Welcome to Tim Harding’s blog of writings and talks about logic, rationality, philosophy and skepticism. There are also some reblogs of some of Tim’s favourite posts by other writers, plus some of his favourite quotations and videos This blog has a Facebook connection at The Logical Place.

There are over nine hundred posts here about all sorts of topics – please have a good look around before leaving.

If you are looking for an article about the Birth of Experimental Science recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Out of the Dark’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Dark Ages recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘In the Dark’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Traditional Chinese Medicine vs. Endangered Species recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Bad Medicine’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the rejection of expertise published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Who needs to Know?’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about Charles Darwin published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Darwin’s Missing Link“, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Astronomical Renaissance published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Rebirth of the Universe‘, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about DNA and GM foods published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘The Good Oil‘, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about animal welfare published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Creature Features‘, it is available here.

If you would like to submit a comment about anything written here, please read our comments policy.


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What is logic?

The word ‘logic‘ is not easy to define, because it has slightly different meanings in various applications ranging from philosophy, to mathematics to computer science. In philosophy, logic’s main concern is with the validity or cogency of arguments. The essential difference between informal logic and formal logic is that informal logic uses natural language, whereas formal logic (also known as symbolic logic) is more complex and uses mathematical symbols to overcome the frequent ambiguity or imprecision of natural language.

So what is an argument? In everyday life, we use the word ‘argument’ to mean a verbal dispute or disagreement (which is actually a clash between two or more arguments put forward by different people). This is not the way this word is usually used in philosophical logic, where arguments are those statements a person makes in the attempt to convince someone of something, or present reasons for accepting a given conclusion. In this sense, an argument consist of statements or propositions, called its premises, from which a conclusion is claimed to follow (in the case of a deductive argument) or be inferred (in the case of an inductive argument). Deductive conclusions usually begin with a word like ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘so’ or ‘it follows that’.

A good argument is one that has two virtues: good form and all true premises. Arguments can be either deductiveinductive  or abductive. A deductive argument with valid form and true premises is said to be sound. An inductive argument based on strong evidence is said to be cogent. The term ‘good argument’ covers all three of these types of arguments.

Deductive arguments

A valid argument is a deductive argument where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, because of the logical structure of the argument. That is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Conversely, an invalid argument is one where the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. However, the validity or invalidity of arguments must be clearly distinguished from the truth or falsity of its premises. It is possible for the conclusion of a valid argument to be true, even though one or more of its premises are false. For example, consider the following argument:

Premise 1: Napoleon was German
Premise 2: All Germans are Europeans
Conclusion: Therefore, Napoleon was European

The conclusion that Napoleon was European is true, even though Premise 1 is false. This argument is valid because of its logical structure, not because its premises and conclusion are all true (which they are not). Even if the premises and conclusion were all true, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the argument was valid. If an argument has true premises and its form is valid, then its conclusion must be true.

Deductive logic is essentially about consistency. The rules of logic are not arbitrary, like the rules for a game of chess. They exist to avoid internal contradictions within an argument. For example, if we have an argument with the following premises:

Premise 1: Napoleon was either German or French
Premise 2: Napoleon was not German

The conclusion cannot logically be “Therefore, Napoleon was German” because that would directly contradict Premise 2. So the logical conclusion can only be: “Therefore, Napoleon was French”, not because we know that it happens to be true, but because it is the only possible conclusion if both the premises are true. This is admittedly a simple and self-evident example, but similar reasoning applies to more complex arguments where the rules of logic are not so self-evident. In summary, the rules of logic exist because breaking the rules would entail internal contradictions within the argument.

Inductive arguments

An inductive argument is one where the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a sound deductive argument is supposed to be certain, the conclusion of a cogent inductive argument is supposed to be probable, based upon the evidence given. An example of an inductive argument is: 

Premise 1: Almost all people are taller than 26 inches
Premise 2: George is a person
Conclusion: Therefore, George is almost certainly taller than 26 inches

Whilst an inductive argument based on strong evidence can be cogent, there is some dispute amongst philosophers as to the reliability of induction as a scientific method. For example, by the problem of induction, no number of confirming observations can verify a universal generalization, such as ‘All swans are white’, yet it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single black swan.

