Constructing the Common Knowledge
Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve felt compelled to write to the Providence Journal regarding letters that appeared on its opinion page. Both letters dealt with the abstinence versus contraception education debate, and both cited specific “scientific” studies for the pro-contraception side. And in each case, my letter specifically addressed the study in question, explaining why the cited findings were wrong and/or erroneously removed from all-important context.
I’ve offered those explanations in this space before, so I won’t repeat them, but what I find fascinating is that, thus far, the Projo has published neither of my responses, or others making similar points, and it occurs to me that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to question whether a “common knowledge” isn’t being consciously constructed (or, actually, reinforced). I’m not suggesting that the letters to the editor sections of American newspapers are a significant source of information and social cues in our culture; if anything, they’re arguably the final stage of such information and cues through the media cycle. But as such, they illustrate all the more how these factoids — without reference to legitimacy or context — become evidence in an understanding of the world that, for must of us, is felt more than comprehended.