Blog

Why a Stock Investor Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Chart showing growth (geralt/Pixabay)

I’m a self-employed investor. My job involves technically analyzing the price history of a given stock, deciding if I should buy it, and when I should buy it. Once I have made a purchase I must already have planned the entire investment. At this point in my process, I have made a prediction on where the price of this stock is likely to go based on mathematics. If I predict a rise in the price 2 months from now, I can’t abandon my plan if the price goes lower tomorrow. Day-to-day changes alone mean practically nothing in the vast majority of long-term predictions.

Making trades based on mathematics means ignoring emotions. If I have made an investment plan that is mathematically and therefore logically likely to work, then making any changes to it based on fear or greed will result in lowering my chances of being successful. I once lost $700 dollars on a small short-term trade because I sold an ETF too early out of fear. My prediction ended up being correct and I would have made money had I not succumbed to my primal fears. In contrast I’ve made money countless times while following a mathematical prediction, and many of these times I felt certain that the math was wrong once fear set in. It always amazed me that even though I know facts and logic are more important than how I feel when it comes to financial decisions, my emotions still seem to invade my decision making.

In many instances in life the objective truth of a situation can be very counterintuitive. People unknowingly use logical fallacies to make decisions everyday and investing will teach you this the hard way. However, there are easier ways to understand these fallacies we all commit. One very important fallacy to avoid making when investing is the conjunction fallacy. My favorite example of this is a thought experiment created by Tversky and Kahneman in 1983. Here it is:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
• Linda is a bank teller.
• Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

The correct answer is option 1. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that Linda falls into one category (bank teller) than two categories at once (being a bank teller and a feminist). Regardless of this solid logic, 80 percent of participants chose option 2. Even expert statisticians committed this fallacy and chose option 2. Even if we know that option 1 is more probable statistically, we are tempted to pick option 2 because we feel that Linda is a feminist based on her college experience. Instead of going with the safe and logically sound answer that Linda is a bank teller, we are tempted to gamble on the fact that she is both a bank teller and feminist at the same time.

The conjunction fallacy is very dangerous when investing because people will see a stock price move up or down over a week and make long term predictions on where the price will go in the future. Let’s pretend a stock drops a percent or two over the course of a week, they’ll say, “looks like it’s doing bad, I’m not going to invest.” In reality, a week of stock price data is not a large enough sample size to predict what a stock will do over the course of a year or even just a few months. There are too many examples that could be put into this blog for me to list them all. What is important to know is that this fallacy can take hold of your financial decision making based on any correlations you see.

Beyond the monetary value of checking facts, I know how information is crucial to our democracy and that being a part of this society means staying informed. Many dictatorships have started with one or more groups spreading misinformation to insufficiently educated citizens who failed to use rational thinking to determine that these ideas were false.

Like the foolish investors who went with their gut reactions instead of reason, these citizens “bought” worthless falsehoods that appealed to their fear or greed, and “sold” their political support to manipulative politicians. In stock trading, when investors make mistakes about financial facts and go with their gut instead of their reason, only they suffer. Unfortunately, when citizens make mistakes about the political facts and go with their guts, we all suffer.

I don’t want that fate for my society, and neither should any businessman who knows the importance of going with their head over their gut. Because of my professional background, when I heard about the Pro-Truth Pledge project, I took the pledge. Taking the pledge is commiting to fact-check information before you share it, defend others when they share true information (even if you disagree with them), and challenge information that is false. Taking it is sending a signal to all that you care about the facts and don’t want our society to be ruled by manipulative politicians who sell falsehoods.

Now, I call on all who understand the value of believing the facts and not going with your gut even when tempted to do so to go to ProTruthPledge.org, take the pledge, and implement it in all areas of life. Losing money based on illogical thinking is bad enough, losing our entire society to it is even worse.

Bio: Michael DeCandia is the founder, CEO, and CFO of TFIC (The Future Investment Company). He has been an investor and a skeptic for over a decade and volunteers his time to spread rational thinking.

Why Wouldn’t a Business Professional Want to Sign the Pro-Truth Pledge?

