Unfortunately none of the above statements are facts, blast.
If only facts were simple and writing FACT in capital letters at the end of a tweet won you the argument. Writing fact in lower case obviously means you don’t really mean it’s a fact, FACT. Let’s start with the caption and facts are something that can be proven. The sky is blue is a fact as our senses tell us, just look up for goodness sake. The fact is that fact is nonsense it’s violet. The second says facts can be true or false when, in fact, they can be true and false. There is not enough matter in the universe so there must be something we can’t see. The fact that we can’t see it means it’s a guess not a fact. As to number three all facts start from personal opinion and interpretation of said facts, plus the fact you’ll never make it as a philosopher.
Facts, like money, seem to defy definition so I’m not going to try, far greater minds have already failed to do so. It seems that deep down somewhere in our cerebral cortex we know facts don’t count nearly as much as our prior assumptions. To test my opinions I comment on a football board and trust me on this, those guys tell it exactly how they see it. One of the pet peeves on there is the lazy scrounging unemployed and especially the cheats. It would appear that no punishment is too severe for these people as they simply don’t count as human beings. Now I have tried to point out that benefit fraud is tiny, indeed so small it’s barely a rounding error. Piffle I’m told, or words to that effect, they just haven’t found about it and out come all the tabloid inspired anecdotes which certainly aren’t facts yet they Trump them. (Pun intended).
I am grateful to Edward Harrison from Credit Writedowns on Twitter for drawing my attention to a couple of articles proving how useless facts are. Yesterday I made the case for the BBC retaining it’s biases because that’s human nature. The BBC is important because it’s widely viewed as an omniscient source of information. The BBC will generally report two opinions on the same story without giving a definitive “correct answer” although it can be perceived as doing so by those wanting their side of the story to be given greater credence. You just pick the bits you want to hear and facts that oppose your point of view can merely reinforce it. “the process by which people counterargue preference-incongruent information and bolster their preexisting views. If people counterargue unwelcome information vigorously enough, they may end up with ‘more attitudinally congruent information in mind than before the debate,’ which in turn leads them to report opinions that are more extreme than they otherwise would have had.”
That last quote comes from a study by Dartmouth (USA) and the full 50 page pdf is here. What is described there is known as the “Backfire Effect” which is exactly what happens to me over on the football board, I have a lot of hard yards to put in before I am considered a trusted source. I think a lot of what I write is counter intuitive so I need more than facts to back up what I write because “people typically receive corrective information within “objective” news reports pitting two sides of an argument against each other, which is significantly more ambiguous than receiving a correct answer from an omniscient source. In such cases, citizens are likely to resist or reject arguments and evidence contradicting their opinions – a view that is consistent with a wide array of research”.
So what’s a blogger like me supposed to do to build trust? We live in a world where fake news is a thing and the loudest voices hold sway, what I call the Well ‘Ard brigade who are right because they are right. Should I go all Fox News and Zerohedge and simply try to frighten the living daylights out of people? I not only don’t want to do that, it’s against everything I believe, anyone trying to frighten you wants something, usually money. So what I’m going to do is look to Scott Adams the guy who does the Dilbert Cartoons but also has a blog that has a different focus. He posed this question, “Do you remember the time you changed a stranger’s political opinion on the Internet by using your logic and your accurate data?” Any keyboard warrior knows it’s an extreme rarity and the longer you argue with someone the more you realise that your views aren’t that dissimilar after all.
Scott identifies another problem, we all seem to live in an echo chamber and “The technology for delivering news to consumers is too good now. Facebook, for example, can serve up only the types of content they already know will interest you”. The key to getting your point of view across isn’t just facts, it’s persuasion and Scott identifies the problem thus. “I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise”. So solutions come as a combination of opinions and a jumble of seemingly contradictory facts. I tried to do this to solve the problem of Brexit by giving both sides what they need not what they want, an idea totally stolen from Scott.
Most arguments revolve around how to achieve the same goal, for example my trilogy on Neo-Liberalism (starting here) shows how persuasion works even with the absence of facts or at least relevant ones. It is perfectly normal for people to look at the same set of facts and reach different conclusions for perfectly valid reasons or more deceptive ones. I just try to tell the truth as I see it which is my small contribution to the wonderful world of the blogosphere. Have a great weekend everyone.
Now that is a fact, FACT!
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