Truth Decay: What It Is and What This Political Scientist Is Doing About It

SUWANEE, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES, August 7, 2020 / — Recently, the podcast Polititeen had Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, as a guest to discuss truth decay, or the diminishing reliance on facts and analysis in U.S. political and civil discourse.

Dr. Kavanagh is one of the top experts on this subject, and in addition to her research on U.S. military interventions for RAND, she currently heads the organization’s Countering Truth Decay Initiative, which works to truly define the major driving forces behind truth decay today, and propose research-based solutions

On Polititeen, Dr. Kavanagh spoke with teen hosts Varoon Kodithala and Damian Galvan about her work and some of the approaches to truth decay that she and her colleagues are exploring.

One of the first topics the hosts asked their guest about surrounded careers in political science. Dr. Kavanagh described her own career trajectory, which included taking some time off to work after she graduated college with a degree in political science.

Some of that time was spent working at RAND doing research, and this is part of what influenced her to pursue a doctorate in political science.

Today, Dr. Kavanagh spends her time conducting policy research that can be used to make policy recommendations.

Of course, contemporary truth decay within major information sources has produced a vacuum for reliable information that’s directly chipped at her ability to make recommendations that are actually trusted and put into practice. One of the most significant results of truth decay is that Americans no longer have a single, shared set of facts. Instead, with everyone getting their news from different sources — many of which have different agendas — objective, undeniable facts have become harder to pin down than ever.

“It’s hard to tackle major issues like coronavirus, climate change, or immigration if we don’t have a shared set of facts,” Dr. Kavanagh said. “Without that shared set of facts, it’s hard for policymakers to talk about tradeoffs, policy options. These big issues like homelessness or immigration—they’re not going to be solved in two or four or eight years. So it’s critical that we have one set of shared facts that last beyond one administration.”

The hosts also asked Dr. Kavanagh about potential solutions to the problem of truth decay, including methods that some social media platforms have started using, like flagging false or misleading information.

Dr. Kavanagh supported those measures as long as they’re being used responsibly. “Information that is objectively false—we should be able to flag that information in a way that does not infringe on free speech,” she says. “It gets a little tougher when we’re talking about information that’s presented out of context, or in a misleading way. Maybe it tells a story that’s incomplete, or that leads people to the wrong conclusion. Perhaps we label that as misleading, or provide a link to additional information.”

She also emphasized the importance of protecting free speech, while finding a way to provide some kind of governance for what is essentially a Wild West social media sphere.

“We don’t want to infringe on free speech. It’s one of the things that sets us apart even from Europe,” Dr. Kavanagh said. “But at the same time, the current media environment—especially social media—has no guard rails and no governance mechanisms. It's different than television, radio, and newspapers. All the other ways in which we consume information have governance structures—not censorship, not restrictions on free speech, but governance that helps to manage the information space. It’s worth having a discussion on what those governance mechanisms would look like.”

To end the podcast, Kodithala asked a question that has become a Polititeen staple since the inception of the podcast. “What is one quote, one saying, or one phrase that you would say to young voters — young minds who are watching our podcast today?” Dr. Kavanagh responded by posing an important question to listeners.

“Voting is the most powerful tool that we have for change,” Dr. Kavanagh said. “You may not always get your way — that’s part of a democracy is that sometimes, you know, the majority chooses something different. But, if we’re not participating, then are we really living in a democracy?” It’s a question that’s worth all of our consideration.

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Source: EIN Presswire