On trust, truth and a path forward
Well here we are.
We have arrived in, what some have been calling the post-truth era. And I certainly see the temptation to call it that. But no. I reject it.
When I left you last I spoke about focusing on solutions — making sure that we take positive action, even if it only affects a small corner of the universe.
I have been thinking a lot about solutions, truth, and this blog — hence the long silence here. How do I, as a writer, do my part? In the context of what’s going on in today’s world, is it trite to be blogging about backyard wildlife and the ups and downs of my writing life?
Clearly there are more important things at stake.
The question of truth.
My Facebook timeline, Twitter stream, and mainstream media feeds fill daily with breaking news, the latest scandals, worrying trends, and foreboding predictions. They are also filled with propaganda, trolls, fake news, knee-jerk reactions, and over-simplifications of complex issues.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us sharing links through social media have neither the time nor inclination to fact-check everything before hitting the share button. We like it. We share it.
But how do we know if what we have shared is fact, intentionally fake, or uninformed opinion?
Not trusted in the way you trust your best friend, your husband, or your sister. In the world of social media, they are simply the messenger. No, I am talking about trusting the original source of the material in question or — as a proxy — the expertise of the person sharing it.
There is a reason scientists put dozens, maybe even hundreds of citations in a research paper. They can’t simply say, “Trust me. This bit of information is true.” They have to show where they got that bit of information so that other scientists can confirm that the research stands on solid ground.
It’s the reason reputable news outlets (emphasis on reputable) crosscheck leads with multiple knowledgeable sources before they run a piece, especially a controversial one — and the reason they sit on stories that they can’t confirm. It’s why good nonfiction magazines and book publishers employ fact-checkers — to ensure that the author doesn’t stray from the truth — A Million Little Pieces notwithstanding.
Stay in your lane.
Within any field — science, economics, medicine, religion, foreign affairs, government, civil rights, education, sports or the arts — there are experts, people who have studied and made careers in these fields. Their deep understanding of the complexities of their work comes from experience and a collective body of knowledge that is respected by their community.
So here’s the thing — I don’t know enough about most of those subjects to validate them or their sources. As much as I’d like to use this blog to highlight the merits of Obamacare, critique the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, or comment on the US relationship with Russia or Israel, I can’t do that.
If I did, I’d just become part of the problem — people (even smart ones) talking about things they know nothing about. I’d be parroting messages I don’t fully understand, spouting superficial solutions to complex problems, and wouldn’t be able to defend myself from even the most rudimentary troll.
To put it simply, I’d be eaten alive. (Ahem … like Betsy DeVos)
The path forward.
But here is what I do know. I have spent much of my adult life writing and/or working in the natural sciences. Over the years I have amassed a collection of scientists, bloggers, magazines, authors, journalists, organizations, and even media outlets whose expertise (not just opinions) I respect.
I also know how to track down solid scientific sources; I’ve had my work sail easily through fact checkers; I have excellent radar for pseudoscience; and importantly, I know when I’m in over my head.
To quote Kenny —
“You gotta know when to walk away and know when to run..”
So I’m going to keep writing what I know.
Some posts will certainly challenge the activities and beliefs of the current regime, but only on ground that I’m secure on. Others will be my usual interesting bits of science and nature I come across on the web or in my yard.
I’ll still talk about animal rights, captive wildlife, and other ethical issues around human-animal relationships. And I’ll keep updating you on my writing life and any other news that tickles my fancy.
And none of that means I will be paying any less attention to the larger problems we face. The fact is, they are all tied to truth — truth I hope other experts will address.
My work here will just ensure that this little corner of the internet is a place you can trust, share, and know that you’ve helped spread the truth. I hope you’ll continue with me on this next phase of our journey.
* I had to discard 3 quotes I planned to use here because their attributions were unreliable. #truth