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Editorial Comment from GLD Challenge Summer 2018

July 16, 2018 12:17 PM
By Christian Vassie (Editor) in GLD Challenge Summer 2018

Challenge front cover Summer 2018 (GreenLibDems.org.uk)Fake Facts

Christian VassieWhen my dad wants facts he still marches down to the public library because he doesn't trust the internet. If a fact is published in a book you can at least have confidence that it won't disappear in 35 minutes' time. Facts are a sandwich found on the middle shelf in the fridge. How long has it been there? Does it smell funny? Is it homemade or from a reputable supplier? Facts are fashion accessories. Do I look cooler with this one or that one? Can I wear it in public or is it only for wearing at home on the sofa in front of the TV?

Facts have been democratised. Facts are just the opinions of smug people with degrees, or lies peddled by journalists to irritate those who have been elected to represent the people.

Facts are a commodity traded furtively and openly. This shampoo is good for flyaway hair. Fact. This immigrant child on the border is an actor. Fact. This wind turbine is responsible for killing all wild birds. Fact. This fossil fuel company is greener than the competition because it has installed 20 solar panels on two of its forecourts. Fact. Facts are cheerleaders dancing at the side of the pitch while the big boys slug it out. Facts are perfect hideaway gifts. The royal dress is an eye-watering extravaganza of beautiful peach silk with lace marquetry filigree sleeves and footballsized pompoms, perfect for Ascot (and, by the way, the last orang-utan died in a palm oil plantation this morning).

Someone find that journalist who blabbed about the orang-utan and shoot her. Yes, Boss. It is an irony of these opening years of the 21st century that we have easier access to factual information than any previous era in human history. We have international peer review processes that worker harder than ever to separate opinion from quantifiable reality and yet everywhere facts are under siege.

Just like the war on drugs, the battle to maintain trust in facts is being lost, but too many of us are in denial. If we are honest for a moment, all corners of the political spectrum are colluding in a process that could ultimately make it impossible for humanity separate fact from fiction. When Tom Daley and Dustin Black announce the birth of their first child, we all conveniently ignore that fact that one parent is being written out of history; the baby's mother. Is this less damaging to the world of facts than Trump's claim that his inauguration drew the biggest crowds in history? Both are palpably "economical with the truth".

On environmental issues the war over facts rages just as fiercely. Increasingly political regimes control inconvenient truth by muzzling scientists and journalists. We have seen this in Canada under the Prime Minister Harper, in Australia, and in the US now under Trump. The murder of environmentalists is now almost routine in Latin America. It is tempting to believe that any argument can be won if the right and most telling fact is prepared and carried aloft on a silver platter to the top table, fizzing with sparklers like the chef's masterpiece dessert.

Maybe we, as environmentalists, all spend too much time searching for these killer facts. Maybe we should be expending at least as much effort to protect and defend the very idea of verifiable facts because without a human population that recognises the advances of the Enlightenment, without a nation that can simply sniff a fact sandwich and know instinctively whether it is worth biting into, all we are left with are people hurling opinions at each other. It is time to circle the wagons around the concept of peer-reviewed reality.

Paul Burrall explained to me when I took over as editor of Challenge that this was what he was most proud of; that the magazine sought to present facts and thereby to contribute positively to informed debate. As I come towards the end of my stewardship of the magazine I hope that it has continued along the path that Paul Burrall set out.

Christian Vassie