Don't mistake opinions for facts (commentary)

Published on: September 19, 2013

I AM often told that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and I agree.

Part of the allure of the art of conversation is the give and take of opinion and fact. Different points of view enrich our perspective of the world and perpetuate understanding and education — all positive things in this information age.

However, while it's true that we are all entitled to our own opinion, we are not entitled to our own facts.

We live in a world where technology puts education at our fingertips. The internet, computers and smartphones give us the luxury of accessing more information more quickly than the human race ever has before.

For those who love information, it's an incredible age, but it is also an increasingly frustrating age.

With so much material available to us, we are often deluged by our endless access; we often do not stop to discern relevant information from propaganda and misinformation.

Those who work in production agriculture are likely acquainted with this conundrum.

Often, when discussing my way of life with people who have no experience with, education in or knowledge of production agriculture, I grow frustrated.

Instead of using the most relevant, factual information — information that is easily obtained — these people often choose to cherry-pick the scariest hype to form their opinion.

The simple truth remains: Fear makes a bigger impact than fact when an opinion is being formed.

The unfortunate repercussions of this fear-based opinion forming is that those opinions soon start being passed around like facts.

These distorted "facts" are often so skewed by fear that the kernel of actual fact on which they were originally based is barely recognizable.

This makes our job as farmers and ranchers even more difficult. Not only must we do our everyday jobs, but we now have a fearful public demanding changes to our practices that we often do not need to make.

Real facts are based on an objective truth — on something that is, something that really happened. Facts do not come from anecdotal stories found on the internet or from one-sided documentaries.

When I am urged to agree to disagree on topics that I live out and know about firsthand by people whose only experience with cattle is picking out what cut of beef to eat for dinner, I must question the validity of their opinion, regardless of whether or not they are entitled to have it.

Having an intimate, working knowledge of production agriculture is a skill that fewer and fewer people in our society have. As a result, our voice is often lost in all the fear-mongering and popular media.

This is why it is more important than ever that farmers and ranchers speak up. We need to share our production-based skills as facts. We need to present our knowledge in a way that is interesting but not intimidating or scary.

While we can't always change people's minds, we can always present the facts and give consumers the opportunity to use facts — not fear — to form their opinions about agriculture.

*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at megrbrown@gmail.com.

Volume:85 Issue:36

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  1. Whitie Johnson says:

    Nice Job !

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this great article. I agree that fear is the primary issue keeping consumers from being able to internalize the facts. I define F.E.A.R. as False Evidence Appearing Real. Facts become false when repeated out of context. The anti ag, anti processed food, anti industry activists are making alot of money from selling fear to families across the world. As a farmer and as a scientist, it truly saddens my heart. Please keep your passion, Megan, and continue sharing your communications gift.