TED Conversations

Andrea Morisette Grazzini

CEO, WetheP, Inc.


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What facts are factual?

A politician telegraphing early strategies for his 2012 US presidential candidacy was speaking of what he referred to as facts. Not surprisingly they buttressed his platform.

A political researcher and I engaged with him in a dialogue about the relative factuality of facts. And how less-robust but rhetorically expedient sound bites can be problematic.

The researcher said, "Facts without data are like a canoe without paddles." His point was facts must be data-driven to meaningfully change citizen’s minds.

A challenge all candidates face, include findings by the researcher, which indicate most people distrust politicians. Due, not least to tactics used to distinguish campaign platforms and gain votes.

This Q of relative factuality is ever more salient. As people worldwide sort and filter fictional rhetoric from objective research.

The relationship between real facts and rhetorical frames calls for understandings not only of political campaigns, but also of methods (and motivations) communicators of them use. And how they are interpreted, if not propagated, by organizations, consumers and citizens.

For example, data communicated by respected PEWResearchCenter regards perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims, on closer examination, reveals population-based differences in collection methods.

Survey methods are here: http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/07/21/muslim-western-tensions-persist/5/#survey-methods

Face-to-face collection methods (considered more nuanced) were used for Muslims, while phone data collection methods, (considered less sensitive) were used for non-Muslims.

These methods amount to overlooked but relevant facts, if not potential bias-provokers. Likely bias is not Pew pollsters' intent. But, in this case may amount to consequences of their method.

The Q is:
How do we determine what published research, politicians’ rhetoric, other people's views—and our own, are of most factual relevance?



Closing Statement from Andrea Morisette Grazzini

Thanks to all who offered views here.

I'm left with a prevailing sense that fear is a primary motivator for lack of transparency. This fear could be internal or externally motivated, and often is both.

Fear of the revelation of one's wrongness or complicity about the facts. Fear of the truth we have long denied. Or fear of repercussions truth telling can elicit from others.

Ironically, this fear of the truth is exactly what leads to the corruption of it.

Which leads me to wonder what would happen if we acknowledged our capacities to miscommunicate facts while continually seeking the deeper contours of our misunderstandings? Rather than the path of least resistance that falsely implies we know all.

It seems to me this stance would convey a more congruent reality, and invite greater trust in the communicator of it.


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  • Sep 15 2011: I live in the UK and therefore don't really follow US politics much but I did hear about Michelle Bachman tell media that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation without any evidence.

    Whilst people in Britain distrust their politicians just as much as in the US, not entirely sure if we are as bad. I know of the websites fullfact.org and Channel 4's Fact or Fiction blog actually tries to test and then explain whether what politicians are saying is based on fact or fiction.

    I don't believe this is just to do with politicians but people in general. I read Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational and it has transformed the way i think and see things.

    Its shown me in a way what I already knew, that whilst everyone sees facts, we all see them in a different way based upon our view of the world. If we read something, numbers that suggest our intuition is right or the way we want to see the world is right, we believe or place more emphasis on it. We use it to enhance our argument. Whereas, if we are shown facts that prove us wrong, we are less likely to believe it or trust it.
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      Sep 16 2011: Nicole,

      The Bachmann HPV comment has stirred up some fascinating reactions. With bioethicists betting her up to $!0,000 to prove it by the end of the week. What is intriguing to me is how rather than argue her point, they are engaging her in a competition to disprove her facts. I think it is a rather ingenuous strategy. In large part because it is so novel it makes for much more engaging press than the usual spin-filled reactivity of politicians and pundits.

      You make a very good point that this issue of "Predictably Irrationality," as Ariely puts it, is a human trait all possess. We see things through our personal perspectives and relative skepticism elevates or is assuaged depending on where we are at in given situations, frames of mind or impulses to hunker down regards our perpsectives.

      That said, possessing this self-insight, in my mind, can remind us to Q our own filters as much as the factuality of what we hear. Not to deny our instincts or reality, but to check them before jumping to prove or disprove what we might otherwise unconsciously react to.


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