Sunday, March 05, 2017

Do Facts Matter?


Do facts matter? That question – common during recent months – reflects the pessimism and skepticism of many people in the U.S. who wonder if our leaders care about objective information. Why the troubled mood?

Consider the following:
  • Oxford Dictionary selected “post-truth” as their word of the year. In the opinion of the editors, the word (though not new) captures the “ethos, mood, or preoccupations” of the year.
  • Since Inauguration Day, squabbles have abounded between our current president and others regarding “factual” statements – e.g., the number of people who attended the inauguration, or the extent of illegal votes cast in the last election.
  • Neither our current president nor his predecessor rate 100% with respect to veracity. Politifact, a nonpartisan assessor of the truthfulness of statements made by politicians, found both Trump and Obama to make many statements deemed “mostly false” or “false.”
  • Social media is a first, and sometimes only, source of news for many people whose “filter bubbles” have great power to sway thinking through circulation of “information” with little or no grounding in context, and no exposure to challenging questions or counter-opinions. By the time fact checking, even retraction, occurs, the damage cannot be undone.
So, to paraphrase the rock band, Chicago, does anybody really know the truth anymore? Does anybody really care? The answer, of course, strikes at the fundamental raison d’»átre of an organization such as Wilder Research.

Amidst all the expressed questions and concerns, I would contend that facts have never had more importance. Moreover, the role of Wilder Research has never been more essential for enabling our communities to maintain and improve their quality of life.

Public officials, other community leaders, and the public at large need a reliable, nonpartisan resource that enables them to apply the best possible knowledge to their decisions, to use data effectively, to learn from experience, and to continually grow in their ability to govern wisely. We prize the strategy we pursue – seeking to provide compelling rationales and evidence for public decision making that benefits everyone.

Knowledge empowers. We hope to empower individuals and communities by making information freely available, through the many reports we distribute at no charge on our website, or through Minnesota Compass for example. No special training is required for someone to obtain information to support themselves in democratic participation and decision making.

No single person or entity owns the “truth.” The truth emerges and evolves through the collective efforts of people with disparate vantage points – we strive to discover it, we approach it, we never fully know it. The best researchers never cease the search. They continually challenge the beliefs which they themselves and others hold, in order to increase understanding of social issues, human biology and health, the environment, or whatever their focus of study. We move forward with determination – hoping that we know more now than we did previously, and recognizing that we know less now than we will know in the future.

We do our work objectively, creatively, beholden to no vested interest, political group or ideology, save our commitment and passion for improving human well-being. Partnering with others enables us to collectively improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities, locally and throughout the world. In that effort, facts very much matter, and we have no plans to discontinue illuminating them.