We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, October 10, 2011

Playing Footloose with the Truth

Back in May, I posted a report (here) on the relative lack of accuracy of political pundits when it comes to analyzing the implications of political events.  According to research done by a group of students at Hamilton College, only six of 26 pundits they rated got things right more than 50% of the time.  In other words, when it comes to the punditry we are better off flipping a coin than we are putting any store in their "insights" into the meaning of events.

Now comes a report entitled, "Pundits fare poorly on the Truth-O-Meter," on the website PolitiFact.com, which analyzes the truthfulness of America's best known political commentators. PolitiFact.com compared its ongoing analysis of the truthfulness of general news reports with those of the pundits, and it found that the pundits presented false information 49% of the time.  It breaks down this way: "moderately false" information 14% of the time; "false" information 25% of the time; and "pants on fire" (utterly) false 10% of the time.  In other words, when a TV political commentator tells us something, there is nearly a 50% chance that they are giving us factually incorrect information.

We can't trust their facts.  We can't trust their opinions.  The problem is, of course, that people believe what these pundits tell them, particularly when what they hear fits their preconceived notions.   People are basing their political opinions on untruths and half-truths, and that hurts us all.  Another problem is that the punditry are just one more group that we can't trust—a vocal, influential group.  In a time when trust is at a premium anyway, the pundits just add to the problem.