A Bigger Picture

One of the most outstanding points Fleck makes is the idea that empirical facts are relative to the “systems of opinion” and “thought collectives” that prevail in that given period of time. This becomes even more interesting when thought about in conjunction with Ian Hacking’s Looping Effect that we studied as a class last week. Empirical evidence is so often advertised directly by pharmaceutical companies to increase their sales. Often, these numbers at face value can be extremely influential. However, as Fleck suggests, our attitudes towards some statistics might change if we are given a proper background about the empirical evidence collected. For example, one could be given a statistic that 4 out of 5 households have a particular brand of dish soap. However, what they fail to mention that that dish soap was on sale that particular week in the neighborhood grocery store. That statistic might go on and be read by plenty of people who convert their loyalty to that brand – not only effective advertising but also feeding into the Looping Effect. This is of utmost importance to the discussion of pharmaceuticals. It illustrates the power that they have over our influences, which is something every consumer needs to be aware of. The statistics are only relevant if we are given the proper background information- including the general attitudes of the consumers. Just like the dish soap, there might be a particular belief, opinion, or theme at a given time that prohibits the consumption (and later on the statistic) of a brand of a pharmaceutical. As Fleck suggests, we should be aware and think about the influences underlying all empirical evidence.

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