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Truth, Lies, and Interpretation — A Problem for Knowing

May 5, 2014

How do we know what is true and what is false?

If you study propaganda, you will quickly learn that it is not only lies which are used to sway opinion, but the truth as well. That is partly what my last post was about, when I pointed out how a number of conspiracy theorists do in fact use facts to build their case (to greater or lesser degrees), regardless of what camp they lie in. There are a number of issues surrounding facts as well, such as how should they be presented (how much of the truth should be presented), and how they should be interpreted. Also, once a fact has been presented with an interpretation, it is difficult to separate that interpretation from the fact in our mind, and so facts become quickly imbued with value judgements.

There are a number of other issues with knowing or discovering the “truth”. Take for example this book published by Routledge books on Propaganda:

Propaganda and Information Warfare in the Twenty-First Century: Altered Images and Deception Operations

[From the description:] “This is the first book to analyze how the technology to alter images and rapidly distribute them can be used for propaganda and to support deception operations.

In the past, propagandists and those seeking to conduct deception operations used crude methods to alter images of real people, events and objects, which could usually be detected relatively easily. Today, however, computers allow propagandists to create any imaginable image, still or moving, with appropriate accompanying audio. Furthermore, it is becoming extremely difficult to detect that an image has been manipulated, and the Internet, television and global media make it possible to disseminate altered images around the world almost instantaneously.”

If there comes a point when altered or constructed images are indecipherable from real images, and an authority or “expert” is willing to lie, how can the average person really know the truth about what is being said? Assuming that it could never be accomplished that altered images could pass the test of authenticity even to computers and experts, what happens when we rely on the opinions of experts, not necessarily capable of deciphering ourselves?

Take as an example this article, which reveals that a panel of scientists who wrote a report for the UK government detailing the safety of GMO foods turned out to be connected to the very GMO companies they were reviewing:


Another example of how the truth can become muddied is clearly evidenced in this recent debate with journalist Glenn Greenwald (known for the Snowden leaks, originally working at the Guardian newspaper) together with Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit against former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz over the issue of spying.

You have to skip into the video about 31 minutes to actually get to the debate, there is a long delay first of quotes on the screen and then a sort of ceremonial opening of the debates:

In this debate, one of the biggest tactics of the Michael Hayden and Alan Dershowitz team is to insist that Glen Greenwald is both fabricating and exaggerating his position, despite the fact that Greenwald possesses the documents from the NSA spying program. So again it becomes a question of who do you believe? Who is lying? Is it valid to ask, is Greenwald interpreting his facts correctly?

I hope this has contributed some worthwhile considerations towards the search for truth, something I hope we can work through successfully.

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