Abductive arguments

Abduction may be described as an “inference to the best explanation”, and whilst not as reliable as deduction or induction, it can still be a useful form of reasoning. For example, a typical abductive reasoning process used by doctors in diagnosis might be: “this set of symptoms could be caused by illnesses X, Y or Z. If I ask some more questions or conduct some tests I can rule out X and Y, so it must be Z.

Incidentally, the doctor is the one who is doing the abduction here, not the patient. By accepting the doctor’s diagnosis, the patient is using inductive reasoning that the doctor has a sufficiently high probability of being right that it is rational to accept the diagnosis. This is actually an acceptable form of the Argument from Authority (only the deductive form is fallacious).


Hodges, W. (1977) Logic – an introduction to elementary logic (2nd ed. 2001) Penguin, London.
Lemmon, E.J. (1987) Beginning Logic. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

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Rationality may be defined as as the quality of being consistent with or using reason, which is further defined as the mental ability to draw inferences or conclusions from premises (the ‘if – then’ connection). The application of reason is known as reasoning; the main categories of which are deductive and inductive reasoning. A deductive argument with valid form and true premises is said to be sound. An inductive argument based on strong evidence is said to be cogent. It is rational to accept the conclusions of arguments that are sound or cogent, unless and until they are effectively refuted.

A fallacy is an error of reasoning resulting in a misconception or false conclusion. A fallacious argument can be deductively invalid or one that has insufficient inductive strength. A deductively invalid argument is one where the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. That is , the conclusion can be false even if the premises are true. An example of an inductively invalid argument is a conclusion that smoking does not cause cancer based on the anecdotal evidence of only one healthy smoker.

By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener (e.g. appeal to emotion), or take advantage of social relationships between people (e.g. argument from authority). By definition, a belief arising from a logical fallacy is contrary to reason and is therefore irrational, even though a small number of such beliefs might possibly be true by coincidence.

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My Skeptical Inquirer essays

Plato's Footnote

Skeptical InquirerAs you might have noticed, I have recently published a list of my contributions to other sites, beginning with Ask-a-Philosopher, and continuing with Philosophy Now magazine. Here is the third installment of this informal series, regarding my contributions to Skeptical Inquirer magazine (please note that many of these articles are behind paywall; you can either subscribe to the magazine or download them from my DropBox folder.):

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Maajid’s blunt message for Assange

Talking on his LBC show Maajid lambasted Assange for his singular obsession with transparency, which has lead to deaths and helped Donald Trump’s bid to be president.

“Not all leaks are equal, Mr Assange. In certain countries people are killed for things for far less than that because of your leaks.”

“You leaked information about counter extremist Muslims who are working in Afghanistan who are working with coalition forces against the Taliban and it directly led to their deaths because their names were released as collaborators and the Taliban hunted them down.”

“Back then nobody cared because if some poor brown Muslim guy in Afghanistan who was attempting to fight the Taliban and nobody cared that the consequences of your privileged first world Australian, male life didn’t have to think about causing the deaths of those vulnerable people in Afghanistan who are attempting to fight the Taliban.”

 “I’ve always despised what you’ve done since day one because I have seen the consequences of your actions against people like me and people like Iram at the top of this show brave Muslim voices who work within our communities to challenge extremism and you put them all at risk with your leaks and that’s what you’ve just done again because Donald Trump isn’t the most savoury of characters isn’t the nicest of people and yet you here you are again with your uncurated leaks effectively supporting Donald Trump’s campaign.”

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Geoff Taylor: author, bomber pilot and sailor

by Tim Harding

Geoffrey (‘Squizzy’) Taylor was born in 1920 in England and came to Adelaide at the age of three. By the age of 14 he had won a cadetship and became the shipping reporter on the ‘Adelaide News’. He went to Brighton in Victoria at the age of 19 and joined Goldberg Advertising.

When World War II was declared he joined the RAAF in 1939 and became a Lancaster pilot with Bomber Command. After being shot down by German ace night fighter pilot Felix Mueller in 1943, Geoff Taylor spent the rest of the war as a P.O.W. in the notorious Stalag IV-B Prison Camp, near Mühlberg in the Prussian Province of Saxony in Germany.


Photographed on a local flight, Geoff Taylor’s bomber LM326 is seen here against a background of countryside east of Grantham.

Whilst sorting through some family photographs recently, my wife and I found this photograph of Geoff’s crashed bomber. The inscription on the back of the photograph reads: ‘Lancaster Mk.II Serial No. LM326, No. 207 Squadron, Bomber Command (EM-Z). Crashed near the village of Aerzen, near Hameln, SW of Hannover on the night of 18.10.43.’


