I am grateful for so many opinions. The United States has, arguably, the most opinions of any place in the world! People from around the world are often overwhelmed with the number of opinions there are to hear in the United States. I guess other countries are not as productive of opinions as our free speech system.

It's easy to forget to appreciate the fantastic selection of opinions available when we are surrounded by them in such abundance. Only in America can one find the variety, and vehemence, of opinions such as we possess.

It's truly amazing how many people have not just one or two, but multiple opinions. And they are often expressed with very little actual knowledge of the subject.

Despite this abundance, the "science of opinions" is in its infancy. This is amazing because scientists themselves have many opinions, often about things that are not scientific at all.

I mean, I can understand a scientist having an opinion about Blaise Pascal and fluid dynamics. But for a scientist to not have an opinion about "opinions" is at least ironic, if not negligent.

I think the reason scientific research into opinions is lacking is because it's only best studied once a year at Thanksgiving when the relatives gather.

This limits data collection to certain widely dispersed time periods and it's difficult to obtain funding for long-term projects.

What little insight we have gained on the subject has mostly been discovered since the 1950s when television first became widely available. Television greatly increased the ability of people to express their opinions, whether they have any validity or not. In my opinion, television is the father of opinion research.

Science is still in the early stages of understanding opinions. I like to think of it as if we are in the "Linnaeian" stage of describing and classifying opinions.

Carl Linnaeus was the early botanist who invented the binomial system of nomenclature for naming plants and animals. Description, definition, and classification are important scientific activities that allow future scientists to accurately focus their more fundamental research.

So far, scientists have only come up with crude classifications of opinions such as "demon plebicola" (democrat) or "publica popularis" (republican), "right and left," or "liberal and conservative."

Recently a breakthrough was achieved when someone further delineated the "far-right" and "far-left."

However, some confusion still exists on these categories, and further research is needed. One confusing factor is that if one goes right far enough they end up left.

One of the confounding issues in the study of opinions is that there seems to be no real basis for anyone to have one.

Phrases like "I think," while common, don't seem to require any particular facts or expertise in order to be spoken.

For example, why should I care what people on television think about a subject? Some of them are attractive and extremely well-spoken. However, well-spoken does not mean the same thing as truthful.

Anyway, there are so many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving that it was difficult to decide which one I was most thankful for. I finally decided on "opinions" because there seems to be a movement in the world against having them. That's sad.

My wife suggested maybe the movement isn't about not having opinions but about how we shouldn't be thankful. Some people think we shouldn't be thankful because the history of thankfulness is questionable. In my opinion, I think that's wrong. How could anyone be thankful that there wasn't any Thanksgiving?

Anyway, since this is my last column, I want to thank The Daily Sentinel for allowing me to express my opinions about science, and opinions, over the past several years. It has been a lot of fun.

I especially want to thank my many readers. Some even took the time to write and encourage me. I was always careful to inform them that doing so made them accomplices.

Gary McCallister, gmccallister@bresnan.net, is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.

Recommended for you