Ensure you're never wrong by avoiding having any opinions
- Credit: PA
Our baby boomer generation had one major advantage when growing up. There was no social media.
I feel sorry for anyone today who wrote or shared a daft opinion on Facebook or twitter when they were 16 only to have it discovered when applying for a job at 30. This is even worse for aspiring politicians.
Being proved wrong and changing your mind is the best way to learn. The only way to ensure that you’re never wrong is to avoid having any opinions.
Every year, I am convinced that Torquay United will win promotion, just occasionally I am proved wrong. This year I was even more certain, but can we catch up Sutton United or will I be proved wrong again?
Perhaps Torbay Council might have been wrong to plant a wonderful pineapple-cum-palm tree in the middle of the roundabout at the beginning to the Riviera Way just before the roundabout was removed.
Florence Nightingale was one of the first people to realise that hand washing was important but this was only because she changed her mind. Like many Victorians, she initially believed that diseases were transferred by miasma or foul air. But hand washing made no sense if diseases were spread through the air. It was accepting that she was wrong and changing her mind that made her suggest that hand washing was important.
Science works by proving things wrong. A scientist will put forward a theory to explain the observations.
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They then work out experiments to try to prove the theory wrong.
The best theories are ones that can be disproved. Proving a theory wrong means progress.
Sometimes numerous experiments cannot disprove the theory and so it just might be right.
Unfortunately, the expression U-turn has become a term of abuse in politics - “U-turn if you want to.”
But any thinking person should U-turn in the light of new evidence.
At the beginning to this Covid pandemic the evidence appeared to show that masks were not particularly helpful.
As more evidence came in, the advice changed. We now know that wearing masks will reduce the spread of the disease. Quite rightly there was a U-turn in the advice.
For scientists, changing opinions in the face of changing knowledge is a badge of honour.
I would be worried about any scientist who stuck rigidly to their views when the evidence changes.
But changing view is not always easy. Some of our views are more emotional than logical. This is where confirmation bias comes in.
Faced with a range of evidence people will cherry pick the bits that confirm their pre-existing views and ignore the parts which are uncomfortable.
We all need to recognise our prejudices and look at new evidence objectively. It is not easy. Your most dearly held beliefs might be wrong.
As Oliver Cromwell wrote in a letter to the Church of Scotland: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken” although I’m not sure why Christ’s bowels were involved.
There are some occasions when I know I am never wrong. Cream should always be before jam on a scone whatever they believe on the far side of the Tamar. Cornish pasties were invented in Devon and there are ghosts at Berry Pomeroy Castle.
So, have I always been right and showed good judgement?
In the 1960s I bought The Shadows records because I thought they were far better than the Beatles.
In the 1970s I had long sideboards and flared trousers which I thought were cool.
In the 1980s I thought the SDP were going to change politics for ever. I also wore a shell suit and bought an Austin Maxi as the family car. With the Maxi broken down I could not U-turn if I wanted to.
I’m glad I did not put any of that on Facebook.