Ken Boddie

5 months ago · 6 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Opinions Vary, and That's a Fact

Opinions Vary, and That's a FactIT'S BETTER TO BE
SLAPPED BY THE
THAN

KISSED WITH A ALE

What is the truth and can we handle it?

We live in a world where knowledge/data/news is now so relatively easy to access that information overload can form an impediment in even a simple search for additional clarification. How often does it become obvious that our search for credible knowledge is being tainted by the agendas, propaganda and spin of various self propagating authorities, agencies, organisations or governments? Indeed, information overload has become so easy to achieve that it even has its own manufactured slang (eg infobesity, infoxication, analysis paralysis).  Such excessive amounts of information, particularly when found to be obviously conflicting (possibly manipulated?), can, to the uninitiated recipient, lead to: 

  • at best, a self imposed road block against further research ("it's all too difficult!"); or 
  • at worst, internal conflict, strife and discord (cognitive dissonance).

But it's not that hard, once we become aware of some simple guidelines, to separate out the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the truth from the false truths.

Ever wondered how big Australia is?

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First by way of some background, I've spent several decades providing advice (via written reports) to various clients as a consultant, with an occasional role as an 'expert witness' in the odd legal dispute.  This has permitted me to conclude, through personal experience and through the ethical guidelines of my own particular specialty area of engineering, that information can be parcelled into three major forms as follows:

  • Factual; 
  • Interpretation; and
  • Opinion.
Here I stress that the following is anchored in my own personal experiences evaluating and presenting technical information (in my case geotechnical information) and its presentation in formal technical reports.  Others operating in different fields or even exposed as laypersons to commonly presented information, may have slightly different experiences and beliefs. Overall, however, I would anticipate that the following guidelines may prove useful to many, outside my own field of technical knowledge, when making judgement calls on information that comes their way. 

Factual

Facts are generally things that can be readily verified as true, such as measured data or test results, or something that can be backed up with evidence in conjunction with research and study.  Here are some examples of readily verifiable factual statements:
  • "The sky is red tonight" ... this can be verified by looking out the window.
  • "It's raining" ... again look out the window.
  • "Touch a hot iron for too long and you'll get burnt" ... either we can lean on our experience to confirm that this is true, or we can easily test the statement for ourselves.
  • "It cost me $25 to get a cinema ticket this week" ... verifiable by looking at a receipt or at the published on-line cinema prices.
  • "Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves" ... check out your local wildlife park or zoo.
  • "World War 1 was between 1914 and 1918" ... well documented in historical records.
  • "The temperature inside the living room is 25 degrees Celsius" ... all you need is a thermometer.
FACTUAL LANGUAGE ” LANGUAGE OF OPINION

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Scentists have just discovered o ICs my colleagues view
According 10 the test sesults Specials in thes field suspect that

The results of the exper ment The Lawyer orgued thot

demonstrated
Facts then are found to be true beyond argument if they can be readily verified by observation, reliable instrument measurement, or experiment.  They may also be verified by long established and accurate historical records and documentation.  

Interpretation

Facts, however, are of little use on their own, unless we can put them in context, use them to draw conclusions, make decisions and, in effect, give them meaning.  This leads to facts being interpreted in various ways so as to be able to offer opinions and hence formulate arguments, suggestions, or recommendations. The act of interpreting factual data in itself can be done in different ways as follows:
  • Prescribed - where the interpretation process follows a well established set of guidelines, or scientifically documented procedure; or
  • Ad Hoc - where logic is used to interpret the available data without necessarily following any previously documented formulae or procedures.

