2016: Welcome to the post-facts age. The anecdotal era. A time when anything can be true as long as someone tells you it is. A seminal and terrifying moment in history when fear and ignorance can be whipped up into a frenzy by those in positions of power. Evidence be damned; in post-truth society, it is the reach of the voice, rather than the content of the message, that matters the most.
As anyone who took science at school knows, methodically gathering evidence to support a hypothesis is the gold standard of research. Whether you’re analysing human buying behaviour, childhood achievement or whether a certain government programme is working, a few people telling you something that they believe to be true does not ‘prove’ that thing to be ‘fact’.
When Donald Trump says that Mexican immigrants are rapists, or when John Key dismisses research that finds that 90-day contracts are not working simply because he is “very comfortable that the law is working” and he “fundamentally disagree[s] with the research”, alarm bells should be ringing in our ears.
When Nigel Farage and the Leave Campaign promises that £350M per week will be spent on the NHS if Britain only leaves the EU, and turns around the day after the referendum to explain that the promise was a “mistake”, forget alarm bells – steam should be pouring from our ears.
When countless leaders make false promises, peddling lies and half-truths, cherry-picking facts and using anecdotal ‘evidence’ to add weight to their claims, we should be demanding proof. Nothing less than solid, well-researched, credible proof that they are not simply saying something to advance their own agendas.
Our world is becoming a scary place, but not for the reasons the racists, xenophobes and bigots think it is. Diversity and equality are not the harbingers of doom; hatred, separatism, fear and ignorance are the real threats.
I’m not into conspiracy theories or so-called [insert leader here] derangement syndromes, but I am into holding our leaders to account. Asking questions rather than taking a piece of information (or misinformation) at face value. Employing basic critical thinking for the good of our society.
When people in positions of power claim something to be true, we should be asking them to back up their assertions with reliable evidence.
In the age of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, perhaps we should even be asking, “how do I know that you’re not lying?”