The fact of the matter

November  2012 / 27 1 Comment

What is a fact? A simple question, no? Do we really need facts? Now try saying that to a scientist! Ok, let us look at the dictionary definitions:

“a thing that is indisputably the case”
“a piece of information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article”
“the truth about events as opposed to interpretation”

Well that seems simple, but is it? I can cope with things which are empirically verified, but let’s take a much more artistic view on this.

How about facts regarding things which are right or wrong? How can a moral fact fit into any of those definitions? Does the fact you are in love with someone make it a fact? You have decided it; you can make it true or false depending on your feelings at the time. However, the fact that dinosaurs roamed the Earth millions of years ago is still true, regardless of whether anyone discovered it or not; it’s nothing to do with an individual’s perception.

So how does technology fit in with all this? It fits in because, due to the internet and social networking, there are many more platforms for people to express themselves and share facts.

The internet itself is a platform for anyone to publish whatever they wish as facts. It is a platform for anyone, regardless of their views.  Take David Irving, who denies the Holocaust ever happened.  Traditionally such people found it difficult to have a platform to share their beliefs as organisations would not risk providing credibility to such speakers. With the internet, people’s free speech is not limited in this way. Better free speech is a good thing though, right? Even the Oxford Union, the home of free speech, has had issues with David Irving speaking. So how much credibility does the internet and a website bring? Well, when most people find a ‘trusted’ person to provide the service they need through the internet and the look of a website, it seems quite a lot!

So is there anything which is indisputably the case? Any historian knows that even eye witnesses do not always stack up. So how can one know what the truth really is? Maybe we just agree with what the majority say. Well that is the principle of Wikipedia. Wikipedia changes the perception of facts (or, more accurately, what people take as fact). Wikipedia is an enormous collection of information, but here is the catch: it is what the majority perceive to be true. However, we all know there are many examples of things which the majority believe to be true which actually are false.

The concept is that Wikipedia is especially interesting when looking at university professors who are at the top in their field. Many of their new discoveries are simply shouted down by the majority. I disagree with this approach as it means people who have dedicated their whole life to research are silenced due to the majority believing the traditional view – or am I just appealing to authority?

So I leave with one final assertion for you to try and discover: is the Great Wall of China the only man-made structure visible from space?


  • Great article! In this modern, technological world we need to question all sources and carefully evaluate as so not to confuse ourselves with the validity of ‘facts’ against well put together opinions.