Magazine article American Nurse Today

You're Not Necessarily Entitled to Your Opinion

Magazine article American Nurse Today

You're Not Necessarily Entitled to Your Opinion

Article excerpt

* Understanding the difference between fact and opinion


SERIOUSLY, facts aren't opinions...and all opinions are not equal. In today's world of alternate facts and zealous individualism, it may help to clarify a few things. For example, my sister Louise, a newly minted director of nursing, called me outraged that a new graduate contradicted the chief of cardiology in front of a patient. When Louise counseled her about this, the young, inexperienced staff member said, "I'm entitled to my opinion."

This may seem a bit provocative, but quite frankly, she's not entitled to her opinion. She's only entitled to learn how to construct and defend an argument, which is an entirely different matter. "I'm entitled to my opinion" all too often becomes shorthand for "I can say or think whatever I like," and, by extension, "My opinion is at least as good as yours (regardless of education, experience, and even facts)." Thus, in one single phrase, we justify a false equivalence between experts and non-experts, and even between truth and lies. This is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Moreover, the person saying, "I'm entitled to my opinion" may be talking about facts, which aren't opinions at all. Dating back centuries, we've distinguished between opinion and certain knowledge (facts). Unlike 1+1=2 or there are no square circles, an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. Opinion ranges from tastes or preferences through views about politics, or it can refer to views grounded in technical expertise, such as medical diagnosis.

An opinion is not about fact. There's no way you can argue with me if I say that, in my opinion, tofu tastes awful. You might like tofu and perhaps even point out that tofu takes on the taste of the spices or other food that surrounds it, but my preference against it is literally beyond questioning. …

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