Against the pro-truth pledge

What kind of monster could possibly oppose the pro-truth pledge? The pro-truth pledge is in favour of truth. It sez so right there in the title. Am I against truth?

What does the pro-truth pledge involve?

Share truth

Verify: fact-check information to confirm it is true before accepting and sharing it

Balance: share the whole truth, even if some aspects do not support my opinion

Cite: share my sources so that others can verify my information

Clarify: distinguish between my opinion and the facts

Honor truth

Acknowledge: acknowledge when others share true information, even when we disagree otherwise

Reevaluate: reevaluate if my information is challenged, retract it if I cannot verify it

Defend: defend others when they come under attack for sharing true information, even when we disagree otherwise

Align: align my opinions and my actions with true information

Encourage truth

Fix: ask people to retract information that reliable sources have disproved even if they are my allies

Educate: compassionately inform those around me to stop using unreliable sources even if these sources support my opinion

Defer: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are dispute

Celebrate: celebrate those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs toward the truth

The short version is that some sources are reliable and you should have the same opinions as those sources. The sources in question are fact checking sites like Snopes, Politifact, ABC News, and FactCheck.org. There are several problems with this pledge.

The only way of settling the truth or lack thereof of a claim is argument. The source of the argument is completely irrelevant to whether the argument is right or wrong. Any particular source or set of sources can and will make mistakes. As such, recommending any particular set of websites as a source of truth will lead to mistakes.

So a claim that a source said something only really convinces people who agreed in the first place and want an excuse to stop a discussion of the issue. When somebody thinks the source is mistaken simply referring to the source won’t settle the dispute. For one example, see the dispute between Snopes and the Daily Caller about a story concerning the state department under John Kerry awarding lots of money to an organisation run by Kerry’s daughter through the Peace Corps.

Another problem is that the pro truth pledge tries to cleanly separate facts from explanations. There have been endless disputes about whether new healthcare legislation advocated by some Republicans will cost people health insurance they got under Obamacare. Such disputes depend in part on lefties and Republicans having different views of whether people are responsible moral agents. The Republicans think people ought to be treated as responsible moral agents and left to run their lives as they see fit. So some Republicans think that if the govt doesn’t provide healthcare, people have the option of making their own arrangements if they want to. Lefties think that people ought to be treated as helpless by default and so people will curl up and die without government help. That’s not the sort of difference in worldview that can be settled by a blog entry on a fact checking website.

Also, treating any person or group as an authority will corrupt that person or group. If you don’t get criticised cuz you’re deemed infallible, then even when you’re wrong your mistakes will be brought up less often. And if you don’t have criticism to correct you, then you will tend to believe whatever you initially want to believe. The only solution to this problem is to criticise every claim that comes up in an argument regardless of its source and to seek out criticism of your ideas regardless of its source. If you want to know how to do this in a practical way, you should read about paths forward.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

3 Responses to Against the pro-truth pledge

  1. > The only solution to this problem is to criticise every claim regardless of its source and to seek out criticism of every claim.

    A good aim. At the same time, how much time do you want to spend investigating and refuting everything from InfoWars? Or any dictator’a spokesperson?

    I suspect it’s obvious to you that this is not wise when taken to extended, and I’m sure the Pro Truth people would not recommend treating any source as “gospel”. If there’s a disagreement here, it’s probably more subtle.

  2. I can understand why you would find that sentence confusing, so I have modified it to read:

    > The only solution to this problem is to criticise every claim that comes up in an argument regardless of its source and to seek out criticism of your ideas regardless of its source.

    You write:

    > A good aim. At the same time, how much time do you want to spend investigating and refuting everything from InfoWars? Or any dictator’a spokesperson?

    Any particular source of ideas has some particular view of the world. Once you know about their ideas, you can spot flaws in what they are saying fairly quickly.

    > I suspect it’s obvious to you that this is not wise when taken to extended, and I’m sure the Pro Truth people would not recommend treating any source as “gospel”. If there’s a disagreement here, it’s probably more subtle.

    The disagreement is not subtle. The “pro truth” people recommend particular sites as sources to definitively settle disputes.

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