Category Archives: Truth

Why You Don’t Have To Check Every Nutty Claim

going-to-hellA friend once earnestly invited me to his very fundamentalist church. I was a Christian at the time but, according to his church, I was not the right kind of Christian and was destined for hell. He said to me, “With the stakes so high, doesn’t it make sense to come check it out?”

He had a point, but I declined.

Why?

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President Trump Meets Plato

If there is a silver lining in the current political cloud of scandal, chaos, and lies, it is that the more responsible American media outlets are making unprecedented efforts to educate the American public in how to distinguish truth from falsehood.

rsz_inauguration-crowd

It started with the first moments of Trump’s presidency. He grumped that the press had deliberately misled the public about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The New York Times reported Trump’s attack under the headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout Size and Intelligence Rift. When have the media ever begun a headline about a president’s first day with the words “With False Claims”!? This is a new focus on truth.

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Our World in Data

Although it has been said that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” surely the real danger lies in having too few statistics, not too many. The more you know, the more likely you are to get closer to the truth.

With that in mind, I want to recommend a fabulous website: Our World In Data (https://OurWorldInData.org). You’ll find in-depth, data-driven articles on many social and political issues. Most of the data are in graphs, many of them animated, so you can just look at the pictures if you choose.

For example, here’s one that shows the income-inequality situation in many leading countries before and after redistributive tax policies are accounted for. The orange bar marks the Gini coefficient before redistribution and the blue bar after. A bar farther to the right indicates more income inequality, not necessarily more income. I know the graph is hard to read here. Click on it to jump to the article and then scroll down a little to see the graph.

You can see at a glance that incomes in the United States are a little more unequal than most countries’ before taxes, but our minimal redistribution leaves us among the most unequal after taxes. On the other hand, Ireland starts out the most unequal, but its policies put Ireland in the middle of the pack after taxes.

Inequality

I hope you enjoy Our World in Data. It’s a very enlightening site.

Automated Fact-Checkers to the Rescue

You didn’t believe me when I said, “In ten years nobody will be able to lie,” did you?

All I can say now is, “Ha!”

In the few weeks since I wrote that series, I have seen many articles touting progress in the area of truth-detection. Here’s the latest one, from The Atlantic: Algorithms Can Help Stomp Out Fake News. You can visit the link for the full story, but here I’ll give you a peek at just a few of the fascinating techniques that are already in use today.

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How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness – Part 3

When I was in high school, my grandparents took me on a trip across the country. Back then, I was firmly in the evangelical Christian camp. They were not, so we had some lively discussions.

During one of them, my grandfather asked what credentials one of my sources had earned. “Where had he gone to college? How about graduate school?”

“What does that matter?” I thought. “What’s important is whether his arguments are sound.”

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In 10 Years, Nobody Will Be Able to Lie (Part 2)

The Singularity refers to that point in the closer-than-you-think future when technology will have so transformed our society that people from today would barely recognize life in the Singularity era. It borrows its name from the singularity at the center of a black hole, where the laws of physics as we know them break down.

In my last post, I forecast one piece of technology that will change society in ways we can’t predict: the ubiquitous, accurate lie detector. Now let’s start to consider how our lives might change when nearly every lie can be detected.

Even if you don’t buy my premise that we’ll have these devices, let’s have fun speculating together, for speculation is all that we can do. In fact, the consequences of these Singularity-era devices are so uncertain that maybe I should only ask questions. Let’s begin with this one:

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How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness, Part 2

In the previous post in this series, I suggested a first guideline for deciding whether to trust a website:

#1: When the website makes a mistake, what kind is it?

What I had in mind was the distinction between honest mistakes, intentional lies, and bullshit, with the last being the worst.

Next up we have this simple idea:

#2: When the website makes a mistake, how do they handle it?

Do they publish a retraction? Do they put it in a place where a reader of the original story is likely to find it? Or, do they leave the original story as-is?

Continuing with the example from last time, Rush Limbaugh was spouting on his radio show about President Obama’s “invasion” of Uganda to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Limbaugh said this was Obama’s effort to “wipe out Christians in Sudan [and] Uganda.” Limbaugh could not have been more wrong. The LRA were a marauding band of thugs conducting a campaign of rape, abduction, and murder across the region.

I happened to catch this show on the radio and heard a someone call in to set Rush straight.

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