Let’s spend some more ef­fort sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - Dave Kung, Lex­ing­ton Park

Thomas Jef­fer­son knew that democ­racy re­quired an in­formed elec­torate. We the peo­ple could only en­gage in rea­soned dis­course about the coun­try’s di­rec­tion if we had a com­mon un­der­stand­ing of the un­der­ly­ing facts about the world.

To­day we are in­un­dated with false­hoods, courtesy of Rus­sian hack­ers, fake news, Face­book echo cham­bers, and skewed “news” or­ga­ni­za­tions more con­cerned with at­tract­ing eye­balls and clicks than in­form­ing the pub­lic.

Did those lies im­pact the elec­tion? A sci­en­tific poll of 1,200 vot­ers sug­gests they did.

Two-thirds of Trump vot­ers think un­em­ploy­ment went up dur­ing Obama’s watch. That’s false. The of­fi­cial (U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor U3) rate started at over 8 per­cent, peaked at nearly 10 per­cent in 2009, and dropped steadily since then to just un­der 5 per­cent.

“What about dis­cour­aged and part-time work­ers?” ex­claim my Fox News-watch­ing friends. Good point. Let’s look at those facts. The la­bor depart­ment’s U6 rate in­cludes both of those groups. It started Obama’s term at 15 per­cent, peaked around 17 per­cent in 2009, and has steadily dropped since then to 9.3 per­cent.

Nearly four in 10 Trump vot­ers think the stock mar­ket dropped dur­ing Obama’s terms. In re­al­ity, the Dow and S&P 500 more than dou­bled, and the NASDAQ nearly quadru­pled.

My con­ser­va­tive friends’ Face­book feeds are awash in state­ments that are demon­stra­bly false:

“Il­le­gal im­mi­grants are flood­ing the U.S.” Fu­el­ing this think­ing with anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric, Trump’s call for an in­ef­fec­tive (and ab­surdly ex­pen­sive) wall en­er­gized his vot­ers. In fact, the num­ber of un­doc­u­mented peo­ple in the United States has dropped more than 10 per­cent since 2007.

“Wages are plum­met­ing.” Ac­tu­ally the me­dian house­hold in­come in the na­tion has bounced back nearly $3,000 since its post-re­ces­sion low in 2012. It’s now higher than in 2009, even if you ad­just for in­fla­tion.

“Twenty-seven per­cent of Mus­lims would go to war with the U.S.” This par­tic­u­lar false­hood was spread by the pres­i­dent-elect back in March, part of the anti-Mus­lim rhetoric that per­me­ated his cam­paign. When pressed, he cited a Pew poll that didn’t ex­ist. In truth, best es­ti­mates sug­gest that less than 0.02 per­cent of all Mus­lims are even at risk of be­ing rad­i­cal­ized.

“Global Tem­per­a­tures Plunge. Icy Si­lence from Cli­mate Alarmists.” The sci­en­tific pa­per cited in this cherry-pick­ing Bre­it­bart piece ex­plains that land tem­per­a­tures dropped be­cause El Niño re­dis­tributed heat en­ergy to the oceans, which make up 70 per­cent of the Earth’s sur­face. All avail­able mea­sure­ments con­firm that for the cli­mate as a whole, 2016’s record high av­er­age tem­per­a­ture will sur­pass that of 2015, which was it­self the hottest year on record. Far from be­ing silent, vir­tu­ally all cli­mate ex­perts agree that hu­man in­flu­ences are the pri­mary cause for the alarm­ing changes.

Jef­fer­son’s cu­rios­ity led him to study ar­chi­tec­ture, law, the Ko­ran and the Bi­ble, math­e­mat­ics, hor­ti­cul­ture and sev­eral lan­guages. Such an in­tel­lec­tual gi­ant would surely be ap­palled at the dis­in­for­ma­tion per­me­at­ing our pub­lic dis­course and dis­rupt­ing our pol­i­tics.

We owe it to Jef­fer­son and his fel­low founders to spend ex­tra ef­fort sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion, call­ing out false­hoods in­stead of shar­ing them, and re­turn­ing our dis­course to one based in fact.

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