Fact and Myth is an ongoing analysis of common facts and myths/fallacies that pervade western (mainly US) culture and society. In today’s “post-fact” world of social media and 24-hour news cycle, we are bombarded with information, include an onslaught of claims that passed off as fact. Too often, there is no context nor in-depth explanation and we are left with the option of taking these sources at their word, or discarding them as myths, fallacies or even lies. What’s more, many of us have a pre-conceived worldview which leads us to accept statements from one “camp” while resisting all information from another. This process, known as confirmation bias, in turn, affects society at large, as people vote, lobby, donate, demonstrate and engage in other activities that result in outcomes which may or may not be desirable. It affects policies that are passed or defeated; it affects the science that children learn (or don’t learn) in schools.
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Fact and Myth’s goal is to unpack many prevailing claims and explain the reality behind them. In a world where much of our informational media is driven by emotion, sensationalism and business practices that lead media to simply provide opinion pieces that agree with their readers base and protect their corporate advertisers, Fact and Myth dives into these claims in a data-driven fashion.
The Age of Fake News
We’ve also entered an age where facts have become moot to a large portion of online readers. One person’s well-researched position has simply become another person’s “false propaganda,” regardless of the clarity of reasoning and preponderance of the evidence. Occasional hiccups from well-intentioned reporting have become conflated with intentional fabrications that weave a false narrative by way of selective reporting (often framed in an inaccurate or even dishonest manner), the omission of inconvenient facts and reporting of outright fabrications. This is what is meant by living in a post-fact world.
Amusing Ourselves to Death
In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman explained how television was essentially decontextualizing information and feeding it to its viewers in an incoherent manner, which was leading viewers to lose a sense of continuity in their critical thinking (he also noted that print news, in an effort for competing with television, was also ‘dumbing itself down’ and moving from an informational medium to a source of entertainment). This was in contrast to traditional print, which generally proceeded in a logical and coherent manner.
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The knowledge dilemma Postman feared we were experiencing has become even more prevalent, as we’ve entered this age of 24-hour news cycles and social media platforms that serve us click-bait headlines and 140-character messages that feed our own confirmation bias back to us, and in a manner that makes television’s sound byte delivery seem overly contextual. We continue to become more and more balkanized into our own sources of confirmation bias. Here at Fact and Myth, we attempt to our small part to turn back the tide.
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