Monday, July 25, 2005

Voting for Facts

Notice that at Accuweather.com there is a daily trivia question. A few days ago, for instance, the question asked something along the lines of which of these East Coast cities had the least rainfall average for the month of July. Then, as the reader, you are asked to "vote" for Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or D.C.

Voting, however, is by definition an expression of a choice or an opinion. After one 'votes' at Accuweather, the "results" are shown as a graph presenting how many 'votes' each answer has received. The problem is that no matter how many 'votes' any city receives, the answer is a concrete fact. Even if every person votes for Philadelphia, if Boston receives more rain in the historical records, then the answer is "Boston" (or whatever the correct answer was.)

Certainly this is just a matter of terminology at Accuweather, as weather history at least is a matter of scientific record. (Now, weather prediction is a whole other thing...)

If you take a look at the larger framework of factual reporting, such polling has become central to the presentation of the news. News organization are constantly barraging their viewers and readers with poll results than sometimes border on the absurd. You can poll people about whether or not they like to eat cheeseburgers. Polls, however, have no place when dealing with facts. It does not matter how many people 'vote' that Iraq is or is not a threat to the United States any more than we can vote on whether or not men landed on the moon.

Similarly, public opinion has become the supreme foundation for morality. If a CNN poll shows that 90% of Americans approve of stealing, then the viewer is supposed to understand that this is the majority and thus the right way.

Democracy is a great system in which to live, but the modern understanding of opinions has taken over our understanding of truth and facts. We are rewriting reality faster than the Soviet Union rewrote their own history.

When it comes to facts, or when it comes to morality, there is such a thing as absolute truth, and absolute truth is not subject to any vote. If the temperature today is 94, a 99% vote does not change the facts or make it any cooler.

4 comments:

Jared Bridges said...

I think John Adams (the president, not the sportswriter) said it best:

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

Barry said...

"Convince a man beyond his will he is of the same opinion still."

I don't know who said it.

Barry said...

Could the reason it is so hot in Birminghan be the results of a poll? Let us call our friends--in B'ham--have them vote for another city and cool things off around here.

Scott Slayton said...

This reminds me of last year's college football season. It was a fact that Auburn should play USC, but a poll put OU in the game. I'm not bitter.