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Yes, you are entitled to your opinion … and I want to hear it

Every semester, I enter my classroom with almost zero knowledge of my students’ interests. So as a rhetoric and writing teacher, I ask them to employ that which is most beneficial to them in their lives…

Students' opinions should matter to their teachers. Jeremy Wilburn

Every semester, I enter my classroom with almost zero knowledge of my students’ interests. So as a rhetoric and writing teacher, I ask them to employ that which is most beneficial to them in their lives: discourse.

I want to know what they think, why they think it, and how they see themselves in the elegant mess we call the world. Indeed, it becomes partly my charge to help students understand how their perspectives are relevant to my course.

I believe that by relating their interests to the focus of the course, they can become invested in learning instead of simply students there to be fed information. All teaching is inherently collaborative, and it’s an act in partnership with students.

The worst thing a teacher can do is tell students what and how to think. According to Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, this type of teaching borders on intellectual violence upon another, and where teaching is meant to be a liberating affair, it becomes one of systemic oppression.

In many circumstances, I tell my students the classroom is a space for learning. It is a space to explore and discover ideas without fear of being dismissed or lambasted. I tell them their perspectives, life experiences, and ideas are equally important to mine and the subject material at hand.

After hearing this, many sit astonished at the idea their opinions are actually going to be heard. Unfortunately, I hear from students all too often that their opinions, perspectives, and ideas are secondary to their teachers' or even not valued. I find this preposterous. Education is about enlightenment and not the subjugation of one idea for another.

Accordingly, as I read Patrick Stokes' recent article - “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion,” - I wondered exactly how a highly educated teacher could hold such a perspective.

Following his argument, I understand that his ideas of truth and opinion are drawn from Plato. Plato’s dedication to the certainty of objective truth poses a significant problem when wagered against post-modern understandings of the world in relation to the individual.

There is no objective truth because objectivity does not exist; there are only degrees of subjectivity. An opinion without evidence can be truth as much as fact with evidence can be a falsehood. Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them. This act of naming almost always positions one thing as the opposite to another. The bizarre form of dialectic at work here doesn’t negate the issue that humans construct, name, and set these things in opposition.

Objectivity is to eradicate bias, to say that one thing is and the other is not; however, at the root of this act is the actor, and the actor is never devoid of bias. Pierre Bourdieu suggests that opinion is a form of unspoken truth held by the society in which the opinion arose and exists.

The context of these truths is as important as the truths themselves. Outside of the context of a situation, the truth arising in said situation can be understood differently. Nothing exists outside of context.

So, in Stokes’ classroom, his directive that students are not entitled to their own opinions may be a truth of that situation. However, in the larger world, his directive does not hold up. Students will encounter many truths and many situations challenging what they once considered a truth.

Plato’s contempt for doxa is invalid in 21st century society. I most certainly do not think Patrick Stokes is a poor teacher; he probably is an excellent one. Yes, students should be taught how to structure argument, how to use language to effect action, and how we can use evidence, empirical and anecdotal, to succeed in its premise.

But to say that a student isn’t entitled to their opinion is to devalue the student. It is to suggest that the teacher’s way is the right way, and the student is less than the teacher. These are hardly correct.

Without students, teachers would not be needed, and, conversely, without teachers, students would be lost. It’s a symbiotic relationship based on respect. This is why I always tell my students they are co-learners in my courses. We learn together, we collaborate together, and we try to figure out rhetoric and writing together.

When we approach argument and our students, we need to understand that the goal of education is to liberate them from whatever oppresses them. If opinions are the unspoken truths of our world, then it’s our job to speak them, let students speak them, and show students how to construct arguments with whatever truths are available.

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291 Comments sorted by

  1. Diana Brown

    Parent; language student

    What a refreshing attitude you have. I wish it were more prevalent. I'm just nearing the end of a semester in which one of my courses has been just as you describe, an experience of continuous, subtle devaluation of any students who failed to toe the teacher's line. On reflection, I think this betrays the teacher's own insecurity as much as their arrogance - perhaps the two are inextricably entwined. Anyway, I won't be pursuing studies in that subject, and that's why. Top marks to you for showing respect and consideration to your students. You're rare.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Diana Brown

      You must have attended some below par schools if showing respect to students is considered Rare.

      You are implying that the majority of teachers are continously disrespectful to their students - hence "You are Rare"

      This is bunkem, this in nonsense and your comment about towing the line here is ironic.

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    2. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Diana Brown

      Thanks, Diana. I appreciate your perspective. Instructor arrogance is something I fight against. It's probably because I'm a Freirean at heart.

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    3. Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Quality & Marketing Officer

      In reply to Diana Brown

      I've found all sides to this debate to be really interesting, and I've enjoyed reading the different perspectives. I am in total agreeance with Stokes, because it does annoy me when evidence-based opinions are undermined by personal belief in a public setting where they then sway the general consensus towards what I would consider the wrong view - if it doesn't align with my own ;).
      However, your experience has highlighted why what Trent Kays is saying is so important. And the responses you received only further support his article, to me.
      You've created an opinion based on evidence - which is your personal experience. And it is being undermined simply because it is not the same as another person's opinion based on their personal experience.
      I am very impressed at the way this debate has moved, because if I hadn't heard other perspectives in addition to Kay's I probably wouldn't have so-completely understood what he was trying to say.
      Thanks!

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    4. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Kiri Fitzpatrick

      "You've created an opinion based on evidence - which is your personal experience. And it is being undermined simply because it is not the same as another person's opinion based on their personal experience. " - Are you suggesting that we have a major problem in the country where no teachers show any respect to their students?

      If so, where is your evidence? Forming an opinion based on anecdotal accounts is probably not good grounds to then make claims about the majority of teachers in this country…

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    5. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Sorry I should of added, people are not disagreeing because of their personal experience - or atleast Im not

      I am disagreeing because it is an outrages claim.

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    6. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Diana Brown

      Hi Diana, was this in a foriegn language class? What sort of line did the teacher have - and how did they fit it into a language class?

      Some EFL teachers use the language classroom to teach students the 'right way to live' (you should recycle etc) as much as helping students develop their language skills.

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    7. Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Quality & Marketing Officer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Haha, hi Michael. No I'm definitely not suggesting that we have a major problem in the country where no teachers show any respect to their students.
      And I am sorry that it could've been taken that way. Such an outrageous claim has made me feel like it certainly needs to be clarified!

      I think that our point of difference is that I didn't take this assumption from Diana's response (Be it right or wrong - I didn't really take weight in the 'rare' comment).

      All I was trying to say, was that…

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    8. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Let's see how the trail of logic goes......

      1. Diana Brown feels "subtle devaluation" if she voices disagreement with her language teacher;
      2. She concludes that teachers who are respectful of their students' views are "rare"
      3. Michael Shand questions Diana's generalisation from her experience, to conclude that respfectful teachers are rare
      4. Kiri Fitzpatrick says "You've created an opinion based on evidence - which is your personal experience. And it is being undermined simply because it…

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    9. Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Quality & Marketing Officer

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I totally get it now.
      It's the generalisation that is felt to be invalid. You have summarised the two well. Thanks so much for your input.

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    10. Diana Brown

      Parent; language student

      In reply to Kiri Fitzpatrick

      Yes, the generalisation and the things inferred from it are invalid, and that's what comes of dashing off an insufficiently thought-out comment (preferably complete with academic references Harvard style) first thing in the morning when you've just read something interesting on this forum.

      It was not my language prof, who is fantastic, who was at fault. I am studying subjects other than languages but realise my descriptor above is misleading.

      I have not been to 'bad' schools, but contend that…

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    11. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Diana Brown

      The difference, Diana, is between saying "I've come across some teachers who were disrespectful to students" as opposed to "teachers who are respectful to their students are rare". I can see how many people could object to the second assertion - which is the one you made.

      I guess it would be the same if I said "parents who have been language students are hyper-sentitive about their teachers'. Wouldn;t you disagree? But I would say that, in my experience, and in my own judgment, I had witnessed a comment that appeared to reflect that. Isn't my own experience valid?

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    12. Agoodopinion

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Shand

      It would be good if people accepted that humanity is not perfect, so that in all walks of life, including doctors and teachers, problems exist to deny it will be a sign of arrogance.
      Often professions such as journalists, doctors,teachers, etc do not accept well criticism what impairs their evolution and ours.

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  2. Grahame Kay

    Self Employed IT and Services

    I found this answer to the other article a bit dishonest. The other author didn't say that we aren't entitled to an opinion. He said that opinions are a responsibility and need to be argued and based on fact and / or logic.

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    1. Tom Nockolds

      Project Manager

      In reply to Grahame Kay

      I agree - as a response it only addresses the title of Patrick Stokes' article, without properly addressing the more complex argument contained in the body. The title of the original article was (seemingly) deliberately provocative and it was clear that Patrick Stokes doesn't really think that people aren't entitled to their opinion and nor does he really tell his students they aren't entitled to their opinions.

      Who would really argue against the very sensible idea that in the theatre of debate an opinion on its own isn't enough to win an argument?

      The original article is the most read article on The Conversation and my theory on why this is the case is because many people out there are concerned that a new form of oppression is taking hold of the world - one which uses opinion without argument to trump opinion which is backed up by solid evidence.

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    2. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Grahame Kay

      Yes, Stokes' did say that, but at the heart of his argument is what can and cannot be said. This is an act of oppression, and it shouldn't be bandied about so flippantly. Education is important, and instead of encourage students to in a way abandon their opinions because they don't have scientific evidence, we should show students how to take what they have and make an argument.

      Anything can be argued based on whatever we deem to be "facts."

      Dishonest? No, I don't think so, but I guess I'm bias. Is that an opinion or fact?

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    3. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Tom Nockolds

      I disagree. I address more than just his title, but as his title is the wellspring of his piece, it is appropriate to bring it into the conversation.

      I'm not arguing that in a debate we should require more than opinion. What I am arguing is that we shouldn't so easily dismiss opinion, as many things can be considered opinion.

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    4. Adam Butler

      Engineer and Data Analyst

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      The crux of Patrick's article is when he writes this:

      "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 dis-proven.

      But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred."

      I think that is a fairly simple and clear message. He is not suggesting student's be silent, on the contrary, I believe Patrick is making a great case for an informed and engaged community.

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    5. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Adam Butler

      Yes, I understand the crux of Stokes' argument, and I particularly like the passage you selected. But, in that passage, it is clear that there is Truth and their is Falsehood. Meaning, one or the other.

      It is a clear message, but, unfortunately, it values a notion of Platonic truth that just doesn't exist in our multi-layered and mess of a world.

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    6. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Why do you consider the title to be the "wellspring" of the piece and not just an attractive hook that seems to have firmly lodged itself?

      I think Peter's own words put paid to much of what you say. This for example

      “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are…

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    7. Tom Nockolds

      Project Manager

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Oh yes, we should respect the opinions of others and you're right: there are many things than can be considered opinion. You've presented your side of an argument very well.

