One thing that I have a clear memory of learning about in school is “Fact versus Opinion” It seems like we spent several days on what felt like a pretty simple concept. We would read statements or paragraphs and determine where we saw facts and where there were opinions. We were taught to identify the key phrases for opinions– I think, I feel, I believe–and to look for the hallmarks of facts, statistics.
I remember being frustrated with the enormous amount of time we seemed to be spending on this one simple idea. Granted, between first and twelfth grades, I went to seven different schools. Maybe my different schools taught it at different times and I got a double or triple dose. On the other hand, maybe my love of facts put them in such sharp contrast to lowly opinions that the differences were immediately obvious.
Now, thirty plus years on, I see why those lessons were so important. The sharp edge between fact and opinion has become a blurry mess, probably from too many people trying to walk on it. We have developed a completely promiscuous attitude toward facts. If it is uttered on television, written in print or discovered on the internet, it’s a fact. If there are charts or graphs, it is a fact. If I preface what I say with, “FACT:”, then it’s a fact. On top of that, sloppy facts have lead to a plague of questionable opinions. We are adrift.
It doesn’t seem possible to have all adults of voting age to return to grade school to relive those fact versus opinion lessons. Maybe there is a technological solution. Can we get special subtitles on television that clearly state when someone is giving an opinion, or better, making stuff up? It would be like the tiny “results not typical” messages that appear for a nanosecond on diet commercials, but larger, red and flashing. It could say, “Opinion” or “Crackpot Opinion” or “This is bullshit”