Is truth over­rated? What the ex­perts say about it

The New Age (Western Cape) - - Opinion & Analysis - MARYANNE REED, CHRISTO­PHER BEEM, TROY CAMP­BELL AND DANIEL KLYN This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished on the­con­ver­sa­tion.com

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

PIC­TURE: PIXABAY

HID­DEN AGEN­DAS: Ob­jec­tive re­port­ing is the mantra of fac­tual jour­nal­ism but then fake news emerged.

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