      I don't believe yours and Patrick Stokes' positions are in conflict. But the way you presented your article made it appear that there was some rebuttal taking place. I'm concerned that this has devalued both arguments, which would be a shame as they're both important.

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    8. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Tom Nockolds

      I think you've really hit the nail on the head here Grahame and Tom. These articles seem to be addressing similar, but not identical, topics. I appreciate from the point of view of a teaching of rhetoric and logic, encouraging students to voice their views is in fact an entirely legitimate exercise - and no doubt helps with class participation and student engagement, which are absolutely critical to a successful course.

      However, the overall context of Stokes' article was regarding the role of…

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    9. Agoodopinion

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Adam Butler

      Can both authors be right?
      Without opposing opinions we would probably still believe The Universe of Aristotle and Ptolemy ...but to give the same importance and value to uninformed opinions can open Pandora's box and put our society into the Dark Ages were unspecialised opinions are as valued as the ones that are not.A period of intellectual darkness not a bright future where shock jocks opinions are as valued as field specialists.
      If I am sick I prefer to go to a doctor than to the grocery man but I value both opinions...
      I like my opinion to be valued but only a fool would take medicine prescribed by me I am no doctor... true I am not.

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    10. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "Anything can be argued based on whatever we deem to be "facts."

      Indeed. Any opinion can be argued convincingly enough to appear backed by evidence (whether it is or not). This is the crux of political discourse.

      But a good argument does not make an opinion a (evidenced) fact. Just as a poor argument does not make a (evidenced) fact untrue.

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    11. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Tom Nockolds

      The difference is nuanced. It wasn't so much a rebuttal as much as an exploration of threads of Stokes' argument.

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    12. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Jodie Lia

      Define "good" and "poor" in the context of argument. Accordingly to the Sophists, a good argument is one that succeeds, despite the evidence it is built on.

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    13. Agoodopinion

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      No not right...by the way that experience was probably close to my reality than yours but for the sake of the argument... if there is no trust in a specific doctor, not wise to swap all doctors for gardeners, they may have more knowledge than your doctor, or a good opinion but I would change doctors and keep the gardener as an adviser.A win win situation.:)

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    14. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      NICE POINT- the one who harmed me had a second woman who did die that day and I often wonder what her family was told.

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    15. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      If you expect doctors to be some kind of gods that never make mistakes and get everything perfect every time, you are mistaken. If you think they are harming people intentionally, you are also mistaken until you can prove otherwise. But I put no merit in anecdotes.

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    16. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      We are both making a simliar point I think.
      My stance does not indicate that I think medicine or scientists are perfect, just human beings who can be right or wrong but they are trying mightily to get it right. They usually have good evidence and intension on their side and I bet on that side.

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  3. Guy Taylor

    IT Professional

    "An opinion without evidence can be truth as much as fact with evidence can be a falsehood."

    This is just fancy word play and a logical fallacy. Just because evidence can be wrong doesn't make some other opinion right!

    An opinion is simply an opinion. It is not evidence. Just because i believe there's a teacup in orbit around Jupiter doesn't make it true. And remember the plural of anecdote is not evidence, its anecdotes. Millions believe in homeopathy whilst it is simply water. Wishing reality, sadly, doesn't work (would be nice!)

    Post-modern thinking, when applied to science, leads to anti-vaxer, climate deniers, etc. it is the most dangerous form of thought in our modern technological society as it leads to harm, over and over again.

    Equal representation in the media of evidence vs opinion has lead to people still accepting this way of thinking.

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    1. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      MAN! Thank goodness for this opinion.

      The above article is EXACTLY what one might call PRETZEL LOGIC or being so open minded that one's brain falls right out. This sort of exercise might work in an academic setting for maybe expanding ways of thinking or examining a problem but out here in the real world we need to make decisions based on imperfect information- and they usually have to be made NOW and have real consequences.

      How do we ever make any progress if we are never allowed to dismiss what is clearly disproven?
      No one is saying it cannot be revisited if ther is new information and no one endorses Galeleo's fate..

      The article that originated this debate was superlative and made an important set of points.

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    2. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      It didn't take long before someone hijacked this refreshing article by playing the 'climate denier' card.

      I do not believe that humans have a large impact on the earth's climate - that makes me a 'climate denier'.

      I would rather be a 'climate denier' and drive my 7 Litre Holden V8 than be an 'implicit denier'. An Implicit Denier is someone who, on one hand demands we stop burning fossil fuels to halt climate change, then CHOOSES to fly to Europe in the full knowledge they are burning non-renewable…

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    3. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      I agree that opinion is opinion and evidence is evidence. But, my issue isn't so much with that obvious distinction but with how we define it. The application of postmodern thinking to science topics leads to more open-mindedness in the exploration of ideas--not just silly ideas like climate denial. That's the point.

      Even scientific facts are socially constructed! (see Bruno Latour's Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts). So, in a way, fact is a condition of the postmodern.

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    4. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      As someone who teaches argument and logic, I can tell you this is not "pretzel logic." The point being, students should be encouraged to greet issues of the day with an open mind and see how their opinions compare to the situation at hand.

      I agree that Stokes' article was superlative--if not oppressive in some ways.

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    5. Tom Nockolds

      Project Manager

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Trent, you're the only person who has called the Stokes article oppressive. If Debra also thinks that then she can say it - she doesn't need you to put these words in her mouth.

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    6. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      You have framed this in the discussion of students which we will all agree should make mistakes and ask dumb questions and honestly express opinions they hold and should be open to changing them......This is dishonest framing - everyone agrees with this, this is a non controversial claim and does not address the main issue.

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    7. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      And so we proceed around the ever decreasing circle. Sorry Trent, the conundrum you now face is that, if each of the responses is a legitimate discourse and equally valued (in the interests of not being oppressive), then we must accept them as legitimate - we can't cherry pick the views we accept and reject.

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    8. Tom Nockolds

      Project Manager

      In reply to Tom Nockolds

      Oops - I'm looking for a way to remove my comment. Trent, I apologies for this one - it was unfair. Sorry.

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    9. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Where we are in total agreement Trent is that "students should be encouraged to greet issues of the day with an open mind and see how their opinions compare to the situation at hand. "

      Where we are in this debate however, is far past that point. The data and facts as are known to science has been repeatedly presented by experts in their field- professionals who spend their lives studying and reflecting on these matters -- only to be continuously and consciously rejected by persons who influence others against the valid assessment to the detriment of a population. We have FACTS as we know them by our best resources being defeated by agendas and tactics. I hate that just as i hate the real world results of such arrogant displays.

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    10. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Michael Shand

      If we agree on this and that's basically what I argued, then wherein lies the rub?

      It seems I suggested we value students' opinions as much as their argument, and everyone disagrees. That is not dishonest framing. That is what happened.

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    11. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      I completely agree with you, Debra. Experts should have their facts and evidence respected. I can't stand climate deniers because it's basic climate science that the climate changes. It does all the time!

      But, at the root of this issue is the argument that a student's opinion isn't valid without evidence. An opinion is just a valid, but the thing which gives it value is acceptance.

      So, anyone is entitled to their opinion, but that doesn't mean it will be accepted.

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    12. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Great comment. I appreciate your perspective. I often must entertain opinions I academically, personally, and politically disagree with. It's difficult, but I do it because that's part of my job as a teacher.

      Indeed, I think we should all remember what Aristotle said: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

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    13. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      The rub is that this was posted as a response to Patrick Strokes article which it is not, it is taking the subject into the confines of the classroom - which is fine but thats a different discussion - not a response to patricks article.

      Also you make refference's in this article that suggest implications which are inherently dishonest and you attempt to fit what patrick wrote into the confines of the classroom and then attack it.

      "Accordingly, as I read Patrick Stokes' recent article – “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion,” – I wondered exactly how a highly educated teacher could hold such a perspective."

      This is commonly reffered to as strawmanning. Either deliberaty or accidently mis-characterising your oppenents position and then attacking this misunderstanding.

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    14. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to David Lamond

      Of course. I accept them as legitimate, but that doesn't mean I cannot disagree. Once again, that's been my overriding point. Some prefer to have it their way or the highway (to use an idiom from my country). I don't necessarily fall into that category. I want to play and explore. I want to try and fail as well as try and succeed.

      It could be noted that the irony of this dialogue is sprung from an opinion (Stokes'), taken up by another opinion (mine), and thrown about between other opinions (everyone who has comment).

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    15. Jonathan Maddox

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      It's fine for a US Marine to quote Voltaire, but not particularly polite of you to attribute the epithet to an anonymous Marine instead of its originator. Do you have a reference?

      You are setting up a straw man by labelling people who "demand we stop burning fossil fuels to halt climate change". It's very important indeed that we stop burning fossil fuels, but we *depend* on fossil fuels, today. Becoming instantly independent of them without total economic collapse is not possible.

      “The…

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    16. Elizabeth Hart

      Independent Vaccine Investigator

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Also remember John Stuart Mill:
      “But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” (On Liberty, Chapter II: Of the liberty of thought and discussion)

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    17. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Trent Kays appears not to distinguish between those things that are socially-constructed "relative" truths - such as Patrick's example of icecream flavours, and those phenomena that are directly observable - such as the success of vaccination, the anatomy of the femur, the chemical structure of diamond.

      Trent Kays appears to be skilled in rhetoric but unskilled in scientific methods.

      What distinguishes Patrick Stokes as a philosopher is that he can live in both worlds - that of the philosopher and that of the realist (and distinguidh effectively between the two). Trent Kays' response serves all the more to highlight the validity of Patrick's essay.

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    18. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "Even scientific facts are socially constructed!"

      Trent - how do you apply this comment to phenomena that are directly observabvle and measurable? For example, the chemical structure of ethanol, the shape of the earth, the sodium content of human plasma?

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    19. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

      At the time of Aristotle, philosophers were also scientists, because they lacked the technology to measure and observe things. The only tools they had were their own senses and intellects - formidable human tools but not enough to image the very small (structure of a human cell) or the very large (shape and size of the earth).

      There are rational, measured "truths" that assist our lives every day…

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    20. Tweeting Technology

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      As someone who used to teach argument and logic, and already has a PhD in the subject, I can recognise the argument from authority when I see it. (Hint: it was the one I just used, echoing you). It's not a good argument.

      Neither was the rest of this article. Observe the dogmatic statement that 'Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them.'. So it's only a social construction that I will die if there's no oxygen in the air?

      For someone so distrustful of facts, sorry, 'facts', it seems odd to be asserting so many dubious claims without neither empirical nor logical foundation.

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    21. Tweeting Technology

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Actually, Voltaire said no such thing. It was attributed to him by Beatrice Hall in her biography. She admitted it was a paraphrase.

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    22. Guy Cox

      logged in via email @guycox.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      OK, this is all abstract philosophy and I don't actually believe that Trent actually intended his article to be anything other that tongue in cheek. (Actually I'm amazed that there is such a thing as a teacher of 'rhetoric' in the 21st century - I thought that they only existed in Ireland before 1000AD).

