Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of conflicting opinion or point of view. The word was coined from the Latin controversial, as a composite of controversy – “turned in an opposite direction,” from contrast – “against” – and vert ere – to turn, or versus (see verse), hence, “to turn against.”
The most applicable or well known controversial subjects, topics or areas are politics, religion, philosophy, parenting and sex.History is similarly controversial. Other prominent areas of controversy are economics, science, finances, culture, education, the military, society, celebrities, organisation, the media, age, gender, and race. Controversy in matters of theology has traditionally been particularly heated, giving rise to the phrase odium theological. Controversial issues are held as potentially divisive in a given society, because they can lead to tension and ill will, and as a result they are often considered taboo to be discussed in the light of company in many cultures.
Controversies are frequently thought to be a result of a lack of confidence on the part of the disputants – as implied by Benford’s law of controversy, which only talks about lack of information (“passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available”). For example, in analyses of the political controversy over anthropocentric climate change, which is exceptionally virulent in the United States, it has been proposed that those who are opposed to the scientific consensus do so because they don’t have enough information about the topic. A study of 1540 US adults found instead that levels of scientific literacy correlated with the strength of opinion on climate change, but not on which side of the debate that they stood.
Controversy has been feared, analyzed, dramatized – and often parodied, as here in Wild Side Story in Florida in 1974.
The puzzling phenomenon of two individuals being able to reach different conclusions after being exposed to the same facts has been frequently explained (particularly by Daniel Kahneman) by reference to a ‘bounded rationality’.