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Laura Templeman: Disrespect for facts an unforeseen hurdle

I have always been under the impression that objective facts could help solve real-world problems. After watching an interview with CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota and Newt Gingrich, I discovered some people think feelings are facts, too.

During the interview last month at the Republican National Convention, she remarked: “Violent crime, murder rate, is down.”

Gingrich replied: “The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer.”

AC: “But it is; we are safer, and it is down.”

NG: “No, that’s your view.”

AC: “These are facts; these are national statistics.”

NG: “No, but what I said is also a fact. … The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it’s not working with [where people are.]” (garbled)

AC: “But … what you’re saying is … liberals use these numbers; they use this sort of magic. These are the FBI statistics. They’re not a liberal organization. They’re a crime-fighting organization.”

NG: “But what I said is equally true: people feel more threatened.”

AC: “Yes, they feel it, but the facts don’t support it.”

NG: “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel, and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians.”

Gingrich prefers to campaign based on people’s feelings over statistical facts. I’m scandalized that facts do not matter. Flummoxed. I have a burning need to remedy the fact that some people do not care about facts. As a college philosophy instructor, I have dedicated my life to teaching critical thinking skills and the importance of facts in forming a coherent, pragmatic picture of the world.

This Gingrichian awakening helps me understand the real division between people in disagreement: Facts versus Feelings. Or, more accurately, Facts and Factually Supported Feelings versus Fact-Free Feelings. I find the latter as distasteful as fat-free ranch dressing.

Facts are one of the few objective human connectors; facts substantiate the laws and compromises we make to live well together in a diverse society. How can we expect to govern well if one side of the table completely rejects reason, facts and logic? Hearing this interview brought to mind something equally zany.

There is a medical condition called Koro syndrome in which men feel their penises are shrinking and feel sure that death will follow. This mass hysteria has no basis in reality, and yet thousands of men worldwide have felt this anxiety without any objective physical proof. Even when shown evidence there has been no shrinkage, the men continue to feel afflicted.

Feelings are not facts; unsupported feelings do not lead to valid viewpoints! Uninformed opinions and feelings are unreasonable, whether we are speaking about Koro or crime statistics. Facts are facts: They are objective descriptors of reality. Feelings may or may not be based on supporting facts, and feelings do not represent reality unless they are grounded in factual support.

This is the critical battle of our time: How do we get people to care about facts? How do we make finding facts easier? If both sides don’t come to the table valuing facts, being persuaded by facts, how can we possibly come up with the best solutions to our complex problems?

I suggest these solutions:

Offer logic and critical thinking courses in high school; require them for graduation. I will personally, and at no cost, provide an online course in logic and critical thinking that every high school teacher can use if we make it a requirement for graduation. I will make sure, with the help of colleagues (since I, too, have unconscious biases) that it is an unbiased, nonpartisan, fact-based class.

We are in desperate need of some call to action, a social media campaign with memes about logic and facts being popularized, coupled with internet cat pics and “Got Facts?” billboards.

We should all share links (on social media) to websites like snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org. Engaged young citizens can provide energetic and relevant ways to share fact-checking sites with their peers, which is where change needs to happen.

Neil deGrasse Tyson already supports this sort of scientific, fact-based thinking. Maybe in the next season of “Cosmos,” he can devote a number of episodes to this. If we can gets facts to be sexy, I feel we will turn the tides against this unsupported spewing of factless “truthiness” that is so damaging.

Come on, people – it’s 2016. We are better than this. Join me in trying to improve the world, one fact at a time.

Laura Templeman is a college philosophy instructor.



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