Friday, April 25, 2008

"Post-Fact" Society.

I like this term. The article isn't really all that interesting - the gist of it is that the "powers that be" decided such and such and the grass-roots reaction was against it.

Solving Civic Problems in a Post-Fact Society
Posted by: tnac
Thanks to: Dave Steele
25 April 2008 - 10:00am
How does a rapidly changing news media affect big city planning? Badly, according to this post from Next American City.

..."But these facts don’t matter. In a public sphere heavily influenced by talk radio and other media outlets, such as local blogs, where there is no clear line between fact and opinion, where outright falsehoods are presented as legitimate opinions, (often in the form of 'regular joe' commentary) the billons of dollars in investment in the Deep Tunnel are now deemed a massive waste."

This is terribly interesting from a philosophical point of view, because what you have here is basically an editorial piece complaining that people should just sit down and shut up because the government's "facts" shouldn't be subject to the analysis and interpretation and combining with other facts by private citizens! What chutzpah!

What is "presented as legitimate opinions" supposed to mean? Obviously they ARE somebody's real opinion or they wouldn't be posted, now would they? "Regular Joe" has no business having an opinion that differs from the government's? Isn't smart enough to have an opinion different from the government's of his own accord?

I was curious enough to go to the original article and see if this summary perhaps had missed what it was really about.

Next American City
The Daily Report Commentary
Solving Civic Problems in a Post-Fact Society
Dave Steele | Thu, Apr 24, 2008

We’re living in an age when facts don’t matter. Farhad Manjoo, in a thought provoking new book, explains how modern media technology has exacerbated human tendencies to selectively absorb information that comports with our beliefs, and to screen out information that doesn’t jive with our version of “reality.” In a post-fact society, the line between what is fact and what is opinion has become blurred to the point of irrelevance...

In other words, us evil bloggers messed it up for the guys in charge, right?

We now conduct public debates without a base of verified, agreed-upon facts...

No, it isn't the facts that are in dispute - unless you had a corporation pay a scientist to do tests for them and published only the results in their favor. No, for most everyday problems it is not the facts that we disagree about - it's the meaning of the facts. The implications of the facts.

A long while back, I wrote a piece about how society was becoming a post-science society. People no longer trust science, because they have been burned by it too many times now. Study after study contradicts each other, known facts, and common sense. The scientists are bought and paid for, as one of the researchers noted: "When you look at [scientific] studies according to who footed the bill, the literature parts like Moses parting the Red Sea."

The context of my blog was a conversation with a commenter that was about something entirely different, and quoted a much older blog entry of mine from I don't even remember when. So I'll cut and paste here what I wrote about science, because it is part of the "Post-Fact Society" this current writer laments.

{begin blog}
You say that your prediction will come true. I say it will not, even if not for the reason that the Temple is rebuilt: The days that people worship science are gone. Nobody can "prove" anything to anybody anymore, because everybody knows that scientists find what they are being paid to find, or are ideologically predisposed to find, or what their universities tell them to find if they want their doctorate, and so on. We are well-into the post-enlightenment era - science has lost its hegemony on thought. That is a trend of philosophy and sociology, not religion, and its beginnings are well documented. People may not turn toward the established mainline religions, but they will not turn toward science or scientific rationalism, because that has proved to be a mist in the wind. I actually wrote piece on that a few years ago. I'll post it for you here:

There is an interesting article on Yahoo Health news today about the relationship between cola and obesity (soda=pop for people who don't speak Yankee). I have posted an excerpt here, not so much because I believe cola is a serious cause of obesity in children (because I do), but because of the remark near the end by the last researcher. See if you can find the one I mean:

...As for soda being linked to poor eating patterns, "you don't know which is cause and which is effect," Drewnowski said. People who consume lots of fresh-squeezed juice, vegetables and fruits are fundamentally not the same as those who subsist on colas and bologna sandwiches, he contends. "There is a difference: The first group is rich," Drewnowski said. He thinks government subsidies of fruits and vegetables would be better public policy than taxing a cheap source of calories.

He also disputes the claim that soda calories are not satisfying. He did a study in which 32 men and women were given either colas or fat-free Raspberry Newtons before lunch on four separate occasions. "There was absolutely no difference in satiety" as measured by how much they ate or how hungry they said they were, he said.

That research was paid for by industry, a factor that can affect study outcomes, said Kelly Brownell, a psychologist and food policy researcher at Yale University and a vocal advocate for curbs on soda and fast food. When you look at studies according to who footed the bill, "the literature parts like Moses parting the ocean," he said, referring to the biblical parting of the Red Sea.

