As I See It column: Rational disclosure requires rational thinking
This would appear to be a truism, but how often it is ignored, frequently in letters to the editor. This is particularly true of rejoinders to other letters to the editor, which are often attacks on the messenger instead of civil responses to the message.
When expressing an opinion, we should be civil and remember that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. And we should critically examine the sources and possible motivations for what may be merely someone’s opinions masquerading as facts. Those motivations are frequently for capital gain, as witness manufacturers covering up health, safety and environmental hazards of their products that yield huge profits (regardless of the damages they cause), by personal attacks designed to destroy the career and livelihood of anyone audacious enough to interfere with their bottom line.
Irrational thinking arises from cognitive biases we all have. People hold onto what they want to believe, and then recruit anything they can find that supports that belief.
We should learn to recognize the difference between what we believe and what we know. Beliefs are concepts we accept without questioning, but what we know should be based on solid information, the best sources of which are science and history, which have been accepted only after critical review by authorities in those fields. This information may be overturned by new discoveries, but only after they also have been critically reviewed.
We should also not take sides on an issue until we have thoroughly searched for true facts on both sides of the issue before making a judgment. The following are some examples of irrational thinking.
Vaccinations are responsible for the increase in autism: It is true that both have increased over the past century, but that is no proof of cause and effect. Every authentic study of the subject has found no causative linkage between vaccination and autism. Yet there are many who would rather believe a false rumor than accept scientific evidence.
Adding fluoride to our drinking water is dangerous because it is a poison: Well, so is chlorine, but we add it to our drinking water to make sure it is safe enough to drink. The secret is to add these chemicals at levels needed to accomplish the objectives — which are well below their toxicity levels. The benefit of fluoridation in reducing dental cavities, especially in children, has been well documented, and the concern that combining fluoridation of water with fluoridated toothpaste could result in dangerous fluoride levels in the body is unfounded — fluoride is toxic only if too much is ingested.
The United States is a Christian nation because our Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments: The first four commandments relate strictly to religion, which the First Amendment to our constitution clearly prohibits our government from having any part in. The fifth, seventh and 10th commandments pertain to moral issues — respect for one’s parents, adultery and avoiding jealousy of the belongings of others. Only the remaining three, prohibiting murder, theft and lying, have anything to do with government, and are not exclusively Christian precepts. So there is no truth to the claim that we are a Christian nation, but there are many who still proclaim otherwise.
Global warming is a hoax: This could well be the most critical issue in the future of mankind, and consequently our actions should be guided by scientific knowledge. “Ignore it — maybe it will go away” is not the answer. We have data showing that Earth’s temperature has risen and fallen over hundreds of thousands of years, and that the major cause of those variations has been changes in the amount of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere (primarily carbon dioxide and to a lesser degree, methane).
The major increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from 300 parts per million in 1915 to over 400 ppm today, 80 percent of which has occurred in the last 50 years, cannot be accounted for from natural causes. The fact that it closely matches the CO2 created by the rapid growth in the burning of fossil fuels during that same time confirms that global warming is man-made, and can be remedied only by drastically reversing our dependence on fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, or it is likely to be too late to save us from the devastating consequences.
The worst example of irrational thinking is our Congress, which is threatening to make our government nonfunctional.
Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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