Geoff was demobbed and returned to Australia in 1945, joining the “Age” as a reporter. His main interest was flying, and he also loved to sail. He was a member of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club from the end of the War to 1991. He was a good friend of my father, Bruce Harding, and was in the same yacht syndicate, the ‘Vallhalla’ (which means ‘home of the gods’). I admired and liked Geoff a lot.

Geoff Taylor loved to write and published 12 books including ‘Piece of Cake‘, (his autobiography) and a book for children.


He completed the manuscript ‘Hours of Glory’ of a biography of the young South Australian aviator Charles James (“Jimmy”) Melrose (1913-1936) which was not published. It was awarded the Inaugural Alan Marshall Award for the best unpublished manuscript. He suffered a severe stroke in 1991 and died at an East Brighton nursing home on 19 December 1992. His widow Mrs A. Taylor donated his papers relating to his research and book about “Jimmy” Melrose to the Mortlock Library in 1993.


Melbourne suburban newspaper article: “Farewell to a man of many talents after a life of adventure” c. December 1992.

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Hybrid speciation might be rare

Why Evolution Is True

Data show that the “normal” mode of speciation—the process in which one lineage divides into two or more species—involves the geographic isolation of populations of a single species. Over time, natural selection (and genetic drift) causes those populations to become more and more genetically different. When the genetic differentiation has gone to the extent that the separate populations evolved features that make them unable to produce fertile hybrids when they come back together in the same area (i.e. regain “sympatry”), then these populations have become separate species. They are now groups on distinct evolutionary trajectories, and their inability to exchange genes because of the evolved “reproductive isolating barriers” between them (e.g., behavioral differences in mating, preferences for different host plants or microhabitats, different times of mating, different pheromones, or the sterility or inviability of hybrids), is what makes nature “lumpy” rather than a continuum. The lumpiness of nature—the fact that, in a single…

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Trump’s claims of a conspiracy against him are undermining democracy

The Conversation

Stephen Harrington, Queensland University of Technology

Two months ago – in a piece I submitted to this website, but which was not published – I wrote:

As the coming months unfold, [Donald] Trump is likely to do or say something that will push him beyond a hitherto unforeseen event horizon that will almost completely break his candidacy.

And, when the post-election analyses are written, it’s looking very likely that “grab them by the pussy” will be marked as that event horizon: the point at which public (and, particularly, Republican) support moved away from him to a point of no return.

Although, as a result, many political observers around the world now seem almost certain to breathe a sigh of relief on November 8, that sense of relief might also be premature.

‘The election is going to be rigged…’

Donald Trump was never going to be a magnanimous loser. Big egos almost never enjoy a soft landing when they fall.

It’s hard to imagine a man who once disputed the outcome of the Emmy Awards would suddenly become more gracious when the stakes were raised, and when running against a female opponent.

As far back as August he was buying insurance for a potential electoral loss by telling his supporters:

I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest.

In recent days, now faced with an almost certain landslide loss, he has massively ramped-up that rhetoric.

Donald Trump’s supporters worry about the ‘rigged’ election.

When pressed during Wednesday’s third presidental debate by moderator Chris Wallace as to whether he would accept the election outcome, Trump said he’d “keep [us] in suspense”.

That may be a non-answer, but it is still an unprecedented move by a major political candidate in the US.

Why we need faith in the system

It is quite normal for people to lack faith in their political representatives or to disagree with them, even vehemently, on ideological grounds.

It is also common for politicians to claim that they have been represented unfairly. Conservative politicians, for instance, have long railed against the so-called “liberal” media. Indeed, Trump is claiming that negative coverage of his campaign is one part of big conspiracy to have Clinton elected (who, ironically, also once complained about conspiracies herself):


It is, however, quite another thing entirely for people to feel that officials have been elevated illegally to their positions, or that the electoral apparatus itself is corrupt. For them to get that feeling from the presidential nominee of a major political party is very dangerous indeed.

Democracy rests heavily on the idea that, though we may not like those who govern, they gained that power by fair means, and there will be another opportunity to remove them from power via the same mechanism in the near future.

In order for the political system to work, we require broadly shared faith that it does work: a somewhat circuitous idea academics have called “system legitimacy”.

