Facts, Opinion, Fake News, and the Long Road to Truth (Part 1)

This meme has been going the rounds of social media the last few years:

6or9

It’s shared by almost everyone trying to prove to other people that their side of the argument isn’t “wrong,” it’s just a different point of view. There’s only one problem: the meme itself is wrong, and has no basis in objective reality.

Let’s examine a few things. If there were no orientation points to speak of, both person in the meme would neither be wrong nor right – they’d just both have inconclusive statements. Take a look at this image for example:

perspective (2)

Now, would you say that’s a 09 or a 60? If we’re to believe the people hewing to the meme above, it can be either-or, and both those saying it’s a 09 or a 60 would both be correct. But in reality, that’s not really the case, is it? Especially when these numbers find themselves in a cheque or a bank account statement. Suddenly, it’s important to find out who is correct.

Which is why ORIENTATION is always important. Without the complete facts of the case, we can’t define conclusively who is correct and who is wrong. However, we’re sure of one thing – one of them is definitely wrong.

perspective.jpg

Ahh. Now we see more clearly with the rest of the picture in place. If this were shown to you, would you still agree with the people saying it’s a 60?

Failures of logic like the meme above are commonplace in today’s online world. Children today are growing up untrained in the rigors of logic. In the U.S., a common curriculum would include the following subjects: Math, Science, English, History, Computer Studies, and Physical Education. Curiously, Logic, as a subject, is missing from the curriculum.

Unlike the ancient Greeks who considered Logic to be of utmost importance that they made it a standalone subject, together with Grammar and Rhetoric, which forms their Trivium, present-day educators treat Logic as a minor study, to be consigned within the major subjects of Math, Science, and English. It appears as elementary proofs in geometry, a discussion of fallacies in English, and a chapter of Boolean Logic in Computer Studies.

In a study conducted by Weinstock & Neuman (2004), results showed that students who were aware of “general argumentation norms,” or what we know as “rules of logic,” performed better at identifying fallacies than those who didn’t.

Likewise, in a successive study done by the same authors, they found out that when presented with context, students were able to correctly identify fallacious arguments compared with those who were lacking context (Neuman, Weinstock, & Glasner, 2006).

Children, it seemed, did not fail for lack of trying or for lack of brain power. They simply failed because they lack training in the art and science of logical thinking. This is a damning indictment of our educational institutions.

Take for example the difference between a fact and an opinion. It seems pretty straightforward for most of us. Quite common sense really. A fact is a statement which can be proven or disproven, while an opinion is a statement which cannot. And yet, to my horror, more than half of my students in senior high hardly knew the difference between the two. I had to teach the entire concept to them before I could proceed to teach writing as a discipline.

In a survey of 5,035 American adults done by the Pew Research Center, conducted between Feb. 22 and March 8, 2018, asking respondents to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, it was found out that more than a quarter of Americans got most or all wrong in their answers. Even more depressing, of those who got it correct, most were only able to identify three to five statements correctly. That’s as good as merely guessing.

And if you think you’re a bit better than the crowd, think about this: when I mentioned “fact” did you automatically associate it with “true” or did you somehow knew it meant “provable?” Because if you thought the former, then I have a bridge to sell you. The sad truth is, “fact” doesn’t mean “true.” It only means it’s a statement that can be proven or disproven using evidence. Let’s do the following exercise and see how well you fare in distinguishing factual statements from opinionated ones.

fact vs opinion.jpg

Of the eight statements, five are factual while three are opinion. Were you able to guess which three were opinionated? If you guessed the last three, you would be correct. Proving raisins are gross, insects are annoying, and that George Washington was the best president ever are all an exercise in futility because they are all rooted in subjective biases. Who is to say what’s gross and what’s annoying? How would we quantify the word “best” and how would we measure it? In contrast, proving how long it takes someone to ride the bike to the mall is fairly easy. As it is with finding out if mint toothpaste and gum are good for your teeth. A series of experiments can quickly settle the issue. Likewise, a cheetah’s speed can be measured objectively, and the contents of milk scientifically studied. By these precepts, we are able to determine them as factual statements. While factual, they aren’t automatically “true.” They’re merely statements which can be proven to be true or false.

However, things only get muddier from here on. There are indeed “facts” which are held to be “true.” They are called “scientific facts,” and are treated separately from “factual statements,” which are merely statements of provability. Scientific facts carry the weight of evidence behind them, and years of repeatable observation and reproducible experiments. The entire collection of human knowledge was based on the scientific method and the collection of empirical evidence to validate certain facts.

To make matters worse, there’s what we call “evidentiary facts” in legal parlance. These are evidence collected in support of a “fact.” To avoid confusing the three, we must clearly distinguish scientific facts as “scientific facts”, “factual statements” as merely “fact,” and “evidentiary facts” as “evidence.” To fail to do so would invite chaos.

