The statement that facts don’t care about your feelings is becoming a cliché that is often used by those operating almost completely on feelings and not facts. It is like “facts” has just become the equivalent of “a few facts you like, and none of the ones you don’t.” These factoids are then treated as immutable truths because people can’t tolerate shades of gray or the possibility that they may be wrong to some degree (if not entirely). It doesn’t seem to occur to people that a teaspoon of facts devoid of the larger contextual body of facts is almost useless.
For this reason, I prefer talking in terms of “evidence” and “data” rather than “facts.” Facts really don’t care how you feel, but without good evidence, you may wrongly feel like you know the facts.
While I was out shopping the other day a women walked up to me and invited me to come to her church. In a very friendly manner I said no than you, I am an atheist. She then responded by asking if I believed in science, as if to indicate that she could give me scientific evidence for her beliefs. I kindly reaffirmed my initial answer, but I later considered how I would have responded to that question.
I don’t “believe in” science, I value evidence, and the scientific method just happens to be the best method we have yet devised to obtain the highest quality evidence.
For example, I don’t believe in climate change, I accept that the evidence thus discovered indicates with a high probability that climate change is fact; that the currently experienced global increase in temperature is mostly a result of humans burning fossil-fuels. Too much emphasis is put on belief instead of the truth that a fact is a fact whether or not you believe it. The scientific method is the best way we know to align our beliefs with the facts.
What is evidence?
A serious hang-up in public discussions is that many people define evidence as simply whatever information confirms their existing beliefs. These people invent all kinds of rationalizations (often quite ingenious) in order to define good evidence as bad and vice-versa. When responding to inconvenient evidence they often devolve the the conversation to solipsism, the idea that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified. They do this to justify believing anything they want. Of course, this ultra-skepticism is only the argument they resort to when backed into a corner with evidence; they happily exempt their pet beliefs from skepticism. It is essentially tailor-making their beliefs to be immune to disconfirmation.
Examples of good sources of evidence:
- Peer-reviewed academic journals.
- Books written by respected experts in the field in question.
- Original source material.
- Websites ending with .gov like the CDC, FBI, or BLS.
Examples of bad sources of evidence:
- The personal opinions of random people on the internet.
- Folk beliefs and superstitions you were taught growing up.
- Political entertainers like Steven Crowder.
- Hard partisan websites like Breitbart or Mother Jones.
- Ancient holy books.
It isn’t that sources like academic journals are always going to be right or that Steven Crowder is always going to be wrong. True things don’t become false because an idiot or bad person said it, and false things don’t become true because a commonly correct person said it. But the general pattern makes it clear which sources are correct versus incorrect the most often, making it perfectly reasonable to go to reliable sources first.
People need to learn to distinguish good evidence from bad evidence before progress can be made. Or, more seriously, people need to be convinced to value evidence at all before progress can be made.