Caption: Question mark over picture of money (geralt/Pixabay)

Before ill health forced me into an early retirement, I had spent my professional career (25+ years) working in various sales and marketing roles within the graphic arts and publishing services industry. As in any industry, sales and marketing are the ‘sharp end’ directly facing and communicating with customers, both external and internal. Truth and integrity was essential in all aspects of any transaction. To be otherwise had bad personal and corporate consequences. Making a promise you knew you couldn’t deliver on simply to “get the order” earned both you and your company a loud industry-wide Caveat Emptor and end both careers and companies rapidly.

Now we find ourselves in more of a “post-truth” environment within our society. To address this problem, I took the Pro-Truth Pledge and volunteered to help manage the Pro-Truth Pledge Linkedin Business Group. I have been asked to write a short blog/essay to invite/convince/cajole business professionals into joining us in signing the Pro-Truth Pledge to help get truth back into its rightful place in all business and public discourse. When I agreed to do this I thought “No problem, I’ll knock this out in a couple of hours and post it immediately.” But then I sat down with my laptop and the trouble began.

You see, in order to write a convincing argument in favor of any proposal, you have to have a clear idea of all the negative opposing views to it. Am I right? That’s my dilemma, I’m unable to find a compelling, logical business argument against signing.

Surely to publicly acknowledge and assert support and respect for truth, to ask current and retired members of the business community to recognize this and hold the signer accountable for this assertion, and their truthful future behaviors, has to have tremendous benefit. Doesn’t it? Even in our current “post-truth” environment.

Do you know any business where clients, customers or business associates expect, and are happy with, having the truth withheld from them or distorted in some fashion to give them a disadvantage?

There are excellent studies to confirm the obvious fact no business or business wants “Caveat Emptor” attached to their name. But we all know this to be true.

So as to not beat a dead horse I go back to my dilemma and ask a simple question. Why wouldn’t a business professional want to sign the Pro-Truth Pledge once they become aware of it and then tell all their clients and business associates they’ve done so?

You can sign the Pro-Truth Pledge by using this link www.pro-truthpledge.org

Starting a Pro-Truth Pledge Chapter

Caption: Image of red figure as leader of group (nistdh/Flickr)

Are you excited about the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) and interested in starting your own chapter? Awesome! Let’s talk about how to be an area organizer for the PTP.

Goals

All the chapters start from a single seed of a passionate person dedicated to fighting misinformation and post-truth politics. You will be recruiting and coordinating others to ensure the outcomes of the Pro-Truth Pledge are met, namely that:

  • The PTP is effectively promoted to the public, getting more and more people to sign
  • There is effective lobbying of public figures, especially politicians, to get them to sign
  • There is effective evaluation of local-level public figures who signed the pledge
  • There are effective behind-the-scenes activities needed to support activities on the local level, such as management of communication processes and collaboration venues, and community support for PTP activities
  • There is sufficient financial support to address the needs of the local group for things like printing, travel, tabling, and marketing, and also donations to the global Pro-Truth movement run by the educational nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit Intentional Insights to run the central operations of the PTP
  • There is effective coordination of all the areas of PTP activity listed above

Sounds like a lot, right? Don’t worry, it takes a lot of time – many months and even years – to build up to the level of a full-fledged chapter that accomplishes all these goals! However, it’s good to know the eventual destination, so that you know where you’re going. It’s also helpful to know that others have already gotten there – for example the Central Ohio chapter – so you have a clear roadmap to follow.

There are clear guidelines for all aspects of PTP activism at this link, so you don’t have to worry about lacking directions. You should also read through and be comfortable with the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to address any concerns. Of course, the central PTP organizers – the PTP Central Coordination Committee (CCC) – will be there to help you every step of the way. If you do decide to take on this role, you will be assigned both a mentor from among more experienced PTP area organizers, and a contact at the PTP CCC who will help you out.

