12 January 2014

Disposable Facts, Precious Theories

Sat down on the plane Friday beside a guy who was heading to a genomics conference in San Diego. We chatted a while. Then I said, "Did you see what happened to the unemployment rate last month?"

"No. I don't look at it. It doesn't include under-employed people."

"That's right," I said. "That's the underemployment number and it has a different value."

"Oh," he said. And like that he made it clear that he didn't want to talk any more.

I've seen this more than once when people encounter facts that would force them to reconsider their theories or beliefs about the world. Rather than revise a belief that defines them, they dismiss the facts as being manipulated or fake or inadequate representations of reality.

As David Bryne of the Talking Heads wrote,

"Facts all come with a point of view. Facts don't do what I want them to. Facts just twist the truth around."

I guess it takes tireless vigilance to protect a worldview.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or maybe what he meant was "That statistic doesn't encompass the full scope of the problem," and didn't want to spend the rest of the flight playing stupid word games with elitist scum.