      The thing that both Plato and the post-modernists have in common is a disdain for experimental evidence. Therefore neo-Platonists and post-modernists can battle it out ad infinitum with no possibility…

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    23. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Guy Cox

      Wot??? " a disdain for experimental evidence"???? Like as if.

      S'all th' same innit this evidence bizness but?

      Youse'll jess heft ter git yoosed self's liked to the spellin and the new self-empowerment self esteem paradigm.

      In the footsteps of the masters I'm gonna whip of a best seller in pop psychology - but modernisated - You know: I'm OK - You? Who cares about you?

      All sheep are equal!

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    24. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to Tweeting Technology

      The funny thing is that his statement "'Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them." is in itself a fact and, by the logic employed in the article, not a fact.

      Based on his arguments nothing is true, nothing is real, not even this article. Thank god for that!

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    25. Jenny Allan

      retired teacher

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      Guy Taylor states:-
      "Post-modern thinking, when applied to science, leads to anti-vaxer, climate deniers, etc. it is the most dangerous form of thought in our modern technological society as it leads to harm, over and over again"

      WOW -this is EXACTLY the kind of conditioned thinking that Trent Kays illustrates and questions in his brilliant article. To paraphrase and expand on Mr Taylor's 'didactic' affirmations, it seems that anyone who dares to question the safety of even ONE vaccine, (there…

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    26. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      " To paraphrase and expand on Mr Taylor's 'didactic' affirmations, it seems that anyone who dares to question the safety of even ONE vaccine, (there are dozens of vaccines routinely administered for all kinds of diseases and conditions), is an anti-vaxer according to Mr Taylor,...."

      WOW - that is some paraphrasing, Ms Allan!

      Can you let us know which are are those vaccines that cause more harm than the diseases they prevent?

      And yes, climate is a VERY complex system, as is the immune system. That's why we have climate scientists and immunologists.

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    27. Jenny Allan

      retired teacher

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      Sorry I reported:- " world temperature has increased by 0.75% " I SHOULD have said "world temperature has increased by 0.75 degree Celsius"

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    28. Jenny Allan

      retired teacher

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue Ieraci asks-
      "Can you let us know which are are those vaccines that cause more harm than the diseases they prevent?"
      ALL vaccines (and medications, medical procedures etc), have the potential to cause more harm than they prevent; that's why informed consent is important. The risks should always be as minimal as possible and pointed out beforehand.

      But don't take MY word for it here's the OFFICIAL figures on US vaccine adverse incidents:-
      http://vaers.hhs.gov/index

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    29. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Stokes' piece is based on students, so I take up that thread. It's not a strawman, since he actually talks about students.

      Really, it's not that hard to follow.

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    30. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Tweeting Technology

      I've already addressed the issue of socially constructed facts elsewhere in the comments. If you need more help, I suggest you read Latour's Laboratory Life.

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    31. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Exactly. The only thing we can know for sure is what exists in our head and what doesn't. Truth is a matter of perspective.

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    32. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Well, it is true that philosophers and rhetoricians (which is what I am) do live on opposite sides of a spectrum. All truth is relative. That's the point. The point you missed, I suppose.

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    33. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Guy Cox

      Interesting comment. I agree with parts and disagree with parts. I don't have disdain for experimental evidence at all. Aristotle was one of the fathers of scientific inquiry, but he also was an established rhetor and philosopher.

      The point my piece attempted to make is that there is no Truth and no Falsehood. There are truths and falsehoods. This is applicable to the scientific method, which I am versed in.

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    34. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Guy Taylor

      I may not fully believe in alternative medicine, though I know some who do and benefit from it. There are benefits to holistic medicine, so why should we have such disdain for something that only seeks to help people? We should think and explore it and then make our decision.

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    35. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Of course. I accept and live with both, but the point is we should shut out opinion because that's were most inquiry begins.

      Scientific inquiry begins with a hypothesis (a type of opinion) and then we investigate, explore, and focus to see if it's "true" or not.

      I do question the engineering structure of bridges, but I suppose that's because one of the largest bridge collapses in the world happened at my doorstep (so to speak).

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    36. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "All truth is relative"

      Including the statement "all truth is relative"?

      Is that true or just a matter of opinion?

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    37. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      With respect, Jenny, I'm not sure that answers Sue's question. As I read it, she's not asking which vaccines can cause harm on an individual level, but which ones overall (i.e. on a population level) produce more harm than the diseases they prevent. I'd be interested to hear your answer to that question.

      Part of my reason for asking is that you spoke above of the 'PERCEIVED larger threat' (your capitals) of the disease relative to the risk of the vaccine. I'm just wondering what the status of…

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    38. Tweeting Technology

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Sneering is always a good tactic. But since the bedrock of your argument appears to be solipsism, what are you sneering AT?

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    39. Tweeting Technology

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      So truth - and by extension, facts - alter when the person having a psychotic episode recovers?

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    40. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "The only thing we can know for sure is what exists in our head and what doesn't"

      I will assume you meant mind, because In all seriousness, how do you even know that you have a head? Is that opinion or is that fact?

      Anyway, if we can only know our own minds, how can we know what is not in our minds?

      You are drawing a distinction:

      P exists in my mind.
      Q doesn't exist in my mind.

      But to say as much, you must know Q and the fact of it's existence before you can say it is not contained within you mind. But to do so you must have Q in your mind. Therefore to say that you know that Q doesn't exist in your mind, Q must exist in you mind.

      In my opinion, you should stop making assertions about what we cannot know.

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    41. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "All truth is relative" is the kind of cop-out one would expect from a high school debater, not a tertiary education teacher.

      People who hold responsibility in the real world know that observable and measurable phenomena are accepted and used all the time to make public policy. Vaccination in beneficial for our society because the benefits far outweigh the risks. Taxation funds public services. Road speed lenghtens vehicle stopping distances, and leads to greater mortality on the roads. CHildhood vehicle restraints dramatically reduce the incidence of infants beinig ejected from motor vehicles.

      "All relative"? Then let's let chaos reign, shall we?

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    42. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "We should think and explore it and then make our decision."

      On what basis, Mr Kays?

      Perhaps people who understand human physiology should think and explore it by scientific methods. They ahve done that, and found almost all of it to be placebo at best and fraud at worst.

      (Exceptions: chiropractic manipulation for low back pain, possibly acupuncture for pain).

      What's to "believe in"? It's either biologically feasible and found to be more effective than placebo, or not.

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    43. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "We should think and explore it and then make our decision."

      On what basis, Mr Kays?

      Perhaps people who understand human physiology should think and explore it by scientific methods. They ahve done that, and found almost all of it to be placebo at best and fraud at worst.

      (Exceptions: chiropractic manipulation for low back pain, possibly acupuncture for pain).

      What's to "believe in"? It's either biologically feasible and found to be more effective than placebo, or not.

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    44. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sadly Ms Sue, not just in the sophistry of debating classes.... Truth is relative - everyone equal has something equal to say ... Mantras are found throughout those corners of academic life infected by this virus of post-modernism.

      Fortunately, efforts by Federal authorities have managed to restrict the outbreaks to a few faculties and campuses and given their development of a completely new language, the chances of transmission to the general public and modern life is officially considered unlikely…

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    45. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Nobody here - especially Patrick, whose article you have responded to, suggested we should "shut out opinion" (have they? I can't see where)

      In our society, you are free to hold whatever opinion you like. You can't have it considered valid, or used to base policy on, however, without defending its feasibility or validity with logic or evidence.

      You might question why bridges (rarely) fail - but do you offer your own opinion about how to engineer them and expect it to be seriously considered in building the next bridge?

      Many science deniers claim that they are prevented from "asking questions". Not at all - it's just that they don';t accept the answers.

      People who propose new ideas that are feasible, then work to produce evidence to support them, which is reproducible, can - and do -change the world.

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    46. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Hi Trent, I think what you demonstrated above is valid and i submit that it is all that the pro vaccination people are attempting to do when they are flogged over the head with tactic and agendas that do not serve anyone but themselves.

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    47. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      WOW! I think this is exactly where we diverge, Trent. Any amount of reading in psychology or neuroscience will make you very cautious indeed about relying on only what is in our heads. How might that work for a schizophrenic and others? With that caveat, I seek to have things affirmed by solid research. Once you have done battle with someone who thinks that telling a 5 year old at breakfact that "iceream is the best thing in the world for you" every other craziness seems tame.

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    48. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      One great thing Trent is that there will be no shortage of wonkie opinions to keep you busy given that you enjoy them. They say we should be careful about what one prays for...maybe putting it in print might bring out the crazies so it should get really interesting for you. Enjoy!

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    49. Jenny Allan

      retired teacher

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      With respect Patrick, this debate is NOT about the safety (or otherwise) of individual vaccines. I could give you a list of vaccines proven to have caused harm in the past, and perhaps another list which (in my own opinion) are not fit for purpose because they are proving ineffective against the diseases immunised against, or might be causing unacceptable levels of adverse effects or reactions. None of this is relevant to the arguments presented here. What I said was "Vaccinating against a disease…

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    50. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      I agree with much of what you say Jenny... of the need to be suspicious of the claims of modern medicines. Ideally we should be suspicious of any claims made by anyone - investigate them and establish their validity for ourselves.

      But this is a lifetime's work. Perhaps several. So we take some things on trust. Some folks are more generous with their trust than others. Some folks just cop an air of "truthiness" about their opinions. Alan said it.

      And if it's all too hard they'll look…

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    51. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      Jenny Allan - your comment implies that the thousands of researchers, paediatricians, immunologists, early childhood nurses, GPs who help develop, prescribe and administer vaccines don't have the same concerns as you do. The difference is, they do the actual research and act on it, AND take responsibility for the outcomes

      This comes back to Patrick Stokes' original premise - you can ask questions about vaccines, but, if you assert that " could give you a list of vaccines proven to have caused…

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    52. Agoodopinion

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      What was said about the people who pioneered washing their hands before operations or delivering babies?
      Many died before the "conventional" accepted that lemons could cure Scurvy ...use the scientific method and explore it but do not let arrogance pass a possible non conventional cure 1 in 100 is good enough .

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    53. Agoodopinion

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I agree but sometimes the "facts" can be miss leading, miss interpreted and wrong.
      Humans and scientific methods fail look at the birth defects caused by thalidomide.

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    54. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      To clarify the above (which it clearly needs as I wrote it poorly) I was refering to Trent's comment to Michael. He simply disagreed which is what those on the provaccination side are doing when faced with the anti rhetoric- and I submit such disagreement is not only valid but needed. I think the anti tactics and agendas and even statments serve no one but their ingroup.

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    55. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      I think it is more than likely that much of the 'cure' rate of some so called medicinal treatments especially in the alternative group stems from a placebo effect. That has be deeply investigated of late and if that is what is happening, I think everyone has a reason and a right to be sceptical of such medicine. Instead they spend their pent up sceptisicm against things that are clearly NOT bogus. It is as though there is a set amount and it is being mis-spent.

