All Opinions are Equally Valid: The Myth of Balance in Critical Thinking

Posted on 21 May 2011 21:32

There is a myth out there in webernet land: You must be balanced and consider all opinions and arguments. You must weigh them all equally. If you don't you are not thinking "critically".

I deal with this all the time. "Is this program any good?," I am asked. "No," I say, "It's crap."

"Why?" They say. "Why don't you ask me why can't dogs fly?" I reply.

The point being that I do not have time to critically analyze every ridiculous program that comes up. Balance has nothing to do with critical thinking. Seeking balance for the sake of balance is NOT critical thinking. It is artificial.

Earlier, I was going to write up a piece on the "history" of homeopathy. To do so I had the displeasure of having to read books about it. As a matter of fact, the displeasure was so great I had to put that post on the back burner in order to protect my fragile temper. One of these books promised a "balanced" perspective on homeopathic history.

Balanced? How can you balance legitimate scientific thought with homeopathic horseshit? It is not possible. And yet every time I turn around I am seeing some alternative medicine zealot accusing someone of not being balanced in his/her attack on homeopathy or another type of alternative hogwash. The idea is that we are supposed to consider the merits of the fantastical claims of CAM practices and other things so that we are being "fair-minded". Again, critical thinking has nothing to do with being fair! There is no way to be fair about idiotic claims made by incompetent people. It is they who are being unfair. We have to use scientific thinking. They get to use magical thinking.

Opinions borne of ignorance are not valid. Opinions borne of pseudoscience such as astrology and homeopathy are not valid. Opinions borne of magical thinking and superstition are not valid. Opinions based solely on anecdotal evidence are not valid. Opinions based only on an appeal to authority are not valid. And the list goes on…

While we certainly do not want to stoop to crude hatchet-jobs where we mindlessly attack things we don't agree with (i.e. Penn & Teller's Bullshit), the point is that it does not take reams of scientific argument to dismantle the pie-in-the-sky imaginings of homeopathy and others of the more fantastical CAM varieties. There simply is not much there to analyze once you get finished explaining that "there is nothing in it but sugar and water."

Society is awash in so-called "battles" over ridiculous notions such as vaccines cause autism, raw milk causes miracle healing, and yes, even, homeopathy "works".

I thought I would have to make my own rant on this but I realized that Dara O'Briain, who is a comedian I have quoted a couple of times in this blog, does it brilliantly and so much funnier. He talks about homeopathy in this video. "Well, science doesn't know everything," the homeopath says. Says Dara, "Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it'd stop! But just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to ya!" You go Dara. Funny stuff and oh so right on.

Dara quips about the fear of dentistry and how some people are pulling out their own teeth (instead of visiting the dentist). Every opinion is equally valid? My arse! "Bloke who is a professor of dentistry for forty years does not have a debate with some idiot who removes his teeth with string and a door!" Nice.

The whole idea that all opinions are equally valid and thus deserve equal consideration shows a complete lack of understanding of what it means for a claim or opinion to be valid or invalid. In "They are Not Smarter Than You: Facts, Knowledge, and Reasoning Skills" I go into valid and invalid arguments a bit. Meanwhile, enjoy the video below.

Dara O'Briain: Science Doesn't Know Everything Video

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This page created 21 May 2011 21:32
Last updated 20 Mar 2018 21:27

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