Home > current events, philosophy > An Argument over Triangles

An Argument over Triangles

Recently, on my facebook page, I was sucked into an argument over the bias at NPR. A friend of mine, whom I know in the real world, attacked an NPR article for its liberal bias. Curiously enough, the two of us both possessing Master’s Degrees neglected to observe that fact the page in question was not a news report but an opinion piece on their blog section. Oops, not that this changes the argument that I am going to make (especially since our argument trailed off Friday night and I am just noticing the “blog” fact right now).

The debate centered around the alleged bias (I do not concede that NPR is a bastion of liberal view points) of NPR and that this article was proof of that. If you read the above link you will notice that the author takes a stance unfavorable and even hostile to the Arizona law which requires proof of birth-citizenship for presidential candidates. It’s a bit redundant since the US Constitution requires this, and in my opinion is just shameless pandering to an unfortunately growing viewpoint in this country regarding our President. For those of you unfamiliar the term “birther”* it refers to the opinion that President Obama was not born in Hawaii but somewhere else, I think Kenya is the front runner.

The hostility of the news article (remember we both thought that is what the link was) was the center point of the issue. His point was that being a news organization that receives government money it should have been neutral, he pointed to the last word “Ouch” as being proof of the bias. My counter point was that…I’ll just cut and paste it, “

We’re not talking about a political slant. Birthers (only capitalized for correct grammar) are objectively wrong, it’s not an opinion it’s a fact of the world. Neutrality does not nor should it apply to people who are going to argue over the existence of triangles. To say otherwise would be to say that someone should have given fair reporting to the nutjobs that thought Bush was behind the Indonesian Tsunami (with some earthquake machine or whatever) five years ago.”

I know what a political slant is, and I know what bias is, and I completely concede that there is a bias in the article against the bill and supporters of it in Arizona. The difference for me is that the bias here is deserved, what birthers argue is a false position and should be treated thus. If the point of the fourth estate is to spread information then they have the responsibility to not spread information that they know to be false. Let me explain the difference with examples:

I can make two distinct and completely unrelated assertions:
        1) There is a God.
        2) Triangles have three sides.
        3) I believe that there is no difference between good flan and bad flan.

All three statements are statements that can be made by a person who believes them, i.e. holds them to be true statements. The first two statements are different from the third in that they represent facts of the world. Objectively these statements are either true or false, independent of who they are made by or whether or not any person believes them. The third statement is an opinion that is only true or false subject to who is making the statement.

Statements 1 and 3 are linked in that a person can disagree with the truth or falsity of them since neither has been proven beyond doubt. I can tell a person that, as an atheist, I do not believe that God exists and then we can have a debate over it. Until such time as the statement has been objectively verified the debate is still open. Since statement 3 regards personal taste arguing over it is silly and useless because what one person likes is not comparable to what another person likes, they may just disagree.

Statement 2 is a fact of the world that has been proven. It’s a definition, in order to be a triangle you have to be an enclosed geometric shape with three sides. There are other definitions, such as three angles or having internal angles which equal 180 degrees, any of these will do. The important point is that no person having functioning mental faculties, possessed of the ability of cognition can reasonable argue against the existence of triangles.

Having established that, I must come to my point regarding how this is related to the aforementioned facebook argument. The framing of the “birther argument” is such that they think that it is like statements 1 and/or 3. An argument that is either open because the final conclusion is not yet established (statement 1) or that it is a matter of opinion (statement 3) for which the truth value is a matter of one person’s opinion. The actual fact is that the birth argument is more akin to arguing that statement 2 is false. Like all conspiracy theories their claim is unfalsifiable, that is to say that no amount of information can be presented for them to accept that they are wrong (because that information has been presented and they still deny its veracity, apparently they are all experts on what Hawaiian birth certificates should look like).

The ultimate point is that not every story has two sides. That is to say, that while there may be two sides to the question of whether our President is legally allowed to be president, one side is utterly without merit, and should not be given the consideration of being a legitimate position. The truth is independent of whether or not people believe it. As I said above in the quoted facebook posting I made, to offer the opposing view for the purpose of staying neutral only serves to legitimize an absurd position. No mathematician would think to legitimize the opinion of a person as they were arguing the existence of triangles. When one side of a story is legitimate and the other an absurdity fair balancing is not needed. Perhaps the derision was not necessary (although it was a blog post so that does change things), but pretending that both sides on the issue have something worthwhile to say makes things worse. What’s next an interview with the flat earth society to get their opinion on Astronomical affairs?

*I do not capitalize the names of conspiracy theorists who believe in something despite conclusive evidence to the contrary, this applies to “truthers” and “anti-vaccination people.” Just so we’re clear on this I do capitalize names of organizations that I do not agree with like “Tea Party,” “Socialists,” etc. 

Categories: current events, philosophy
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