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    56. Jenny Allan

      retired teacher

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue Leraci says:-
      "Summarised: you can't just say "in my own opinion",unsupported by either evidence or expertise, and expect to be taken seriously"

      Totally agree!! I ALWAYS try to separate 'opinions' from hard facts. The former do not need to 'be taken seriously' the latter should ALWAYS be taken seriously. In terms of scientific opinions, I DO NOT accept that just because someone has a science degree or doctorate their research or other 'evidence' is necessarily correct or compiled in a totally…

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    57. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jenny Allan

      "REAL science is all about reasoned arguments and debate, and scientific thinking evolves and 'moves on' like everything else."

      Yes, yes it is. But for the sake of getting things done, we have a scientific consensus - when 99 experts in a particular field agree on a conclusion, but one exper doesn't and can't provide the evidence to support his position, than the 99 with the evidence to back what they agree with are considered to be in consensus. There is also this thing called repetition - if…

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    1. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to David Lamond

      How often have we been told that everyone has their own perspective and thus there are many truthes.

      BUNK Only one actual event occurred in the proverbial accident which is usually referred to in this argument- and if there is a video camera trained at the right angle to catch that traffic accident that is immediately clear=one set of accurate facts of that event. One set of physical actions, one set of laws of physics. What we do have is many perspectives which are partial and not complete thus a variety of conclusions- some more complete or accurate than others.

      Thus we have accident reconstruction specialists who use laws of physics and can judge one perspective superior or more accurate than another. We need anything that makes our world views less subjective - especailly when the outcome determines human life.

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    2. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to David Lamond

      Oh David, yes, and as soon as I pressed submit, I wished that I had included an endorsement of your point of view. YES, I loved your references and I am passionate about this topic.

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    3. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      Sure, of course. I can agree to that, but we should remember that as long as machines and laws (of whatever sort) are created by humans, they are capable of human error and subjectivity.

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    4. Debra Joan Smith

      Account Executive

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Yes, they are capable of human error BUT we have nothing better and a decision must be made today not someday, Trent. We can reverse many decisions if paradigm shifting information floods in and if a new Einstein shows us the error of our ways but until then- doing nothing is seldom an option. I repeat - lives are on the line.

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    5. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "they are capable of human error and subjectivity"

      Machines are not capable of error.

      They perform their functions neccesarily. Excluding material failures, any "error" is a result of the design and is the machine acting "correctly" in accordance with that design.

      To assess error requires a judgement in relation to a desired end. Machines and laws might manifest human error but they do not err.

      That is why they frighten us.

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    6. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      "Yes, they are capable of human error BUT we have nothing better and a decision must be made today not someday" - and there's the crux of it, really. That we can't have absolute objectivity or certain knowledge doesn't mean that some things are more objective or more certain than others. The point about subjective urgency is a really important one too. We can't wait for 'perfected' knowledge to arise given the necessity of living and acting. 'Objectivity' may only be real for subjects, but that doesn't mean all truth-claims are relative.

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    7. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      That's it exactly, Patrick.

      Science doesn;t make any claim to be eternal truth - it is a model that incirporates the best available knowledge of the time.

      Some things - like the structure of DNA, get gradually revealed over time. Some directly observable or measurable things - like the shape of the earth from space, or the atomic mass of hydrogen, or the relationship between the diameter and the circumference of a circle, are no longer subject to debate or speculation - they have finite dimensions.

      Our challenge is to accept that these different categories of knowing and thinking exist, and to understand the differences.

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    8. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Debra Joan Smith

      Okay, I agree. Let's make a decision today. I'm not against it. I just think we should remember the decisions we make today are still influenced by our cultural upbringing, social status, privilege, etc, and thus are not subjectivity, which as been my point all along.

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    9. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      All claims are relative. They are relative to the person making said claim. I don't think we can wait for "perfect" knowledge because it doesn't exist. However, we should acknowledge that. To argue that is does exist (which it seems most "scientists" in these comments are arguing) is to lie to oneself and the community.

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    10. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      They are capable of error because they are made by humans. If any error exists, it is the cause of humans, and therefore, a machine is capable of error.

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    11. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      No. The machine is not capable of error.

      Error in the context of machines is the discrepancy between the expected and the actual output.

      But that output is determined by the human design. Once the machine is set in motion each step is determined by the initial conditions. That is the logic of the machine.

      For example, a computer "error" is either a coding error - human error - or a malfunction. A malfunction is not an error - it is the macine not functioning as intended.

      That it the wrong result is achieved does not mean that machine errer, it means that there was a human error in establishing the initial conditions.

      To err implies a choice. Machines do not choose.

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    12. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "I don't think we can wait for "perfect" knowledge because it doesn't exist."

      How can you "know" that perfect knowledge does not exist if perfect knowledge does not exist?

      And as all claims are relative, you deny the truth value of your own statements.

      You are engaging in exactly the behaviour that you decry. You are attempting to tell us what can and cannot be said.

      Relativism is the ultimate oppression.

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    13. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      As you like the wisdom of the past, how about. Parmenides,:

      "...that it is not and that it is right that it not be,
      this I point out to you is a path wholly inscrutable
      for you could not know what is not (for it is not to be accomplished)
      nor could you point it out…"

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    14. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      Or from above:

      "...created by humans, they are capable of human error and subjectivity."

      No. Humans are capable of such. Machines are a manifestation. But they do not make the error. The error is mad by the human.

      A hammer does not "miss" the nail - a hammer only goes where you direct it. You set it in motion - the error is your's not the hammer's.

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    15. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Facts are relative?

      I have a heavy duty motorised paper guillotine. Come out here, put your arm under the blade and if the power is on, and if I, or anybody else pushes the two buttons it will slice your arm off.

      Fact. No amount of dissenting opinion, no amount of rationalisation will alter that fact.

      It is and will remain a fact for as long as that machine remains operational. Is it repeatable? Absolutely, for just a long as you have people who will stick their arm under it.

      No matter who has a contrary opinion, the fact remains. the contrary opinions simply have no validity..

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  4. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    Let's take a broader look at what Stokes said, outside the classroom.

    Do I value the opinion of someone on climate science whose sole source of knowledge is Alan Jones?

    Do I value the opinion of someone on marriage equality who is a follower of Fred Nile?

    Yes, extremes, but opinions are to be valued from those who have taken the intellectual time to look at issues and arrive at them independently.

    We may not agree with them - and the wonderful thing about these pages is we are free to disagree - but at least we know that the opinions expressed here - well, most of them - are worth listening to and have some basis in an understanding of or knowledge of the subject being debated.

    I have taught, and when I teach, I don't force my understanding on my students but offer them a number of ways to see a problem and encourage debate in the classroom.

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    1. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      So, besides a personal endorsement, what value does the word "agree" have in your world of subjective truth?

      You agree? How do you know you agree without words that have meaning independent of you and your interlocutor? Don't you require at least a third reference point independent of both of you? Something objective, one might say.

      R: Hmm. That drop doesn't look to far!

      G: I agree.

      R: Excellent. I wonder why the call it Lover's Leap?

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to John Newton

      John Newton - your examples are interesting:

      Climate science - this is a matter of observation and measurement - not "belief"

      Marriage equality is a matter of ethics and morality - not measurable or quantifiable.

      Herein lies the confusion. Some things are infinitely debatable, with no objective "truth". Some things are objectively verifiable, observable and measurable, without room for debate. We should not confuse them.

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    3. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      The value of my "agree" has whatever value the person I'm responding to allocates it.

      This is semiotics, which is not what my piece was about. Should you be interested in such things, I suggest you start with de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics.

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    4. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      You can deflect it with semiotics or you can tell me why the statement "I agree" has any utility when, to your mind, there is nothing that we can be in agreement about.

      If your conception of truth is persepctivist, and each of you occupy a different persepctive, what is it you are agreeing on?

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    1. Steve Middendorf

      Retired IT Exec

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      What a fascinating debate and discussion. If our parliamentarians were half as courteous, half as thoughtful, and half as responsive, I'm sure we could quickly work our way through our refugee situation and agree to reasonable policy and legislation

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  5. James Heathers

    PhD Candidate in Applied Physiology at University of Sydney

    Quotes are generally a lazy way of responding to an argument, but I immediately thought of Asimov:

    "When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "a wisdom lost in the 21st century. "

      I see no evidence of this.

      Patrick Stokes' article, in fact, shows both wisdom and rationality.

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    2. James Heathers

      PhD Candidate in Applied Physiology at University of Sydney

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Regardless, today I am succumbing to intellectual laziness as I am busy preparing one-sided, didactic and tyrannical social constructions of the autonomic nervous system to teach to our senior undergraduates.

      I'm actually quite curious, Trent: this material is grounded in about one hundred and fifty years of torturously slow research. Try as I might, I simply can't fit any liberation nor open discussion. People are more than welcome to ask questions, but they really aren't entitled to tell me…

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    3. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to James Heathers

      Great comment, if not aggressive in some ways.

      I would say those things are socially constructed. Here's why: we accept that these things happen now due to a lengthy research cycle. But, the scientist experimenting on this in the beginning was what? He was testing a thought, an idea, a belief that something is. Or he stumbled upon on it. Either way, that issue was not just accepted, right? Every other scientists didn't say, "Sure. I believe you." without seeing for themselves. The community of scientists had to accept this observation. They had to socially accept it which in turn leads them to socially construct it. This presents a unified front through which the scientific community presents it's observations as facts.

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    4. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      "The community of scientists had to accept this observation. They had to socially accept it which in turn leads them to socially construct it. "

      No, they had to rationally accept it.

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    5. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      So, Trent, you're asking me to prove that your assertion is true?

      No - it doesn't work that way.

      You assert that wisdom is lost in the 21st century.
      I say that I haven;t seen evidence that your assertion is true.
      You come back with the evidence for your assertion, or admit that you just made it up.

      (It's really not that hard to follow.)

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  6. Michael Lenehan

    retired

    I agree that the ultimate"goal" of education (rather than training) should be "to liberate them [the students] from whatever oppresses them." But Isn't there a danger that, in valuing everyone's opinion in a class (and the students will come from a wide range of socio-economic groups - though not so much in the ghetto schools I taught in all my life), teachers are thereby engaging in a form of "repressive tolerance".

    To do so leaves the student without a repressive educational institution against…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Michael Lenehan

      I am flabbergasted by your comment. Are you actually suggesting that we should not fight oppression in education? We should allow oppression of students to continue because it'll give them something to rebel against?

      Oy vey.

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  7. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Trent has a point and it is actually complementary to Patrick's point. As a rhetoric and writing teacher (context) elucidation of student opinions is necessary. In order to develop academic habits of respectful argumentation (arguing the facts or reasoning not the person), it is important that students are able to express their opinions in a fairly safe environment (not lambasted or ridiculed). Patrick's point is that not all factoids or facts are evidence for a given argument and that there is…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Great comment. I think Stoke's and mine views are complementary and go well together. They actually both support each other, which is something I'm surprised more people haven't noticed.

