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My Opinion Is as Good as Yours

By Bob McElwain
Posted Thursday, August 26, 2004

This claim is made on every school yard in the land. Unfortunately it is not only uttered by children. Even adults who should know better, often make this claim.

While everyone is entitled to their opinions, all views are not equal. If I am suspected of having a brain tumor, the opinion of a neurologist is going to have a greater impact on me than will yours.

With the advent of the Web, we have become inundated with information. We struggle with a gross overload of the stuff. And much of what is presented is opinion.

It doesn't help that anybody can set up a page and say whatever. In the print media, we know an editor or two approved what we are reading. There is no such filter on the Web. More than in any other communications medium, we need skills with which to evaluate the worth of a stated opinion.

Fact Versus Opinion

During the Presidency of George Bush (senior), some claimed verbally and in print that, "Bush is a wimp." If you believed this opinion, then to you it was fact. To those who did not, it was at best an incorrect opinion, if not a lie.

The difference between fact and opinion matters. We must do all possible to distinguish between the two. Often it is
not easy to do. But this must remain the goal.

Back to that hypothetical brain tumor, what is the worth of an opinion from a respected neurologist? As an opinion, it means only that a cat scan is in order. A radiologist will examine the results, then be able to demonstrate whether or not there is a tumor. Either way, the conclusion is fact. The opinion of the neurologist may have been required for authorization of the cat scan, but however accurate, it never was anything but an opinion.

A Bit About Mathematics And Science

There is a fundamental difference between these two fields. In mathematics, we make assumptions. We then prove whatever possible from them. This leads us to believe such things as 2 + 2 is 4.

In science, we demonstrate through repeated experiment. And we do not need many trials to believe that objects released above the ground fall to it.

In a philosophical sense, neither of the above is fact. But we would be quite foolish to act otherwise. Certainly they are something quite different from opinion. So in order to get on with life, we call these facts and act accordingly. We often must do the same with opinions.

Automated Software Submission Works

Is the above fact or opinion? Many believe it is fact. I do not. And I am not alone in holding this view. And herein lies a clue to truth.

If reasonable people hold different views, then we are dealing with opinion, not fact. Given a need to act in the absence of fact, we have no choice but to act upon an opinion. But doing so, does not convert the opinion selected to fact. It remains only the best opinion available at the time action was taken.

Prove It

Attempting to prove the above statement true or false is difficult at best. I will attempt here to demonstrate it is false. I offer two bits of antidotal evidence.

#1) I have used several automated submission programs and services, checking hit counts with care. While I do occasionally get a few hits, there are not nearly enough to justify my time. (Note that up until the latter part of 1999, this approach was effective.)

#2) I do not know anyone who recommends automated page submission who is not selling such a service or software package on their site. Thus I tend to feel their opinion relates more to their desire to make a sale than to a search for truth.

Did I Prove It?

Nope. That's not a proof. Not if you believe in automated page submission. If you do not believe in it, or have been
having doubts, you may decide to act upon it as if it is fact.

When facts are not available, and we have no clear sense of what is best, we must act upon the opinion of others. To be sure we select the best available, we need a way of thinking about any opinion. A way to quickly discard those of little worth, and to focus on those with merit.

Is The Argument Reasoned?

"Automated Page Submission Works," without any supporting argument, can not be taken as fact. And its worth, even as opinion, is open to question. Above. there was at least an effort to support my view with results observed.

Study The Tone

When evaluating the argument in support of an opinion, listen to the tone. Is the argument reasonable? Is there an effort to persuade? Or are you simply being told what the writer wants you to believe?

Note liars tend to shout, and to make all manner of absurd claims. "It's a proven fact." (What other kind of fact is
there?) "It's a scientific fact." (Redundant at best.) And my all time favorite, "Statistics prove ..." You can "prove" almost anything you like with statistics. If it's important and you don't know how to do it, I'll show you.

It is easy to tell the difference between "proof" unworthy of the name and honest statements of differing points of view. The former should be discarded quickly. It is only in the latter case there is difficulty in deciding which point of
view to follow.

Is Evidence Provided?

In my "proof" above, antidotal evidence was offered. And it does strengthen the case. If I had been more determined to "prove" the point, I would have referenced the work of experts in the field.

Note the length of the list of references has no meaning. It is the quality of the material referenced that matters. And the credentials of the authors.

What Does The Site Look Like?

The easiest way to begin an examination of an opinion is to take a look at the site. Is it sharp and pro? Or is a freebie
site? Or something thrown together hastily?

Is the site well written? Or do errors in grammar and spelling abound?

Consider The Other Content

If most of the content appears factual, and if most opinions are well supported, it is likely the one you are interested in
is worth considering.

A Question.

Is what I presented above fact or opinion? Be fair, now. Fact or opinion?

While some facts are included (this happened, that did not, etc.), the conclusions are only opinions. Naturally I feel
they are good ones that lead to positive results. But they are opinions none the less. It is up to you to decide if
they are useful to you.

Whatever you decide, you need a way to deal with the never-ending flow of opinions tossed at you from the Web. You need to develop simple guidelines that allow you to quickly separate the wheat of honest opinion from the chaff of nonsense.

And when you decide to accept one view over another, it is wise to remain aware you are proceeding upon opinion, not fact.

About the Author
Bob McElwain
Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe to "STAT News" now!

Web marketing and consulting since 1993
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Phone: 209-742-6783


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