A prescriptive approach may be used when categorising data into certain behavioural groups.  As an example, soil mechanics (one of my pet subjects related to my engineering background) has found that the plasticity of clay soils is dependent upon moisture content.  Experience with various clay soils, when being worked/moulded, defines the plastic range as between the plastic limit (lower bound moisture content below which the soil becomes brittle) and the liquid limit (upper limit moisture content above which the soil becomes liquid). As these limits will vary for different clay soils, the soil plasticities are defined here in Australia, for convenience and standardisation, as follows:

  • Low Plasticity - when the liquid limit of the sample tested is at a moisture content of less than 35% 
  • Medium Plasticity - when the liquid limit is between 35% and 50%
  • High Plasticity - when the liquid limit is greater than 50%
The test result, eg the measured moisture content at which a particular sample of soil reaches the liquid limit, can be established as factual data.  The category of plasticity (low, medium or high), however, within which the test result falls, is interpretation, and in this case is prescribed interpretation, being defined within various Australian Standard procedures. Here it should be recognised that this moisture behaviour prescription will vary slightly from country to country, but irrespective, such a prescription provides a relatively standard way of interpreting how plastic is the clay soil sample, namely low, medium or high

Interpretation doesn't alter the fact (test result) but it does put the result in context, and attempts to facilitate its significance.
  
Now the above prescribed interpretation of plasticity implies consistency of approach, and where there is consistency there is little or no potential for argument.  If our interpretation of data, however, is ad hoc rather than prescribed, then there is potential for variation in perceived truth. 

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Let's look at an example and let's take our database as the population of say Australia, as investigated by the results of a recent sensis.  Now if we analyse the sensis results by proportions of male and female, we would expect this to show that approximately 50% of the population is male and 50% is female.  This would appear, based on experience and historical data, to make sense, and hence is unlikely to lead to argument or indeed to be challenged as doubtful, possibly incorrect, or indeed a 'false truth' obtained by some trickery or magical statistical flaw.

Now let's analyse the data based solely on selected biological data, from which we could conclude that the average 'person' in Australia has one testicle and one ovary. This is clearly flawed, albeit comically so, as logic dictates that there is no such typically average person.  Furthermore it is apparent that by selecting both males and females in the range of data to be analysed for this particular biological exercise, the use of 'average' becomes nonsensical and is, in effect, meaningless.  This simple example shows how important it is to select appropriately similar data when making even the most basic of statistical analysis, ie the mean or average. It is not the mathematical process of determining a mean or average of a set of results that is flawed, but rather the process of data selection for analysis.

This simple example indicates how easy it can be to manipulate an analysis to indicate a biased or flawed result (false truth).  It's not the data (or facts) that are incorrect, but rather the interpretation, which doesn't follow any particular standard or prescribed procedure and is hence ad hoc (using the above definitions of prescribed and ad hoc).

Opinion

Now let's muddy the waters further by looking at opinion.

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Opinions are personal and relate to how we (or an author, or newspaper editor/reporter, or TV channel presenter) feel about something.  There may be disagreement with opinions but they cannot be proved or disproved. And this is where the wheat and chaff sometimes become difficult to separate, because writers will often add a sprinkling of opinion to fact, just to spice things up and stir the pot.

This is why it's important to recognise the language of fact versus opinion:
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Less than scrupulous writers can sometimes intentionally use the language of fact to misrepresent opinion as fact, as per the following example:

"Recent statements presented to Council confirm that residents in the Waterline Estate do not want traffic lights to be installed at the main estate entrance."

Council may indeed have received statements from residents, but there is no evidence, presented in the above, substantiating that all residents were surveyed and that Council's confirmation is based on a valid majority of opinion.

An opinion is a judgement based on the facts, but, as can be seen from the foregoing, opinions may change dependent upon how the facts are presented and interpreted

Thus, when we read, it is important to assess the facts, interpretations and opinions carefully, so that our conclusions are valid. Perhaps we should be asking the following:

  • Are the facts reliable?
  • Are the interpretations derived from a valid set of facts?
  • Are the opinions based on the facts?

...................<<..................>>...................

a63a0459.jpgWhen not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:

http://ken-boddie.squarespace.com

The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.

Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.



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Comments

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #26

Greg Rolfe, your post on “Knowing what you believe” started the thought process for this post. Perhaps you may wish to read and comment, although I notice you rarely comment on the posts of others. .