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  8. Luke Freeman
    Luke Freeman is a Friend of The Conversation.

    ABC

    I think Trent Kays missed the point of the Stokes article. Stokes argued that having an opinion is fine, but contesting that opinion as a valid fact when it is not supported by evidence should not be okay.

    I still think that Stokes' striving for a well-founded opinion, especially when you are trying to convince other people (like Meryl Dorey about vaccinations), is something our society could do with much more of instead of ultra-subjective post-modern BS that people use to mask their ignorance.

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    1. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Luke Freeman

      "Stokes argued that having an opinion is fine, but contesting that opinion as a valid fact when it is not supported by evidence should not be okay."

      The good thing is, that an argument for an opinion unsupported by evidence (or against a valid fact) can only be performed for so long before being unravelled.

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    2. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Luke Freeman

      "Stokes argued that having an opinion is fine, but contesting that opinion as a valid fact when it is not supported by evidence should not be okay."

      The good thing is, that an argument for an opinion unsupported by evidence (or against a valid fact) can only be performed for so long before being unravelled.

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    3. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Luke Freeman

      "Stokes argued that having an opinion is fine, but contesting that opinion as a valid fact when it is not supported by evidence should not be okay."

      The good thing is, that an argument for an opinion unsupported by evidence (or against a valid fact) can only be performed for so long before being unravelled.

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  9. Jonathan Maddox

    Software Engineer

    "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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  10. Simon Brown
    Simon Brown is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Professor in Emergency Medicine, University of Western Australia

    Trent- your entire article strikes me as one big "straw man" argument because it set up as some sort of reply to Patrick Stokes. With my "teaching hat" on I agree with your perspective entirely about teaching methods and the importance of not devaluing students. But, this is not what Patrick Stokes was talking about. If I could offer this analogy- I should not devalue my junior doctors attempts to reason through a difficult diagnostic/therapeutic problem, but I also can't let them just wade in and kill a patient in error- in the end, not all opinions are equal! We have to be pragmatic.

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Simon Brown

      Stokes' talked about students. He talked about student opinions and argument, then he used popular media sources to support his claims. It was about students, and it was about teaching.

      It's really not that hard to follow.

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  11. Peter Bright

    Retired

    The only opinions to which any of us are entitled are those that reflect the truth. In the absence of fact then we only have a right to those opinions nearest it.

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  12. Andrew West

    Lecturer

    Interesting article.

    You make a number of fairly categorical statements (such as that "there is no objective truth because objectivity does not exist") and talk about some viewpoints being correct (or 'hardly correct'). Do you consider these to be 'facts'?

    Given that we are all inevitably biased, why should we believe your version any more than the contrary view?

    And if constructing arguments is a good thing, can we identify some arguments that are better (in terms of their construction) than others? That is, are opinions based on invalid arguments poorer than those based on valid arguments? Or are we to consider all of these equally 'true'?

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Andrew West

      No, I don't consider them facts. I do consider them solid observations based on my own research and life experiences.

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  13. Neil Tuttle

    Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist & Senior Lecturer at Griffith University

    Creative writing is not science, nor should science be creative writing. One is dependent on evidence, the other does not.

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    1. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Neil Tuttle

      True Neil - but I think any class (including creative writing) needs a 'worthwhile' test. Is it worthwhile - or interesting - to hear other students say whatever comes into their heads? I've been in classes like that (first-year philosophy springs to mind) and they felt like a waste of time.

      I was the worst culprit by the way - I seem to remember voicing strong opinions about Plato's Republic and I hadn't actually read it.

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    2. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to James Jenkin

      I don't understand why so many people are averse to another's opinion being expressed. It would be a boring life to exist in a vacuum.

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Mr kays - are you being deliverately obtuse?

      Patrick Stokes' original contention is that one should not automatically assume that their views will be held to be valid unless they can be backed up with rationale, logic or evidence.

      Many people here support that view.

      We are not complaining about "another's opinion" - we are disagreeing with people making assertions without evidence, rational or logic to back them. YOu keep saying that you understand Stokes' point, but perhaps that his not an objective fact. It is certainly not an observable phenomenon.

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  14. Hugh Breakey

    Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

    The references to Plato in the article seem to me misleading.

    First, one does not have to be Platonist, or be in any way influenced by Plato, to believe in the existence of objective truths, and hence the idea that some beliefs correspond with an external reality and others do not. Countless individuals, cultures and societies around the world and throughout history have believed in objective truths, just as other individuals, cultures and societies around the world have believed in relativist…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Hugh Breakey

      Most positivist thinking can be traced to Plato's assertion of the one truth. Scientists are known holders to positivism. This hold has led to some of the worst scientific experiments of all time: From Nazi experimentation on Jews, to the US military experimenting on Tuskegee Airman.

      We should keep an open mind because this might help us avoid those black/white issues.

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    2. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      The Nazi's?

      You are not going to perhaps allow that in the "complex mess of the world" that a statement like positivism led to the atrocities of Nazi scientists is an hilariously bad historical inference?

      No room for Hegel or anti-semitism?

      It doesn't play on you mind that positivism in most cases did not lead to horrific abuses of human rights. No allowance that such an outcome might be "relative" to the context?.

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    3. Hugh Breakey

      Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      “Most positivist thinking can be traced to Plato's assertion of the one truth.”

      Well, no. Even if we confine ourselves only to the Western tradition, positivism is better traced to Aristotle, and the arguments and methodologies he developed against Plato. Plato on the whole took a less-positivist and more-rational, other-worldly position on matters of truth and metaphysics. His influence has been rationalist, not positivist.

      But in any case one can believe in objective truths without being…

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  15. Ian Grey

    Director

    Asking your students' opinions is essential to establish a starting point for teaching; and yes, of course there is no absolute objectivity and no "fact" can ever be entirely certain. This does not, however, change the basis of logical argument or remove the need for critical thinking. A conclusion reached on the basis of logic, critical thinking and consideration of evidence is far more likely to be correct than one reached from any other approach. Some opinions are simply incredibly unlikely…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Ian Grey

      You're accusing me of bullying? It wasn't bullying. It was critique, and if you can't understand the difference, I suggest you take a first-year level writing course to help you.

      I love critical thinking! That's why I encourage postmodernist critique.

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    2. Ian Grey

      Director

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Hmm, there's that sneer again. For someone claiming to be a champion of the right to hold opposing views you seem to show considerable disdain for those whose view oppose your own.

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Ian Grey

      Bullying is in the eye of the beholder. It's all relative, after all.

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    4. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Ian Grey

      Ian:
      Would you please expand on this: 'and yes, of course there is no absolute objectivity and no "fact" can ever be entirely certain. '

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  16. Elizabeth Hart

    Independent Vaccine Investigator

    The late Christopher Hitchens’ concept of ‘Hitch 22’, which is to defend science and reason, is relevant to this discussion.
    ‘Hitch 22’ can be summarised in the following three mottoes:
    - The only thing you are sure of is uncertainty.
    - The only thing that is certain is doubt.
    - The main thing is the Socratic principle - you’re only educated when you understand how ignorant you are.
    These are valuable mottoes of humility for all of us to keep in mind…
    Hitchens explained the concept of ‘Hitch…

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    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      Thanks Elizabeth.

      "The only thing you can be sure of is uncertainty". Not really: all molecules of CO2 will have similar absorption spectra, even the ones I haven't yet measured.

      I will continue to hold to this evidence-based expectation until and unless countervailing evidence is presented. Applying Bayes, the likelihood of such presentation is vanishingly small.

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    2. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Arthur

      "And so all assertions of faith or absolutism or complete belief are almost by definition, useless and false. And actually, that's quite a strong commitment to be making. To a party of doubt and uncertainty, open-mindedness and scepticism. I feel I can spend the rest of my life doing that with a fair degree of conviction. "

      He wasn't criticising science, he was criticising religious belief, or other beliefs, that are held to with absolutism but without evidence. In science, as new data becomes available, we are prepared to shift our conclusions on a topic as we are demonstrated to be right or wrong.

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    3. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      My understanding is that Patrick Stokes's "The Conversation" contribution was pointing out the primacy of evidence.

      Perhaps the primacy of evidence could be recognised outside what is officially defined as "science"? Perhaps other fields of scholarship could learn something?

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  17. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Yes, teachers should respect and encourage students' opinions and ideas. And being able to participate makes a class more enjoyable.

    But too much of the wrong sort of participation can be tedious. Students don't want to sit there for an hour listening to uninformed nonsense from other students.

    They want the teacher to teach them something. For example, if I were in Trent's writing class, I'd be thinking, 'OK, nice, we got to say what we think for a few minutes, but now I want Trent to show me how to write well'.

    (And then some practice, with feedback from Trent, would be great too.)

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Yes, I do all that as well. Of course, just because someone is talking and has an opinion doesn't mean my other students don't jump in to critique them. It makes for a rousing and fun class while learning about aspects of rhetoric and writing.

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  18. Dan Smith

    Network Engineer

    "An opinion without evidence can be truth as much as fact with evidence can be a falsehood."

    Please explain how a fact with evidence can be a falsehood. Bear in mind that you've just employed the epistemological equivalent of the "mutually assured destruction" nuke, so you may struggle to convince me that this is not just nonsense on stilts on high heels on a tortoise.

    "Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them"

    Ahhh, I get it. You almost had me! Welcome to Theconversation, Alan Sokal.

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    1. Dan Smith

      Network Engineer

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      My apologies, my testudinal fortitude was shell-lacking ... fortunately I can now claim my opinion as truth, and your evidence as possibly a falsehood.

      I'll see myself out.

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  19. Patrick Stokes

    Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

    Hi Trent,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply in such a passionate and decisive way. Your students are clearly lucky to have such an engaged and thoughtful teacher.

    Thanks too for the opportunity to clarify a few things here that maybe didn’t come across in the original article.

    Despite using Plato’s rough distinction between knowledge and opinion, I’m a very long way from his worldview. For one thing the way I set up that article would imply that the only ‘knowledge’ we have is mathematical…

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    1. Luke Freeman
      Luke Freeman is a Friend of The Conversation.

      ABC

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Amazing response, thanks Patrick!

      I felt that Trent missed the point of your article and you have clearly outlined how so.

      Keep up the great work!

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    2. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      +1 and a +1 for Hugh Breakey too.

      Still can't use the buttons! I am being oppressed!

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Again, beautifully expresed, Patrick.

      I am interseted in the idea that the ancient philosophers were also the scientists of their times, because the technology for testing and measurement of natural phenomena was not well-developed, so the testing of scientific ideas relied on human senses and reason.

      We now have ways of observing and measuring that go far beyond the human senses, so we no longer have to speculate about the building blocks of the human body, for example, we can see them under…

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    4. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Thanks very much Sue! Yes we tend to forget just how recent the divisions between disciplines are, which is why it's so startling when you see philosophers like Kant doing what's recognizably science as recently as the mid-1700s.

