Facts, Lies, and Truth

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It appears that the political right, left, and center are playing fast and loose with the semantics of the meaning of the word fact. A fact is a statement that is true or can be proven with evidence. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability— that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience. Space travel was once a fiction; it is now a fact. It is true. We have observed it, replicated it and, in some cases, experienced it first-hand. If you don’t believe in space travel, then you are unlikely to believe that anything is true. Not believing in space travel is like not believing that boiling water, poured on your uncovered skin, will burn you. Have you ever been scalded by boiling water? Hopefully not, but it’s still a fact that boiling water burns skin, and it’s still true. Is this fact significant, by which I mean is it important for life and survival, as opposed to a statistical term that merely states that the objects being correlated are likely not related by accident? Yes, since those who refuse to accept the fact that boiling water scalds may convince others to pour boiling water on their skin. Nevertheless, how dire you consider the consequences of burning your skin is a matter of opinion.

Alternate facts, those facts which simply don’t correspond to observable, testable evidence, are not true. And they are dangerous. Unsupported statements about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction led to wrong conclusions and subsequent war, as did untruths (alternate facts) at the start of the Vietnam War. The current president’s claims of a deep state conspiracy are just that— politically motivated claims—not facts, and thus not truth.

Claims, opinions, and theories are all important to finding truth—but they are not truth, not fact. They are as different as saying I think and I know. So let’s step back, America. Let’s be clear and truthful. If stating a proven fact, say “I know.” If, on the other hand, you are giving voice to your opinion, own that and say “I think.” Just that little bit of truthfulness will go a long way toward moving the country back to sanity and reason.

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