Monday, April 23, 2012

An obituary for Facts - 360 B.C. - A.D. 2012

Chicago Tribune reporter Rex Hubbke has written what some folks are calling one of the best op-eds ever - an obituary for facts. The column, written late last week, has been buzzing through social media. The interviews with historians are real, Huppke told media blogger Jim Romenesko: "I told (them) that what I was writing was going to be in obituary form and would be satirical, with the hope of making a broader point."

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012

In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died.

A quick review of the long and illustrious career of Facts reveals some of the world's most cherished absolutes: Gravity makes things fall down; 2 + 2 = 4; the sky is blue.

But for many, Facts' most memorable moments came in simple day-to-day realities, from a child's certainty of its mother's love to the comforting knowledge that a favorite television show would start promptly at 8 p.m.

Over the centuries, Facts became such a prevalent part of most people's lives that Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "Facts are to the mind what food is to the body."

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.

"It's very depressing," said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of "A History of the Modern Fact." "I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We'll never agree on anything."

Facts was born in ancient Greece, the brainchild of famed philosopher Aristotle. Poovey said that in its youth, Facts was viewed as "universal principles that everybody agrees on" or "shared assumptions."

But in the late 16th century, English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon took Facts under his wing and began to develop a new way of thinking.

"There was a shift of the word 'fact' to refer to empirical observations," Poovey said.

Facts became concrete observations based on evidence. It was growing up.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.

But those halcyon days would not last.

People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts.

"There was an erosion of any kind of collective sense of what's true or how you would go about verifying any truth claims," Poovey said. "Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the 'news' an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact."

Though weakened, Facts managed to persevere through the last two decades, despite historic setbacks that included President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the justification forPresidentGeorge W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq and the debate over President Barack Obama's American citizenship.

Facts was wounded repeatedly throughout the recent GOP primary campaign, near fatally when Michele Bachmann claimed a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease causes mental retardation. In December, Facts was briefly hospitalized after MSNBC's erroneous report that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign was using an expression once used by the Ku Klux Klan.

But friends and relatives of Facts said Rep. West's claim that dozens of Democratic politicians are communists was simply too much for the aging concept to overcome.

As the world mourned Wednesday, some were unwilling to believe Facts was actually gone.

Gary Alan Fine, the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, said: "Facts aren't dead. If anything, there are too many of them out there. There has been a population explosion."

Fine pointed to one of Facts' greatest battles, the debate over global warming.

"There are all kinds of studies out there," he said. "There is more than enough information to make any case you want to make. There may be a preponderance of evidence and there are communities that decide something is a fact, but there are enough facts that people who are opposed to that claim have their own facts to rely on."

To some, Fine's insistence on Facts' survival may seem reminiscent of the belief that rock stars like Jim Morrison are still alive.

"How do I know if Jim Morrison is dead?" Fine asked. "How do I know he's dead except that somebody told me that?"

Poovey, however, who knew Facts as well as anyone, said Facts' demise is undoubtedly factual.

"American society has lost confidence that there's a single alternative," she said. "Anybody can express an opinion on a blog or any other outlet and there's no system of verification or double-checking, you just say whatever you want to and it gets magnified. It's just kind of a bizarre world in which one person's opinion counts as much as anybody else's."

Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.

Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.


BolynMcClung said...
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BolynMcClung said...

I offer the motto of my websites for Facts' tombstone.

"Pro or Con OK. Clueless isn't!"

Bolyn McClung

gbohmfalk said...

I don't know all of history, but Facts was for an extended period on life support during the early decades of our nation. In New York City, nearly every politician of any standing had his own newspaper and printed whatever lies and mistruths about his opposition as might further his own goals. My favorite quote is from Jefferson, who had his own very yellow rag; after reading something he didn't like in Hamilton's similar gazette, he exclaimed, in a pique of total self-unawareness, "You can no longer believe anything you read in a newspaper!"

Throughout the Roman Principate, Facts were on extended sabbatical, as the totalitarian Emperors had no need of them. The slightest rumor or suspicion led to myriad assassinations and purgings, repeated millennia later by Stalin.