In healthy democracies, the vanquished play a crucial part in this by performing a display of respect for the will of the people, often in the form of a gracious concession speech. In some cases they can display extraordinary goodwill to their former rivals.

That is why Trump’s attempt to paint himself (and his supporters) as the victim of a corrupt system may be uniquely damaging, and may permanently reshape the political landscape. Because this is unprecedented, we have no idea what the long-term effects of this strategy might be.

Suggesting that the election is “rigged” creates doubt among some citizens as to whether they should even bother voting in the first place. It can intimidate those who do choose to vote, and lead some fringe groups to believe that politicians should be removed by force.

In a country that loves guns – and their open carriage – as deeply as America, it’s a potentially deadly combination.

Governing after Trump

Trump prides himself on being a political “outsider” who – unlike the “career politicians” he disparages – has not devoted his life to the political system. So, assuming he is defeated in less than three weeks, he has no investment in the ongoing stability of American democracy.

It would be my guess, therefore, that he will be content to keep his supporters in a state of permanent anger for as long as possible.

In fact, observers have suspected for some time that his ultimate goal might be to leverage that support to create his own news media outlet, which might explain why he currently has Stephen Bannon (formerly of Breitbart) and Roger Ailes (the disgraced former CEO of Fox News) working for his campaign.

A news outlet of this sort would presumably contribute even further to what I have called “a collapse of factual consensus” in recent years, in which it’s becoming almost impossible to find societal (let alone political) agreement on reality.

At the same time, existing partisan divides are getting wider and wider.

Even John McCain, the man who once built a political movement around rejecting extreme partisanship, now says that the Republican Party won’t hold hearings for any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominations. This too, as Ed Kilgore points out, is unprecedented.

Hillary Clinton will go where no woman has gone before when she becomes the president of the United States. But, if this instability and obstructionism continues, she will face challenges that no president before her has faced either.

Rupert Murdoch once called Australia “ungovernable”. But, thanks in large part to Trump’s destructive efforts, Clinton may soon find out what a truly “ungovernable” nation really looks like.

The ConversationStephen Harrington, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Bob Dylan behaves immaturely about his Nobel Prize

Why Evolution Is True

Yes, we all know that Bob Dylan is weird and secretive, and we also know of people like Jean-Paul Sartre who declined a Nobel literature award. (One other person refused it—not a Literature prize—and several scientists were forced to refuse it by their totalitarian government. Can you name them?) We also know that Bob Dylan is laconic.

It’s okay for him to be weird, though, as his music was often superb (some, though, claim he doesn’t deserve a Nobel Prize for literature). And I remember what a jerk Dylan was, at least in his younger days; you can see that clearly in the 1967 movie Don’t Look Back.

But I hoped he’d grown up at least a little. Apparently not, though—at least according to many reports on his behavior after he nabbed the literature Nobel. He hasn’t acknowledged it, hasn’t mentioned it, and hasn’t even talked to the Swedish Academy…

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A mini-Sokal hoax: abstract of physics paper written by computer, and in complete gibberish, accepted for conference on physics

Why Evolution Is True

In the famous Alan Sokal hoax, now twenty years old, a physicist got a bogus, post-modern paper accepted by the pomo journal Social Text. Now the tables are turned—sort of. This time, as the Guardian reported yesterday, a non-physicist hoaxed a physics conference by submitting an abstract, immediately accepted, that was written almost completely by computer. It was complete gibberish, proving that nobody looked at the paper, and that the conference was probably just a garbage meeting designed to make money.

I didn’t know what iOS autocomplete was, but apparently it’s an Apple program that can be used to finish written text with stuff that’s generated by computer (correct me if I’m wrong).  And a professor used it to write an entire paper. From the Guardian:

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email…

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Clinton triumphs over a trio of Trumps

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

“People hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest,” sang Paul Simon about America in the 1960s. The line came to me when I reflected on the varying interpretations of how these three Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debates have gone.

To me, and I’ll freely declare my personal preference for Clinton – I rooted for her in 2008, too, though Barack Obama was a worthy winner and has been a great president – she has trumped Trump in all three matches, seriously slipping up on only one occasion in four-and-a-half hours of primetime grilling.

Quite late in the third, apparently losing concentration while answering a question about the Middle East, she got her words mixed up and seemed to freeze momentarily.

