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

New Research

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    Conducting Safe Elections During a Pandemic

    There may be a continued need this fall for public health interventions—such as social distancing, reduced occupancy in indoor spaces, and aggressive sanitizing protocols—to limit the spread of COVID-19. How can the United States safely and securely hold its elections during this ongoing pandemic?

More on Truth Decay

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    Social Studies Teachers' Trust in Institutions and Groups

    U.S. social studies teachers do not have a great deal of trust in many public institutions, such as news outlets and the government. This might have implications for how much they draw on or reference such institutions in their instruction.

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    Understanding Media Use and Literacy in Schools

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    How Teachers Use Civics Instructional Materials

    Teachers' instructional materials provide a window into civic education in schools. Where are public-school social studies teachers getting most of their instructional materials? And how are they using these materials to teach civics?

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    What Americans Think of the News—and What That Means for Democracy

    RAND researchers asked a nationally representative sample of adults about their news-consumption habits. The answers reveal clues about what it might take to address Truth Decay—the decline of facts in U.S. public life.

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    Truth Decay in the Coronavirus Moment: Q&A with Jennifer Kavanagh

    Jennifer Kavanagh, who wrote the RAND book Truth Decay about the diminishing role that facts play in making important public policy decisions, calls the unfolding situation with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 a worst-case scenario.

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    How Americans Consume the News

    Where do Americans get their news? What news sources do they view as reliable? And how are choices about news consumption linked to demographics or political affiliation? Results from a national survey provide insights into these questions and more.

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    American News Habits and the Challenge of Truth Decay

    RAND researchers asked people where they get their news, how reliable they think it is, and whether they seek out viewpoints that are different from their own. The results provide some new clues to help diagnose and treat Truth Decay.

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    How the Media Can Help Fight Truth Decay

    "Truth Decay" is the diminishing role of facts and analysis in U.S. public life. As part of this phenomenon, Americans are losing faith in once-trusted sources of information, including the news. What could media organizations do to address this?

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    What's Being Done to Fight Disinformation Online

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

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.

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 research initiative was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.