The Value of Truth

At a time of anxiety about fake news and conspiracy theories, philosophy can contribute to our most urgent cultural and political questions about how we come to believe what we think we know.

Democracies are especially vulnerable to epistemic threats because in needing the deliberative participation of their citizens, they must place a special value on truth….Indeed, a striking feature of our current political landscape is that we disagree not just over values (which is healthy in a democracy), and not just over facts (which is inevitable), but over our very standards for determining what the facts are. Call this knowledge polarization, or polarization over who knows—which experts to trust, and what is rational and what isn’t.

https://bostonreview.net/philosophy-religion/michael-patrick-lynch-value-truth

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

Below are a few different resources from author Jonathan Rauch discussing concepts of truth, knowledge, misinformation and the roles of institutions in producing knowledge. His work covers a lot of important ground related to TOK.

When Americans think about how we find truth amid a world full of discordant viewpoints, we usually turn to a metaphor, that of the marketplace of ideas. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes, yet woefully incomplete. It conjures up an image of ideas being traded by individuals in a kind of flea market, or of disembodied ideas clashing and competing in some ethereal realm of their own. But ideas in the marketplace do not talk directly to each other, and for the most part neither do individuals. Rather, our conversations are mediated through institutions like journals and newspapers and social-media platforms.

https://www.persuasion.community/p/jonathan-rauch-the-constitution-of

Persuasion Podcast: Don’t Give Up on Truth

The very idea of truth and science, Jonathan Rauch argues, is now under threat from many quarters. In his latest book, The Constitution of Knowledge, he gives a novel account of the principles of science, and explains why democracies must strive to preserve the truths that bind us together. 

https://www.persuasion.community/p/-dont-give-up-on-truth

(Passage from A Defense of Truth) Why Fake News Flourishes: Emitting Mere Information Is Easy, But Creating Actual Knowledge Is Hard

https://quillette.com/2021/06/25/why-fake-news-flourishes-emitting-mere-information-is-easy-but-creating-actual-knowledge-is-hard/

 

 

What If We’re Wrong?

Regardless of what is most needed in the world at any given moment—regardless of whether the conditions call for more orthodoxy or more heterodoxy—there always needs to be an avenue for discussion. Both orthodox and heterodox ideas always need to be publicly discussable. Otherwise, whoever holds the most power when censorship begins—at the point at which people begin hiding their thoughts and conversations—will gain ever more power. The powerful will shape the governing orthodoxy—and it will always be an orthodoxy, even if its central ideas were heterodox just yesterday—and will crack down ever harder on those who dissent.

Convincing the Skeptics

These statements reflect a real problem of vaccine advocacy. Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all. Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it.

https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/07/convincing-the-skeptics/

Here’s why your efforts to convince anti-vaxxers aren’t working

People don’t listen to outsiders. They need enlightened insiders to offer them a ladder to climb down

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/09/convince-anti-vaxxers?fbclid=IwAR2rCr7RqogEuesmbyIV4_R7C-WoV0W8JrNGZqs5xzzSz6UXdaIE52L72H4

A good scrap: Disagreements can be unpleasant, even offensive, but they are vital to human reason. Without them we remain in the dark

This raises a tough question. The ability to reason is meant to be humanity’s supreme attribute, the characteristic that most sets us apart from other animals. Why, then, has evolution endowed us with a tool so faulty that, if you bought it from a shop, you’d send it back? The French evolutionary psychologists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have offered an intriguing answer to this question. If our reasoning capacity is so bad at helping us as individuals figure out the truth, they say, that’s because truth­-seeking isn’t its function. Instead, human reason evolved because it helps us to argue more effectively.

https://aeon.co/essays/why-disagreement-is-vital-to-advancing-human-understanding

Epistemic trespassing, or epistemic squatting?

Who gets to define the boundaries of expertise?

Now, I’m all for interdisciplinary collaboration and intellectual modesty, as a general rule. But although Ballantyne raises interesting points and creates food for thought, he fails to make a conclusive case that what he calls “epistemic trespassing” is, on balance, bad for society. And his arguments raise uncomfortable questions that he doesn’t really wrestle with — most importantly, the question of who gets to decide who’s a trespasser.

https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/epistemic-trespassing-or-epistemic?

David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 35)

Related to the essay above is a podcast episode in which the guest makes similar points about the value of individuals stepping outside their narrow expertise. In particular, around the 11 minute mark the guest talks about Claude Shannon.

David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 35)

The Bias that Divides Us

What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in one sense, because the phenomenon of myside bias has been extensively studied in cognitive science. The bad news, however, is that what we know is not necessarily encouraging.

https://quillette.com/2020/09/26/the-bias-that-divides-us/

The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain

Science suggests we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Can we do anything about it?

If I had to single out a particular bias as the most pervasive and damaging, it would probably be confirmation bias. That’s the effect that leads us to look for evidence confirming what we already think or suspect, to view facts and ideas we encounter as further confirmation, and to discount or ignore any piece of evidence that seems to support an alternate view. Confirmation bias shows up most blatantly in our current political divide, where each side seems unable to allow that the other side is right about anything.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/cognitive-bias/565775/

The Media’s COVID Failure: In dismissing the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab, journalists betrayed their mission to seek the truth.

This is a rich topic that raises lots of questions worth discussing in the knowledge and knower unit. I’m posting a few of the stories here but will put together lessons around this topic next school year.

But the goal of journalism shouldn’t be to craft the most culturally sensitive or partisan narrative. The goal of journalism is to seek the truth. The consequences of telling the truth should be secondary to getting the truth out there in the first place, even if it makes the Trump administration or Republican Senators look good or the Chinese government look bad.

https://www.persuasion.community/p/the-medias-covid-failure

Good journalism, like good science, should follow evidence, not narratives. It should pay as much heed to intelligent gadflies as it does to eminent authorities. And it should never treat honest disagreement as moral heresy.

The Media’s Lab Leak Debacle Shows Why Banning ‘Misinformation’ Is a Terrible Idea:
How a debate about COVID-19’s origins exposed a dangerous hubris

But Facebook’s concession that the lab leak story it once viewed as demonstrably false is actually possibly true should put to rest the idea that banning or regulating misinformation should be a chief public policy goal.

It’s one thing to discuss, debate, and correct wrong ideas, and both tech companies and media have roles to play in fostering healthy public dialogue. But Team Blue’s recent obsession with rendering unsayable anything that clashes with its preferred narrative is the height of hubris. The conversation should not be closed by the government and its yes-men in journalism, in tech, or even in public health.

The Media’s Lab Leak Debacle Shows Why Banning ‘Misinformation’ Is a Terrible Idea