Unprovable Partisan Opinions or UPOs are persuasive statements that pretends as though they are absolute truths. For example, the statement:
“There is no doubt that I owe my happiness to my wife.”
Of course, you would say that because you love your wife, she’s awesome and the best thing that ever happened to you, but there are likely alternative realities where you have a different wife or you never married in which you are still happy. In the above statement, you are saying my wife caused your happiness. She makes you happy. Maybe your happiness is contingent on a whole complex set of variables for which your wife is a significant variable? Just a guess. But your statement is partisan in the sense that your family is your team. It is a statement that is emotionally charged to convince the audience and indeed yourself that you need your wife to be happy. It is not prove-able that your happiness depends on the existence of your wife. Nor is disprovable since you can’t untangle your wife from your life without a bunch of paperwork etc.
Okay try this one.
“My university is the best in the world”
What if I told you that there is an alternative reality where you went to another university and that in that parallel universe you also said “my university is the best in the world”?…How do you know this is the best university in the world if it is the only university you have ever experienced? You don’t!
Still not getting it? Okay, so in politics, UPO are used constantly.
“Trickle down economics does not work”
How can we know that the Keynesian alternative policy is better if we applied “trickle down” during the period in question? You can’t simply do a time series data analysis and say, “see, the economy went down hill during the period that we had trickle down economics.” That’s just flabby thinking. And what if the economy goes up during a period where that policy is in place? The nuance is that we can deduce that a given policy works for some but not for all. And frequently, the people who bet a policy will work for their own self-interest will be that policy’s biggest advocated. But we really aren’t serious if we shout from the roof tops that X policy doesn’t work because we disagree with the values that underpin that policy….
Try this one.
“We just needed a few more years in Vietnam and we were gonna win that war.”
First of all, 1975 is when the US left Vietnam. This quote says that staying would have led to victory. There is no way to access the reality where that policy was tested and proven correct whatever winning looks like anyway. So that’s maybe an easier way to understand UPOs.
- Unprovable because we can’t access that reality.
- Partisan because it is backed position of a political group to which the speaker is a part of.
- Opinion because it is not rooted in data or facts that we can review.
UPOs are used in academia a lot as well. However, a good university paper has to talk through all the counter arguments. In fact, a good university paper in social sciences relies on have a UPO that you then defend…. which is why academia is considered more about teaching that doing useful things that help the world.
UPOs are a core problem with data science, too. We don’t have control groups when it comes to policy. People will screw up your experiment every-time by being unpredictable. People aren’t atoms to be pushed around….Your public policy will have unintended consequences. And yet we know you are engaging in a UPO when you insist that it was your great decision-making that led to any positive outcomes and any negative outcomes are due to the complex variables that comprise human experience.