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #25

#24
I think you may be right , Lada. 👍

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 months ago #24

#23
Agreed with what you have said, Ken. Most times, checking the facts doesn't require reading complex scientific papers. :)

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #23

#20
You may be correct, Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic, but I wasn’t pitching this post that high. I was aiming at those who often incorrectly treat other people’s interpretations and opinions as if they are facts and not subject to variation. I believe that very few lay people (myself included) actually take the time or have the capability (let alone willingness) to check out the facts, or even have access to the facts. Consequently, they may not be able to either form their own conclusions (difficult in many cases of specialty testing and experimentation) or to view the interpretations and peer reviewed opinions of established leading experts. In complex scientific analyses, the man in the street often appears to accept what the media or politicians are opining (or even misrepresenting) on the day, and may be totally unaware (at least initially) of the potential for variation in interpretation and hence opinion. I guess that spreading awareness of the interrelationships between facts, interpretation and opinion (and of the clever way that opinion can sometimes be elegantly disguised as fact) may be a good starting point for challenging what we are often spoon fed as ‘dipped in blood’, even if we only challenge our own thought processes. 🤔

#20
Lada--just over 3 years ago I held all the beliefs you did [unless you are a shill for Tavistock] --except I didn't insult people with flat-earther comments. That's really taking it low. If there is anyone with deeply held beliefs it's not me. it's you. And you most certainly ignore information that contradicts your beliefs. Everything I believed just over 3 years ago was never true. I have studied every aspect of this mess, and the death and damage toll already is astronomical. Anyone who supports this thing has blood on their hands.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 months ago #21

#18
#19 #17 Thank you for sharing this information.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 months ago #20

#15
Ken, I believe that many people, when doing their own investigation and research, seek such information that confirms their deeply-held beliefs and ignore information that contradicts it. It is not always that people don't have time for their own research, but they lack the willingness to think critically, think for themselves, and rethink their own opinions.

#11
On top of that, my ID card was in the book. I just flipped through a few pages and found it. "Lowell Institute School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dec 31 1979." You gave me a trip down memory lane.

#11
I just had to go looking for that book. I’ll be damned if I didn’t find it. I have over a thousand books, but I knew what section I would have put it in. It was put out in 1975 by MIT. MIT never sold anything they didn’t write. And Wow—these guys may not even have been alive when I was using it. I took the course in the early 80s. Electronic Circuits and Applications Stephun D Senturia and Bruce D Wedlock

#11
And what type of engineering do you do? I worked in micro tech in the very beginning. I had responsibility for 3 products--the 506, the 507 and [I think] the 882. The first 2 were slew rate amplifiers and the last--a multiplier. I took a class at MIT for operational amplifiers. I think I might still have the book around here someplace. I had to leave the class because my children [who suffered vaccine-induced brain damage] were impossible for their babysitter. I have degreed in psychology and only have 1 published paper. My children needed me all the time, so I accommodated them.

#11
What you really need to do is actually communicate with top, top scientists like I do. They can explain things or point you to accurate research papers. Mentioning the stupid flat earth thing in the same conversation with science is fairly despicable. This is someone I consider to be a friend who is the top person in their field globally. The paper that is referenced is listed. You might like to give it a read if it is within your cognitive means. The Frustrated Scientist https://joyce-bowen.blog/2020/11/25/the-frustrated-scientist/ You probably won't read it because most people just listen to the TV, look at their phones these days, or do what they are told. I actually like to learn so I do none of those.

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #15

#11
Further to my #14 below, Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic, I firmly believe that the truth will always come out given enough time, and that those deliberately bending the true facts will eventually be exposed, even if such distortion is through ignorance and/or lack of appropriate peer reviewed research. The sad thing us that most of us do not have the time to do our own investigation and research into the facts and hence are readily mislead by deliberately distorted facts.

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #14

#11
Interesting point you make, Lada, about flat earthers ignoring the facts and many other examples come to mind. I guess some people can’t handle the truth (even when it jumps up and slaps them in the face) and have built a cocoon of protective fiction to block out the facts and maintain their illusional comfort zone. Others invest in false arguments to distort the facts for their own pecuniary or even nefarious purposes. .

