Too Many Facts

Well, we’re embroiled in another presidential campaign season in the United States, and facts, figures, and allegations are flying around the multiverse like bees defending a hive.  I’m not much of a politician (I don’t want to be) and I try to avoid political conversations, though I do have very definite opinions about most of the current political and economic and humanitarian situations that routinely find themselves on the evening news.  Having an opinion is one thing, though, and bolstering that opinion with all the relevant facts is quite another.  And that’s the one thing that annoys me most about politics.  Facts.

Politicians have definite opinions, to be sure, and I assume most US citizens do too.  But behind those opinions should be the true facts of the case.  And we are absolutely inundated with facts.  My disquiet with facts is neither the lack of them nor the absolute glut of facts we encounter daily, even hourly.  My problem is with the accuracy of those facts.

I’m too much of a scientist to let these “facts” go without a comment or two.  Each presidential candidate has his/her own opinion, of course, and so often those opinions are backed up with what they throw out as “facts.”  Dropped before us like pearls before swine, those facts may look and sound good when taken at face value, but rarely are they backed up by any real evidence that they are what the candidate says they are.  Facts are too often the fodder for pundits who massage them and manipulate them into being what they want them to be.  I, personally, would like to know whether the “facts” presented by a candidate are true or not, not how that person is using them.  Political candidates aren’t the only ones using facts.  Facts are put forward by all sorts of organizations intent on making their own case for something or other.  Yet, rarely are those facts actually verified.  I want to see more verification.  A lot more.

I wouldn’t doubt that in this country, there is no one—not one single, solitary person—who can verify every fact presented in the media.  There’s just too many.  I’ve seen some fact-checking reports after the presidential debates, and many times those “fact-checkers” sound legitimate.  But no one can check everything.  We’re swimming in facts, facts that can be used by anyone or any group to make their own point.  How do we know who to rely on?  Who’s accurate and who’s not?  I’d like to see the facts behind the facts.

When I wrote scientific papers, I had to use a lot of facts, some of which I generated myself, some of which were taken from other papers.  And I had to reference all of them at the end of the paper in a section titled “References,” or in some cases, “Literature Cited.”  All the facts had to be verified, and any conclusion(s) I drew had to be supported by the facts.  Considering the importance of the President in US society, why shouldn’t presidential candidates be subject to the same rigor?

So many facts; not enough verification.

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