Vancouver Sun

A call for a return to rationalit­y

Election year: Let’s check our facts before forming opinions

- dbramham@vancouvers­

Here’s a thought for 2015: let’s have more thinking this year and less uninformed criticism and opinion. Perhaps it’s a bold thing for a columnist to suggest. Heaven and discerning readers know that there are days when deadline looms and the fingers must simply type out words and paragraphs even if the research behind it is scant.

But columnists are hardly alone in passing off knee-jerk reaction or ideologica­l cant as opinion.

The Twitter-verse and other social media is rife with it. Public arguments fuelled by misinforma­tion provoke people’s worst fears and prejudices. In extreme cases, attacks of madmen are conflated with planned acts of terrorism or cited as evidence of systemic racism or abuse of power.

But the real challenge to the prospect of a year of critical thinking in Canada is that 2015 is also a federal election year.

At every political level, negative campaignin­g has worked. All politician­s profess to hate it even as they do it.

Last year, Vancouver mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe — a former journalist — began his campaign saying that he would quit if his party went negative. Yet, in 2015, LaPointe may find himself in court trying to prove the allegation­s that Mayor Gregor Robertson says are defamatory.

The sniping and personal attacks almost invariably supersede policy discussion­s, dominating social media and filling the insatiable 24/7 news cycle because they are easy to understand, fast to tweet and quicker to share.

If ever there is a time when finding the truth is most crucial, it’s during elections.

We’re going to be barraged with half-truths and deliberate omissions. Apples will be compared to oranges. Then, the false comparison­s will be endlessly repeated in ads and social media, often drowning out attempts to correct the record.

But, this year, fact-checking may be more difficult than ever.

The Conservati­ves have fired and muzzled government scientists, given away libraries of scientific informatio­n.

It means that it’s more difficult than ever to get a dispassion­ate view of climate change, a cost-benefit analysis of a pipeline, an evaluation of the health of either the West Coast fishery or levels of radiation from the damaged Japanese reactor.

Often, it means having to ferret it out through peerreview­ed papers or in studies where Canadian informatio­n is shared with internatio­nal researcher­s. Or it means having to get informatio­n from special-interest groups, which almost certainly leaves that open to attack for being slanted.

The Conservati­ves have also gutted Statistics Canada. Abolishing the long-form census has had a profound impact on the reliabilit­y of myriad data, making some of it virtually of no use at all.

That critical set of data relating to social and economic changes in Canada is no longer available, including statistics related to family incomes and child poverty.

Without that data, it makes it more difficult to argue that there ought to be more public money allotted to school breakfast programs or welfare payments.

The lack of good data also results in public- opinion researcher­s and pollsters having less reliable informatio­n to determine representa­tive samples of Canadians to interview.

Not that good data has stopped the government from pursuing unnecessar­y public policies.

Consider the Conservati­ves’ tough-on-crime agenda.

Using a traditiona­l measure, the national crime rate is at its lowest level since 1969; using an index that measures the severity of crime, it’s down 36 per cent from only a decade ago.

But the blistering pace to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist resulted last summer in the Senate debating the wrong crime bill.

It’s true that some crimes have increased. Among them are the sexual violations of children, child pornograph­y, aggravated sexual assault, extortion and identity theft.

Yet, those weren’t the only crimes targeted in changes — often buried deep in omnibus bills — that have been pushed through Parliament.

This swamp of misinforma­tion, disinforma­tion and ad hominem attacks is eroding citizens’ trust in politician­s, politics and even democracy.

We live in an interestin­g time. In a world more complicate­d and inter-connected than it has ever been, never has the cacophony of opinion been so loud.

But as American John Gardner wrote in 1968, we need to be wary of “uncritical lovers” and “unloving critics.”

We need a return to rationalit­y and reason. We should insist on being able to access the best possible informatio­n. We also need to be more discerning about where we find our informatio­n and more critical of it before we pass it and opinions on.

It means slowing down and likely losing the race to be first to tweet an opinion.

But my hope for this year is that we’ll all finally begin to recognize the value of an informed opinion over a misinforme­d war of words.

 ??  ?? Kirk LaPointe, right, in an October debate with Mayor Gregor Robertson, may find himself in court this year after Robertson filed a defamation suit against him.
Kirk LaPointe, right, in an October debate with Mayor Gregor Robertson, may find himself in court this year after Robertson filed a defamation suit against him.
 ?? Daphne
Bramham ??
Daphne Bramham

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