Answers = good data + reasonable thinking


It’s always frustrating to make a case that you are thinking clearly where others are not, but I do think it’s reasonable to suggest that most political arguments are NOT valid because they fail the test above.  Good answers come from taking good data and applying  reasonable thinking to that data.     Bad answers come from faulty reasoning or, more often in my view, simply starting with bad information – most common is to use non-representative or narrowly focused data.

We see this bogus “logic” in practice in the presidential political arena daily as well as in most of the clever propagandistic “documentaries” which in turn are used to support more bad thinking.     For example a right wing talk show whacko will point to Obama’s association with some socialist in his past  and suggest this makes him a socialist, failing to note that Obama’s also been associated with people from center and right wings of politics.    Left wingers will fret over imaginary conspiracy arrangements between the US Government and corporations as they note real corporate/government connections but fail to note the many legal checks on corporate power.

These aren’t the best examples but I think the point is more than sound – if you want good answers you need to stop narrowly focusing on the data that supports what you already believe, and look instead for the broadest representative data samples on which to apply some good reasonable thinking.

The exception to this, though it’s used as the rule for most people, is a *debate* format where one’s  job is to support a point of view as strongly as possible.    Debates almost guarantee that the data used by each side will be  selective, focused on supporting a point of view rather than uncovering truth.    Often, people get so wrapped up in the debating aspect of discussion that they actually start to believe they are seeking truth rather than supporting a point of view.

We cannot escape this challenge – people will keep fighting for their points of view in irrational ways, using bad data and bad reasoning.   But I do think we should all work a lot harder to define the goal of discussion as  finding a fuller, richer truth rather than simply scoring debate points or promoting our own political agenda.

Just don’t  hold your breath waiting for that …

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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2 Responses to Answers = good data + reasonable thinking

  1. Kathy Holden says:

    I think your equation: “answers = good data + reasonable thinking” is all good, except, who defines ‘reasonable thinking? Are humans capable of coming to the discussion with completely open, unbiased minds devoid of prior experience, knowledge, understandings, ideas and, yes, opinions? I don’t think so. Everyone present at any discussion will come with a complex mind-package filled with conclusions (some well-thought-out and some subconscious based on the shoes they’ve walked in) which will color their thinking about “the problem” and, eventually, “the answer”. Your goal of good data plus “clear thinking” as the only way to get to the best solution, while idealistic, is, I’m afraid, unrealistic. Reasonable people who “think reasonably” will come to different conclusions. I would even argue that the “debate” method has its merits because it forces each side to think outside the box – to reach beyond what they came to the table “believing”. Thinking and reasoning clearly is, of course, a necessary goal, but, once again, WHO will determine WHO is thinking clearly??????

  2. Hi Kathy –

    I agree with some of what you are saying – people will sometimes come to different conclusions based on same data and rational thinking. I’m also not talking “opinions” here. For example I don’t think we could ever find an answer to the abortion controversies that would satisfy a large majority of people because how people “answer” abortion related questions will rest on their personal morality, religion, etc.

    But I think this works well in terms of helping find answers to many practical everyday issues, such as “how much should we tax people?” “How can we reform health care?”, etc, etc etc.

    By “reasonable” I’m thinking pretty much “scientifically rational”. For example it’s foolish to make a case that the sun won’t rise tomorrow because there’s a wealth of data on this topic as well as super models of how the sun and earth relate to each other. It’s possible the sun won’t rise, but the likelihood it will is very, very, very high. Likewise it is not rational/reasonable to say that Obama was not born in the USA. There’s plenty of data on that topic and although it’s possible he was not born in USA it’s very, very likely he was. Still, many people on the right remain skeptical about that by failing the test. On the left, the irrational thinkers often seem to overreact to threats. Global Warming induced sea level rise becomes “catastrophic sea level rise”, a generally unreasonable notion.

    But my main point is that we can discard a LOT of bad answers based on the test above. That won’t get us the good ones but it WILL get us closer to the truth and let us focus on the good stuff rather than the 90% or so of arguments which mostly rely on bad data or bad thinking.

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