Tuesday 21 December 2021

The difference between opinions and facts

Recently I've all but stopped looking at Twitter, except to post links and to reseearch the tweets of the week feature. I find it ever more frustrating to watch ill intentioned malcontents, who seemingly rejoice in persuading the vulnerable to do themselves harm. It is simply not worth engaging with such malicious people. When dealing with compulsive liars, it soon becomes clear that they enjoy spouting rubbish, so engagement simply encourages them. 

To me, such people are the embodyment of evil. What I find even more sickening is the use of the Christian cross as some sort of symbol of legitimacy. As someone of faith, this disgusts me. I wouldn't put a cross on my profile, I don't believe faith is to weaponised. I believe faith is a private matter. It should guide us in our humanity when it is at its best. It is not and never has been a substitute for science. I believe that the greatest gift God gave us was the ability to apply scientific method to our world, to make life better for all. I believe that God supplied the toolbox but we write the manual and use the tools. This is why we have been able to invent vaccines to defeat diseases such as Polio. Faith is very different to science, it is simply a collection of opinions, none of which can be verified. Two people can read the same text and reach completely different conclusions (although in my experience, those who shout loudest about their faith haven't actually read the books properly). That is the wonder of humanity. Science is different. It is all about the establishment of facts, rules and testable theories. If something cannot be tested, no matter how much you may argue, it is only an opinion until such time as proof becomes available. Sometimes this may never come about. Take the issue of intelligent alien life on other planets. A statistician may calculate that is 99.999% probably, but until we can see verifiable evidence (ie tangeible artifacts/communications, not blurry pictures) it is only an opinion (please note I made the probability up as an illustration and used the example purely as it is one that is easy to demonstrate).

Many on Twitter are either too stupid or too dishonest to understand that if an opinion is expressed in a newspaper or science journal, it is still an opinion. Quoting articles from rather scientifically unreliable sources such as The Daily Mail comment pages as facts is simply not honest. I have no problem at all with the Daily Mail or any other paper printing opinions that are not scientifically verifiable. Debate is healthy in a free society. It is how we move on and improve our understanding (which as I mentioned earlier is our most precious gift).  These pieces have to be treated as opinions. Uusally these articles take a mish mash of various information, some anecdotal, some speculative and a smattering of statistics (which may or may not be applicable). 

A good example is the coverage of how deadly the Omicron variant is. Studies of the outbreak in South Africa show that in their population, it is less harmful than previous waves such as the Delta Variant. This may or may not be true in the UK, but we have a very different population, with many variables, so it will take time to understand the full risks properly. To my mind, there are three easily identifiable differences between us and South Africa.

1) We have a much greater elderly population, who are far more vulnerable.

2) We have far more obese members of society than South Africa. Again they are more vulnerable

3) It is summer in South Africa. People are outside more and vitamin D levels are higher. 

I am not a scientist. These may make no difference at all. It is my opinion (which is very ill informed) that they might. What we do know is that Omicron is spreading through our nation. This is provable by genome sequencing of tests. It appears that vaccines are less effective in preventing infections, but will prevent serious illness in the majority of the population. To me that is a sensible reason to get vaccinated. Over the course of my life, I've probably had ten or so tetanus vaccinations. If we have to get vaccinated every year for the foreseeable future, to me that is preferable to running the risk of serious illness or death. Again that is my opinion.

In short what I am saying is that if someone says something is a fact, it has to be verifiable. That means that it has to have come from a trustworthy source and they have to have evidence that it is 100% correct. If it cannot be verified, then they should present it as opinions and state that there is strong evidence to support this opinion.

Rant over. 

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