I know the feeling, as someone who speaks regularly in public for a living, and I know how easily it can happen that your thoughts race ahead or behind of the words coming out of your mouth, and you frantically try to cover it by steaming nonsensically on regardless. It happened to Obama in one of the 2012 presidential debates, I seem to recall.

In the entirety of those three long, gruelling debates, despite being called a “liar”, a “nasty woman”, the enabler of a rapist and more by Trump, this was the only time she wavered. That shows strength and resilience in the face of hostile fire, and bodes well for the Clinton presidency in its dealings with bullies around the world.

Those who favour Trump, on the other hand – particularly the deplorables who pack his rallies and cheer his every threat and insult – think he did quite well. For them, the very things they love about their man were on full display. The Guardian reported after the third debate that:

Sean Ringert of Maryville, Ohio, who was wearing a shirt that proclaimed ‘keep calm and carry guns’ thought last night’s debate was Trump’s best yet.

Ringert was reported to be:

… comfortable with Trump’s unwillingness to concede the election, saying: ‘I am perfectly fine with that; it’s a great media tactic’.

This is disturbing, because Trump will not go quietly, and others will come after him with similarly fascistic beliefs, but armed with better media advisers, slicker publicity machines, more experience of how to lose and how to win elections in our hyperactive communication environment.

That’s a worry for another day, though. For now, let’s dare to celebrate a little.

I missed the live broadcast of the third debate, and watched it later. By then I’d read some commentary and spoke to a few folk whose judgement I respect who had witnessed the event in full. Trump had done well, it seemed, hitting home on a couple of points. The Guardian felt it necessary to headline an article with a question:

Who won the final presidential debate?.

I approached my recording of the debate with trepidation, therefore. Could it be that he had improved on his earlier performances, reined in his worst instincts, and persuaded some undecided voters of his fitness for office?


In my opinion, hearing what I wanted to hear, as I perhaps was, there was no contest. This was his worst performance of the three.

He ranted and raved, throwing names and accusations around like confetti – “Buffett” this, “Clinton Foundation” that, blaming Clinton for everything that had ever gone wrong in America, blurting out immediately satirisable statements such as:

No-one respects women more than I do, no-one.

Alec Baldwin will have fun with that.

Clinton stayed calm, occasionally allowing her anger to show, but not to overwhelm her delivery. And she laced some very telling points with wit and even humour.

While Clinton was in the Situation Room with Obama, she pointed out, overseeing the demise of Osama bin Laden, Trump was on Celebrity Apprentice. The audience at home could only imagine Trump yelling “you’re fired” at some hapless publicity-seeking B-lister. She told that one twice, and I smiled both times.

While she was working to improve the lives of socially deprived black kids in the 1990s, she noted, he was being prosecuted for racial discrimination against black tenants in the management of his New York rental apartments.

While she was working hard in the Senate to secure good trade deals for America, he was using undocumented labour on his construction sites, and cheap Chinese steel imports in Trump Tower.

In the end, Trump went completely off the rails. “I’ll keep you guessing,” he pouted at debate chair Chris Wallace when asked if he would accept the result on November 8. That throwaway insult to the democratic process, and the entire 240-year history of US presidential politics, was the final evidence that he knows it’s over and doesn’t give a damn anymore.

Not for the first time in these debates, the spoilt rich kid used to getting his own way was on display, threatening to take away his ball because the game was “rigged” (and Clinton also had some fun with Trump’s history of calling foul when he loses).

While supporters like Sean Ringert will never give up on their hero, the rest of America, and the world, witnessed in this third debate the ignoble end of a bizarre and literally obscene political campaign in which much of what the official GOP candidate said was classifiable as For Adults Only.

What next? Will he and his offspring set up Trump TV? Will Clinton as president establish a Cosby-type legal process into Trump’s history of sexual assault, or his tax dodging, or his alleged links to Putin and the Russian government?

I don’t think she will, even if she could, because she is better than that and will wish to win back the less deplorable segments of the Trump base. But part of me wishes she would, not least to keep Trump fully occupied for the next four years while she continues the good work that Obama began.

I won’t have a vote in November, and like many observers around the world have watched anxiously as the Republican candidate sunk to evermore murky depths in his efforts to win, and seemed until very recently to be getting away with it.

I am much more confident after this trio of Trump performances that she rather than he will take the US forward into the difficult years ahead. Trump, as Clinton often said in the debates, and as the opinion polls now indicate, is not who America is, and that’s deeply reassuring for the rest of us.

