A few days ago, the RAND Corporation — one of America’s oldest think tanks — published a report titled, Truth Decay: A Threat To Policymaking and Democracy. Though I’ve read it only once and probably don’t yet grasp all its nuances, I think it’s very relevant to our world today and want to bring it to your attention.
You can find the full report here. Here are some of the highlights. The items in italics are direct quotes. The items not in italics are my comments and opinions.
What Is Truth Decay?
Heightened disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of data — we used to disagree about opinions. Now we increasingly disagree about facts.
The blurred line between opinion and fact — we used to separate “news” from “editorial”. It was easy to tell which was which. Today, the two are commonly mixed together.
Increased volume and influence of opinion and personal experience across the communication landscape — our channels of mass communication used to be dominated by factual reporting with some clearly labeled opinion pieces mixed in. Today the reverse seems to be true.
Diminished trust in formerly respected institutions as sources of factual information — we used to have Walter Cronkite. Now we don’t.
Why Has The Truth Decayed?
Characteristics of human information processing, such as cognitive biases — these are the same biases that we’ve been studying this quarter.
Changes in the information system, such as the rise of 24-hour news coverage, social media, and dissemination of disinformation and misleading or biased information — we used to sip information slowly. Now we’re swamped by it.
Competing demands on the educational system that challenge its ability to keep pace with information system changes — is our educational system teaching people what to think or how to think?
Polarization in politics, society, and the economy — we’ve sorted ourselves out so that we only have to meet and interact with people — and ideas — that we agree with.
It’s a bracing read and I recommend it to you.