Editor:

In Ray Regan's column last week, he starts down an interesting path [“Conversations: We need to be right”, Sep. 6], but he reaches an incorrect conclusion because he conflates two different notions of being “right”. His assertion that “other people’s views have no intrinsic ‘right or wrong’ – they’re just different” is – well – just plain wrong.

For example, two devoutly held views, one that the earth is flat and the other that the earth is spherical, aren’t just different; one is wrong and one is right.

Regan’s introductory anecdote describes a friend who is willing to ignore evidence because she believes she knows better. Can it be said that one has a need to be “right” when insisting upon taking a position that is objectively wrong? That is fundamentally different from deciding whether a painting job (to use another Regan example) is being done correctly. In that case, there is no objective right or wrong, only a judgement of whether the job is done well enough, and there there is certainly room for honest differences of opinion.

The idea that everyone’s views are equally valid and important is profoundly dangerous, and we can see that at the very highest levels. Donald Trump’s serial lies and cries of “fake news” in the face of contradictory evidence are a very real threat to our democracy. It is noteworthy that Lata Nott’s guest column adjacent to Regan’s made the case that the loss of local newspapers is the biggest threat to democracy, but even if we have these newspapers, how much good can they do if readers dismiss the news as just one more opinion?

One of the most depressing things I’ve read recently is a July 25 Quinnipiac poll that reported that 75 percent of Republicans trusted Donald Trump “to tell…the truth about important issues” more than they trusted the news media. This is the same Donald Trump who, according to the Washington Post, has made over 4,700 false or misleading claims in less than 600 days in office. This is the same Donald Trump whose almost 600 claims evaluated by PolitiFact were judged to be False, Mostly False, or Pants on Fire 69 percent of the time. (For perspective, the comparable numbers for “Lying” Ted Cruz and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton are 64% and 27%, respectively.)

Certainly the news media don’t always get the story exactly right, but their record is certainly better than Trump’s.

It is axiomatic in decision analysis that one can’t make good decisions without considering all the available, credible, relevant facts, so the real danger comes when opinions at odds with the facts become the basis for policy decisions. These decisions could be as big as ignoring climate change research and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement or as small as, say, lobbying to have a pool closed because of the fear of chlorination. In each case, one could, I guess, consider the evidence and still conclude those are reasonable decisions, but they are not reasonable decisions when available, credible, relevant evidence has been ignored or dismissed.

The behavior we have to cultivate is not, as Regan suggests, accepting everyone’s opinion as equally valid. Instead, it is more important that we ensure that opinions are based on facts and evidence when appropriate and discount opinions when that is not the case.

Bob Leipold

290 Longview Lane

Kennett Square

comments powered by Disqus