Brian McNair is the author of Communication and Political Crisis (Peter Lang, 2016).

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Trump says he’ll accept election results—if he wins

Why Evolution Is True

My CNN feed tells me that Trump has proven himself dumber than I thought by effectively mocking the democratic process:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says that he will accept the results of the general election next month — if he wins. [JAC: watch the video at the site to see some complete insanity.]

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Delaware, Ohio, his first comment since the final presidential debate Wednesday.

After pausing for effect, he said, “… if I win.”

Trump was widely panned by Republicans and Democrats alike after the debate during which he refused to pledge to accept the results of the election, regardless of the winner.

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When truth is the first casualty of politics and journalism

The Conversation

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Donald Trump’s conduct throughout his campaign for president of the United States has brought into renewed focus a question made famous by Pontius Pilate: what is truth?

Trump has exploited the 24/7 symbiotic news cyclone in which social media and the professional journalism of traditional media are both caught up.

He first creates social media excitement with an outrageous lie, then watches as traditional media, scrambling for “hits” and “eyeballs”, amplify those lies without first troubling with time-consuming verification.

This is an ethical crisis for the media, but it also a crisis for democracy.

In September this year, The Economist ran a cover story headed:

The art of the lie: Post-truth politics in the age of social media.

It took Trump’s campaign as the paradigm case. It said of Trump that he:

… inhabits a fantastical realm where Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked, the president founded Islamic State, the Clintons are killers and the father of a rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy.

In this post-truth age, The Economist argued, truth was of secondary importance. The lies of people like Trump were not designed to create a false view of the world but to reinforce prejudices.

In the spring 2016 issue of Meanjin, The Guardian Australia’s political editor, Katharine Murphy, posed this question: what role for journalism if facts no longer count?

Describing the current journalistic operating environment, Murphy wrote:

We have to understand that we now practise professionally in a post-truth environment, where our audiences can increasingly choose to exist comfortably inside bubbles, selecting only the information and commentary that reinforces their views, rejecting other material.

To paraphrase The Economist again, voters are cast adrift on an ocean of lies, with nothing to cling to.

The common factor underlying both critiques is that voters are so disconnected from, and disillusioned with, the political process, and have become so inured to the dishonesty of politicians and the media content of politics, that they take refuge in the reinforcement of their own prejudices.

Thus they are easy prey for the outpourings of post-truth politics.

For democratic capitalist polities, where voters depend on a bedrock of reliable information on which to base decisions about political, economic and social life, this state of affairs is ultimately unsustainable.

How did we get here?

In 2011, Lindsay Tanner, finance minister in the Rudd Labor government, published a book called Sideshow. In it, he excoriated politicians and the media alike for dumbing down democracy by focusing on personalities, ephemera and trivia.

Broadly speaking, his thesis was that as the traditional media laboured under the acute financial pressures induced by the digital revolution, they increasingly reduced everything – including politics – to entertainment.

Politicians had then responded by playing to the new rules, so that the contest of ideas had been supplanted by a contest for laughs.

Today his argument looks prescient. A dumbed-down democracy devalues the currency of political debate. A devalued currency engenders distrust. Distrust leads to disillusionment, cynicism and disengagement.

It is made worse by a climate of economic insecurity and a sense of inequity exemplified in Australia by the popular rejection of the 2014 federal budget. When people feel threatened or pushed aside or left behind, they look for scapegoats and are eager to believe anything that supplies them with one.

Post-truth politics, with its comforting reinforcement of prejudice and its fleetingly entertaining outrages, is ready-made for the task.

What is to be done?

Murphy’s piece provided a useful starting point. She says that if journalists think technological change was the biggest threat to their profession, they were deluding themselves. She wrote:

We have to look in the mirror. Our intemperate excesses have discounted our own moral value. Our own behaviour has helped fuel a lack of trust.

So the profession of journalism has a responsibility not to just swim along in the flood of untruths and “truthiness” – something close to the truth but in fact a lie – because it makes for extra “hits” or a fleeting laugh.

It has a responsibility to verify facts before publication – not afterwards – and call out falsehoods for what they are.

That way, the professional media can place a filter on the flood and uphold an ideal expressed by John Stuart Mill: to exchange error for truth and to create a livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.

The ConversationDenis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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