Do you have an opinion? Well, good news, friend, you can go online and find (at least) hundreds of people who share that same opinion. Online circle-jerks exist around literally every topic and opinion, full of people insisting they “know the truth” despite knowing nothing but the skewed bullshit that they want to believe. No matter the reality, no matter the subject, no matter how much factual information exists on any particular topic, you can go online and find a community that conforms to i>your<i particular flavour of bullshit. The internet was once heralded as an a bastion of information and eradicator of ignorance. Today, we know better, and mostly use the internet to project ourselves onto the world, and to reaffirm our existing opinions.
Opinionated stupid people are one thing. We’ve had that since the dawn of time, and the internet has only increased their influence. Today, however, we face a new threat; smart people, with stupid opinions, who know how to argue and how to find evidence to back their stupid opinions up. Now that sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Smart people with stupid opinions? Stupid opinions but with evidence? To the modern critical thinker, yes, it does sound odd, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that most people don’t want to actually be correct, they just want to think they are. The only difference here is that the smart person knows both how to make their opinion seem more valid with arguments and evidence that indeed seem legitimate on the surface, but in fact are designed to suede you to their point of view. Don’t you let them.
Much of the evidence brought forth by the ignorant smart person will be of the ‘scientific study’ variety, the idea being that if a study concludes a particular position then that position must be correct, and thus their opinion is correct and the argument is won. However, this is far from the case. Many people treat the word ‘study’ as ‘objective truth’ but in reality, it just means ‘investigation’. Sometimes that investigation comes with an incorrect conclusion, either on purpose or otherwise, and just like uninformed opinions on the internet, you can find a study to back up almost any claim you want to make. Think that a claim is too bold to back up? Don’t. Cigarette companies ran phoney studies in mid 20th century in order to convince people that their product is safe to use. The convenient outcome of those studies? The product was safe to use, which we now know is not the case.
A scientific study is only as useful as the conducting scientists are objective and truthful. Any scientist who wants to conduct a fraudulent study with a conclusion that “conveniently” is in the favour of those funding the study, can do so, and many scientists have become very good at it – just look at studies funded by coal and oil companies. They conveniently conclude that climate change is not occurring, despite the likes of Shell and Exon Mobil internally predicting climate change as early as the 1980s .
The fact that ‘scientific’ studies are plentiful, lends itself well to justifying a stupid opinion. Anyone can go onto google scholar, search about their chosen topic, and look for any study that reaffirms their point of view. The more mainstream the topic, the more you’ll find, but there’s lots out there for everyone.
The situation is quite dire. One might think that literature reviews are the solution, but these can be just as skewed as a lone study, cherry-picking research to show the desired result. Unfortunately, the only way forward might be to realise that many studies are bullshit, work with that information in the pursuit of knowledge, and call your friends out on their bullshit when they cite clearly unreliable studies.