Truth by the Polls: Ten Billion Flies Can’t Be Wrong! | Tom Hobson

Polls are a lousy source of truth. Consider the inscription I saw on a bathroom wall years ago: “Eat [manure]! Ten billion flies can’t be wrong!” It is only natural for us to want to follow a crowd mentality. When popular opinion is not on our side, we find it hard to resist the thought that maybe we are wrong. When we are unsure of ourselves, we do our reality-testing by checking to see what others think.

Polling the audience is not a very effective way of figuring out the answer to a question on a TV quiz show. As Lucian the Roman skeptic said, ten philosophers can make ten different guesses as to how many beans are in a jar, and they can all be wrong. The Bay of Pigs disaster (1962) and the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle (1986) are two blood-chilling examples of where “groupthink” can steer a group horribly wrong

Today’s media screams at us, trying to convince us, “Nothing to see here!” We get push-polls designed to mold rather than measure public opinion. In a world where only yesterday we were told that truth is whatever is true for you, and the concept of absolute truth was laughed out of the room, today we have self-appointed “fact-checkers” (even technology giants) who wish to impose their “facts” on us, as if truth matters all of a sudden. (It always did.)

Theology by the Polls: Ten Billion Flies Can’t Be Wrong! | Tom Hobson