Current AffairsPeopleReflectionAugust 15, 20160Just The Facts, Ma’am

Especially these day, facts are a very valuable (and under-utilized) commodity...
from Wikipedia
from Wikipedia

I know I’m dat­ing myself by using that title.  It became known as the sig­na­ture line of Sgt. Joe Fri­day, the hero in a cop show called Drag­net that was pop­u­lar when I was a kid. When­ev­er Joe was ques­tion­ing wit­ness­es, and they would start wan­der­ing off into how they felt, and what they feared, and shar­ing their bias­es and prej­u­dices, Joe would stop them and say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am (or sir). ”

As we’re all liv­ing through this end­less and some­what depress­ing elec­tion sea­son, I find myself in com­plete sym­pa­thy with Sergeant Fri­day.  My crav­ing for facts is com­plete­ly jus­ti­fied, giv­en that, accord­ing to Poli­ti­fact, only 30% of what Don­ald Trump says pub­licly is even part­ly true, with 19% of his untruths being of the “pants on fire” vari­ety (“not accu­rate and makes a ridicu­lous claim,” accord­ing to Poli­ti­fact)  and even Hillary, the most truth­ful of all the cur­rent politi­cians, only tells the truth 72%  of the time. For­tu­nate­ly, only 2% of her state­ment are “pants on fire” lies — but still, that’s too much. (I’ll out myself now; I’m a Clin­ton fan, and think she’ll make a very good president.)

What’s even more frus­trat­ing to me is that Amer­i­cans believe Trump and Hillary are equal­ly dis­hon­est and untrust­wor­thy — even though, on a fac­tu­al basis, Trump lies about 2.5 times as much as she does. And it does­n’t stop with the can­di­dates them­selves, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Short­ly after the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, I lis­tened to a Trump sup­port­er, a for­mer soap actor named Antho­ny Saba­to, Jr., say that he believes Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is “…on the oth­er side.  Oh, the Mid­dle East. He’s with the bad guys.  He’s not with us. He’s not with this coun­try.”  And when asked to back up his asser­tion with facts, he respond­ed, “I believe it.”


The most dis­turb­ing thing about this whole mess, for me, is the con­tention that believ­ing some­thing is true, or feel­ing that it’s true, is just as valid as hav­ing the facts about whether or not it’s true. It’s why too many peo­ple think that some­one “believing“or “feel­ing” that Oba­ma is in league with ter­ror­ists is just as valid as 7+ years of dai­ly evi­dence to the contrary.

It’s why nation­al fig­ures can say “glob­al warm­ing is a hoax,” or “Oba­ma found­ed ISIS,” or “immi­grants destroy our econ­o­my” — and those things are repeat­ed as truth, even though there is no evi­dence to sup­port their valid­i­ty, and — in fact — moun­tains of fac­tu­al evi­dence to dis­prove them.

I believe the best we can do, in these crazy times, is try to be guardians of the truth in our own think­ing.  When­ev­er some­one asserts that some­thing is true — espe­cial­ly some­thing impor­tant to our well-being or our future — I sug­gest that, rather than either imme­di­ate­ly believ­ing or dis­be­liev­ing it, you do your best to find out the facts. I’d sug­gest you apply the sci­en­tif­ic method: take what you hear as a hypoth­e­sis (“Is glob­al warm­ing a hoax?”) then gath­er the avail­able data about the hypoth­e­sis with­out assum­ing that it’s true or false. (As opposed to cher­ry-pick­ing the data to sup­port your exist­ing bias, which is what we too often do.)  Final­ly, decide the valid­i­ty of the hypoth­e­sis based on the data you’ve collected.

If we all did that, we would come to bet­ter, more rea­soned deci­sions, and be less sus­cep­ti­ble to the lies and half-truths of those in posi­tions of power.

And here’s what Joe Fri­day thinks about all this (from episode 60: “Inter­nal Affairs DR-20”):

“Show me how to wipe out prej­u­dice. I’ll set­tle for the prej­u­dices you have inside your­selves. Show me how to get rid of the unlim­it­ed capac­i­ty for human beings to make them­selves believe they’re some­how right–and justified–in steal­ing from some­body, or hurt­ing somebody…and you’ll just about put this place here out of business!”

I’m with Joe. 

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