NICHOLS: and now on the death of truth

Truth with a capital T – or any truth, for that matter – is becoming more and more difficult to sift out from the plethora of information, disinformation, misinformation, bias, opinion, feeling, fake news, the clamor of the crowd, and just ordinary lies that that are swamping our senses in this post modern, post truth, time of absolute certainty.

We can recall periods in our own short history when government policy was to keep information from the public, keep us ignorant and compliant for the sake of national security – during the two great wars, for example. Even in the face of these world calamities, the governments overdid the censorship stunt (for our national good, of course). But the governments of the times told us they were keeping us in the dark so we didn’t expect light.

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We’ve experienced government censorship much more recently and covertly, right here in beautiful British Columbia, remember? When we asked for truth.

I have a feeling (only my opinion strumming on my emotions, stemming from my bias that is rooted in my unique history and application of the filters I have inherited and acquired) that much of the current hype passing for news or commentary on radio and TV has not the purity of truth. The feeling increases daily with each exposure.

But the public, for the most part, believes it, or assumes even against better judgment, “it’s gotta be right” because – well, for one thing, because all “real” scientists say it’s so – or so we are told. Or because the favorite pop star has endorsed the idea. Or because the radio host has just assured us that “everybody” knows. Somewhere along the way we’ve misplaced our guiding ideals; we are no longer able to separate truth from untruth.

Or maybe it is because the idea is insinuated one way or another into virtually every interview, host comment, reference, commercial, and news cast on public radio and TV with no time given to the outliers, the questioners.

When no time is given to contrary points of view on public radio and TV we lose important, perhaps crucial, insights into issues of national significance. (But why should we give time to contrarians when “everybody” knows they are, at best, wrong or deluded – and maybe dangerous?) There are credible scientists out there who don’t toe the party line in every respect. If we shut them out of the public discussion on important issues we lose much potential value in their perspectives. Some of them could even be right.

Remember Galileo? Try hard to remember. He played an important role in bringing truth to his time, and to us. But he had to buck the establishment with its history of error going back two millennia to the Greek philosophers to make his point; he spent the rest of his life under house arrest as a reward for his efforts. He was blessed.

Try as hard as you like, you probably won’t rememer Ignaz Semmelweis, Hungarian physician of German descent to whom you possibly owe your existence. In the mid 19th century, maternity wards were coming into use and along with the wards came a spike in maternal deaths to the point at which a woman, on learning she was pregnant, would make out her will. Dr. Semmelweis observed that when he washed his hands between deliveries, deaths in his clinic declined to less than 1%, a remarkable, even astonishing decline. This was shortly before Pasteur and Lister brought us the germ theory and sanitary surgery. The medical establishment ridiculed Semmelweis for insisting that his staff wash their hands, called him insane, and contrived to have him committed to an asylum where he met an untimely death 14 days later.

We owe so much of our modern good life to those who were and still are willing to swim against the current, buck the establishment, and hold their ground when “everybody” knows they are wrong.

That’s why I am afraid of the road our society seems to be taking. The media, the governments, industry, the education systems, pop singers, and recognizable public figures apparently have bought into the idea of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, the current hype. Far be it from me to say the idea is wrong. But I am saying that we are not giving contrary perspectives sufficient opportunity to be heard. (Why should we when “everybody” knows?) But have we ever considered that somewhere out there among the contrarians in Science World there might be another Galileo or another Semmelweis with ideas, now being suppressed simply because “everybody” knows, that could change the way we understand some of our present problems? 

Truth with a capital T – or any truth for that matter, is in imminent danger of being strangled. This time it is not the government or an ecclesiastical authority that is censoring information. We are doing it ourselves by the clamor of the crowds, with minds closed to alternatives, shouting “everybody knows.”

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