      Will be looking up Spence once I get some reading time *laughs bitterly*.

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    5. Roger Davidson

      Student

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Wow, you are way nicer than I would have been. This guy completely misrepresented what you wrote, either deliberately or through ignorance, and then insulted you through passive aggressive comments in his article - and you praise him?

      He didn't even have the decency to come back here and apologise.

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    6. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Roger Davidson

      Why would I apologize? I responded to Stokes' article in the same I would respond to anyone's article that doesn't lend proper agency to students.

      I mean, you came here to comment and didn't even have the decency to contribute something meaningful, yet I do not expect an apology from you.

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    7. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      ...and by "doesn't lend proper agency to students" we apparently here mean "assumes students actually *are* agents and as such care about the validity of their beliefs." A big part of being an agent is caring about your agency, and that means, among other things, caring that what you do and say makes sense, that how your feel about things is appropriate to the situation, that your actions aren't self-defeating or your beliefs incoherent, that you're self-governing in at least some degree rather than simply being pushed around by your immediate impulses. (Cf. Frankfurt's famous distinction between first-order and second-order desires; a person whose actions are wholly determined by their first-order desires would barely count as a self at all).

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    8. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Surely this is a key part of adult education, no? You are teaching young adults the process of critical thought, which requires backing up our views with rational discourse (evidence, if you like).

      Tertiary philosophy students shouldn't just be be patted on the head like primary school kids and told that it is great to express a view - it is the mental discipline of backing up that view that is being taught and expected.

      Perhaps we need less rhetoric and more rationality in public debate.

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    9. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      He did contribute an opinion - according to you, all opinions are meaningful, and now you're telling someone they've presented something meaningless? Do I detect a little self-contradiction?

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  20. Rob Crowther

    Architectural Draftsman

    I think there is a hierarchy here.

    This article describes first thought. One can think and so can express an idea or opinion. Whatever that opinion or idea is, just get it out there.

    Stokes’s article primarily is about taking first thought or opinion and weighing against evidence. If it stacks up then keep it, if it doesn’t then move on.

    My personal view is we need both but not in equal amounts.

    I think there are the dissenting comments because the last 15 years has seen the rise of pure and cherry picked opinion trumping evidence based argument. My take on its is those who bother put some research into their thoughts are sick to the back teeth of it.

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Rob Crowther

      Yes, I agree. I think both viewpoints are important. I've said that many times.

      Also, I'm assuming "sick to the back teeth of it" is an idiom from Down Under.

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  21. Martin Bouckaert

    logged in via Facebook

    I used to wonder why so many university-educated people I was meeting could be so thoroughly incapable of critical and rational thought, and so devoid of any willingness to accept that they might be wrong. Now I know: we have teachers that teach them how to.

    The facts of science, mathematics, statistics, etc, are not subjective facts, they aren't decided on by people, they are determined by what the observations and data tell us. Now, perhaps in the fields of creative writing, philosophy, or cultural studies etc, this might be an effective way to think, but this is not doing anyone any favours.

    "Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them"

    This bugs me the most. No, facts are not socially constructed, and they would still exist even if humans did not. IDEAS AND MEANINGS are socially constructed, but the FACTS speak for themselves. That's why they are facts.

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      Well let's not be too hasty here. There is in fact a sense in which a seemingly rock-solid fact like 'water boils at 100 degrees celsius at sea level' *is* socially constructed: we could have had a different set of concepts about temperature, or a different taxonomy of liquids, or whatever. That doesn't mean that, given the concepts we *do* use, it isn't a fact that water boils at 100 degrees, or that it could be true that water boils at 30 degrees at sea level etc. And it's true that, to put what…

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    2. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Well thank you for some clarity, but I think merely stating that "Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them" without such clarity could have various meanings. I have seen many people use this same line to argue that "there are no facts except that which we create to justify [insert new misunderstood technology here]". When Edward Jenner discovered cowpox would inoculate against the smallpox, he faced similar arguments against the scientific…

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    3. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick,

      You draw attention here to what is probably a very important discussion which I have assiduously avoided - ie, the nature of "facts" and the phenomena/event/thing that these "facts" refer to.

      I have had some less than productive discussions with a person who maintained that Jesus didn't exist because the letter J was not in use prior to I can't remember when.

      Setting aside the related historical arguments for the sake of brevity. We can say it is a fact that someone called Jesus…

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    4. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      [this isn't a direct response to your point Geoffrey, but it prompted me]
      It seems that within this mostly philosophical discussion, words can take on different meanings depending on their context or frame of reference. The words "fact" and "truth" have been described in so many different ways here, that they've lost their meaning from my mostly scientific perspective. It's quite baffling really!

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    5. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Jodie Lia

      Perhaps it's not the "facts" that are socially-constructed so much as the language used to describe them.

      To use Patrick's example of water boiling: we know that there is a substance that incorporates two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, that moves between solid, liquid and vaour forms at different levels of thermal energy, in a predictable way.

      The terms ice, water and steam are cultural, as are temperature scales, the term "temperature" for thermal energy, the names hydrogen and oxygen…

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    6. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Jodie Lia

      "It's quite baffling really!"

      I understand where you are coming from, Jodie.

      After reading Philosophy for "pleasure" for a couple of years I was baffled. Then I invested more time, read a little more closely and got my head around some complex ideas. At that point I was even more baffled.

      I have been reading a lot of Nietzsche. I am still thouroughly baffled, but his prose is nice.

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    7. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      I agree philosophy is quite interesting and have dabbled in it here and there but I guess my already busy mind is stimulated a little too much whenever I've tried to delve a little deeper. I am also deeply envious of philosophers like Nietzsche that are such poetic masters of language...*sigh*

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    8. Jodie Lia

      Ecologist

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Thanks Sue. It is all in the language used to express the phenomena. I now know that I know what I know.

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    9. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      I don't think you understand what facts are. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but if you need a primer on why facts are socially constructed, I suggest you read Latour's Laboratory Life.

      I would gladly accept the idea that I might be wrong. But, I haven't actually said science is not to be believed. I've said we should keep an open mind and encourage this in our students, so they can be active and engaged citizens of the world.

      Thanks for the insult though. I'll put in my file of insults.

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    10. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      I understand just fine what facts are, and I most certainly didn't insult you. If you took it as one, then perhaps you need to reconsider the strength of your convictions, especially considering how you declared an above commenter's contribution meaningless after writing about how all opinions have merit. As it stands, Stokes' comment opened my eyes to a better understanding of how facts are socially constructed, and I deferred to his excellent clarification of the subject.

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Chris Richardson

      No, not really, But, thanks for contributing a meaningful comment.

      Here's a humorous quip in place of a joke: A horse walks into a bar. Horse sits down. Bartender asks, "Hey, buddy. Why the long face?"

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  22. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    "There is no objective truth because objectivity does not exist; there are only degrees of subjectivity." Utter bollocks: if a tree falls over in the forest, and no-one is there to hear it, has it fallen over? Yes, it has.

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to David Arthur

      I don't know. Has it? Were you there to observe it? Were you there to hear it? If not, then how can I know objectively.

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  23. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    All opinions are equal, or all opinion can be considered equal, or am I misunderstanding something?

    Fairly recently I was onsite where a septic tank installing crew were indicating the several, reasonable/rational positions for the installation.

    The woman of the house was insisting, with mounting fury that she wanted it installed further up the valley.

    These opinions were equally valid? Not in my view.

    Things were finally settled when the boss of the installation crew, in answer to…

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  24. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    I'm often curious how those kids fed a diet of evangelical creationism or intelligent design cope out in the real world after they've left the safety of the community that has instilled these values. Do they spend their professional lives taking on any hint of evolution should it raise its antichrist head?

    How sad it is that we should waste our time on such matters. When there are serious problems to solve.

    How big a thorn? How much side?

    While there is some hippie afterglow left…

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    1. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Love it! I have two neighbours who fit that description!

      One runs around with a cutting (copy of) a photo of Brisbane in a flood in 1800 and something which 'proves' that climate change is nonsense!

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  25. David Lamond

    Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

    This piece in the SMH today is worthy of a read in light of much of the toing and froing in today's conversation about what is "real" and not. Back to school for Alan Jones: 2GB producers to implement fact checking, rules ACMA http://bit.ly/Raq4Dv

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  26. Sam Yates

    Research Fellow

    Sure, our ontologies are constructed. But competing frameworks of knowledge are not created equal. If, for example, one accepts that an important criterion of a world model is consistency and predictive power, then a scientific approach is going to be better than a non-scientific approach, as has been repeatedly demonstrated.

    We can admit many explanations for our world, both physical and social. We can conceive of a myriad more, bizarre and imaginative. But to live and thrive and communicate…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Sam Yates

      Yes, I agree. The point is that we should be open to new ways of thinking, and we should encourage this in our students.

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    2. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Trent, if the point of your essay is that "... we should be open to new ways of thinking, and we should encourage this in our students", why did you not say that in the first place instead of creating this huge controversy about what are commonly accepted facts determined by scientific method and as far as the world is concerned will remain facts until any new evidence to the contrary emerges. Certainly we should be open to new ways of thinking, but, we should also be quick to reject obviously flawed…

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  27. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    Trent, I understand the approach you are taking, the adult learning principles are clear. But I fear you have misunderstood the Stokes article. You are mistaking the subjective for the objective in relation to opinion. When we have objective evidence (science) then you aren't really allowed to disagree with it unless you want to be wrong.

    The thing about science is that it is right, regardless of what you think. Now we can have imperfect and subjective findings from science, but that is where your side of the discussion comes in. Stokes wasn't talking about that part, but rather the idea that people think that an opinion doesn't have to agree with facts. He cited just one example, Meryl Dory's denial of medical science, but there are many others, such as climate change denial, evolution denial, etc. You can't argue against facts, and holding an opinion that isn't factual means your opinion is worthless.

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      That is a simplistic and untrue statement, and rather dismissive.

      Science is ever evolving in information, but you are mistakenly thinking that you can dismiss accumulated knowledge because small parts were poorly understood. A scientific theory is for all intents and purposes a fact. You want to argue the one percenters, then that is where opinion and inconclusive evidence come in. But you cannot dismiss gravity, or evolution, or thermodynamics, or climate change, because they are not going to…

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  28. Diane Bruhn

    ocassional activist

    "Every good idea has to have a context" this came to me in a dream. One only has to look to the disclaimer at the top of this article to see this statement in evidence. "Trent Kays" does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations." Doesn't this suggest, that regardless of the scientific knowledge and experience of the author to interpret evidence objectively, that his 'context…

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Diane Bruhn

      Diane - your example of the mother of schizophrenic sons is an interesting one. As you say, the older anti-psychotic medications had significant side-effects when used long-term. Thankfully, they have been largely replaced by better and safer drugs.

      having said that, would these twins have been better off with 10 years of untreated schizophrenia? Do you assume that the treating psychiatrist was not doing their best to balance benefit and risk? Does the fact that the most effective anti-psychotics…

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    2. Diane Bruhn

      ocassional activist

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      If my memory serves me correctly, the parent concerned said she and her sons were not advised of the possible side effects of the prescribed medications. This woman was distressed in part, because she believed different decisions would have been made by the family about medication had they been fully informed by the treating psychiatrist/s. She viewed the psychiatrist's decision to not provide this information as a betrayal, she trusted her son's well being to the professional and in her opinion, the psychiatrist had failed in his duty of care. Two son's with schizophrenia was challenging to cope with, two son's unable to use their hands, unbearable.