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #13

#10
Please feel free, don kerr, to use anything from my post that seems suitable for your needs. Although much of this is based on my own professional experience, I did look through many on-line educational papers and got some good ideas which I translated into my own words. If you Google “fact vs interpretation” and “fact vs opinion” you should find a whole range of educational worksheets and examples.

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #12

#9
Flattery will get you everywhere, Pascal Derrien 🤣

Lada 🏡 Prkic

5 months ago #11

Great read, Ken, and excellent explanations. This topic is close to my heart and mind. :-) We, as engineers follow standard procedures or prescribed interpretation of facts related to our field. But when it comes to the whole coronavirus thing, information chaos makes it hard (even for my engineering mind😊) to separate the wheat from the chaff and the truth from the false truths. I don't want to elaborate further. We are all tired of it. I would like to add one more thing to this topic - deliberately ignoring facts and truth, such as with Flat Earthers. It is not that facts being interpreted in different ways, it is just ignoring the obvious and refuse to see the truth. How you can interpret differently the shape of Earth? Obviously, understanding what is true depends on complex psychological processes in one's mind.

don kerr

5 months ago #10

Very timely for me Ken Boddie and I shall in all likelihood plagiarize you mercilessly! Well, maybe not but I am in the throes of writing a three-part series of posts for one of our educational clients on how to assist kids in the search for truth and consequential fact. Your perspective and examples and this dialogue in the notes is helpful in broadening my understanding. Thanks to down under from north of the 49th! https://maclachlan.ca/preparing-students-for-a-digital-world-1/

Pascal Derrien

5 months ago #9

Ken knows what he is talking about thats a fact but thats also my opinion :-)

#4
I am quite content that my 'opinions' are viewed as 'factual' around the globe. I'd say I am a lucky woman, but luck had nothing to do with it.

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #7

#6
Thanks, Rob, for bringing the specialty field of political bias into the comment string. Glad you were able to have a ‘proper-gander’ at my post and that those hordes of ‘poly-ticks’ don’t get under your skin. 🤣

Robert Cormack

5 months ago #6

I read this (fact). I understand this (opinion). Whether I understand this or not, I'm passing it along to others (propaganda). Hmm, so I can read this, possibly understand it (or not) and distribute it and I'm factual, opinionated and a propagandist all at the same time. Cool.

#4
hahaha

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #4

#3
Thank you for your ‘opinion’, Joyce.

#2
Not at all, Ken. I run up against it all the time. I've seen crazy things happen to really great scientists. And there is way too much garbage muddying up topics these days. I wish you had been able to be a fly on my wall--or maybe you could have ridden on my coat as I engaged in my investigations. There are topics we all consider to be pseudo-scientific. No numbers need apply. Psychology, sociology, human behavior and more are not numerically quantifiable--I don't care what anybody says. Perhaps one thing that is numerically quantifiable is that strategies are put in place to convince populations to do certain things and they do calculate success rates of their manipulations. I think we can agree that the concepts you are presenting don't always hold true. Factual language and Language of opinion have had their meanings circumvented when it served a purpose--not always good ones either. You should look into Behavioral Institutes which have facilities and offices all over the world and are intricately connected. They'll change your mind whether you want to or not and all your definitions go out the window when a current narrative changes. Nothing is what it seems.

Ken Boddie

5 months ago #2

#1
You'd be surprised, Joyce, how many people can't differentiate between fact, interpretation and opinion, even in relatively simple settings.

You make it sound so simple, Ken, but it's not. And people are trying to define factual assessments as opinions when they do not like the results. I was sent this paper today: Monitoring the early aggregatory behaviour and size of Aβ1-42 in the absence & presence of metal ions using dynamic light scattering. I guarantee you there are things in here people won't like and they will seek to tear it down in whatever way possible--facts be damned. I know the scientist and I trust his work, so I'll just use this as a good bedtime story. nini

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