Death of Facts

Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.

Facts, 360 BC - 2012 AD - Chicago Tribune

In a mock obituary of the death of Facts, Rex Huppke shares how “facts grew up” from being about “universal principles that everybody agrees on,” by Aristotle, to “empirical observations,” by Francis Bacon.

Although this obituary focuses on the political issues that Facts have survived, it could have easily talked about any other areas in life, especially those that involve stories being shared in the media. News stories based upon the same press release can display two different sides to a story, twisting the numbers around to mean whatever they want, without backing up their stories.

I was reminded of the word Stephen Colbert coined</sup>[1], truthiness, which means “a quality characterizing a ‘truth’ that a person claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic or intellectual examination.” I think truthiness still happens frequently alongside facts, but facts has been morphed into something different. It’s no longer an “empirical observation,” but an observation made through a lens of emotion.

Gone is the context of the observation. More important is how that fact makes a person or people feel, and use it to increase those emotions (generally fear).

In baseball, people may see that a player is hitting .200 and conclude that he is a lousy hitter, and the commentators will continue to push the argument that the batter may need to be benched and replaced. It’s rare for people to dig into the numbers and discover that the guy is just unlucky (making contact but hitting the ball right at someone). Student Unions are very proficient at using facts to their advantage and rallying the troops to fight their fight without presenting a defense for the University.

I grow tired of the one-sided attacks and opinion pieces that ignore the other side of the story. I wish there was more balance in life which displayed facts in a fair manner without bias.

  1. Wikipedia mentions that the word had existed in the Oxford English Dictionary before Colbert used it, but I think his usage made it much more popular.  ↩