With those distinctions out of the way, let us proceed to a much more controversial topic.

Ever heard the term, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts?” It was either coined by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, James Schlesinger, or Bernard Baruch (depending on your sources) and would go on to infect a large portion of the populace, making them believe that hiding behind the curtain of “opinion” will excuse them from the challenges of rational thought. Sadly, since then, people have used the qualifier “it’s just my opinion” as a catch-all defense to avoid intellectual scrutiny and criticism. They believe that by categorizing their statements as “opinion,” they cannot be criticized or called to answer for it.

Except, that’s not really the case, is it? Going back to our definitions, these people have clearly tagged their views as opinion when it clearly veers into factual territory. Opinions are of such subjective nature that they cannot be proven or disproven conclusively. The arguments of which dessert is better, ice cream or chocolate, will go on ad infinitum because these arguments rest on the subjective definitions of one’s own palate. However, the argument of whether vaccines cause autism should be put to rest since mountains of evidence have been collected proving no link between vaccines and autism. In this case, “vaccines cause autism” is not an “opinion.” It is simply misinformed fact. A myth that grew from fraud and scientific misrepresentation by one person, which now poses a serious threat to worldwide health.

Everyone is still entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to call their views or beliefs as “opinion” when it clearly isn’t. In this case, everyone is only entitled to what they can prove.

References:

Amy Mitchell, J. G., & Sumida, N. (2018). Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2018/06/18/distinguishing-between-factual-and-opinion-statements-in-the-news/

CDC. (2015, November 23). CDC Statement: 2004 Pediatrics Paper on MMR and Autism. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html

Neuman, Y., Weinstock, M. P., & Glasner, A. (2006, February 1). The effect of contextual factors on the judgment of informal reasoning fallacies. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(2), 411-425. doi:10.1080/17470210500151436

Phadke, V. K., Bednarczyk, R. A., Salmon, D. A., & Omer, S. B. (2016). Association Between Vaccine Refusal and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States: A Review of Measles and Pertussis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 315(11), 1149–1158. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.1353

Popik, B. (2009, July 30). Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Retrieved from The Big Apple: https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/everyone_is_entitled_to_his_own_opinion_but_not_his_own_facts

Weinstock, M., & Neuman, Y. (2004, January). Missing the point or missing the norms? Epistemological norms as predictors of students’ ability to identify fallacious arguments. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 29(1), 77-94. doi:10.1016/S0361-476X(03)00024-9

 

The Writ of Kalikasan and the Battle to Protect our Life Sources

person s left hand holding green leaf plant
Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

The Writ of Kalikasan – what is it and what does it do?

In “The Environment as Life Sources and the Writ of Kalikasan in the Philippines,” Davide redefines the word “environment” as “life sources,” stating that “it is nothing less than about life and the sources of life of the earth – land, air, and water, or LAW for brevity – the elements of life and the vital organs of the earth” (Davide, 2012).

The Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy provided to any citizen of the Republic of the Philippines for the protection of their constitutional right “to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” (Section 16 Article II, Philippine Constitution, 1987)

“When the right to life is threatened, and the executive department tasked to protect it fails or is wanting in political will to enforce said right, it is the duty of the court, in an appropriate case, to step in” (Davide, 2012). Davide further states that: “The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines has expanded the judicial power of the courts of the Philippines. Section 1 of Article VIII thereof, on the judicial department, provides:

Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

The Writ of Kalikasan, or the writ of nature, is available when the environmental damage is of such magnitude that it prejudices the life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. The writ is issued by either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals within three days after the filing of the application. Hearing of the matter is set within sixty days. No docket or filing fee is required upon the filing of the complaint or petition. The proceedings terminate within sixty days from the submission of the original application (Davide, 2012)

Further,

the writ of Kalikasan may be sought by anyone a) whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or b) whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is threatened with violation, by an unlawful act of omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity and such violation or threat involves “environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants of two or more cities, or provinces.” (Rule 7, Section 1)

The petition for the writ of Kalikasan “shall be filed with the Supreme Court or with any of the stations of the Court of Appeals.” (Rule 7, Section 3) Note, however, that the filing of a petition for the issuance of the writ of Kalikasan shall not preclude the filing of separate civil, criminal or administrative actions. (Rule 7, Section 17)

Within 3 days from filing the petition deemed sufficient in form and substance, the Court shall issue the writ and require the respondent to file a return. (Rule 7, Section 5)

In response, the respondent is required to file a return containing his defenses and supporting evidence within a non-extendible 10-day period after the service to him of the writ. He must raise all defenses in the return, otherwise, they are deemed waived.  A general denial of the petitioner’s allegations shall be deemed an admission by the respondent. (Rule 7, Section 8)