Role and Timing

The role of an area organizer is to empower and support other PTP Advocates – which is the name we use for PTP volunteers – in effective collaboration to advance all aspects of the PTP project. You as an area organizer are accountable for the outcomes of the 6 areas of PTP activities listed above. To do so, we find that seeing yourself as a leader enacting the following behaviors is really helpful:

  • Inspiring people to volunteer and donate by communicating first about the problems that the PTP is solving, sharing successes, and then letting them know about the needs of the group
  • Finding a good fit for the ones who start to get involved in the various activities available
  • Helping those who get involved work together well by setting up clear communication processes and collaborative venues
  • Encouraging shared expectations and sticking to commitments, and renegotiation of commitments and expectations when life stuff comes up
  • Modeling the behaviors of the Pro-Truth Pledge both in-person and on social media (for the latter, follow all the guidelines in this blog)
  • Modeling direct and transparent communication, erring on the side of an overabundance of communication rather than insufficient communication
  • Exhibiting emotional and social intelligence to read people and channel their enthusiasm and other emotions into healthy channels
  • Addressing conflicts that will arise in an effective and healthy manner
  • Providing an engaging community setting: doing fun things together, in-person and online; getting to know each other socially; building a truth-oriented community where people can find a home
  • Being a cheerleader for accomplishments, and giving due praise

Remember that you will be organizing people who have very different values than you do. Whether you are religious or secular, left-leaning or right-leaning, or any other ideological perspective, you will be bringing together people to work on a shared project of advocating for truth-oriented behaviors in addressing value differences. That means that you yourself need to model an inclusive and welcoming attitude for people with different values, and be especially welcoming and inclusive toward people with values different from your own and also those whose values are in the minority in your group. Doing so will be key to helping these people both be engaged in the Pro-Truth movement and as a result reach out to their social networks and communicate the Pro-Truth message to people who hold similar values and change the culture in our society.

It takes a minimal commitment of 2 hours a week for 12 months to build up a chapter, with more on some weeks depending on what’s going on, so keep that in mind as you decide whether to go on this journey.

Caption: Image saying “not sure if I’m ready to make that sort of commitment” (Meme created by blog author)

Fortunately, you don’t have to make a solid commitment to starting up a chapter. You can just start by canvassing to gather signatures or doing public speaking, which are the two main methods of recruiting other participants. This takes a much lower commitment of time and effort, and if you are not ready to make a 2-hour commitment for 12 months, just work on canvassing and/or doing public speaking.

Financial Support

Let’s talk about giving you money! If you or any of the people you are coordinating have financial difficulties for any PTP-related needs, we can reimburse the large majority of them. See this link. For area organizers like yourself, we will consider additional requests for funding for your needs above and beyond the ones listed above, just email finance [at] intentionalinsights [dot] org with your needs and depending on our financial capacity, we will see what can be done.

This is one of the reasons for why eventually – when the group is well-established and self-supporting – there’s an expectation of members making donations to the central PTP organization. We finance any PTP Advocates – whether area organizers or not – who need financial support for PTP activism. We also spend money on marketing, website management, and other costs. So as you do area organizing, encourage members to donate both to local group needs and to the central PTP organization.

Plan of Action

Here’s the plan of action for starting up your area group.

