Is truth overrated? What the experts say about it
Objectivity and truth in fake news era Seek the truth and minimise harm. That’s how we instruct young journalists to prepare for the profession.
Until recently, factual, objective reporting has been the mantra of modern journalism. But is objectivity a relevant concept in the era of fake news, filter bubbles and alternative facts?
In dealing with a lessthantruthful presidential administration, mainstream media has become more adversarial.
News articles and broadcasts sound like editorials, with journalists labelling President Trump a “liar” and warning citizens about what they describe as a dangerous tilt toward fascism. The masthead of the venerable Washington Post now says “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, a stronglyworded statement reflected in its sharply critical coverage of the Trump presidency.
It may be time for a recalibration of the notion of objectivity.
In recent years, the concept been watered down by the practice of “balanced” reporting. Each side is given equal time, regardless of the relative merit of their arguments, creating false equivalencies and confusing the public.
Perhaps, journalists should apply their craft using a more scientific approach. Scientists, too, seek the truth. But they pursue evidencebased solutions, regardless of TV ratings, circulation numbers or social media “likes.”
Journalism could adopt a similar approach as it struggles to regain its relevance.
The best way forward is not necessarily a return to objectivity. Rather, it is through a rigorous approach to seeking and telling the truth. One that relies on real facts and the preponderance of evidence.
Our profession and our democracy depend on it. • Maryanne Reed Dean of the Reed College of Media, West Virginia University Politicians lie, democracy needs truth Last month, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker published an updated accounting of all the false and misleading claims made by President Donald Trump since he assumed office – 1 057 – an average of five per day. That is, to be sure, a big number. But does it really matter?
George Orwell famously said, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”.
Orwell speaks for most of us. To be a politician is to lie. And therefore many will ask, five times a day, or 25. What difference, really, does it make?
Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher and a Jew who escaped Hitler’s Germany and settled in New York. In her essay Truth and Politics, she asked this very question.
She argued that democratic society requires that we agree on two things.
First, that there are such things as facts. And second, that we should strive to present those facts as best we understand them. In other words, we should try to tell the truth.
Why? Because the more a politician, like the president for example, fails to live up to these agreements, the more difficult it becomes for the rest of us to agree with, dispute or even assess what he says.
When this happens, debate becomes increasingly pointless. And at some point, democracy itself is imperilled. If Arendt is right, then lies do matter. Especially now, telling the truth is a deeply political act. • Christopher Beem, managing director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy, Pennsylvania State University The label ‘antiscience’ Today, a person who denies climate change or any fact agreed upon by the scientific community is often immediately labelled “antiscience”.
However, people who deny individual scientific facts may be more friendly toward science than we think.
A 2015 Pew Research poll found that 79% of Americans felt that “science had made life easier for most people”.
When, how and why science is denied, ignored or pushed aside has less to do with a complete distrust of the scientific method and more to do with trust of individual sources, misinformation, isolated instances of motivated denial or even what my colleagues and I call a “flight from fact” rather than a straightforward “denial of fact”.
Almost every single person denies science at some time. When I was younger, I denied the findings of the doctor who diagnosed me with hypoglycaemia.
Labeling me, then the top science student at my high school, “antiscience” would have been ludicrous. Rather, I was biased and motivated to deny an individual scientific fact that meant I would have to give up all my favourite foods.
It is bias, motivations, polarisation and echo chambers that cause the real problems around science acceptance.
And unfortunately, the simplified label “antiscience” often covers up these problems and prevents us from communicating scientific truth.
If we love science, then we need to start being more scientific about science denial. • Troy Campbell Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Oregon Supposedly neutral information spaces and truth In monetised information space, the truth isn’t overrated. It doesn’t rate at all.
Senator Ted Stevens got it almost right. These places aren’t so much a series of tubes as they are a panoply of rectangles. And from smartphone apps to television studio sets, the arrangement of the information in these rectilinear spaces is set up to seem “neutral.”
Since the time of Vitruvius, Western conceptions of space have taught us that what’s at the top is tops, the utmost.
This archaic spatial hierarchy has followed us into digital space. Horizontal streams of news and information flow at the bottom without regard to value. But what’s at the top of the screen – that’s still special.
So, is this special space reserved for what’s most true? No, something more important goes there: the content that’s most likely to make money. • Daniel Klyn: Intermittent Lecturer in Information, University of Michigan
HIDDEN AGENDAS: Objective reporting is the mantra of factual journalism but then fake news emerged.