About Truth Decay
Why can't we seem to agree on the facts?
Over the last two decades, the role of facts and analysis in American public life has been declining. It's a phenomenon RAND calls “Truth Decay,” and our researchers are studying its causes, consequences, and how to counter it.
Truth Decay is defined in part by an increasing disagreement about objective facts—a trend that exists on scale not observed in previous eras of American history. For example, despite having more evidence than ever before about vaccines being safe and effective at preventing disease, vaccine skepticism in the United States is on the rise.
This is just one example of how public attitudes can diverge from facts and data in debates and discourse. So what's behind the decline?
RAND researchers have identified four main drivers:
- cognitive biases
- changes to the information ecosystem, including the rise of social media and changes to the economics of news
- demands on the educational system that slow its ability to adapt to changes in the information ecosystem
- political and social polarization
Without a common set of facts, it will be challenging to make progress on any of the major issues facing the country: COVID-19, health care, immigration, climate change, poverty and homelessness, and many others. Policymakers need shared facts and data to debate priorities and tradeoffs and to make effective policy decisions.
At the individual level, the diminishing role of facts can erode public trust in institutions, feed deepening political and other types of polarization, weaken civil discourse that's required for a healthy democracy, and contribute to alienation and disengagement. Furthermore, a rejection of facts can have immediate consequences for individuals. In the case of COVID-19, for example, rejecting facts about the disease and how it spreads can lead to health complications and even death.
Countering Truth Decay will require a multifaceted and interdisciplinary effort from research organizations, policymakers, tech companies, the media, educators, and individuals. It is essential to continue to learn more about this vast problem, but RAND researchers have already taken some key steps toward identifying solutions:
- Educational interventions, such as refreshing civic education in U.S. public schools and providing better tools to support media literacy, will be important.
- Rebuilding public trust in institutions will also be essential. This will require a range of reforms including those focused on government transparency, inclusion, and building shared national experiences to revitalize America's civic infrastructure.
- We also need changes to the way information is disseminated, including journalism that better disentangles fact and opinion, more accessible science communication, and tools that can help address the spread of online disinformation.
- Finally, although Truth Decay isn't something you can fix on your own, there are things you can do to chip away at it.
Funding for RAND's Countering Truth Decay Initiative
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 unrestricted gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.