Elon Musk's big battery brings reality crashing into a post-truth world
Elon Musk’s agreement to build the world’s largest battery for South Australia isn’t just an extraordinary technological breakthrough that signs coal’s death warrant. It’s potentially a game changer in the way we do politics, reinserting the importance of basic reality into a debate which has been bereft of it for too long.
There’s been a lot written in recent years on the idea that we are living in a “post-truth” world. Climate writer David Roberts brought it to my attention around 2010, when I was grappling with the idea that dinosaur politicians and rent-seeking corporates not only weren’t telling the truth about climate change and energy: they were actively dismissive and destructive of the very idea of truth. ...
It seemed that truth no longer mattered. Facts were not just unimportant, but barriers to be smashed through with rhetoric. Demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that a politician was lying no longer had any impact. Even when people agreed that he (usually) was lying, they still supported him, because he activated a frame or a value that drove their political decision-making.
At the same time, political scientist Brendan Nyhan conducted fascinating and depressing research on what he called the “backfire effect”. Although this research isn’t conclusive, he showed that using facts to try to reverse strongly held political views – such as on climate change, vaccination, gun control – was worse than useless, generally ending up emphasising existing views rather than altering them. He also showed that these tribally-based political views trumped (and I use that word advisedly) our ability to do maths. We can read graphs really well. Except when they contradict our political views. Nyhan showed a clear tendency for people with high numeracy skills to misread graphs about gun control or climate change, even when they’d just correctly read the same graph about soap.
2 posts • Page 1 of 1
Thanks, Addie. Lots in that article that resonates with me. Guess I missed the term "post-truth" while I was in hiding from political news over the winter. Works for me.
No matter where you go, there you are!