Ultracrepidarianism and Fauxpinions

The first is a real word. The second one is made up. They are both related.

The first is to have opinions outside of one’s area of expertise or knowledge.

The second is to present opinions as facts when the opinion is not based upon fact.

In the world of social change, both hamper and thwart efforts to be effective.

Consider that most public policy is crafted and approved by legislators that do not have subject matter expertise regarding the matter that they are enshrining into law, funding, rights, etc. But they do have opinions. Regardless of what the public service may have put before them by way of data, research, experience of other jurisdictions, framing of pros and cons, financial impacts, etc., it is always the prerogative in a democracy for elected officials to deviate from the advice they are given and craft an approach based upon opinions alone.

This is the wretched, recurring uhtceare moment for the skeptical empiricist that would rather see evidence drive us to discussion and deliberation rather than opinion. Examples: mandatory minimums do not deter crime, but we seem to have an opinion that they do so and legislators create more reasons and longer sentences; sobriety is not a precondition for success in housing, but we seem to still fund and support a litany of recovery services that masquerade as homeless services and reinforce a false notion that people can only remain housed if they are sober; countries that have a long history of same-sex marriages and unions have not seen a deterioration of their moral fabric or destruction of opposite-sex marriages and unions, yet there remain some circles that fear-monger and suggest that such a thing will occur.

While we can see the snollygoster making such opinions possible in the realm of policy – and the populace is mumbudget – perhaps it is worse when fauxpinion takes fervent root. Another way of looking at the fauxpinion – the repeat of a lie enough times that people come to accept it as truth.

The master of the fauxpinion exists in just about every community. I find they are often long-term disciples within the service they work. They are held with reverence or placated rather than challenged. They hold power because they have woven their fauxpinions into some semblance of truth that has actually formed the foundation of the approach to addressing the social issue. Examples: the provision of survival supports like sleeping bags and food as a necessary ingredient to get people off the streets; addressing economic poverty is the only true way to combat housing instability; chronically homeless people (or a large subset thereof) prefers to be homeless than housed.

We need to shine a light on data in meaningful ways to get it into the discussion of public policy and social change. We need to present it with certainty and in terms that lay people can understand and use immediately. And we need to be assured because we can prove it that decisions based upon sound data and research is better than approaches founded solely on opinions that are beyond the subject matter expertise of the decision-maker, or based solely upon false facts that have tried to translate opinions into sounding like facts.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.

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