Time magazine recently ran a story reporting on the growing trend of people believing rumors and conspiracies over published facts. The article cited the book "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," by Farhad Manjoo. The premise is that today's digital technologies enable competing versions of truth to vie for our attention.
The first example presented by the magazine article revolves around the continued divergence of public opinion regarding the birth of President Barack Obama. "Birthers" cling to the belief that the man was born in Kenya and is ineligible to hold office. While this myth has been continuously debunked, 27 percent of Americans still believe that the President was probably or definitely not born in the U.S.
According to the story, many people find rumors and conspiracies to be comforting, making a complex world easier to understand. When even the experts are shown to be wrong on occasion, it is not a big step to believing that these experts are conspiring to produce certain results.
The theory of "cognitive dissonance" being resolved by holding even more tightly to a belief when it is challenged by fact is supported by studies done by the University of Michigan and Yale, according to the article. Debunking a myth only reinforces the belief.
So, is truth becoming impotent? Can a technology-enabled society that is increasingly dependent upon consumer-generated media overcome myth to divine the truth?
It may be that journalism needs to step into the breach once again and establish itself as the arbiter of truth.