  • As an area organizer, you’d want to do activities that are most impactful, which means moving as quickly as possible in coordinating other people and doing strategic planning, rather than doing ground-level activities (however much fun those might be for you).
  • You’ll start off by first getting signatures: in our experience, at least 20 percent of the people who sign up indicate they want to help, and about 20 percent of those turn out to be reliable and consistent volunteers. Here is a blog with thorough directions for gathering signatures at events through canvassing or tabling. Another way to gather signatures is to do public speaking, and gather signatures from audience members: this blog gives extensive directions on doing so.
  • You can also do local-level social media, and go to various local Facebook groups and other relevant social media to promote the PTP there. You can write blogs in local venues or letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers about the pledge. This will help spread the word in the local area, but not contribute much to building up a chapter. Face-to-face interactions are crucial for doing so.
  • A super-easy way to promote the pledge in daily life is to purchase and wear PTP-themed merchandise, especially when you do PTP-themed activities, but also just out and about – it’s a great conversation starter.
  • Once you gather enough signatures, you would want to focus on coordinating people in their volunteer activities, decreasing your own time doing ground-level activities. Once you have about 5 people in the area interested in the PTP, start organizing meetings: here’s one typical videotaped meeting with an agenda attached in the video description that comes from the early stage of setting up an area group.
  • We suggest you focus these volunteers first on gathering more signatures, enough to form a solid core team in your area of about 20-30 consistent volunteers. At the same time, you’ll want to form a coordinating committee, of about 3-5 people, who can each take charge of different areas of PTP activities and work together to coordinate other volunteers. As you start having increased numbers of people participating, check out these guidelines to help you lead effectively.
  • Once you gather at least 250 signatures, and get a person who is able to take charge of lobbying, you will be ready to start lobbying local-level elected or appointed officials and other public figures in your locale to take the pledge, using the guidelines here. Of course, you can do virtual lobbying earlier, through sending them emails and tweeting them and sending Facebook messages and calling them, but do not take the time to meet them in-person until you have gathered 250 signatures as they will be unlikely to listen to you.
  • In lobbying public officials, we advise you to start with candidates for office rather than office-holders, as the candidates will be more likely to take the pledge, since they have less to lose by doing so. Once a candidate for office takes the pledge, you can then go to incumbents and tell them that the candidate for office took it, and you also have a lot of signatures from their constituents asking them to take it, and see if they take it. After you get a dozen or so public figures signed up, you will want to establish a monitoring system, following the directions at this link.
  • Try to set up collaborations with local groups interested in the PTP, which would usually be various kinds of grassroots political or civic education or science-themed activism groups. Ask leaders in those groups to take the PTP, and get the whole group committed to the PTP, and they will then help you advance the PTP message. Also coordinate with local branches of national organizations.
  • Please make sure that, within any ordinary situation, you will respond to emails or Facebook messages about the PTP within 48 hours, and to texts or voicemails within 24 hours. It’s fine to respond saying “I got your message and will respond by ____,” so that the other person knows that you are accountable to get back to them in that time. As we are trying to promote truth and accountability, it is really important to be accountable as area organizers. Of course, emergencies come up, and that’s totally understandable. Still, if it is not an emergency and you are traveling or on vacation, please indicate that through email vacation auto-responders or something of that style. Be as professional and accountable in your activism as you can be, both to internal stakeholders such as members of the pro-truth movement, and external stakeholders who want to learn more about the movement.

Communication and Coordination

Let’s talk a bit about communication and coordination.

