I wouldn't say that the loudest people in any argument are the ones who start with the proposition of "these are the facts as we currently know them." Too often it's, "these are the facts as we currently want to present them in order to follow through with our other agenda."
The people who offer this sort of argument usually fall into the category of holding a grudge or wanting to control, and they'll use any ammunition they can twist in order to follow through with their plans.
A good example of this, on the nationwide level, is the Republican Party, which has been doing double time with a program of grudge and control in regard to Obama. Obama is a far-from-perfect president and you can find plenty of issues to have with him, but the truth, good or bad, is of little use to the Republican terminators. Why? Because you can't control the truth -- the truth controls you.
Witness the news last week that the universe is older than previously thought. The universe was always older than we previously thought, it's just that fact became apparent to us last week. And it didn't happen because we decided overnight those guys who claim the universe is 80 million years younger than it actually is are wrong, and if we say the universe is actually 80 million years older enough times, then it will be 80 million years older.
No, instead we used facts that were culled from measurement, calculations, all that heady stuff that Republicans routinely call elitist. But even naysayers can't deny that the early universe's background radiation measures 3 percent more than previously thought and that brings the universe to 13.8 billion years old. That's older than God! It's one of the few bits of news that give me hope of late. Imagine, a whole profession and field of study created by humans and practiced by humans that is entirely devoted to checking and re-checking the evidence for any given claim, never, ever assuming that we have arrived at the one, ultimate truth about any fact. Correct evidence will always reveal the truth, whether you like that truth or not.
I see the "these are the facts as we currently want to present them in order to follow through with our other agenda" crowd at work locally with the Conte project. I've read all the statistics and arguments and come to understand the Conte project as a basically good thing, despite those who insist it is not a good thing at all and every argument for it is just wrong or against children or something.
This is no surprise to anyone who has been following North Adams politics for the past decade. Once out-of-towners started moving in and suggesting some alternative ideas to those of John Barrett III, the political dynamic became one of "these are the facts as we currently want to present them in order to follow through with our other agenda." The point used to be control, but now I fear it's grudge, and it's pretty sad to watch.
This reveals another tactic that science takes care of easily. There is no mechanism in science for someone to say "No it's not" about anything, including the age of the universe, without presenting some compelling evidence to further the claim. And there is no mechanism in science by which made up equations and figures and measurements will get you very far.
And any scientist who consistently indulged in that sort of argument would eventually be confined to the realm of fringe science, where they can make all the claims of cold fusion they want and be ignored.
The good news is that while nationally our fringe politicians to the right still command the stage, locally the equivalent is shrinking in number and power. It's largely devolved into posturing at city council meetings with facts that are easily debunked despite the volume of the mouth and size of the ego making the claims, and arguments over who can attend these meetings, speak at them, wear t-shirts at them, or whatever else silly whining is going on.
As for the rest of us, we can take heart that the universe is actually 13. 8 billion years old and the Conte project is not a major disaster for the community, and any evidence presented to the contrary probably has an agenda behind it that's so tired and desperate, you can just chuckle at it and move along.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.