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Diane Bruhn

      If that psychiatrist deliberately withheld known information, Ms Bruhn, then indeed that family is owed an apology.

      I wonder if what really happened is that the best available drug of the time was used for a very severe condition that caused distress, and the information was not repeated over time.

      Severe psychotic illness can be both very disabling and life-threatening -but not always curable. Very difficult indeed for that family with two boys affected.

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  29. Pete Mulherin

    Student

    "There is no objective truth because objectivity does not exist; there are only degrees of subjectivity."

    Sound like an objective statement to you...?

    (sorry if other people have picked this up, I'm not reading all the comments)

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  30. Julie Roccisano

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    I enjoyed reading about your teaching style and am very pleased to hear you take this approach Trent :)

    However, I think you have misunderstood Patrick Stokes. My understand of Patrick's aricle is that:

    1. The title is meant to catch attention which it certainly does

    2. He is trying to prompt his students to put the effort into debate and articulating their ideas and is therefore probably not so different to you in his approach to pedagogy

    3. The article is relevant to the quality of debate presented in the media here in Australia at the moment. Personally I have had enough of people gaining significant air time in the Australian media for their unformulated, unconsidered, and unsubstantiated opinions at the expense of real experts in the field. My understanding of Patrick's article is that he is really keen to see a higher quality debate rather than the shock jock rubbish we are being sold at present.

    Thank you for contributing to quality debte!!

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Julie Roccisano

      Thank you. I understand. In the US we have to deal with issues like this all the time. Yet, we leave it to people to be informed and base their decisions on the reality of their situations.

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    2. Julie Roccisano

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Trent M Kays

      Yes, in Australia we also leave the public to work out for themselves the merit, or otherwise, of the perspectives put to us by the media.

      However I heard an argument that raised an interesting perspective on opinion vs merit:

      "If 99% of climate scientists think that global warming is happening and caused by humans is it balanced reporting for journalists to give equal air time to one climate denier and one climate advocate?"

      While this is about global warming the general argument could be applied to other topics.

      I still don't know how much the general public critically engage with what they hear or see in the media. Forums like this give me hope. People who approach and yell at the actors of soap operas for something that their charcter did in the show worry me.

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  31. Lewis Stockwell

    logged in via Facebook

    What surprises me most about this article is that there are some fundamental flaws on perspective as well as the reading of Friere. You are indeed correct about Friere looking for a collaborative approach to learning, but not once does he say that you are entitle to just always say what you think without the concept of reasoned argument. He even calls for 'Authentic Reflection' on all areas of oneself including such things as 'what we know, and how we know it?'. Having this epistemological presence…

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    1. Trent M Kays

      Graduate Instructor and Rhetoric & Writing Studies PhD Student at University of Minnesota

      In reply to Lewis Stockwell

      Well, if you read the breadth of Freire's work, you'll see that he values opinion in that it is a way to rebel against the oppressive structures that allow opinion to be repressed.

      Having an opinion doesn't preclude critical thought and reasoning. When one says something is reasonable, they are usually basing that on some aspect of opinion. Or they are making an educated guess. We make them all the time.

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  32. Michael Fitzpatrick

    logged in via Facebook

    Note to author.

    This is a post-postmodernist world.
    Postmoderism was lots of fun and games, but someone lost an eye.

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    1. Jonathan Maddox

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Chris Richardson

      The emails tell you how:

      "If you don't want to receive notifications for this article, you can unsubscribe from notifications on this article."

      I can't paste the link here because it needs a "token" that belongs to you -- if I pasted mine, you might unsubscribe me, which I might appreciate, but it wouldn't help you.

      My sixth sense tells me you're using gmail. The footers of the emails (including the "reply" and "unsubscribe" links) will be hidden if there are many replies with the same footers. Find an ellipsis ("...") in a grey box, click to see the footers, then click the "unsubscribe from notifications on this article" link.

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    2. Chris Richardson
      Chris Richardson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Doctor

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Thank you Jonathon Maddox. Also the ranking or order of posts seems random, or at least not in order of the time they're posted. What's the go there?

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Chris Richardson

      In general, new posts go at the bottom, and replies go ender the comment they reply to, in time order.

      Then, something magical and totally inexplicable happens and the order changes from when first posted.

      The only way to keep track is the dotted lines linking comments and their responses, the "in reply to" information and the time stamp. Quite a cognitive exercise to keep track. I beleive there is evidence that trying to follow it all helps delay the onset of dementia.

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    4. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Like reading a newspaper that's been folded into an origami stork.

      I've noticed this temporal tampering happening more often of late - particularly since the creation of the Higgs Boson... it's gone to their heads. A scatter of sub-atomic editorial possibilities.

      I think dementia might come as a relief myself... if I'm facing a future spent plotting out the genealogical threads of conversations via these dotty little pathways.

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  33. Greg Beattie

    logged in via Facebook

    I know I'm a bit late arriving but I very much appreciate your article, Trent. I hope you aren't too dismayed by the volume of negative comments. You're under drone attack. They were all alerted when your article went up.

    The reason: Meryl Dorey is having an impact on vaccination programs through her ever-so-slightly-publicised arguments. Some don't like this, so there is a large organised effort to crush her and the organisation she heads. Patrick's original article was aimed at her. The drones…

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      " genuine commenters " ?

      Greg Beattie - as a published vaccine denialist and ally of Ms Dorey, do you consider yourself to be a "genuine commenter"?

      As a "genuine commenter" who can also see the many fallacies in Ms Dorey's arguments, I have participated here to debate the topic of whether individual assertions and opinions should be considered to hold validity without being backed up by logic or evidence. You don't appear to have said anyting about that.

      I just wanted to provide other readers with some background to expalin your comment.

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    2. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      For those of you playing along at home:

      Unqualified people insisting they know more about scientific questions than actual scientists = fearless, Galileo-like seekers after truth.
      People questioning those who do that = drones.

      Charming.

      For the record, Ms Dorey wasn't the 'target' of that article. Her organization does, however, represent a particularly good example of the phenomenon I was critiquing, namely, the assertion of equivalence between expert and non-expert opinion with respect to scientfic matters, and the assumption that all opinions are equally valid.

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    3. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Also, just on the Galileo thing, I will say this for you, AVN: while that recent piece comparing yourselves to Galileo was rather silly, I did laugh out loud at the line about eight planets not being a large enough sample size.

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    4. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Also, just on the Galileo thing, I will say this for you, AVN: while that recent piece comparing yourselves to Galileo was rather silly, I did laugh out loud at the line about eight planets not being a large enough sample size.

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    5. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick

      Now here we have you championing the sweeping statement (or some might say the strawman): another thing I didn't expect to see. No one has said those without formal qualifications who challenge those with are "fearless, Galileo-like seekers after truth". At least, I certainly didn't. Neither did I say "people questioning those who do that" are drones. I said there are many here who are part of an army fighting Meryl Dorey. These people operate like drones almost everywhere something is…

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    6. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      The "political climate" is entirely irrelevant to how much merit Meryl Dorey's uninformed opinion is.

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    7. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      "They are well organised and they are here lending their hand to the 'cause'."

      And you're just here to help out Trent. Got it.

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    8. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Of all the people commenting here, I count precisely four who I recognize from the SAVN Facebook page. (Apologies if I'm missing anyone). Care to point out which of these people are mere 'drones'?

      I also think you're projecting a far greater level of organization onto your opponents than is warranted. A bunch of bloggers and a Facebook page does not constitute a highly organized, centrally controlled movement against you, despite what some anti-vaccination advocates seem to think. It just means…

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    9. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Did we get one of those post-Modern "my reality is as valid as your reality" anti-vaccination bollockists on this thread also?

      Surely there's an anti-viral against that sort of nonsense? Maybe not: after all, they did get elected to the US White House (Karl Rove to Ron Suskind, 2004: "[Guys like you are] in what we call the reality-based community ... people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

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    10. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Even more irony in Greg Beattie's second post, considering earlier comments about "genuine commenters". My comments will be found all over the health topics on The Conversation - I mostly limit myself to this area because that is where my training and experience lies.

      I haven't seen Mr Beattie's comments on all those other threads, however (correct me if I'm wrong).

      When it comes to "highly organised"- my participation consists of reading many articles here and adding my comments (it not organised at all), while Mr Beattie's contribution appears to have been "organised" by someone noticing the thread (again, please correct me if I am wrong).

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    11. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "I count precisely four who I recognize from the SAVN Facebook page."

      Thanks for showing your hand, Patrick. So you do in fact have an opinion on the 'science' and you're not afraid to speak it. You've heard the competing arguments and you've decided which is best. In my opinion that's perfectly reasonable. A bit inconsistent in your case, but it seems inconsistency is becoming a recurring and perfectly acceptable theme.

      I could count only two. But then I'm not all that familiar with the group…

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    12. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Greg,

      This is not a discussion. We find ourselves once again reading personal attacks, insinuations and personal insult.

      Argue the facts - the science. The ethics of it - which I suspect is really at the heart of the matter for most anti-vaccination militants.

      But getting into a personal slanging match is both unedifying and unproductive...

      Let's see your best arguments against vaccines.

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    13. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter

      I disagree. The articles are not about vaccines. They're about who should be allowed to discuss them. Meryl's views have received the attention they have because of the strength of her arguments. Now there is a call to suppress them. That's what Patrick's article is all about. Just what do you think was personal attack about my comment? I was merely noting that he seemingly is associated with a group that is trying to shut her up, and I raised the question of whether this agenda coloured…

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    14. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      I'm not sure I agree with your characterisation of Patrick's position there Greg.

      It is more about how discussion of such matters should proceed. That it should be rational, based on facts, based on notions like the greatest outcome for the largest number.

      One does not need a degree in the specific discipline to hold an informed opinion - but the reverse does not apply. Any professional will have an informed opinion on their field of expertise - one way or another.

      But a decent discussion…

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    15. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Hi again Greg,

      “Showing my hand” eh? In disagreements between scientists and non-scientists about scientific questions I will, all else being equal, side with scientists. If you’re shocked – shocked! – by this earth-shattering revelation, you’ll be blown away when you learn I also think babies are cute and rainbows are pretty. So it’s not quite true to say I’ve “heard the competing arguments and [have] decided which is best.” I’ve heard scientists arguing with non-scientists about scientific…

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    16. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      *"I can’t speak for the 4600+ people who have 'liked' the SAVN Facebook page (there being no SAVN ‘membership’ as such"

      Also: increasingly sure I completely mangled the Italian there. Mi dispiace.

