Thursday, May 06, 2010

Respecting Different Perspectives -- Demanding Hard Evidence

“We need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence.” “The practice of listening to opposing views is essential to democracy.” Barak Obama’s opponents, supporters, and those in-between should find inspiration in his speech to the graduates of the University of Michigan this past weekend.

Obama encouraged members of our nation to “learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes”. If the liberal media commonly nourish your thinking and shape your opinions, pay some attention to the conservative media. Most of us mix with people in networks of familiarity and comfort. We should extend that zone, discovering the perspectives that others hold. No doubt at all that we could gain some valuable insights that might enrich our ability to work with others and to improve our communities.

Obama also quoted from Daniel Patrick Moynihan – advice which we at Wilder Research have taken to heart over many years: “Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Yes. We like this point of view at Wilder Research; we hope that you do as well. We can’t know everything; but we must agree in common on what we do know, and then use that information as a platform for discussion, decision-making, and further action. We should insist that those who promote a specific course of action or a remedy for a problem build their case on a clear, nonpartisan, acceptable base of the most complete, up-to-date evidence – whether they want to recommend an approach to mental health treatment or the best way to confront the Taliban.

Can you rely on a drug or other treatment which a professional has prescribed? Only if it has received thorough testing and endorsement through valid, unbiased research. Do local, state, and federal social programs, for which we have paid billions of dollars, actually work? Do such programs have a positive return on the major investment we have put into them? Some certainly do work; some have a large, positive cost/benefit. Others, however, have never received a true test; we don’t understand their full value (or lack thereof).

In a world where sound bites can shape the public’s image of the world, where everyone can become his or her own publisher and distributor of “information” and opinions, and where groups with vested interests have powerful tools to selfishly coerce us to move our thinking in their direction – it becomes more important than ever to insist on really knowing the facts – facts which Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives can accept, even if they use those facts to draw completely opposite interpretations and conclusions.

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