Truth Decay

Fighting for Facts and Analysis

Countering Truth Decay

A RAND Initiative to Restore the Role of Facts and Analysis in Public Life

RAND is studying “Truth Decay”—the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. As a nonpartisan institution that seeks to advance the public good through research and analysis, RAND is concerned about the threat Truth Decay poses to evidence-based policymaking. We invite fellow researchers and engaged stakeholders to join our efforts to find solutions.

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Defining "Truth Decay"

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?

RAND research has investigated what's causing and compounding this problem. The main drivers of Truth Decay include

  • cognitive biases
  • the rise of social media and other changes to the information environment
  • demands on the educational system that limit its ability to keep up with changes in the information ecosystem
  • political and social polarization.

RAND's research agenda addresses these issues and much more. But research and analysis alone cannot solve the complex problem of Truth Decay. Policymakers, media companies, and individuals must also act on the basis of this research.

Researcher Spotlight

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    Tool

    What's Being Done to Fight Disinformation Online

    With the rise of the internet and social media, false or intentionally misleading information can spread farther and faster than ever before. What tools exist to fight disinformation online?

More on Truth Decay

  • The words Truth Decay over a fading American flag painted on wood

    Report

    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.

  • Woman holding a laptop and looking at various news and media images, photo by metamorworks/Getty Images

    Report

    Media Literacy Education as a Tool for Mitigating 'Truth Decay'

    Can media literacy education help counter the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life? To find out, RAND experts analyzed what we know—and don't know—about the subject.

  • Person scrolling through the news on a smartphone, photo by Adobe Stock/terovesalaine

    Report

    News in a Digital Age: Comparing the Presentation of Information over Time and Across Platforms

    In what ways has news reporting in print, on television, and online changed over the last 30 years? Overall, there has been a shift toward more-subjective reporting, but many of the changes have been subtle.

  • Newspapers and social media terms in LED display, photos by artisteer/Getty Images and phive2015/Adobe Stock

    Research Brief

    Facts vs. Opinions: How the News Is Changing in the Digital Age

    Technology has transformed how people get information. But it has also affected the way that information is produced, shared, and disseminated. How much has the presentation of news actually changed over the last three decades?

  • A row of people on their mobile phones

    Research Brief

    Truth Decay: A Threat to Policymaking and Democracy

    The line between fact and fiction in American public life is blurring. This “Truth Decay” phenomenon affects democracy and political and civil discourse, driving wedges between policymakers and neighbors alike. But research and analysis can serve as a launching point to rein Truth Decay in.

  • Vial and syringe providing immunization from Truth Decay

    Article

    How to Increase Immunity to Truth Decay

    Americans have always held differing views about policy issues. But more and more, they disagree about basic facts. This is a symptom of what RAND calls “Truth Decay,” and it's doing severe damage to democracy in the United States.

  • Jennifer Kavanagh and William “Pat” Getty discuss  “Truth Decay” at RAND, September 20, 2018

    Blog

    Conversation at RAND: Truth Decay

    The recent erosion of public trust in facts and institutions is not the first period of Truth Decay in U.S. history. What's different this time is the increasing disagreement about objective facts. Jennifer Kavanagh and William “Pat” Getty discussed the trend and how to stop it.

  • Oakland Athletics second baseman Jed Lowrie hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, July 7, 2018

    Commentary

    Truth Decay, America's Latest Pastime

    Detailed data and complex analysis are the foundation of decisionmaking in baseball and many other professions and occupations. But facts are out of favor in current U.S. political and civil discourse, and the public policymaking that accompanies it.

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    Commentary

    In Reckoning with Today's Truth Wars, Look to America's Past

    The declining regard for factual evidence may be a defining characteristic of our current age. Previous eras suggest it is within society's power to restore respect for objective facts. Humankind just needs to put it on the agenda.

  • Group of people using their phones outdoors

    Blog

    Regulation or Research? How to Reduce Truth Decay in the Media

    What is social media's role in the decline of trust in the media? Is government intervention needed to help stop the spread of misinformation? A panel of researchers discussed the connection between the media and Truth Decay at a RAND event in Boston.

  • Soledad O'Brien (RAND trustee and Pardee RAND board member), Michael D. Rich (RAND president and CEO), and Francis Fukuyama (Pardee RAND board member)

    Q&A

    The Perils of Truth Decay: Q&A with Three RAND Leaders

    Truth Decay is defined by disagreement about facts, the blurred line between opinion and fact, increased volume of opinion and personal experience over fact, and declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts. RAND president and CEO Michael D. Rich, journalist Soledad O'Brien, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama discuss the phenomenon and the search for solutions to it.

Explore all findings

Get Involved

Want to learn more about how RAND is responding to Truth Decay? Are you a researcher interested in tackling this issue? We want to hear from you.

Funding for This Project

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest.

RAND Ventures is a vehicle for investing in such policy solutions. Philanthropic contributions support our ability to take the long view, tackle tough and often-controversial topics, and share our findings in innovative and compelling ways.

RAND's research findings and recommendations are based on data and evidence and therefore do not necessarily reflect the policy preferences or interests of its clients, donors, or supporters.

Funding for this venture was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.