Let’s spend some more effort separating fact from fiction
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.