Friday, January 14, 2005

Opinions are like hairstyles – everybody has one, and yours is just wrong.

One of my pet bitches working in a “soft” science is the common misconception that everyone’s opinions carry equal weight. More specifically, that a working hypothesis based on systematic research and careful evaluation of known facts is no better than the mouthings of the, um, less informed (example).

This morning I was listening to a local radio station and the jocks were discussing the discovery of a 45,000 year old flute crafted by Neandertals, the earliest musical instrument found to date. Discount for a moment the ongoing discussion as to whether this is actually a flute and accept the discovery at face value. The opinion forwarded by the learned air personalities is that 45 kya was the critical moment in human evolution when “spare time” appeared. Excuse me a moment, I have to go wash my brain out with soap.

I’m not picking on these guys (although really I am), they’re entertainers and certainly entitled to mouth whatever bonehead crap they like, what bugs me is when the “spare time” hypothesis is given equal consideration with discussions concerning technology and cognitive development. This leads to stickers in textbooks telling us that theories concerning cognition are only theories, and should be carefully considered, along with spare time. Because invention is a product of the leisure class, Veblen said so.