I am confident that Facts will survive this month's lame torture by our pathetic Representatives. While it may take a while, eventually, Truth will out.

Wiley Coyote said...
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Wiley Coyote said...

I thought Facts died many times since inception.

Clinton killed Facts and so did Bush with WMDs.

If this is supposed to be the best opinion piece ever written, then the standards were lowered to a 2 on a scale of 10, with 2 now being great.

John said...

"Chicago Tribune reporter Rex Hubbke has written what some folks are calling one of the best op-eds ever"

Probably by the same commentators who kept running to Jimmy Carter for his opinion on domestic and foreign policy because they were too young to realize what a horrible job he did on either as President.

Eagle1 said...

The truth never changes. People use facts to lie

Jo O'Keefe said...

I posted this on my Facebook page because this is what I do for the communities around me. I provide facts. I cannot stand to read articles in the paper in which both sides are making incorrect allegations. I call people for three or four days, get the facts, write them, and then share them via messages to Commissioners and friends.

Archiguy said...

Leave it to poster "John" to provide a moment of sublime irony to fact's epitaph.

Jimmy Carter was actually a pretty successful president. He had a greater percentage of his proposed legislation passed than just about any president in history (fact!). He inherited a country suffering from the disillusionment and malaise generated by a Republican president, Nixon, just as Obama has done from Bush (fact!).

Carter saw the factual data indicating a rapid increase in global temperature and CO2 levels from historical norms and warned the country that we needed to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels (fact!), and embrace conservation (fact!). That he has since been proved correct doesn't seem to affect the general level of disrespect from people like John here (sad fact).

The inconvenient fact (for many) is, if we had listened to Carter about energy and re-elected him, and listened to Gore about energy and elected him, we'd likely be much better off today. We certainly would have fought a few less wars (FACT!)

Wiley Coyote said...

Gore and Carter.

Two people who couldn't screw in a light bulb with instructions, even if they hired someone else to do it.

Carter is the second worst President after Obama.

NCdirtdigger said...

Archi, your flavoraid will taste better with sugar added. FACT

Shamash said...

Factses, we don't need no stinkin' factses...

Garth Vader said...


Fewer wars than Obama's engaged in or escalated? (70,000 contractors still in Iraq, more troops in Afghanistan than on 1/20/09, drones in Yemen and elsewhere, "kinetic military actions" in Libya, slush funds to Egypt, Israel and others, sabre-rattling over Iran and Syria, covert operations in Somalia and elsewhere, etc. etc. etc.).

Obama's military budget is higher than George W. Bush's (FACT).

flyingdc said...

Actually Archiguy, I believe Jimmy Carter was concerned with global cooling. How'd that workout for him?

Archiguy said...

Garth - I think the salient point is that had the Supreme Court not intervened in Florida in 2000, Al Gore would have been elected president and the War in Iraq would never have happened. Maybe 9/11 wouldn't have happened either, primarily because the Clinton administration was rightly concerned about Bin Laden while the Bush administration was obsessed with starting a war in Iraq and downplayed the Al Qaeda threat.

A Gore administration might have put 2+2 together and stopped them. At the very least, they would not have passed up a chance to destroy both Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban at Tora Bora in December of 2001. Rumsfeld tried to do it by proxy, on the cheap, and they all escaped across the border while the entire 82nd and 101st Airborne and nearly the whole 10th Mountain divisions sat at home, waiting to get into the game. It's already thought of as one of the worst military blunders in U.S. history. The "Global War on Terror", as we've come to call it, could have ended right there and then.

For people who are so fond of war, Republicans sure do a lousy job of waging them.

Archiguy said...

flyingdc - Jimmy Carter was primarily concerned with conservation and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil. Conservatives vilified him for it and continue to do so today, as we see here. How'd that work out for any of us?

misswhit said...

Archiguy--Ever hear of the Iran hostage crisis? Ever hear of double digit inflation and interest rates during the late 70's?

