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The blurring of fact and opinion in America has big consequences

The RAND Corporation is reporting that an increasing amount of disagreement over facts in America has led to political paralysis and a lack of civil engagements to discuss and better resolve issues. The experts say that this phenomenon, known as “Truth Decay,” is characterized by the blurring of opinions and facts and by the declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

While this type of shift may have occurred previously in the history of the United States, the Truth Decay over the last two decades is intensified by the ways in which Americans now consume information, such as through cable news and social media. The researchers pointed out that political, economic, and social polarization may also be responsible for worsening the conditions of Truth Decay today.

Michael D. Rich is the president and CEO of the nonprofit RAND Corporation and co-author of the study.

“Although we see some evidence that previous eras also experienced a decline in trust in institutions, this trend seems to be more pronounced now than in the past,” said Rich. “Today we see that lack of trust across many more pillars of society – in government, media and financial institutions – and a far lower absolute level of trust in these institutions than before.”

The study has revealed that Truth Decay has many damaging consequences, such as political paralysis and uncertainty in national policy, which also lead to economic costs. For example, the government shutdown of 2013 lasted 16 days and resulted in a $20 billion loss to the United States economy, according to the researchers.

The research team analyzed past eras in American history when similar periods of Truth Decay took place, focusing on events such as the rapid industrialization and economic inequality during the 1880s and 1890s. The experts found that government transparency backed by policy changes and the renewal of responsible journalism were capable of ending most of these tumultuous times.

The RAND researchers will continue to monitor three trends which are related to Truth Decay, including the shifting balance of opinion and objective reporting in journalism, the decline of public trust in major institutions, and initiatives to improve media literacy in light of “fake news.”

“We urge individuals and organizations to join with us in promoting the need for facts, data and analysis in civic and political discourse – and in American public life,” said Rich. “The challenge posed by Truth Decay is great, but the stakes are too high to permit inaction.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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