2 + 2

Arguments about taste are more common than ever before. The long tail makes it easy to find what you like, and to talk about what you don’t. There’s no accounting for taste, and that’s a good thing.

Because taste is useful.

Flopping the toilet paper under or over the roll, Beatles vs. Stones, Chevy vs. Ford… the interactions and tribal identity that result from these discussions satisfies our need to be seen, to have agency and to be part of something.

Sports fans don’t change the outcome of the game, but they have fun arguing about it.

If you want to listen to Jamaican polka music, please do. You can even make up new words or ignore the Oxford comma. If it helps, that’s okay.

We’ve built trillion-dollar media empires around this simple desire. Dividing and connecting and redividing over taste, preferences and niches.

But that habit can easily cross a line. It turns out that birds are real, that the Earth isn’t flat and that 2 + 2, in all common parlance, does equal 4. To argue about these things isn’t useful.

Quantum mechanics doesn’t care if Albert Einstein believes in it or not. It’s still the best explanation available for what happens when things are very small.

Public health, math, engineering and the science that underlies them isn’t based on taste or the need we have to be in groups. Show your work, make a prediction, assert something falsifiable and then give others a chance to respond. If you can make helpful predictions and create interventions that produce value, your work is useful. Otherwise, it’s simply noise.

Every day, we’re celebrating a splintering of taste, but it’s worth pausing before we embrace the idea that there are no facts. That’s not useful.

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