  • If you want to be an area organizer, please email info [at] protruthpledge [dot] org, and you will be connected both to an experienced area organizer as a mentor and an Area Organizers Coordinator on the PTP CCC.
  • Make sure to meet with your mentor once every 2 weeks for 6 months by videoconference or phone to help you get launched on your own.
  • Please join the PTP Area Organizers Google Group, our email list for area organizers like yourself. Just click on the link in the previous sentence and request to join the group if you haven’t been added to it already by one of the core organizers. Add the email pro-truth-pledge-area-organizers@googlegroups.com to your safe senders/contact list.
  • You will be added to the secret Facebook group for PTP Area Organizers. Since it is secret, you can’t join yourself, but let the person who recruited you know if they forget to add you in a timely manner. You will also get an invitation to the Pro-Truth Pledge Slack for core PTP participants like yourself.
  • You should use the Slack and secret Facebook group for things that you only want core participants to comment on and know. For example, if you’re planning out things that might be perceived as controversial, such as how to put pressure on public figures to take the PTP, these are good venues to do so. So are things that require more privacy, such as discussing how to push someone to retract a statement, or how to address problems with other PTP Advocates in your group, and so on. Another good use of these groups is to troubleshoot or run ideas by a small core group rather than the bigger and less in-the-know people in the PTP Global Advocates FB group. For asking questions on PTP strategy and tactics that are of a more general nature, as well to share accomplishments, the PTP Advocates FB group is your best bet. If you want to share relevant articles that are not about the pledge but about politics in general, use the InIn Insiders group. In general, anything that has to do with the pledge is best for the Pro-Truth Pledge Advocates FB group, so make sure that anything you post there is explicitly related to the pledge. The other group is for broader content related to truth and rational thinking, in politics and other life areas.
  • Each month at the end of the month, please fill out this brief update form (5-10 minutes) about your activities for the past month fighting lies and promoting truth via advancing the PTP to ensure shared expectations and clear communication. It will be sent to you in the Google Group for PTP area organizers (pro-truth-pledge-area-organizers@googlegroups.com) and also via FB. That form allows you to share what you are doing, what challenges you might be facing, and how the PTP CCC can help, whether providing you with existing resources you might not know about or develop new resources to address your needs. Please fill it out within 3 days of receipt (might want to just put a calendar reminder for yourself with a link to that form if that works well for you). After you fill it out, the PTP CCC Area Organizers Coordinator will send you names of people who signed up to help with the PTP in your area over the past month, and provide you with helpful resources, both based on your self-description of your activities and plans, and on your specific request for resources (sometimes, area organizers may be unfamiliar with all the resources available, which is why your description of your past activities and future plans is relevant for the resources section). If you due to some life events have not had an opportunity to work much on the PTP in the last month, or anticipate not being able to work on it much in the upcoming month, simply state so in the form.
  • After you get the list of names of people who signed up to help with the PTP in your area over the past month, reach out to them using following this draft template, adapting it to your own needs. Make a reminder to yourself to follow up with them in a week after you sent the original email, using FollowUpThen (simply add 1w@fut.io in your BCC field).
  • Likewise, try to find them on Facebook. We know that some people don’t like Facebook, but we strongly recommend you use Facebook as an organizing tool, so if you currently do not have a Facebook account, please set one up for this explicit purpose, as it’s very effective for that purpose, and encourage PTP Advocates in your locale to do so as well. You can find them on FB (if they have an account) relatively easily: just go to the Facebook search box, and put in their first and last name and state. If you find more than one person with that name in the state, then you can search by city. We recommend not searching by city right away, because some people’s actual city may not match their city on Facebook: for example, people may live in a small suburb of a large city, but indicate on Facebook that they live in the large city for clarity. If you’re relatively confident you found the right person, then send them a message saying “Thanks for taking the Pro-Truth Pledge at https://www.protruthpledge.org/ I’m an area organizer for [area], and wanted to connect on Facebook to facilitate communication and collaboration. Please extend me a Facebook friend request.” If you’re not sure that you found the right person, send a message saying “Did you take the Pro-Truth Pledge at https://www.protruthpledge.org/ ? I’m an area organizer for [area], and wanted to connect on Facebook to facilitate communication and collaboration. Please extend me a Facebook friend request if you did take the pledge.”
