Opinion

Think About It ... Fact? Fiction? Fabrication?

Reading this column just might save you $54. Although if you have an extra need – in my case a need that can reach neurotic levels depending on the issue — for facts and data you probably already have bought or borrowed America’s Ranking Among Nations (“A Goal Perspective of the United States in Graphic Detail”).

This book is not exactly a glossy coffee table book and doesn’t stir passion, as evidenced by the not-so-subtle change of subject that followed my first attempt to share this find with one of the groups I frequent. But I like it.

It’s just the facts. Facts are displayed in around 175 graphs in which countries are compared to each using the same data base. Data sources are clearly defined and include 16 entities that collect data and calculate statistics.

All but two sources are USA-based such as the U.S. Bureaus of Labor, Economic Analysis and Justice. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, international and often quoted rankings and the World Bank are the exceptions.

Did you know that:

Fact: “78.3 percent of all U.S. business firms are non-employee firms and owner-operated (page 111)?” That would be people like me who do consulting or write. All of us account for only 3.4 percent of business receipts and usually aren’t included in business statistics.

Fact: The USA accounts for 40.9 percent of total world military expenditures (page 170), followed by China at 7.7 percent.

This military fact has to make one wonder where all the hand wringing about military might is coming from. It’s enough to make someone think we are being manipulated into anxiety and fear.

I think we have a responsibility as thinking human beings to learn and consider facts before we decide, form an opinion or live in fear.

So it is into these dry pages of no nonsense and apolitical fact that I seek refuge from unproven conclusions often used as strategies to separate us from each other.

Opinion as fact?

We happen to live in a time when opinion is accepted as fact or worse truth and fact are viewed as political posturing and manipulation depending on which political base that you claim.

Nowhere is fact under more assault than in science, actually defined by rigorous research criteria. Some have taken on the cause of discrediting the scientific method as taught in so-called “liberal” higher education, whose goal is to mold the minds of unsuspecting and gullible young people.

I get pretty nervous when I hear people reject science. You might recall that I work in health care in which diagnosis and treatment has evolved through scientific thought and process. My bachelor’s degree in nursing says Bachelor of Science, not bachelor of nonsense in nursing.

Quick! Give me a fact before I faint.

Fact: The USA ranks second (next to Norway) in percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds that obtain education resulting in a bachelor’s or high degree (page 31).

Fact: The USA ranks 43rd in the world for public expenditure on education and close to the middle of the pack of countries in math, science and reading literacy test results (pages 30, 32-34).

My scientific training stuck, which is why I find the rejection of science somewhat shocking. I don’t really know why but I think that many reject science because it interferes with something they strongly believe, such as creationism over evolution or profits over climate change action. It’s not that I expect or even want people to reject their beliefs or profit motive — I just don’t want them to reject science, especially as a subject for children or college students. We need physicians, nurses and innovators in science.

Quick! Take me to my refuge.

Fact: The USA ranks seventh in research and development expenditure as a percent of GDP (2007) at 2.7 percent. Sweden was highest at 3.6 percent (page 154).

Fact: The USA had the highest number of published scientific and technical journal articles in 2007 at 27.7 percent, the next highest being China at 7.5 percent (page 155).

Fact denial as a strategy

I would admire the success of message mongering to discredit institutions such as higher education and science if I didn’t believe that such cleverness is ultimately destructive to just about every aspect of our lives, especially human potential.

Foolishness (an opinion): Federal legislation that defined pizzas as vegetables with crust and declared that a daily serving of French fries is good for our school children

Fact:

The USA ranked fourth in the world in the prevalence of adult obesity (Page 150) from 2000-2007 at 33.9 percent. That’s obesity — not overweight.

I really would like us adults to set the tone of critical thinking for the children we are educating however average the outcomes might be. Or we could just stop misrepresenting the truth.

Just because Congress or the Supreme Court says so, does that make it so or right? Just because we say America is the best, does that make it so? If we close our eyes and turn around three times, does that make it so?

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

 

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