Observation, Fact And Opinion

Over the weekend there was a “Going Commercial” beekeeping class/workshop held in Medina Ohio, put on by the Medina Country Beekeepers. It wasn’t hands-on in the bee yard but lectures, slides and discussion. It featured Dr. Larry Connor covering spring management and expansion through various queen/split strategies, Dr. Dewey Caron on pathology and prevention, mostly varoa, and Kim Flottum on winter management and marketing. That same weekend I happened on one of those panel discussions moderated by Gwen Ifill featuring a NY Times reporter, corporate media attorneys, etc. It concerned itself with the Citizens United ruling, freedom of speech and the role of money in all this. Surprisingly, the two events spoke to each other, informed each other and were quite complimentary. They were even located in adjacent cities; Ifill’s having been televised in Cleveland, right next door to Medina.

One of the remarkable insights/conclusions coming out of the Medina event (well, remarkable from the point of view of someone trying to post a blog essay every week) was the “wholistic” approach to Varoa management, prevention and control. It was noted clearly that the immediate “scientific” remediation after the 1987 infestation bought time for study but solved nothing. It was even described as counter productive. The chemical, etc. miticide treatments are still employed today (25 years later) though statistically yearly losses keep increasing. This is recognized as not sustainable. The situation is mirrored in the present day quandary re: antibiotics, with antibiotic resistant diseases appearing, like TB. To stretch the reflection out even further, analogous scenarios could be had with regard to nuclear development since 1950. At its inception, atomic “power” was to be the end all be all solution for mankind’s ills, from supplying light and heat in cities, to powering ships, to curing every form of illness, to preserving foods indefinitely and sending man to the stars. As Steve Kurtz once pointed out in a lecture at Vermont College, the framework, the paradigm, the approach of science is shifting from the classical modernistic cause/effect model based on facts and experimentation to one of observation, imagination and the quirkiness of the entirety, the system, the whole. At the conference, Q&A usually ended up with statements of “don’t have the data to say anything about that”,  “that was an astute observation” or “in my opinion”.

Amazingly enough, the Citizens United panel discussion travelled down a parallel set of tracks. The pros and cons of money involvement in free speech came out through the person of the panelists, from the basic utilitarian need of requiring money to produce any kind of widely disseminated text, to the shrinking resources of journalistic outlets to “cover the news”. What previously had been the very marketable journalism of some facts and a reporter’s observations (which implicates opinion) has gravitated, for economic reasons, to fact finding/data mining and little observation, even less opinion. One reason given is the preponderance of opinion through the easy access and availability of blogs. The irony (not noted by the moderator or panel) is that the same economics that dictates the fact based journalism (news outlets need to market their products and generate revenue) likewise precludes the dissemination of any observations that may be politically or economically discomfiting. That is, speech can likewise be suppressed by the Citizens United ruling since fewer and fewer “media” of dissemination become available (prioritizing what’s good for business and not for journalism). The value of observation, once the mainstay of traditional journalism and so necessary in current science, is undermined and devalued for purely capitalistic determinations. These implications are much more far reaching than merely who can run for political office. It is more about how we see the world; full of the quick fixes that can be purchased over the counter, or sustainable and life enhancing over generations?

And then there is blogging. Is it merely opinion? Does being able to distinguish fact from opinion give market journalism its “professional” credibility? Lacking the resources to mine data, does that leave everything else to being “opinion”? If we were all fact checkers, then none of us could or would be philosophers. And philosophy, good philosophy, is definitely NOT opinion. Observations are made, whether re: societies of bees or people. Observations are worthwhile, not only for the reasons given by Bakhtin (each of us has something we are blind to requiring others to see for us) but because it is all we have to begin deciphering the mystery of our world and our lives.

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