Written by Dr Peter Cochrane.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Issac Asimov
For most people it is hard to think of truth as a dynamic property and they naturally seek absolutes as reassurances of their particular belief system, political or other persuasions. This contrasts strongly with science and the scientific method where we continually test and probe our ‘expensively’ established truths to make sure they remain accurate and pertinent. One example is our planet: which has variously been considered to be flat and round before we proved it spheroidal; only to later discover it an oblate sphere, and more recently a dynamic oblate sphere. How come? It is entirely down to the accuracy and sensitivity of our instrumentation and their platforms of observation.
History tells us that every society has advanced or collapsed by its ability to establish and maintain vital and applicable truths. As far as we aware; our modern world is pre-eminent in systematically establishing a strong web of related truths binding governmental, legal, economic, commercial and scientific systems. Here the value of continual cross-checking and calibration is axiomatic and beyond dispute, but is all now under significant threat.
“Today: porn starts tell the truth and presidents lie “
Only three decades truth was a necessary quality at all levels of society. Indeed, we stored and curated these vital components in our libraries, publications and news media. Fact checking and information cross-checking was seen as a must at every level. But the strength and value of all our achievements in this regard are being questioned and attacked. Proven facts, knowledge, wisdom and expertise are now readily derided by those predisposed to conspiracy theories and the lies of others.
The Flat Earth Society is back supporting its views with pseudo science, distortions, lies and ignorance on a grand scale. Apparently global warming is a political conspiracy and the moon landings were staged on a movie set, and there is data and photographic evidence to prove it all. And this is just the start of a very long list of ignorances challenging very expensive and hard won knowledge, and being championed by the poorly educated and politically/religiously motivated. Surprisingly, a large swathe of humanity appears to be prepared to listen, follow and support.
Sadly, the internet and social networks have given everyone a voice and a means of publicity in the worst possible way. The scale of this has rendered the establishing any truth no longer easy or straightforward, and in some cases it is tending toward the impossible!
For sure people cannot solve this problem, and for many, perpetuating it is to their advantage, but there looks to be a technology solutions based upon ‘Truth Engines’ that might test every political statement as it is made whilst purging the internet of all falsehoods and misconceptions. This they could do relentlessly 24x7x365 like an information vacuum cleaner that preserves the correct and destroys the rest!
Most of the components to realise such a mechanism exist along with many of the necessary conceptual technologies and techniques. The principle progression follows the following path in the context of news reports:
1) A plagiarism checker searches through the 100 and 1000s of posted reports, articles and blogs on a specific topic to identify the primary sources.
2) The likely veracity and error bounds for each original source can then be established by looking back over decades (if necessary/available) of previous reports to characterise the progression from initial to final report over a given time.
3) So a source might report a terrorist incident with hundreds injured and dead identifying a known group which might become more accurate with time as the official numbers are established. Even later the actual terrorist group may be identified or they may identify themselves. By aggregating such reports from many events we can establish long term statistical trends as to the accuracy with time.
4) By repeating (1-3) many thousands of time all the key news sources and media outlets can be allocated a truth weighting factor in a mathematical descriptor of the whole field.
5) This same process (1-4) can be repeated for all organisations and individuals on a vast scale as it can be automated to track down and identify falsehoods and lies by source.
Beyond this basic engine there are many refinements possible including inference correlations and fact projection analysis to identify the many strains, paths and filament connecting truths, untruths, lies and conjectures. Not every lie may be deliberate, it may be derived from carelessness, naivety and a lack of fact and veracity checking.
Like the law, we have to presume innocent unless proven guilty, and one error does not prove consistency, and so we too have to cross-check...automatically of course!