As professional market researchers we spend our careers searching for truth, the truth. We seek opinions, facts, obscure data-sets – the essential and mission critical magic dust that our clients demand in order to make complex, yet finely targeted decisions. The search for the truth can be a bit dodgy at times. What is truth? A philosophy teacher of mine once framed truth as that which appears to be true at any point in time. If you run with that definition, truth is squishy, transient and subjective to a degree. Yes, the common saying is that the only truths we have are death and taxes. In my experience so far, death is a real truth, at least physical death. But we all know there are tens of thousands of people living off the grid who do not pay taxes. If you think without a doubt that the Sun will rise tomorrow, that is not necessarily true. Perhaps your beliefs align with the majority of our scientific community on that the Sun will explode one day, 4 – 5 billion years from now. Should anyone be around the next morning, the truth will be altered.
Two Sundays ago, shortly after the Sun appeared in sky over Washington D.C., Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s counselor appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press hosted by Chuck Todd. Todd had asked her why the President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, had misrepresented the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration. Spicer had called an impromptu press event after the inauguration on Saturday and emphatically announced that the Trump crowd was the largest in history. Todd pointed out that the obvious photographic evidence for Trump’s crowd was significantly smaller than Obama’s first inauguration. Two samples of photographic proof were provided by the National Park Service and both pictures were taken from the top of the Washington Monument looking toward the Capitol. As Conway argued the point in favor of President Trump, Todd interrupted and patently called the assessment a falsehood and asked why the administration would make such a claim. Conway’s response, the administration was presenting “alternative facts.”
In Conway’s defense, life sometimes presents us with alternative facts. A classic example of this is the composition of light. Is light a wave form or is it comprised of particles? The true answer is dependent upon what instrument you use for measurement. So here we have the possibility of alternative facts, different truths.
Conway’s response raised an enormous brouhaha among many members of the media as well as the public. What place does alternative truth have in communications coming from the White House, especially over something as trivial as the number of people who gathered on the National Mall?
Empirical evidence vs. theoretical, conjectural and/or imagined truth has always been around in politics. This most recent example reminds me George Orwell’s 1984 Newspeak, the language created by the State to confuse and undermine a citizen’s belief system of the government and their lives within it.
Alternative truth has been built into the United States government for many years. Some of the most mean-spirited lies and alternative truths were fired like cannon balls across the bows of both the Federalists and the Jeffersonians back in the day. More recent cases can be easily found by both political parties to advance their agendas under contrarily definitional language and a shroud of misstatements. Shortly after 911, the United States Congress passed the Patriot Act. Proposed by the Bush Administration, the bill obscures the reality that important constitutional civil rights have been taken away from US citizens by its passage. Just in the past year there has been divisive discussion in Congress over the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. As premiums have skyrocketed along with higher deductibles it appears to many that the ACA is the Not So Much Affordable Care Act.
My point with this column is not to take sides in this mud fight of ideology that is currently going on. My intent is to acknowledge the facts; the objective empirical truth, the alternative truth, alt news and fake news is flowing at high rates. Rates are now higher than ever. Much to this reason is that many people have decided to forgo their integrity in order to win their ideological battle. The other underlying sources are the 24-hour news cycle and social media. The bad news: we are overwhelmed by it. The good news: we have a choice. We can vet what we hear and see as closely and deliberately as we do when analyzing our research projects. We can state facts when they are facts (true or false) regardless of external pressure to massage the data. We can be honest with ourselves and everyone we come into contact with, and we should.
By Bob Chapin, CEO