Alan Siebuhr is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. When he’s not balding early due to frustration and stress, he usually posts pictures of his cat, tweets the occasional snark at @amsiebuhr, and drinks coffee and milk in abundance.
When discussing contentious issues, there will always be conflicting points and disagreements. In any debate or discussion, these conflicts can lead to solutions that may not have a straightforward resolution. One proposed solution may not be good enough by itself, or there may be aspects missing from it entirely. Therefore, it is worthwhile to have disagreement and contrarian views when everyone’s goal is identical. But the problems that arise are not subject to disagreement; rather, they are often assumed as fact. Being an energy geek, I deal with the contentious issue of human-driven climate change every day. Whether it’s through classes at school or discussions with peers, the issue is frequently on my mind. As such, I find it important to understand the facts and nuances that go into the subject. People may debate on what the possible fixes may be, but the assumption that climate change is happening is not up for debate. As such, solutions require understanding a task at hand with little subjectivity involved, which allows for the aforementioned process of finding solutions. But this process is interrupted when people let their biases and opinions get in the way of finding solutions.
When confronted with an issue, one must look at the arguments presented, then weigh the evidence of those arguments before they take a position. But people use “objectivity” as a way to justify their opinions, even if they’re wrong. In their attempt to seem unbiased, they doubt the more supported argument because they need to “weigh both sides equally,” but this is a poor attempt at being objective. Rather, it is a way for people to justify that their opinion is the most objective because they took the time to “weigh the evidence.” Yet, when the evidence does not fit one’s beliefs, they will discount it and assume it is wrong. When one is actually objective, they look at each side of an argument equally, without bias toward one position, and look at the facts presented to them. They see what qualified experts say on the matter and assume that to be fact without letting what they think may be happening to cloud their judgment.
One example where being objective is important is journalism. When journalists write stories, they are supposed to investigate facts and evidence without omission. This is important because their goal is to get the story out to their readers.The media acts as a channel for information to pass through, and if all the information is stopped, or is tainted, it affects the way people see the issues in front of them. The goal of being objective should be to look at the facts, the evidence behind them, and then form an opinion around those facts. When it comes to some issues that people have a strong opinion on, however, some use the “objectivity” argument as a way of making their current beliefs seem infallible. In this way, objectivity becomes less about seeing the forest for the trees and more about claiming to see an oak when in reality you’re seeing a willow.
People will use the objectivity argument to justify their wrong and/or outdated opinions and jump to conclusions not based on evidence, but rather the individual’s feelings toward the subject matter. This is no less prevalent than when the media presents the subject of climate change: 97 percent of scientists agree that human-driven climate change is real, but often most pundits will bring two people to the debate: a qualified scientist and a “skeptic.” This gives a false representation of the evidence presented because people will assume the issue is contentious with no clear answer. This inevitably skews the public’s perception of the issue, changing the way they will vote on related measures. This gets to the heart of the problem: Most people assume their feelings tend to be weighted equally toward the facts. How one feels about something does not mean it is a logical stance on a subject, nor does it mean people need to take the individual’s argument seriously. To combat this, we need to be able to weigh evidence over ideology, and we need to see what experts say about it and the sources used to back up their positions. People are entitled to their opinions, but those opinions should be made around experimentation, facts, and evidence.