  • If you know the person and are connected with them on Facebook or elsewhere, send the email just using their first name instead of first name and last name: the point of this email is to welcome them and give them the background knowledge about the movement. If they don’t respond in a week, check in with a message like, “Dear [first name, last name], wanted to confirm you received my previous email about the Pro-Truth Pledge, and that it did not fall into your spam filter. Thanks!”
  • For folks who you connected with by FB, check with them additionally by FB messenger whether they received your email. If they don’t respond in a week after that, try contacting them from another email address, in case the spam filter blocked your original one. After that, contact them by phone if you have it, texting “Hi [first name, last name], checking whether you got my email about the Pro-Truth Pledge,” and if they don’t respond, then calling and leaving a voicemail. At that stage, if you don’t get a response, let it go.
  • One of your roles as area organizer will be to manage the area Facebook group: please act as the group moderator (role described here). If there is no Facebook group for your area, get in touch with your PTP Area Organizers Coordinator to have one created. We usually make groups for states within the US and countries outside the US: once there are enough people in a country outside the US, we make regional-level groups. One of the things you’ll want to do eventually is delegate some moderator activities to others: you’ll still be accountable for making sure they’re done, so check up to make sure the person is doing them well. We find people tend to have an unfortunate tendency of forgetting to do the tasks described there. To see how a more established FB group works, join the Ohio PTP Advocates FB group – click on the link and request to join the group, and in the answer to question 3, say that you are an area organizer, and want to see how a more established group works. After the group is set up, then add all participants in your locale to it following the directions at this link.
  • After you have enough people in your area (over 100), we recommend that you use these directions to set up a Google Group, which is essentially a simplified email list, for your area dedicated to PTP-oriented activities. This is for when you have a few people actively involved, so that you don’t just keep emailing each other. Name it [area] Pro-Truth Pledge Advocates, which will help people standardize things well across the country. For the group description and welcome message, we advise something like “Thanks for helping fight lies and promote the truth through joining this email list, which is focused on the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) and other Pro-Truth movement activities in [area]. You are welcome to send any emails relevant to PTP organizing in this list, but please avoid overwhelming folks with an overabundance of emails, so send no more than one every three days unless there’s an emergency or great opportunity. Thanks!” When adding people, use “direct add” rather than invitations, as sometimes invitations go to spam. For settings, allow everyone to send emails to the list at first, until you have too many people sending emails, and at that time, put in moderation so that people don’t become overwhelmed: a good benchmark is a maximum of 1 email every 2 days, but check with your email list members by having them fill out a poll occasionally on their experience with the list. Also, make it so users choose where to send replies, to the list as a whole or to the individual who sent the original email. Please also join the Ohio PTP Advocates Google Group – click on the link and request to join the group – to see how an established group works.
  • Also, we recommend that you create a Google Docs folder with various documents relevant to your group, such as lists of volunteers, various events where you want to gather signatures, various public figures in your local area you want to target, and so on – here is an example of one such Google Docs folder for the Central Ohio PTP group. This allows group members to collaborate together effectively.
  • One of the early tasks to do for your group is to get people to find local events to get PTP signatures. An easy way to do so is to create a Google Form like this one, provide it to your group members, and have them find events. Then, you can coordinate people in attending these events. Remember, try to do everything you can to lower barriers for them and make organizing as easy as possible
  • Once your group gets large enough to have a coordinating group of organizers, consider creating a FB message thread or separate Google Group specifically for the organizers in your locale.
  • Once your Facebook Group and Google Group is going, it’s time to create an Area Facebook Page (guidelines here) and Area Twitter Account (guidelines here). Doing so is important for providing you with credibility and public visibility. Do not feel obliged to take on doing this task yourself if you have more important priorities or lack time, instead find volunteers who are excited about doing these. Focus first on large areas, to encompass states or countries, and only later moving down to cities as support builds up.
  • For guidance on creating a Facebook Group, Google Group, Google Folder, Google Form, Facebook Page, Twitter Account, or anything like that, talk to your mentor or PTP CCC coordinator.

