Summary of Truth Decay

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Truth Decay summary
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Rating

8

Qualities

  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening
  • Overview

Recommendation

Americans’ trust in institutions and objective facts is waning, assert Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich of Rand Corp. Many books have discussed the increasing partisanship of US politics, but this work distinguishes itself by focusing on the “truth decay” that both drives and results from this divide. Kavanagh and Rich delve into the statistics describing Americans’ rising distrust of the mainstream media and an increasing propensity to vote along strict party lines. While democracies, in theory at least, thrive on the free flow of information, the authors make the compelling and contentious argument that the increasing availability of news and commentary online and on television feeds truth decay. As they see it, the sheer volume of content and fake news crowds out legitimate facts – and few American voters are equipped to cope with this onslaught. The study is scrupulously nonpartisan; indeed, the authors can sometimes seem apolitical to a fault. Though published in early 2018, the book barely mentions US president Donald Trump, whom critics on both the left and the right consider Exhibit A in political prevaricating. Those shortcomings aside, this work provides fresh insight into a political climate increasingly untethered from old norms, and it offers solutions for turning the tide.

About the Author

Jennifer Kavanagh is a political scientist and associate director of Rand Corp.’s Strategy, Doctrine and Resources Program. Michael D. Rich is president and chief executive of the nonprofit Rand Corp.

 

Summary

A Threat to American Democracy

“Truth decay” has taken over American political discourse. This threat to democracy is marked by four themes:

  • A widening lack of agreement about basic facts – Growing discord over how to analyze and interpret facts accompanies this trend. Examples include increasing skepticism about the safety of vaccines and of genetically modified foods, and doubts about the legitimacy of climate change. 
  • A crumbling wall dividing opinion from fact – This is seen in newspaper content that fails to indicate the line between news and opinion, and in cable television programming where fact and opinion mix freely. 
  • An overwhelming volume of opinions that threatens to overwhelm fact – The explosion of social media content – much of it sheer fantasy masquerading as fact – exemplifies this idea. 
  • Loss of faith in institutions – Americans no longer believe once-revered sources of information, a reality reflected by declining levels of public trust...

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