Archiguy said...

misswhit - Yes I have. I also know it's as disingenuous to blame Carter for the mess he inherited from Nixon and Ford (to a lesser extent) as it is to blame Obama for the calamities resulting from 8 years of disastrous Bush administration policies and mistakes. Carter also had to deal with the global oil embargo and the hostage crises that ensued, none of which he was responsible for.

You have to play the hand you're dealt, and both Carter and Obama have done the best any human being could do under very difficult circumstances. They are both very intelligent men, and difficult times call for the kind of measured and reasoned policies both men have championed. And that, to bring us back on topic, is a fact.

kantstanzya said...

I want to thank Archiguy. I had a very long day and this was something I just read. I actually thought the piece itself was very mediocre. But I thought Archiguy's various thoughts and opinions were among the most humerous and entertaining I have read in quite some time.

I don't know whether he is intentionally trying to be funny or not. If so he has a great career as a comedy writer. If not he is in serious need of help.

Either way...thanks for the chuckles!

Ghoul said...


Fact proven by the NYT, even after all the recounts in FLA, Bush would have won anyway.

Carter had more legislation passed because he had a Democrat majority in Congress, and with that majority and his economic policies, he drove the country off a cliff to 20% interest rates and double digit inflation. He owned the economy, and paid the price for it, just like your Savior Obama will.

flyingdc said...

I'm sorry Archiguy. I guess I misunderstood your statement that, "Carter saw the factual data indicating a rapid increase in global temperature and CO2 levels from historical norms..." to mean you believed he thought we were in danger of global warming instead of global cooling. As for the Conservatives support for dependence on foreign oil, I believe it is they who have urged more domestic drilling but have been stymied by the 'Progressives/tree-huggers'.

Lucid Idiocy said...

And you just lifted it verbatim and republished it here. Do you think that helps the cause of "facts?"

wwilliams said...

Although I agree that Carter foresaw the issues of energy dependence and if we had listened may all be driving cars powered on natural gas or electricity today. However, I also remember his ridiculously bullheaded attempts to "strip the veneer" from the office of President, his stupid sweater wearing fireside chats, his refusal to believe he wasn't necessarily the smartest person in any room he was in, his naive approach to the regime in Iran that perceived him as indecisive and weak, and finally, his true test, his completely politically motivated attempt to rescue the hostages with one of the worst, slapped together, untested military plans in history, that left several of our fathers, sons and brothers burned beyond recognition in the desert. His handling of the runaway interest rates without making a presidential decision was also his other biggest blunder. So, while Carter did have some foresight on some areas, his weakness and failure to act decisively when it really mattered - interest rates and Iran- instead of the metric system and solar panels on the White House, is what I remember about him. While Carter had his daily, official condemnation of the Iranians holding our people hostage, Ross Perot hired his own military group and got his people out of there. The sacrifice of those poor souls on the failed rescue attempt will hopefully be the last thing that goes through his mind on his death bed - it rests solely there and is unforgivable forever.

wwilliams said...

As far as the economy and jobs, Bush was handed a 4% unemployment rate, handed Obama an 8.5% unemployment rate. Obama has gotten the rate back to what he did inherit, and although it's not where we want it in absolute terms, he has in relative terms done a much better job than Bush did in terms of managing what you started with. Plus, he has managed the interest rate, has saved millions of jobs with decisive action on auto bailouts, has killed more terrorist leaders than the prior administration, has done a very good job dealing with Iran, N. Korea, and China. Perfect? Not at all, but remember the choice was him or McCain. McCain would be sitting in one of his wife's compounds telling us all how we need to toughen up and suck it up in his version of the economy while we would still have over 300,000 personnel in Iraq alone.

Denis DuBay said...

Recently another relative of Facts died. His/her name was ... Names. Now we can find any assertion about any topic we want to online, and we don't have to bother verifying whether the person making the assertion knows anything, or has a conflict of interest, because no names are required! At least one major city newspaper now even prints letters to the editor without signed names, just blog handles.