I’ve seen “NO, IT’S NOT YOUR OPINION. YOU’RE JUST WRONG” about 4 times today. It’s not wholly wrong, but it’s not complete either, falling partially victim to its own argument. Mr. Rouner doesn’t really demonstrate he has much background on attitudes or opinions, falling into the ignorance trap his argument stakes claim.
First, the article makes limited distinction between uninformed and ill-informed. For the uninformed contention, opinions aren’t necessarily wrong but are based on incomplete information. In decision making literature (Gigerenzer and Goldstein 1996; Simon 1956), we call this “value-satfisficing.” People make judgments based on information circumstantially on hand. This is often incomplete information, as various things can inhibit the availability of information (cognitive depletion, lack of resources, etc). As none of us have available all the world’s information, nor the mental power to synthesize all the world’s information (we are not IBM Watson), we are left to form satisficing opinions, even though these opinions may be “wrong.” Call these errors of omission the “best with what you’ve got” opinion.
For the ill-informed contention, opinions aren’t necessarily wrong but are based on misinformation. In decision making literature, we call this “value-maximizing.” People make judgments based on what they believe to be a full set of information to evaluate choices. This may be sufficiently, but not necessarily, willfully erroneous information, as various things that are now out of our conscious control can contribute to erroneous information (particularly the advent of filters and algorithms that narrow an exposure to different sets of empirical evidence). As we’re becoming wont to stay within the psychographic/demographic/geographic/and ideological parameters we grow up with (Mr. Rouner ackowledges this), we are left to form maximizing opinions, even though those opinions may be wrong. Call these errors of commission the “best with what you want” opinion. They may be willfully wrong, but not willfully ignorant–and that makes Mr. Rouner’s claim incomplete.
Is one error “better” or “worse” than another? This is difficult to lay objective claim. At its basic, an attitude is a weighted model, wherein a belief about something is weighted by an evaluation (positive, neither positive nor negative, or negative) (Eagly and Chaiken 1993). Unlike personality models that are stable over time (Costa and McCrae 1988), attitudinal models are flexible to change; that is, under the right conditions (motivation, opportunity, and ability), attitudes are flexible. Under these conditions, when people are motivated and have the opportunity and ability to either seek out and/or process new information, their attitudes are more susceptible to attitude change. However, it becomes difficult to alter beliefs (and therefore attitudes) if these preconditions don’t exist. At times, mere exposure helps alter attitudes, while at other times beliefs need validation (Gawronski and Bodenhausen 2006). The willfully wrong don’t necessarily find themselves in these capacities; when threatened with new information, individuals engage in psychological reactance (Brehm 1968; Rains 2013), not only dismissing the new information, but hardening their initial attitudes.
This is exactly what Brendan Nyhan found in recent anti-vaxxer attitudinal research, and is why Mr. Rouner’s article is “wrong” (by his own definition of the word). He talks about anti-vaxxers presuming that they are willfully ignorant. However, even the willfully ignorant aren’t necessarily wrong; there just may not be motivation, opportunity, nor ability to process new belief information. It is entirely feasible to come around to being wrong, but openness to that change is critical. You see this in articles like “I Used to be an Anti-Vaxxer” or “I Used to be a Climate Change Denier.” Sadly, we’re in an era of willful closed-mindedness. Resistance to change is more of a threat to right than mere ignorance.
Mr. Rouner is “right” about one thing though: reality doesn’t care about your feelings.