My belief is the same as your fact; campaigning in the post truth world.

On 25th January 2017 I was very pleased to attend an event at the Bristol Festival of Ideas to hear from Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of ‘A Field Guide to Lies’

He introduced a discussion about how we distinguish misinformation, pseudo-facts, distortions and outright lies from reliable information and how can we recognise misleading announcements, statistics, graphs and written reports.

His central argument as described by the Festival organisers:

in order to be successful at work, play and in making the most of our lives, we need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter, checking their plausibility and reasoning – not passively accepting, repeating and making decisions based on the information we receive.

This is of enormous interest to me. Ironically, I was not familiar with Dan Levitin’s work until he was recommended to me by a parent who was campaigning against the ‘evil and secret’ family courts and who accused me of being insufficiently alive to what was the obvious ‘truth’ of the corruption in the system.

There was some useful advice about questions we should ask before uncritically accepting what is told to us, even when the person doing the telling purports to be an ‘expert’. We must ask

  • Is the expert offering the information the ‘right’ expert? Beware the pseudo expert! Professor Sir Roy Meadows remains saddest and starkest example of an expert who went outside his narrow field of expertise and gave information to a criminal trial which lead to a significant miscarriage of justice for Sally Clark.
  • Does the statistic being quoted support the argument being made? For example, US Today reported that as deaths from air travel in 2014 were significantly higher than deaths in 1960, this ‘proved’ air travel was much more dangerous now. This of course, ignored the total numbers of people now travelling by air in 2014 when compared with 1960. Air travel remains significantly safer than any other form of transport.

The key message from Dan Levitin was that we must ALL take personal responsibility for educating ourselves to think critically and challenge people that we know are pushing misinformation. We cannot discuss issues sensibly or at all unless we are able to agree on what the ‘facts’ are. There are no ‘alternative facts’ only ‘facts’. But peoples’ beliefs about what is or is not a fact can shift over time.

In light of my often weary and unproductive crusade over the last two years to improve the quality of debate and information available about the child protection system, I asked Dan Levitin if he had any practical tips. He reminded me of the power of confirmation bias; people will believe what they want to believe. You cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reach by reason and getting angry with one another merely widens the gulf of distrust and further impedes communication.

A timely reminder. I left the discussion with renewed excitement about the task ahead, with my clear moral imperative to call out those people I know to be talking nonsense – but to attempt to do so in as diplomatic and careful as way as possible.

On leaving the venue, I got a phone notification from Facebook. I challenged it. Will it make any difference? Possibly not. But remaining silent is not an option, now more than ever.

5 thoughts on “My belief is the same as your fact; campaigning in the post truth world.

  1. Jeanie

    I have thirty years of experience in Child Protection and have to say I am saddened and sometimes shocked at the accusations levelled at family members which seem to have no basis. The expectation from SW is that families will honest & open but it’s not reciprocal. The other common theme is things put on record as ‘fact’ and when these are challenged and found not substantiated they remain ‘on record’ the service user will not know this unless they ask to see their own records, it’s appalling.

    1. HelenSparkles

      I hope you have challenged that every time you have come across it Jeanie? That is bad practice and not acceptable. Making a comment here which indicates this is widespread is also alarming for the parents who read this blog, so it might be helpful to say how often you have come across such practice.

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  3. Angelo Granda

    Thanks Jeanie,

    QUOTE: The expectation from SW is that families will honest & open but it’s not reciprocal : UNQUOTE

    Proceedings are not taken by the SW , applications are made by the LA and it is the LA lawyers and management who access false computer data held on file by the LA without any CHECKS as to the accuracy .They present it to SW’s in order for them to instigate independent and their own various ‘assessments’ and then present the same false data and misinformed assessments to Court ‘under oath’ which inevitably results in incorrect,misinformed appraisals by decision-makers.
    That is the order of things from my experience.
    I agree with you,Jeanie, it is unlawfulness and dishonesty. Why unlawful?

    Take a good look at this link:-

    The data used is held on computer IT systems thus the data users subject to data-protection law.
    a) the users are responsible for ensuring the data is CORRECT.
    b) data subjects must know that data is held on them and for what purpose.
    c) To know that ,they must be informed by the data-users it is being held and be given the opportunity to CHECK the accuracy of the data.
    d) In my opinion, in order to comply , the users must inform the subjects immediately they begin collecting data on them and also inform them of their right to see and check it.
    e) The users fail in that duty thus act unlawfully. They collect data in secret ( behind closed doors) and it festers on file sometimes for years before it is accessed for use in child -protection work.
    f) Having acted unlawfully, the LA will be very reluctant to admit the evidence it uses has been collected unlawfully and will not change it.
    g) After a case, it is much to LATE to inform the data subject he has a right to see it all and correct it.
    h) The user must be informed as soon as the computer file is opened and collection begins.

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