Tell me the truth

So the question is: who do you believe when you need information?

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There is a big difference between what is true and what is truthful.  Something is true in the abstract if it accurately depicts the reality of the subject in question.  But the matter under discussion may not be truthful if (for example) all of the pertinent facts are not revealed.  Or if certain facts (while true in and of themselves) are emphasized and other true facts are not disclosed.  A person can be truthful in discussing something but what is revealed may not be true because it is incomplete or otherwise inaccurate.  The accuracy may be unintentional.

We rely upon the “mainstream media” to tell us the truth about the news.  But much of what is reported is incomplete or twisted in some way.  A vast part of the problem is that the organization reporting the news is motivated to tell less than what is true for monetary or other reasons.

Take a simple example of how or why the truth may not be told.  A doctor may for monetary reasons have a connection with a pharmaceutical company.  The company manufactures and sells a painkilling drug.  So when a patient comes to the doctor he may be motivated not to tell the complete truth in order to sell the drug.  He looks at the patient’s symptoms and says, “You need a pain killer so I shall prescribe XXYY.”  It is true that a pain killer is needed, and XXYY is good for killing pain.  But XXYY is far more expensive that ABC.  The doctor is not being truthful because he knows that the patient wants the least expensive remedy, but he prescribes XXYY for his own benefit.

So the question is: who do you believe when you need information?  In most medical cases, you really can only rely upon your physician, who has expertise.  You aren’t going to rely upon advertisements on television, because those are clearly designed to convince you to take a particular product.  What the ads say may be true so far as the facts stated, but they may be incomplete in stating the complete truth about the product.  And how do you know what to trust?

Can you trust a private source of information?  Probably, if the source has no reason to lie and if its qualifications to tell the truth about the subject is sufficient.  But how do you know if the source is being paid money to tell less than the truth?  Can you trust a governmental source for the truth?  Probably, if the source has no reason to lie and has sufficient knowledge.  But how do you know whether the source doesn’t have a political reason not to tell the truth?

In the case of the media, you need to know where the source is leaning politically.  If it’s right-wing, then check the story with a left-wing source.   This isn’t perfect, but usually, the opposition source will fill in holes or uncover obvious lies.

For situations such as this, I would rather have a source which has no reason to deviate from what it believes to be the truth.  An ombudsman, in other words, in the form of a fact-checker.  In our day, an online ombudsman would be ideal.  We have, of course, Google, Yahoo, and other so-called fact-checkers, but they are only out for money for themselves, so they really cannot be trusted fully.  In fact, if it’s in their own best interests to support the left-wing on a particular issue, they may fail to disclose right-wing opinions so that you cannot do your own checking.

If you had an independent ombudsman, perhaps even backed by an independent inspector-general, you would have the best possible source.  In theory, the ombudsman could be paid by the government, by a tax on all use of the internet, with lots of independent oversight.  That doesn’t mean we’ll always get true information, because an ombudsman can make mistakes.  But at least the information is likely to be truthful.

I doubt that an ombudsman like that would ever be appointed.  Why?  Because the power of Google, Yahoo, et al., over the Congress is strong and they would oppose such competition.  Which really shows the flaws in the American system.  Money makes it go around, and even the best system can be defeated.

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