Facts are what move my fingers on my keyboard every day. Real, objective facts that are either true or false. “Alternative facts” aren’t a thing, just for the record. Facts help me make decisions—from the mundane things such as should I buy one thing or another at the grocery store, to bigger, more serious decisions that have potential consequences such as my work performance, bodily harm or financial repercussions. I never expected the need to have serious conversations about what is fact and what is opinion (or the distinction between falsehood and lies) but since the election, it seems that some people have forgotten and we collectively need a refresher course.
And so, it makes complete sense for my word of the year to be “facts” because I operate most of my life based on them. To be sure, opinions aren’t a bad thing—but our opinions should be informed by facts.
SHOP THIS BRACELET AND CHOOSE YOUR OWN WORD: My Intent
In journalism school, we’re taught that our first obligation is to report the truth, verified with supporting evidence.
Having worked in news as a journalist, it offends me at my core when people dismiss facts because they don’t like what the facts tell them. For example, just because you don’t like what the news says, doesn’t mean it’s “fake news.” You can’t fabricate information and call it a fact. I always say math doesn’t lie and to back up arguments with data. (Although numbers and data can be manipulated to serve a bias, so we still have to examine it before we accept it. Think of PolitiFact as a good example to demonstrate this point; they evaluate the statements of politicians and determine whether they’re true, false or partially one way or the other. And they won a Pulitzer Prize for this work, no less.)
Sometimes our judgment can be clouded by emotions around a particular decision or argument. In the end, if truth doesn’t prevail, it only stands to hurt or deceive you.
But what happens when people confuse opinions and beliefs? Whereas opinions are supposed to be informed by facts with supporting evidence of how you arrived at a particular conclusion, beliefs are not always based on facts or evidence, but we put trust and confidence in them because we accept them to be true anyway.
For example, religion is a belief. We’ve never met God, so we don’t know God actually exists, but we believe anyway. Oftentimes, political leanings are a belief. If you were raised by parents with particular political views, it’s likely that you might accept those views as your own as you become an adult. When your doctor tells you that you should have surgery, you might seek a second opinion because the first doctor’s expert opinion says surgery is the best option to cure you. You want to make sure it is actually the best option by asking another doctor what they think based on the facts of your condition. When the Supreme Court issues an opinion, they’re collectively pooling their legal expertise and interpretation of the constitution to make a decision based on the facts of the case.
Which brings me to prejudice; something that is not based on facts. The formal definition says prejudice is “an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.” Prejudice is not based on logic or actual experience, and it is not a rational belief or opinion. Racism is a form of negative prejudice, and when someone acts on their prejudice—such as to deny someone their rights simply because they belong to a different group—that’s discrimination. To be fair, prejudices can be both positive and negative. We can form them on our own or be influenced by others, but prejudices can be proven or disproven by examining facts.
When you know better, you can do better. I wear this emblem on my wrist as a daily reminder of my commitment to the facts. I never thought we’d have to debate what the term means, but I’m in it for the long haul and ready to defend it against those who think it’s OK to pass falsehoods and pure fiction off as fact. That’s my truth. What’s your word?
Related reading you might enjoy on this topic:
- In a swirl of ‘untruths’ and ‘falsehoods,’ calling a lie a lie, via The New York Times
- Media standards on lies and false statements are changing fast, via The Washington Post
- The pros and cons of NPR’s policy of not calling out ‘lies’, via NPR Ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen