Just the facts, Ma’am

I have tried to keep the content of this blog non-political but the political environment has become too toxic for me to keep silent. In particular there is the growing disdain for the facts on the part of our President and, apparently, most or all of the Republican Party who favor alternative facts. Alternative facts indeed! Facts are facts and repeatedly testable, alternative facts are distortions at best, outright lies at worst.

I have been continually fretting about this state of affairs, wondering how to reverse the situation. Now Dr. David Brin, the renowned astrophysicist, science fiction author and fellow futurist, has come up with a direct approach: the FACT ACT. Let’s not just stand there complaining about alternative facts, let’s do something about it. First some background.

Science

Science is based on facts. Demonstrable facts. Demonstrable means that findings about some scientific phenomenon or other must be duplicated by other scientists before they are considered to be factual. The laws of gravity are factual; you can try them yourself. Almost everyone agrees about gravity. Climate change is demonstrable; 98+% of scientists agree that it exists. If you keep careful, and long term, daily records of the weather in your locality you’ll see it for yourself. Other people doing the same thing in your region will get similar results. Climate change is demonstrable.

And so on. Scientists are finding new facts every day. The core empiricism of science requires that they devise theories to explain the facts. Then what’s needed are sufficient numbers of other people to confirm those facts through repeated testing. When the theories continue to explain the test results, then the theories are also considered to be facts, not “just theories.” Newton and Einstein proposed theories of gravitation. Both theories are demonstrable and have been rigorously tested, Newton’s locally and Einstein’s throughout the universe. Empiricism works! Objective reality exists.

Quasifacts

Then there is the growing acceptance by many of “alternative facts” or denial of demonstrable facts. The problem is that the alternative facts are not demonstrable. The data do not support the claim that climate change isn’t happening or that humanity isn’t responsible for it. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to relax automobile gas mileage requirements without affecting climate change is not supported by the data. The data do not support the idea that giving huge tax breaks to the rich, at the expense of increasing the national debt, will somehow help the economy. More alternative, fact-free facts.

Of course, one happy attribute of such quasifacts is that they are apparently immune from testing since those who devise and choose to believe them, simply do so. No objective reality involved! Don’t bother them with real facts, their minds are made up.

In short, the US government and a large portion of our body politic are becoming clogged with alternative facts and downright lies. Physical reality is continually ignored to the detriment of us all.

The FACT ACT

Fortunately, I’m not the only one concerned about the situation in Washington. Davin Brin, in consultation with Democrats in California, has produced a draft FACT ACT, the gist of which is that all political statements about facts must be backed up by evidence.

This is to be accomplished by, among other things:

  • Restoring the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA);
  • Restoring the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP);
  • Establish a shadow Fact Congress both to supervise OTA and OSTP and promote fair and balanced assessment of the facts as they relate to policy outcomes and tradeoffs.

There’s much more in the proposed act and I urge you to download and read it carefully. Then send it to, and discuss it with, your Congress persons.

Now! Time’s a-wasting.

2 thoughts on “Just the facts, Ma’am”

  1. Another reader of your blog said it perhaps best in a private email: “…sing the song of the enlightenment: “Empiricism works! Objective reality exists…”

    Quasi- or Anti- facts are inherently self-destructive of the goals that, perhaps, as many as 99.9 % of us share. Real debate, real consensus only works when people use a common vocabulary and grammar – are not facts reliant on the same accepted. accuracy?

    To the barricades, then – we have nothing to lose but our delusions!

  2. Jack hi and thanks for the shout-out in your excellent blog-missive — a very cogent defense of our Enlightenment Methodology, when the very notion of objective reality is under threat. The methodology that has worked so much better than the alternative that oppressed 99% of past cultures — feudalism, justified by both swords and theocratic bullies. Escaping that endlessly cruel and stupid cycle was our glorious accomplishment.

    I will quibble slightly. There is something in between pure fact and armwaved theorizing. Very close to fact … but just short of purity… are our many Models of the World. We know these aren’t perfect! They aren’t meant to be. They benefit from relentless testing and criticism in the highly competitive process called science. Bits and pieces of our models do get exposed as brittle or even false, from time to time! That doesn’t invalidate them… it makes them better!

    Take weather forecasting. The very same fine-meshed cellular gas/vapor dynamics models that are used to study climate change enabled meteorologists to transform the old, joke of a 4 hour “weather report” into today’s 10-day miracle. No one understands this better than mariners and pilots.

    But yes, sing the song of the enlightenment: “Empiricism works! Objective reality exists.” As our ancestors won the fourth phase of our ongoing Civil War with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, so this generation will win Phase 8. By shouting “Empiricism works! Objective reality exists!” And grownup citizens can use that pragmatism to keep improving our imperfect union.

    Imperfect compared to the future we’ll make together… but so vastly better than all previous societies (especially the feudal ones) combined! Keep fighting for a civilization -the only one – worthy of the name.

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