John Olsrud: Is There No Respect For Authority On This Blog?

Until Rob Port invited me to contribute to this blog, I was not acquainted with this kind of communication.  Reading the posts, and especially the comments, has been quite an educational experience for me.  It is obvious our lifetime experiences have led some of us to vastly different conclusions.

There are some overriding themes that keep appearing on these pages.  It appears many contributors do not want to be bothered with facts because their minds are made up.  Some do not trust newspapers and mainline television news reports, as these outlets are written off as biased.

When discussing this topic, we need to consider our choices.  I took a course in journalism in college, and was indoctrinated with the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” questions required in good reporting.  Our personal views were not to enter our stories, as they were reserved for the editorial commentators.  I have had a lifetime of working with the media, and I think most reporters follow those rules.  There are exceptions, and we just have to observe the Brian Williams fiasco to understand all journalists are not perfect.  There are some media outlets that are clearly to the left or right, but they can be identified and observed with caution.  We should also be wary of what appears to be corporate intrusion into the newsroom, perhaps for economic reasons to avoid offending advertisers.

Unlike Sarah Palin, I do not read all newspapers, but I have two delivered to my door and I regularly read two more (the Forum and the Grand Forks Herald) on the Internet.  I also watch the news on television, especially CBS news, and I am satisfied I am getting reliable information.  At least, I think I am far better informed than if I relied on friends and blogs of this kind to get my news.  I am grateful for the free press our country enjoys under the First Amendment, and I am glad I can take advantage of the free flow of information.

The world is far too complicated for me to make informed decisions without relying on experts in various fields.

We also see suspicion of intellectuals and others whose research does not support entrenched views.  My lifelong experiences have been that I could trust scientists and researchers who set out to discover facts and the truth, such as researchers from higher education institutions, as these folks have vigorous peer review standards that guard the integrity of their products.  We once had a legislator who made a motion that we not pay an economist for his research on the property tax because the legislator did not like the conclusions the researcher had reached.  Fortunately, the majority on the committee did not support that motion.  Sometimes we may have legitimate reasons to challenge the results, but if reliable researchers are doing their jobs, we need to at least respect those researchers.

One group of researchers whose product should be suspect are those paid by corporations or other interest groups that have a pecuniary interest in the results of the research.  I go back to the “scientists” who were employed by the tobacco companies to tell us there were no health risks in smoking.  Please notice I am not saying we should not respect any scientists who have good credentials, no matter who is paying for the research, but we need to be especially wary of those paid by special interests.

The world is far too complicated for me to make informed decisions without relying on experts in various fields.  There are people concentrating on almost every discipline imaginable.  If the people who have devoted their professional careers to a certain field have established educational and professional status in those fields, who am I to question their conclusions in those fields?  If the scientists I know and trust tell me climate change is real, should I debunk them and seek lesser authorities, especially if what they tell me is supported by most scientists in their fields?    It is most unfortunate that politics has dominated our discussion of many topics such as climate change, when our reliance should be on scientists, not politicians.

Then there is the issue of respecting authority.  An important part of my upbringing was to respect authority, especially teachers, law enforcement personnel, and government officials.  That kind of respect is often missing on these pages.  In my home, the teachers were always right.  I am so thankful my parents never intervened in my education and tried to tell my teachers which tests I should take, nor did I try to tell my children’s teachers which tests they should take..

Of course we have every right to express our differences with our elected and appointed government officials, but that does not mean we should not respect our President, our Governor, members of Congress, legislators, and our higher education officials.  I think we should also encourage our children to show the same respect we were expected to show.  Unfortunately, the respect I am describing is often missing on this blog by people hiding behind pseudonyms.

So, would I be better informed if I did not rely on mainline news sources?  Should I not put my trust in scientists and other researchers who have developed expertise far beyond what I am capable of achieving in highly complex fields?  Would I be a better person if I distanced myself from my upbringing and showed disrespect for the elected and appointed people who are in public service?  What are my alternatives to the choices I have made in these areas?  Maybe it is useless to express these views on this forum, but I hope this will at least generate a little thoughtful reflection.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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