Weighting Experience with Opinion

*Please note, the papers I talk about writing in this blog entry would hypothetically be read by the public.*


Hi everyone,

For this blog post I thought I’d expand a little on what I talked about in class, namely my thoughts on when it is appropriate to give your opinion in an academic paper. Thought I really like the idea of having a theoretical round table discussion with your source-material authors, bouncing ideas off of one another and engaging in some arguments back and forth,  I still feel like there is a time and a place for this in academic papers. During our class, and after going over Christina Haas and Linda Flower, “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning” (I think), it seemed like the overall opinion of the class was that we had been hardwired from early education to never disagree with an author, or to view our opinion as unimportant. While I mostly agree with this, I feel this touches an another important subject in most literature classes; the idea that everyone is always right in their own way.

This is something I have struggled with in many English and literature classes. We’re dissecting a text or poem, and there’s one kid who comes up with a ridiculous interpretation and the teacher says, “Hmm, that’s really interesting, yeah, I can see how that could be the case.” Meanwhile, I’m sitting with a dumbstruck expression on my face, thinking, “How the hell could that ever be what the author was talking about?” or “No. No. NO. Please just say, ‘You’re wrong’ one of these times, because this kid is wrong.” Of course, this is partially due the fact that I’m  pretty quick to rule judgement, something I am working on, and that I’m usually pretty a-ok with be being blunt. I know the teacher probably wants everyone to feel heard, but I feel like everyone has experience an English class where a flat-out wrong interpretation of meaning is brought up. (Luckily, I think that was more a high-school thing). What I’m trying to point out is that there seems to be this pervasive idea in the study of literature that everyone should be give their fair opinion and that everyone should take their opinion into account, sometime as just as valuable as the more experience researchers they quote.

Following this topic down yet another rabbit hole, take modern newscasts. Somewhere in our society’s quest for “Fairness in Reporting”, we got into our head that this means a 50-50 split of devoted time to the different opinions on a news development. While this is all well and good for debating taxation or something that is fairly split in “proof” (most people can agree that theoretically, both political affiliations plans could work if executed correctly), this becomes an issue when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Take, for example, Fox and CNN’s coverage of the Global Warming debate. This corrosive idea of “balanced news” has prompted them to offer equal time to “experts” on both sides of the debate. For example, they’ll devote 5 minutes to interviewing Bill Nye, who clearly states that Global Warming is a fact, and that there is lots of proof to this. Then, they spend the same amount of time interviewing another expert who says that there is no proof of Global Warming, when this is clearly not the opinion of the scientific community. The problem is, the scientific community is pretty unanimous that Global Warming is an issue that needs fixing, while there are only a few scientists who still do not agree. Instead of giving a proportional time slot to the mass-opinion of scientists, the news stations feel they need to be “fair and balanced” so they give the same amount of time to a fringe scientist who disagrees. Whew, sorry if I’m talking in circles here.

I just feel that there is this idea of giving everyone the same level of authority or gravity to their opinions, so we can be “fair”, when really this shouldn’t always be the case. For example, most people wouldn’t give credence to a deep-south, racist guy given a spot at a round table debate over the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate. Picture some news anchors, cabinet members, reporters, and this southern guy. I feel like this guy’s opinion should be given little-to-no weight in the scheme of the discussion.  Why? Because the evidence and general-consensus points overwhelmingly against his view point. Should he be allowed to speak. I guess. If not only for the sake of humoring him. But if you act like his opinion is just as important as say, Anderson Cooper or Hilary Clinton, then we have a big issue. We are giving the appearance to people that this viewpoint is more pervasive than it really is. People may think that half of America thinks Obama is lying about his birthplace if we give half the allocated speaking time to this southern guy.

So, tying this all back into our discussion in class yesterday. I feel like there are papers that I will write about topics that I have no authority on, where I can point out what author’s opinion seems to be best, or seems the most shaky, but I don’t feel I can offer myself up as an authority on the subject. If I’m doing a report on Stem-Cell research, I think I can discuss the different opinions of the scientists whose opinions I researched, but I can’t offer myself up as an authority in the paper whose opinion should be weighted the same as these men and women who have devoted their lives to studying the subject. Spending too much time on my opinion may have the same effect as the news casts, people reading my paper may think that my opinion has as much data or research in it as these brilliant scientists who have spent decades collecting and testing data. Just because I read their work does not mean my opinion is as valuable as theirs.

3 thoughts to “Weighting Experience with Opinion”

  1. I agree with you completely on the idea that not all opinions should be given equal weight. Over the spring term I took a Communications class where we devoted a lot of time to talking about exactly what you just did–that the notion of “fairness in reporting” can actually hurt the overall conversation because it does give the misleading idea that (for example) the scientists who believe global warming is a non issue are equal in number to those who are of the opposite stance. But I want to push you in a different direction with the idea of you (the writer) as an authority. I don’t think that it necessarily means you have to present your own knowledge of the scientific (or whatever the case may be) facts–rather, I think that writing with authority means giving yourself the license to say, “Here’s the opinion of some fringe scientists, but here is why those opinions don’t deserve the same credence as the opposition.” Authority can be as simple as what we often wish reporters had the guts (or the permission of their employers) to do–assert a substantiated opinion of which argument is stronger or better and why.

  2. HA laughed out loud at several parts of this. First of all, totally feel like were back in Current Events right now with Mr. Christner and I’m not upset by it. You are dead on. Sometimes people are given too much authority or not enough. I think back to the idea of the Rorschach Inkblot tests. Ever heard of them? Its a psychology method to test various mental illnesses… and it has been basically proven as worthless. At any rate, no matter what your answer is, it is correct. And thats an issue. I agree that there ARE wrong answers. Hallelujah to that!!! I would agree that in some areas (such as psychology) I can take an authoritative position, where in other areas (rocket science) it would be best if I just kept my mouth shut. Nice writing, Steve!

  3. I, too, laughed out loud while reading your description of an English class where you are flat out wrong about the way you interpreted it. I have definitely been in that situation more than once. Even during last class, while the four of us were discussing our interpretations of our piece of reading, we all took it different ways. So..are we supposed to write with or without authority? What exactly were the authors trying to do by showing the distinction between these two writers!? I feel that the beauty of reading and of course, writing, is that you are ALLOWED to have your own interpretation and your own opinion about anything and everything. That being said, you make a great point at the end. There are times when I am absolutely not authorized to give my opinion on the subject matter. In that case, I summarize and back up with research. No opinions necessary (=

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