Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Facts > Opinion

Every now and again a subject comes along on which everyone has an opinion, regardless of how well they know the subject in question. One thing is for sure; if I’ve seen and heard one opinion on the Amanda Knox story in the last 3 days then I’ve read a million - from countless multiples of 140 characters on Twitter, to diatribes on Facebook, to missives on messageboards, to rants in the office.

The problem is though, that most of these opinions make me want to cover my eyes and ears and jump out of the nearest window. Of course people are entitled to an opinion, but facts always beat opinion. Here’s a rule of thumb that you might want to incorporate into your day to day life: If you are considering formulating an opinion on a particular subject, then it’s worth checking if there’s a fact on it before you start – if there is then simply align your opinion behind that fact, even if the fact doesn’t resemble the opinion you were going to formulate.

The reason for this is very simple: If there is a fact available on the precise topic of your opinion, and that fact is different to the opinion that you have about it, then your opinion is wrong. I’m not even sorry to say it - you are wrong. An opinion isn’t even required if it is different to the fact that is available on the same subject.

If your opinion differs from the fact then you are wasting your time putting together an opinion, you are wasting your time talking to me about it, you are wasting my time in making me listen to your opinion, and you are wasting my time in making me tell you that you are wrong. “In my opinion she is guilty as hell” is a worthless opinion, because the fact at present is that she is not guilty. Whats hell got to be guilty about anyway?

Even if I didnt like what the fact was, and would prefer your opinion as the real fact, it wouldnt alter anything - all that would happen is that we would both be engaged in a even more pointless conversation, because more than one person was wrong.

God knows how I managed to get over 3 paragraphs out of Facts & Opinions, but I can go on a lot, lot longer about it.

I’m only interested in facts, is what I’m trying to say, I think, if you’re unclear on my point. I spend most of my day avoiding getting involved in discussions on current affairs with people, because it usually ends up with me wanting to kill one of us. Arguing with a fact is effectively the same is arguing that 1 + 1 = 27.

If the government really want to save money, they ought to scrap the entire criminal justice system and replace it with people, chosen at random, who declare 'guilty' or 'not guilty' based upon 3 key strands:

a) Whether the defendant looks guilty from 5 photos of the defendant selected at random, what I’m seeing is something similar to the way that they select the numbers on Countdown,

b) The headlines from a selection of newspapers,

c) a 10 minute chat with 3 acquaintances, all of whom have a combined knowledge on the subject that is less than yours.

The most important thing is that they must have no more than a basic understanding of the actual case, but are capable of formulating a deep seated view based upon this very minimal understanding. We could even turn it into prime time TV, with someone like Richard Bacon surprising people at the bus stop or somewhere and asking the big question 'Guilty or Not Guilty?', or even in front of a live studio audience who have to vote on which way the person will cast their judgement.

Maybe the whole thing could get a reality TV makeover – I’ve copywrited Judge Idol, so don’t even think about it. Saturday nights wont be the same again.

The only cases where this wouldn’t apply is in cases of alleged paedophilia or cases where the defendant has a funny name - where the verdict will always default to guilty.

What I’m not saying is that I know more than you – although 99 times out 100 I probably do. I have very little understanding of the case, other than one person was murdered, 3 people were convicted and 2 people were have had their convictions overturned. And unless you’ve spent months and months in the courtroom listening to every strand of prosecution and defence wrangling, it's probably the same understanding as you, which means that you’re just speculating.

Sometimes you have to go with it.