If the petition fails to file a return, the hearing shall proceed ex parte (i.e., the hearing will proceed with only 1 side being heard). (Rule 7, Section 10)

The penalty of indirect contempt may be meted out to a) a respondent who refuses to file the return, b) a respondent who unduly delays the filing of a return, c) a respondent who falsifies a return, or d) anyone who disobeys or resists a lawful process of court order. (Rule 7, Section 13)

In further recognition of the importance of a speedy resolution, the following filings are prohibited:
a) motion to dismiss
b) motion for extension of time to file return
c) motion for postponement
d) motion for a bill of particulars
e) counterclaim or cross-claim
f) third-party complaint
g) reply, and
h) motion to declare respondent in default. (Rule 7, Section 9)

However, the following motions are allowed:
motion for ocular inspection (1) indicating the place/s sought to be inspected and (2) supported by “affidavits of witnesses having personal knowledge of the violation or threatened violation of environmental law.” andmotion for production or inspection of documents or things.  (Rule 7, Section 12) 

When the court receives the return, it may call a preliminary conference “to simplify the issues, determine the possibility of obtaining stipulations or admissions from the parties, and set the petition for hearing.” The petition shall be given the same priority as petitions for the writ of habeas corpusamparo and habeas data; thus, the hearing and the preliminary conference shall be all done within 60 days (Rule 7, Section 11)

After the hearing, the case shall be submitted for decision in which case, the court may require the filing of memoranda within a non-extendible 30-day period from the date the case is submitted for decision.

Within 60 days from the time the petition is submitted for decision, the court shall grant or deny the privilege of the writ of kalikasan.  The reliefs that may be granted under the writ are the following:
a) Directing respondent to permanently cease and desist from committing acts or neglecting the performance of a duty in  violation  of  environmental  laws  resulting  in environmental destruction or damage;
b) Directing  the  respondent  public  official,  government agency,  private  person  or  entity  to  protect,  preserve, rehabilitate or restore the environment;
c) Directing  the  respondent  public  official,  government agency,  private  person  or  entity  to  monitor  strict compliance with the decision and orders of the court;
d) Directing  the  respondent  public  official,  government agency, or private person or entity to make periodic reports on the execution of the final judgment; and
e) Such other reliefs which relate to the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology or to the protection, preservation, rehabilitation or restoration of the environment, except the award of damages to individual petitioners. (Rule 7, Section 15)

Appeal to the Supreme Court, under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (i.e. a petition for review on certiorari), is available within 15 days from the notice of the judgment or denial of motion for reconsideration.  It is important to note that this appeal may raise questions of fact. (Rule 7, Section 16)

This writ is an innovation of the Philippine Supreme Court as one of the legal means to combat the destruction of the environment. This writ is one of a kind, available only within Philippine jurisdiction. It is extraordinary in nature, meaning to say, that it can be resorted to only when other ordinary legal remedies such as injunction or damage suit are unavailing.

 

References:
Hilario G. Davide Jr., The Environment as Life Sources and the Writ of Kalikasan in the Philippines, 29 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 592 (2012)
“What is a Writ of Kalikasan?” (n.d.) Retrieved from http://notocoal.weebly.com/writ-of-kalikasan.html#.W7NVC2gzbIW

 

 

 

 

Are You Rich Enough?

I was browsing the web when I chanced upon a link that says “Are You Rich Enough? The Terrible Tragedy of Income.”

I thought to myself that that was a very profound title, describing perfectly how our society has become twisted and how people have mixed up their priorities in life, and how I would very much like to read what it says.

So I clicked the link and found out the title was incomplete. What the title really said was “Are You Rich Enough? The Terrible Tragedy of Income Inequality.”

I then laughed at myself for thinking I woke up to a different world. How typical. To see people frame the situation as a problem of inequality as opposed to a problem of systems. You know people don’t understand the problem when they think giving everyone the same amount of money fixes everything. It’s a serious misunderstanding of how the economy works. If you gave everyone the same amount of money, everyone would have the same purchasing power – leading to an equal capacity to buy anything. That’s all fine and dandy until you realize that the things you can buy are finite, and that most people probably want to buy the same things you do – which of course leads to an increase in demand – which of course leads to a supply problem – which of course leads to an increase in prices on goods that are in demand – which of course leads to inflation – which finally leads to everyone’s money being devalued. Those who saved their money in a bank now have less purchasing power than what they started out with. Those who spent their money, now don’t have any, and those smart enough to hold onto theirs and sell the goods in demand are now richer than before. And we’re back right where we started. In a world of income inequality.

Simply put, even if everyone started out with the same amount of money, the system works in such a way as to always end up in income inequalty. We will never ever have equality under this financial system. And to think otherwise is simply to be ignorant of the economic interactions at play.

