial, political or otherwise) in the 'research' that they have commissioned, I would write it off immediately as poor evidence. If I found evidence from a source with no vested interest in the research, then I would consider it more reliable and perhaps cite it in any argument I made.

That's not to say you can't argue from a minority position, either. Provided you have evidence. Majority opinion-holders should also have evidence and in an ideal World, the strength of the evidence would be the deciding factor in a debate. If everybody else was arguing that the Earth was flat (and had no evidence) but I produced satellite images of the Earth taken by a neutral third-party that demonstrated that the Earth was roughly spherical, I should win that debate.

If you don't have any evidence for a majority or a minority position, then you are speaking from a weak position.

So yes. I will say it. Some opinions don't matter. If you have little experience, evidence or knowledge on a subject, then your opinion - to me - is invalid, or at least not as strong as an individual with more experience, evidence or knowledge. In the same way as I may have a strong position in an argument, if somebody came in with more knowledge, experience and evidence than I, I would accept this and maybe discuss the subject respectfully.

There seems to be an idea that everyone has a valid opinion. Sorry folks, this isn't always the case. So please. Analyse critically and consider the knowledge of individuals in a debate. It's ok to know nothing about a subject but if you're holding an uninformed opinion, it is usually logical to defer to those that actually know what they're talking about.

Last edited by BacteriumFendYoke; 12-19-2013 at 10:06 PM.