A mug with the head of Homer Simpson and the inscription “No Opinion”

No opinion

Do we always have to have an opinion on everything? It’s a tendency that is hard to resist, but it may be worth practising being comfortable with an absence of opinion

Koen Smets
6 min readJan 20, 2023

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Many moons ago, my younger daughter got me a present on Father’s Day: a mug depicting Homer Simpson with the inscription, “No Opinion”. The Simpsons connection was to be expected, as I was a known Simpsons fan at the time — my modest but significant collection of T-shirts depicting members from the cartoon family was testimony to it. The inscription, however, was a fine case of perspicacity. Often to my daughter’s despair, I used to (and still do) frequently reply to the question what I thought about this, that or the other, that I had no opinion on the matter. Children, they know you so well.

I thought about that mug when I recently saw a tweet with a poll from the economist Robin Hanson, in which he asked how people pick an opinion on matters where certain views might be considered heretical. Alongside avoiding having an opinion altogether, he provided three other possibilities: siding with the usual authorities (whoever they might be), pick a provocative one to signal independence, or think things through in detail.

About 15% chose the contrarian option — which didn’t look out of the ordinary. Maybe I live in a weird bubble, but the suggestion that one in seven people has a provocative streak seems quite plausible. Just 11% chose my preferred option, and a whopping two thirds of the respondents claimed to think things through. Assuming that what the respondents say they do also expresses their opinion about what is the appropriate approach, this is somewhat ironic. Reasoning through things would be exactly what smart, rational authorities argue is the correct approach — even though siding with the authorities is the lowest scoring response, with less than 6%.

A reasoned opinion, seriously?

A person vaping
What is your well-considered opinion about the proposed restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes? (photo: Vaping360/Flickr CC BY 2.0)

I also have to admit to being somewhat sceptical about the claim by those two-thirds of respondents that they would think things through before forming…

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Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius