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Dog-Tired of Perception and Reality Games

In my field, it’s that time of year when best-movie lists are announced, and while sequels like Transformers 3 and Twilight 4.1 have dominated the box office this year, they’re not showing up on critics’ lists. Instead, critics are touting little-seen movies like The Artist or Beginners (both of which happen to feature scene-stealing Jack Russell terriers, as seen in the video above). That is, there’s a vast disparity between what’s popular and what’s actually good. This will cause a lot of handwringing, as usual, at the Academy, since they would love the popular and the good to be in sync so that more people watch the Oscar show. It will also cause grumbling among contrarians who would dismiss critics as out-of-touch elitists. But the idea that the most popular movie must also be the best is nonsense. If that were true, the People’s Choice Awards would be taken more seriously than the Oscars. In fact, why have awards at all? Why not just look at the box office chart and give the best movie prize to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II?

The notion that validity should be determined simply by popularity has infected our politics as well. There was a good example of this last week in the kerfuffle over Politifact rating the Democrats’ assertion that Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan would end Medicare as “the Lie of the Year.” It was a curious choice, since the finalists included other, more brazen lies, such as Sen. Jon Kyl’s assertion that abortion accounts for more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activity, a claim Kyl’s own office said “was not intended to be a factual statement”) or presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s evidence-free assertion that the human papillomavirus vaccine can cause mental retardation. In contrast, the Medicare line comes down to, at best, a difference of interpretation. It’s a lie only if you buy the Republican argument that changing Medicare from a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance program for seniors and future seniors into a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance voucher program for seniors and future seniors doesn’t actually end Medicare. Continue reading

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