Nov 172019

The other day, I used an analogy to describe the likely result of trying to understand a scientifically or technologically complex issue from the media, from political pundits.

Imagine you lived your entire life in a windowless room, but you heard that outside your room, there is this thing called the sky, and it has a color. But you hear conflicting opinions. One side insists that the sky is red, absolutely red, has never been anything other than red, redder than a boiled lobster’s arse as a matter of fact. The other side tells you that the sky is, and has always been, green and anyone who ever said that it was red is a liar, a cheat, committing a crime against humanity.

So by carefully considering both sides, cautiously and meticulously balancing the conflicting views, you finally arrive at the conclusion that the color of the sky is… What exactly?

Chances are that you will never guess its true color.

But wait, it gets even worse. In real-life debates, it is not always red-sky vs. green-sky. Sometimes it is red-sky vs. blue-sky. That is to say that at least some of the time, one side will, in fact, be representing the truth (or at least a reasonable facsimile of the truth.) By giving both sides a balanced opportunity to convince you, then, you are in fact farther from the truth than you would be if you had simply picked the right side in the first place. But how would you know which side is right?

In the end, you’d have to make an actual observation or read the scientific or technical literature, instead of listening to pundits. But this puts you in a difficult situation. Stuck between the red-sky and the green-sky side, you’ll learn what it’s like not to have any friends. But getting stuck in the red-sky vs. blue-sky debate makes it even worse, because now the red-sky folks will see you as just yet another diehard biased blue-sky fan, while the blue-sky folks will think that you are one of them, that you bought into their religion instead of arriving there by way of sound reasoning, and the moment you actually contradict some aspect of their dogma, you will be branded a traitor or worse.

Welcome to the post-truth world.

 Posted by at 3:04 pm