While I was disappointed the article turned out to be not what I expected, I still felt my initial reading of the incomplete title as the real profound lesson that needs to be taught.

Today, when we think of wealth and the richest people in the world, we always frame it in percentages. We’ll say “Oh, they’re the 1 percent of the world.” News outlets carry the headlines “Richest 1 Percent of the World Own Half of Global Wealth.”

I shake my head sometimes at how people view wealth and value in the world. People have a serious misconception of what truly matters and their priorities are seriously messed up. How you view the world truly changes your life.

There’s a sad, sad tale for everyone who thinks wealth = money. And there’s an even sadder tale for those who equate financial wealth = success. The saddest tale meanwhile, is reserved for those who earned their wealth at the cost of losing their loved ones.

Here’s how I view the world:

Do you have someone you love who also loves you back?
You’re part of the 1%.

Are you healthy?
You’re part of the 1%.

Are you happy?
You’re part of the 1%.

Are you contented?
You’re part of the 0.01%.

Do you live a life of love and forgiveness?
You’re part of the 1%.

99% of the people in the world are unhappy, scared, lonely, and always living in fear.

So the next time you envy someone with more money than you, remember that wealth is a state of mind. And happiness is a consequence of viewing the world differently than 99% of the people in the world.

The question isn’t “Are You Rich Enough,” the question is “Are You Wise Enough to Know When You Are Rich Enough?”

Don’t sell your wealth for a couple of lousy bucks.

Why Piracy is Good and Copyright Evil or Why I’d Rather be a Starving Writer than be a Rich A-hole Like Harlan Ellison

Before everything else, let’s read Lloyd Kaufman’s own take on Why Piracy is Good and Copyright Sucks. Improv Everywhere also has a very funny, yet ironically, quite a bitingly truthful protest about copyright infringement which they called: WAP, Writers Against Piracy.

Now, on to the issue.

Piracy is good because it’s tearing down the walls of our insanity. Intellectual property rights should never have been made into a law. For that matter, neither should property rights have been, but let’s tackle that for another day.

Piracy forces society to deal with an obsolete market system. The dawn of the digital era has brought about the dawn of non-scarcity. Value arises out of limited goods. But in a world where a product can be recreated indefinitely without cost, that product loses value. Yet archaic tyrants want to force artificial scarcity on us by enforcing DRM and other IPR protecting mechanisms.

Piracy forces the middle man out of the picture entirely. For while it would soon become unprofitable for them to make a business out of publishing, originators would still continue to find it profitable to continue originating – this time without the presence of publishers.

In the face of great change, we must adapt, or be swept away along the currents of change.

In the near future (hopefully tomorrow), I will be a famous author. I’ll write speculative fiction and have my books devoured hungrily by the masses. I’ll self-publish using all the modern tools self-publishing has to offer me and I’ll skip the middle-man and go straight to the consuming public. I’ll upload my books in my own website and let the public download directly from my website. All this, and I’ll give it all away for free.

For free? But why?

Because I believe that the world should be a free society – free from bondage, control, and market forces. Because I believe civilization isn’t meant to be a community of selfish, competing simians all living for their own self-interests rather than for those of the greater interests of the community. Because I believe, that in reality, the work I created is no more mine than the genes I inherited from my ancestors. All the ideas and inventions we’ve ever made, owe its life to previous ideas and inventions made by others before us. None of us truly own anything that comes out of our mind. Our own way of thinking is shaped and formed by thousands of years of cultural evolution. What I am doing is nothing more than just giving back what I owe to that evolution.

There is but one tiny thing of selfishness that I do withhold. It is but the primitive desire of an egoistic man. It is but one tiny thing, but to me, it is the world. For without it, I would not endeavor to create or write anything of value. Recognition. All I ask is that I be recognized as the originator of my work. Not its owner, but simply the man behind the mask.

And you’ll say, how hypocritical of me. A pretender of the most devious act. Me who peddle my talent for a price. Can there be anyone more hypocritical than a freelancer preaching free books? While I sell my words for a dollar, I want others to give theirs for free? Hypocritical indeed.

Only if you do not distinguish between freelance writing and writing. “But that’s preposterous!” you’ll say. “There’s no difference between the two!” And I’ll say, “but there is, my dear Watson. The former is the act of hiring out my services for another while the latter is simply the act of writing. One is done only upon the reasonable expectation of reward while the other is done purely for self-satisfaction, respect, and recognition.”

Simply put, if I enjoy writing it, you can have it for free. But while you’re the one asking for copy and not me voluntarily creating copy, and while this world is trapped in capitalists mode of thinking, I’ll continue to charge by the dollar for words I care not to write.

Maybe in the future, when we’ve all succeeded in tearing down this house of insanity, and I would not need currency to survive, you can have my services all you want for free. And I’ll write all the words in the world you like and never worry about starvation.