How Truth Decay Happens

The shrinking role of facts and evidence-based analysis in American public life poses a threat to democracy, to policymaking, and to the very notion of civic discourse. RAND has launched an ambitious research project, Truth Decay, to define and study the problem with the ultimate goal of working toward innovative solutions.

RAND defines Truth Decay as the diminishing role of facts and data in American public life. There are four trends that characterize Truth Decay:

  1. increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data
  2. a blurring of the line between opinion and fact
  3. the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion and personal experience over fact
  4. declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.

Most of these trends are not unprecedented in American history. But today's level of disagreement over objective facts is a new phenomenon. So how did we get here?


We hear a lot about fake news, but in the United States, we're facing a much bigger problem. We've reached a point where we no longer agree on basic facts. And if we can't agree on what is objectively true, how can we tackle big issues like improving education, the economy, or the environment?

The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution, found a complex set of phenomena at work.

Truth Decay happens when people disagree about basic objective facts. People no longer trust credible sources of information. Opinions drown out facts, and the line between opinion and fact blurs to the point where facts are not only disputed more, but rejected and ignored.

We've seen a similar phenomenon at least three times before in U.S. history, but the increasing disagreement over basic facts is something new. It's unique to our time and has been escalating since before 9/11.

Our brains are hardwired to reject information that contradicts our beliefs. Round-the-clock news and social media spread information, real and fake. Political and economic polarization make it hard to talk to each other. And a strained education system struggles to keep up with a rapidly changing information system and to provide us with the critical tools we need to recognize false information and resist bias.

Intentionally or not, the agents of Truth Decay make the problem worse and often do so for political or economic gain, leaving us unable to have serious debates, facing serious political stalemate, and struggling with alienation and disengagement from civic and political institutions.

So, have we lost our grip on reality? Not yet. In business, technology, even in sports, we depend on hard, honest data to make good decisions. It's mainly in our civil and political discourse that we see the most corrosive effects of Truth Decay and where it stands to do the most damage.

The challenge presented by Truth Decay is great, but the cost of inaction is far greater. RAND has an ambitious plan for future research to identify workable solutions and to promote a simple and once-universal idea: That facts matter.

Learn More

  • Countering Truth Decay

    “Truth Decay,” the diminishing role of facts in public life, poses a threat to evidence-based policymaking and to American democracy. RAND is studying this phenomenon to learn more about its causes, consequences, and potential solutions.

    Jan 16, 2018

  • Declining Trust in Facts and Institutions Imposes Costs on Society

    “Truth Decay” is the diminishing reliance on facts and analysis in American public life. It has many damaging consequences: the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement from political and civic institutions, and uncertainty over U.S. policy.

    Jan 16, 2018

    Jennifer Kavanagh, Michael D. Rich

  • Increasing Immunity to Truth Decay: One Parent's Story

    Americans have always held opposing opinions, but more and more we disagree about basic facts. This is a symptom of what RAND calls “Truth Decay,” and it's doing severe damage to our democracy. A parent and former antivaxxer describes her journey from opinion to truth.

    May 16, 2018

  • Truth Decay and the Media

    In this Events @ RAND podcast, a panel of experts discusses the connection between the media and Truth Decay. They address the effects of changes in the information environment, including the rise of social media, the shift to a 24-hour news cycle, increasing partisanship of some news sources, algorithms and filters, and media literacy.

    May 8, 2018

  • The Diminishing Role of Facts in American Public Life

    Without agreement about objective facts and a common understanding of and respect for data and analytical interpretations of those data, it becomes nearly impossible to have the types of meaningful policy debates that form the foundation of democracy.

    Jan 17, 2018

    Michael D. Rich , Jennifer Kavanagh