Friday, February 09, 2007


Reader Chip Griffin took me to task for yesterday's posting. He wrote the following:

You suggest that PR practitioners should look to a "preponderance of evidence but not a preponderance of opinion." But what qualifies those of us in the field to assess the evidence in cases like the ones you mention? Now, I'm not questioning the existence of evolution or global warming. I'm certainly not in a position to do so. But there are those who raise credible questions about the extent to which one can take even those widely-held beliefs. Should those questions -- or others like it on other "settled" topics -- be ignored simply because the perception is that there is no room for debate?

Reader Don Bates countered with the following:

Jim Horton and Chip Griffin -- two very savvy cats who give PR blogging a good name. I appreciate both of their positions on the issue at hand although I lean toward Jim's perspective on evolution and global warming. We're talking science here, not religion; reason, not belief; fact, not fantasy. When it comes to religion and belief, however, I definitely lean toward Chip's view although I have a different take on the dynamic of dialogue in this instance. To wit: if we can't or won't discuss contrasting ideas of God or faith or what's true or untrue about humankind's spiritual inclinations, what can we discuss? Certainly not much of consequence.

I won't debate the issue of truth. That's too complicated as PR practitioner Jim Lukaszewski recently noted in Jack O'Dwyer's newsletter (Feb. 7, vol. 40. no. 6). He is quoted as saying that "truth is 15% facts and 85% perception."

What I was arguing was the facts of the situation. The preponderance of evidence, -- i.e. facts -- go against those who would continue to argue against evolution and global warming. The truth of how we evolved and how the world has grown so warm so quickly might still be arguable but not the facts that both have happened.

I strongly believe that PR practitioners like good journalists have to establish the body of facts first, then -- and only then -- apply interpretation. Lukaszewski used an example of an auto accident and witnesses. He noted that if there were four witnesses, there would be four explanations of the accident. He is right about that, but all four would agree that there was an accident. That is where the newspaper reporter, the police and the PR practitioner should start. We accept the fact of the accident. We debate in a court of law and in public opinion the responsibility for the accident. My point yesterday was that the facts of evolution and global warming are beyond debate unless there is a new and overwhelming body of facts to the contrary. None have appeared that I know of, and I don't believe we must continue to allow opposite views of the issue to have a voice.

Chip is right that when a new body of evidence arrives, we have to be ready to change, and change is difficult. For example, when the Australian doctor posited a new type of viral matter called a "prion," he was scorned by the scientific community for nearly 15 years. The body of evidence over time went the doctor's way and today we accept the existence of this biological oddity.

How does one establish the body of facts? We look them up as anyone else would do. Research is a key component of PR, an underlying bedrock that keeps PR from becoming "spin." Chip is right that when there is reasonable doubt, PR should listen to all sides and be ready to join the debate on behalf of clients. But we've known in the West that the earth is round since Eratosthenes. We needn't listen to the "flat earthers" any longer.

A worthy clarification, Jim. I agree with your statement that "The truth of how we evolved and how the world has grown so warm so quickly might still be arguable but not the facts that both have happened." (At least based on all current evidence.)

I believe it is an important distinction. Especially in the context of the current state of the global warming debate, which I assume is part of what motivated the original post, it appears that some are using the consensus that global warming exists to dismiss not only that discussion, but also the debate over how and why it occurs.

It is important to remember with settled facts that they are generally narrow, not broad, and we all must be careful on how much argument we dismiss. And, of course, we must all be open to hearing new evidence, as you aptly point out in today's post.

As for Don's comment, I consider it a victory that he agrees with any part of my argument!

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?