Does the evidence add up to a conviction of soda?

One of the nation's leading epidemiologists who has no firm stake in the debate, the American Cancer Society's Dr. Michael Thun, thinks it does.

Did you see it? To paraphrase...
When you look at [scientific] studies according to who footed the bill, the literature parts like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Here is the one real issue that separates the people on all sorts of issues in the modern world: the fact that scientists pretend to be completely impartial and unbiased - but they aren't. This is why no one trusts scientists anymore. This is why science has lost credibility as the final arbiter of what is real and what is not in the world, not to mention what is True and what is not.

The darwinist priesthood vs. the intelligent designers, the nutritionists vs. the junk food industry, the environmentalists vs. the manufacturing/industrial world, the teachers unions vs. anyone with common sense, and so on. Every group has their scientists who "do" their studies and "find" what they are paid to find or predisposed ideologically to find. And they present this garbage as "fact" (and claim that their scientists are better then the other side's scientists), and then wonder why the controversies don't go away, since in their own imaginations they have "solved" the issue. Meanwhile, the other side publishes its own studies,which contradict the first studies, and the mudslinging goes on and on and on.

The public, of course, has reached the point where their patience is expired. Scientists have cried wolf when products weren't dangerous, claimed things were safe that were deadly, censored research and researchers who dared to question the entrenched status quo, claimed they were on the brink of solving problems that didn't get solved, pretended to understand processes and interactions that they turned out not to understand at all, and in general set themselves up as gods whose word should not be questioned.

They appear to have forgotten that "pride goeth before a fall."

And the fall of science is an embarrassing problem for them. They claim people are uneducated and ignorant for clinging to their religious beliefs, unconventional philosophies, alternative remedies and non-conformist ideas of history, politics, and everything else. But people, for the most part, know they are not stupid. They know that they have followed the issues that interest them, and been burned by believing scientists. They trusted science, but science let them down. No, not just let them down - sometimes science even screwed them.

So here we are, in the post-modern, post-science era, and scientists can't figure out how we got here. Guess what, class? Too bad they won't admit they did it to themselves. Otherwise, there might, possibly, be some sort of reform implimented that would rescue science from being classified in the same category as Tarot cards and astrology. (Apologies to all astrologers and Tarot card readers out there.) But that's the point of this, isn't it? Those guys have as much, if not more, integrity in the minds of the average person than the scientists do.

Now, here is the part where I'm supposed to say how sad that is. But I'm not going to, because it's not sad. It was ridiculous for science to claim they had the answers to everything in the first place. Empericism is nice, but claiming that there is nothing beyond empericism simply doesn't match with the personal experience and knowledge of millions and millions of people. And simply stating that these experiences by ordinary people aren't valid, aren't real, or have no meaning just makes science look stupid. Which is why people now think science is stupid, not valid, not real, and not meaningful. Science is arrogant, therefore it is not taken seriously. By pretending to be holier-than-thou science has proved itself incapable of objectivity. And until objectivity and impartiality is restored to science, it cannot recover its reputation.

What is actually unfortunate is that this will never happen. {end of old blog}

So when the writer of the Post-Fact Society piece gripes about the public in his article, he may or may not be correct about their supposed ignorance on this issue, but claiming that having access to information and opinions other than the "official" information and opinions is a bad thing is way off base.

The reason that the so-called gedolim of this generation has baneed the internet and blogging is precisely because that if they can't control the information being released to their public, they can't hide their shenanigans anymore. Government has the same problem, of course, and there are even some radical writers who have suggested the internet will be "taken out" for that very reason. Knowledge really is power. And if the majority of "Ordinary Joes" don't like what they're seeing and hearing, the next course of action should be to address their concerns, not to pretend they have no authority to raise them or have no business raising them.

Even Adam Smith acknowledges that accountability is what makes our system work - which is why "free-market" economics works on the local level and fails at the national and international level. It's also why most people don't bother to vote in national elections - they know good and well there's no real point, by the time they get to vote, all the candidates who might actually have done something different or truly protect the interests of the individual families have been weeded out by the big moneyed interests and robber barons that are the real rulers of this country.

So no, there's no such thing anymore as taking government's word for it, or science's word for it, or the word of any so-called "authority," for that matter. Nor can we turn back the clock and make it so. Even if the internet were to disappear tomorrow, people's eyes have been opened that the meanings and implications of things are often not what they appear - and usually not what the official party line claims. Words mean things - and they mean different things to different people, depending on what the definition of "is" is, for example.

Trust is gone, and more of the same is not going to win it back. What will work is complete transparency and integrity and.... ROFL Oh, well. It won't be back.

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