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    17. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      "Meryl's views have received the attention they have because of the strength of her arguments."

      Lol... you mean the weak, transparent and repetitive lies she tells that are a danger to public health if they successfully convince people that aren't trained in or capable of critical thinking?

      No, Meryl receives so much attention because she is a danger to public health. Her arguments are weak, transparent and repetitive at best. As for that respectful debate google group... I know for a fact that it's moderated by someone who is just as happy to slag the opposition as he is to block their messages if they disagree just a little too rationally. That group is no less biased than the AVN Facebook page.

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    18. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      "...one of the claims made about the group is that they frequently operate under pseudonyms..."

      That's funny, if not completely irrelevant, especially considering how many AVN members do the same :)

      "...because it (like AVN and Meryl Dorey) argues for open rational discussion..."

      Right.... and that's why so many rational comments in disagreement are removed, deleted, or hidden from the AVN wall and blogs. How very open and rational. You know, I posted there almost two years ago asking what made you think vaccines cause autism, and the post was deleted and I was banned from posting on the AVN wall from then on. I discovered SAVN soon after, so it was actually you lot who drove me to band against you. In that way, you did me a favour.

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    19. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Martin Bouckaert and Peter Ormonde

      I am not, and do not wish to get into a debate about immunisation.

      That said a comment of Peter’s: ‘ They take antibiotics if they're really sick but denounce the medicine industry and all its works. Far more faith in Chinese "traditional" medicine -‘ caught my attention.

      While I may well have read it wrongly, is seems rather dismissive of Chinese traditional medicine the me.

      I use antibiotics, I get a particular sore throat, without immediate, large…

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    20. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Thanks for the understanding Mr H ... there's just not enough understanding about in the world is there?

      Now if you are expecting something approaching consistency on these questions from me it will be a thinly wooded terrain you'd be covering. I blame my Irish roots. Someone's Irish roots anyway - far too many for their own good.

      I am quite a fan of acupuncture having had it to assist in repairing cartilege damage years ago. I know it works. I have little notion of how. As for meridians…

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    21. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter: More than enough, and thanks! There are times when I would like to be able to lay claim, or lay the fault at some past Irish ancestor! As it is, I have to own up to my own muddle-headedness!

      To your rather obvious store of 'useless knowledge', you might like to add that the energy flow around the body takes 24 minutes. In addition, if you are really ill and have 'no' energy, the practitioner must first build up the energy to a level sufficient to begin working on the healing.

      It…

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    22. Michael Leonard Furtado

      Doctor at University of Queensland

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Caro Patricio

      Topical aside: I rather suspected that must have been you prostrating yourself beneath the rotunda at the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva all those years ago, when I decided that Galileo's treatment didn't warrant my changing my student status from lay to religious. What a pity you walked quickly past and onto the Pantheon, otherwise we might have jointly halted the rise of so many pesky Bennos and Pellites in the 'one true church' :)

      Mind you, there'd have been other sacrifices…

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    23. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Quote - "In disagreements between scientists and non-scientists about scientific questions I will, all else being equal, side with scientists. If you’re shocked – shocked! – by this earth-shattering revelation, you’ll be blown away when you learn I also think babies are cute and rainbows are pretty."

      Patrick, you do realise you just kicked an 'own goal' there, don't you? That's what I've been trying to tell you back in the comments section of your article. With scientific questions we all tend…

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    24. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Quote - "Now - for one reason or another - those who oppose vaccination have not done the science. Instead they have spent their time attacking the credibility of existing science and scientists. But when asked for evidence, they fall over."

      Peter, you've picked the wrong person with this comment. The info is out there but you have to put some effort in. It doesn't just pop out of your lunch box. Go to your library and take out a book written by someone who argues their case with evidence. I'm…

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    25. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      Oh... and I forgot one other problem with your argument (which I also explained in its comments section). It was based on poor assumptions. You claimed doctors and immunologists were the experts in this field. It may look so on the surface, but if we're considering the questions of fundamental importance that I mentioned (vaccination's track record) they're certainly not. Who can we turn to for these? Well, just about anyone with a "modest numeracy and analytic ability". I'll wager many will be saying "Hey, that's me!". And they're probably right.

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    26. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Greg Beattie

      On Jonathan Holmes, as stated before I wasn’t citing Holmes as an authority on science. To reiterate, Holmes is not offering a scientific opinion, he’s reporting the expert opinion of scientists. Holmes presumably cannot evaluate scientific arguments and in any case does not need to. Neither can I, and neither do I.

      So there’s no inconsistency there as I’m not appealing to Holmes as an authority on the ‘bulldust’ claim. The ‘authority’ here rests solely with scientists. You say that’s “a given…

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    27. Michael Leonard Furtado

      Doctor at University of Queensland

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Caro Patrick

      I wouldn't allow - nomatter the context - that Holmes isn't a scientist simply because this potentially constricts your excellent argument. The point surely is that, similar to the best of scientists and as a fine lawyer and ethicist, Jonathan's a very clear-headed logician. This makes him an excellent journalist and therefore more than qualified to challenge the basis of the false equity argument and absurd neutrality accorded by lesser journos to Meryl's monstrous nonsense.....nonsense…

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    28. Greg Beattie

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick
      A quick clarification. As you know "ad hom" is not about abuse (although it can be). My comment urging you to not argue the person clearly had nothing to do with civility. I was pointing out that you're better addressing the arguments rather than the person. It's going to be more convincing for anyone genuinely questioning things.

      Quote - "On Jonathan Holmes, as stated before I wasn’t citing Holmes as an authority on science."

      Holmes' evaluation was the only one your article carried…

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  34. Michael Leonard Furtado

    Doctor at University of Queensland

    There is another sense in which Patrick oversteps the mark. Usually when he does he acknowledges this, always graciously and sometimes illuminatingly, thereby adding to the wealth of his deep insight and argument, which I assume to be the product of having his views challenged through the synthesising impact of the comments of those, nomatter how simple, who question him - the mark of a philosopher king, in my view.

    Recently, and I hope not too digressively from the main topic explored here, Patrick…

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    1. Geoffrey Edwards

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Michael Leonard Furtado

      So Patrick has "his views challenged" but Clive was subjected to a "chorus of attack." What was the difference, Michael, in your view?

      "It seemed to me that Clive was doing no more than illustrating the similarities between Singer's carefully reasoned positions and Bernardi's crude adumbrations and conclusions."

      Well, it seemed to me that Clive was doing no more than using Brenardi as crude way to launch into an attack on Singer's Philosophy without the need of actually adressing that Philosophy. Hey, the truth IS relative. Whowouldathunkit?

      "Patrick's impressive discourse has not acknowledged that there are limits to the promotion of purely utilitarian ... behaviour?"

      Michael, I suggest you revisit Patrick's opening "salvo" for the chorus. There is plenty in there to suggest your assertion is simply wrong.

      https://theconversation.edu.au/cory-bernardi-is-right-in-peter-singers-anti-human-world-9774

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    2. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Michael Leonard Furtado

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for various kind words in your poast. I think I still owe you a response from another thread, sorry about that. Keeping up with comments at The Conversation is a harsh and unforgiving taskmaster...

      To cut to the chase, if you'd like me to say there are other, non-utilitarian forms of moral value: yes, I absolutely think that is true, which is why I'm not a utilitarian and why I don't agree with Singer, despite thinking him an excellent and remarkably important philosopher…

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    3. Michael Leonard Furtado

      Doctor at University of Queensland

      In reply to Geoffrey Edwards

      Thanks, Geoffrey. I accept from Patrick's generous explanation above that he is not a utilitarian. I also accept Clive's criticism of Singer, whose anti-anthropocentrism not only positions him partly as an anti-humanist but also irresponsible in the sense of helping feed the morally illiterate remarks of Corey Bernardi.

      While Singer cannot be directly responsible for the deductions of Bernardi, he is inadvertently responsible in my view for so widening the frames of reference for a discussion…

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  35. Heather Loughran

    logged in via Facebook

    Mr. Kays,
    It seems you are waging a semantics argument about what constitutes an "opinion". P. Stokes does not at all devalue his students when he insists that they learn to examine and support their opinions. In doing so he makes their opinions stronger, not weaker. If, after examining and exploring the basis for their opinions, they come to realize their viewpoint is no longer valid or sustainable, they have learned the folly of poorly formulated opinions and the power inherent in well thought out and articulated opinions.
    In this sense, yes, the later opinion, when reached this way, indeed has more validity than the first. Maybe a better title to his article would have been
    "You are entitled to your opinion but it may be meaningless. What's your argument?"

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    1. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Heather Loughran

      Heather: Love your suggested title, though a little kinder than I would be!

      Reminds me of the long ago days when a loosely knit group of extremely varied education, religious persuasions, or none, were teaching me the difference between a loudly held opinion and a closely reasoned argument.

      Opinion or fact was the first question of anyone who doubted, followed, with, Fact? provide your references. You had 24 hours to do so.

      In a group of 20 odd, there were usually six or seven people and there was no limit upon what the subject might be. I have heard a person vehemently supporting a proposition one evening, and in a largely different grouping the following night, where the same subject had arisen and the balance was in favour of the previously evenings position, argue just as forcefully for the opposite view.

      My definition of fun!

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    2. Heather Loughran

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      I have come to realize that the ones screaming the loudest are often doing so to hide their lack of evidence or substance, while those persistently but quietly stating their case, usually have the facts on their side. They make the mistake though, of assuming the facts will win the day, when often it's the circus show that draws followers.
      I always find it fun to jump into these debates and sometimes I learn something.

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    3. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Heather Loughran

      Heather: You are correct, and the loud mouths often enough — to often? — prevail. Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt come to mind.

      Long ago I cared whether or not I could change a bigots/fanatics mind., but who really cares unless it relate to something that ‘matters’?

      Recent great examples are Greg Sheridan, The Australian’s foreign editor, on the recent Q&A show where in at outburst he “Rejected totally everything that Professor Ilan Pappe has said!’ The intelligence of a sugar ant in the…

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  36. Michael Mihajlovic

    Retired

    Dear Trent,
    May I impose on you to explain to me (and hopefully others as well), on the proposition that there is no such thing as fact, how would you explain my commuication to you of my request? Is it not real and factual? If not, how so?
    Respectfully,
    Michael

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  37. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    I have followed this conversation with interest and growing bemusement.

    Long ago I read, or was told that at some time there were those who spent their time arguing how many angles could stand on a pin head. A totally abstract opinion?

    If it were so, to have a rational/logical/informed opinion questions such as the following would have to be addressed. Is this the once common brass pin, with the slightly domed head, were there steel pins of the same dimensions, or is it the modern steel…

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