Thursday, December 02, 2004

Everyone has an opinion, it's just not necessarily informed

Opinions are simply just not equal. Unless two people say exactly the same thing, one opinion will likely have more worth than another. What do I mean by worth? We’ll start off with defining worth as “those opinions that provide accurate assessment or reasonable judgement based upon facts and/or reliable sources” as today’s answer and leave the delineating of idealistic societal values of worth for another day.

If one states, “all opinions are equal,” a contradiction will follow.
1) All opinions are equal
2) The opinion “my opinion is better than other opinions” likely exists.
3) Therefore “My opinion is better than other opinions” is equal to all other opinions.

Statement 3 is paradoxical. Whilst paradox does not necessarily imply untruth, the level of inconsistency obtained in the third statement is logically problematic.

I hypothesize evidence could be collected to support the notion that opinions are unequal.
So let’s design a little experiment. The general design will be to test people on a subject after they have been given various levels of information about that subject.
Ideally, you take a random sample from the population and then randomly assign the participants to 3 groups. Participants are told that it will be a reading/writing task, but will know nothing else. Create a story about a fictional country that has information about the landscape, population and demographics, history, and various socio-political details. Make the information into a paragraph that conveys either 20 pieces of informatio, or 10 (or the same information, but randomly cut by half). Make a 20 mark test that assesses all the 20 pieces of information. Have two tests with the exact same questions on them: one open answer and the other multiple choice. Give the open answer(T1) before the multiple choice test(T2).

Group A: Receives no paragraph, just a blank piece of paper. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Group B: Receives paragraph 1. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Group C: Receives paragraph 2. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Now measure the scores on the test. All tests are out of 20.
a) Group A will score near zero on the first test and at chance levels on the multiple choice.
b) Group B will score much better on T1, but not much above 50%. Their T2 scores should be about 75% (10/20 by knowledge and 5/10 by chance = 15/20)
c) Group C should be the best on both T1 and T2 with some participants scoring above 90%.

Generally, there should be a highly significant difference between:
1) Group A and Group B,
2) Group A and Group C,
3) Group A and the combined average of Group B + Group C.
It is also likely we would find a significant difference between Group B and Group C. (I could have been much more detailed in this design, but I think what has been proposed is sufficient). According to the definition postulated above, we can conclude from these results that opinions are indeed unequal in this experiment; because of the different amounts of information available to the different groups.

Now, we can all agree that all opinions are not equal, right? If you truly still think all opinions are equal, please write me and tell me why. I leave you to figure out the implications for society, democracy, discussions… etc. I will say that the inequality of opinions is one of the first things that should be clarified as a discussion begins to occur.

Addendum: The title was taken from a marketing slogan by the Globe and Mail from a couple of years ago. Additionally, the content of this post is an obvious implication of a recent post: Respect, not equality.


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