We strongly recommend that you offer to meet with people individually to help get them oriented, either in-person or online, and once you have more than a couple of people actively involved, set up a regular meeting once a month dedicated to advancing the PTP in your locale. While not all will become actively involved in meetings and signature-gathering, those who do will spread the PTP through their social networks, do research, lobby politicians, donate, and so on. It’s really important to try to do at least one face-to-face meeting – virtual or videoconference – to get them involved with this project. Also, don’t worry about being overwhelmed with meetings as a result of sending out emails. Our experience is that only about a third of the people you email will end up meeting with you, and it will take many weeks for some to do so, so you have plenty of time to space it out.

Conclusion

Being an area organizer of a local chapter is perhaps the most important thing you can do with your time to advance the fight against misinformation and post-truth politics. We will gladly support your efforts. Please let us know how we can help!

Getting Media Attention for the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Image of newspaper icon (angiechaoticcrooks0/Pixabay)

So you’d like to get some media attention for the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP)? Excellent! Doing so is a great way of spreading the word to more potential pledge-takers.

After each instance of media coverage, more people visit the PTP website, and some of these visitors take the pledge. Whether they do so depends on the visitors, of course: it’s not under your control. What’s under your control is taking the steps that would lead to coverage of the PTP both by traditional and digital media.

Letter-to-the-Editor

A letter-to-the-editor about the Pro-Truth Pledge is a super-easy way anyone – and I do mean anyone – can make a meaningful difference in less than 15 minutes! Here’s a link to a guide on writing letters to the editor. In a nutshell, you’d want to respond either to an article or op-ed published in the newsletter, or write about some top-of-mind news event or calendar date. Follow the instructions of your local newspaper(s) when submitting letters to them.

Your goal is to insert a reference to the Pro-Truth Pledge, along with a link to it, in the letter. It is very unlikely that the link will be published, but it will give the editorial staff a chance to check out the website and realize it’s a credible and serious project.

An example of a successful PTP-themed letter is this one by Carl Baker. As you will see, it’s a very generic letter. You yourself can take this exact same letter and send it to your own newspaper (Carl will be happy for you to do so). Doing so will take you less than 15 minutes, and there is no copyright or any other problem with you doing it.

Another example of a successful PTP-themed letter is this one by Stephanie Frizzell. This letter is slightly more complex, but has a stronger impact. It was topical because it was shortly before the election, and named the candidates in the local area who took the PTP, boosting their reputation as a result. This kind of letter is especially helpful to write shortly before an election. Again, please adapt it for your needs: in fact, Stephanie adapted it from a similar letter I wrote earlier.

A third example of a successful PTP-themed letter is this one by Russ Frizzell (the husband of Stephanie Frizzell). This letter again had a tie-in to newsworthy events, namely the recent election. You can use this letter as well for your needs.

Op-Ed

Writing an opinion piece for a newspaper or online venue is another way of spreading word about the PTP. To get an op-ed published takes a combination of writing skill and strong opinion. It’s not for everyone. If you want to try it, here is a link with guidelines about writing op-eds.

We had a number of op-eds published about the PTP. For example, this one is devoted exclusively to the PTP, and so is this one. Note that both of these are in community newspapers, which do not have nearly as much competition for op-ed space. On the other hand, this one and this one sneak in the pledge into the content of the op-ed, giving it a couple of sentences. These op-eds are in very prominent newspapers, which would not have carried an op-ed simply about the PTP.

Feature Piece

Want to get a feature piece in your local newspaper, or on your radio or TV station about the Pro-Truth Pledge? It’s easier than you think. Just find the names of all the journalists at the newspaper, and hosts and producers at your radio and TV stations, and send them a pitch email inviting them to take the pledge and/or do a story about it.

Some will take the pledge, which will be a good outcome. Some will want to write a story about it. That’s how we got this feature story about the PTP in a major newspaper, as well as this feature story in a community newspaper. You’ll have more success with community newspapers than major ones, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

In case you’re worried about how to find the emails of reporters, it’s pretty easy. After all, reporters are looking for tips. Just search for the staff director or contact section of the newspaper in your area. As an example, here’s the contact list of the major newspaper – The Columbus Dispatch, 35th largest newspaper in the US – that did the feature story about the PTP. Don’t be worried about “spamming” reporters either. It’s their job to get the news, and the PTP is definitely a newsworthy story. I’d say getting a feature piece is easier than an op-ed.

If you’re doing some event related to the PTP, try calling reporters in advance and encouraging them to show up. For instance, that’s how we got the PTP on television at the March for Truth event in Central Ohio.

Social Media Venues

There are many social media groups which you can approach to encourage them to share about the Pro-Truth Pledge, such as Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, LinkedIn groups, Reddit subreddits, and so on dedicated to science, philosophy, politics, ethics, psychology, and similar topics of relevance to the Pro-Truth Pledge. In most of these venues, unless they have a specific policy forbidding sharing about external projects, you can simply make a post about the PTP, with a message about how it relates to the group’s purpose.

For example, for a political discussion group on Facebook or Reddit, you can propose that everyone abides by the tenets of the PTP. That will get some people to check it out and promote an engaging conversation. The likely outcome will be both improving the quality of discussion in the group, along with some people taking the PTP. For a LinkedIn group on ethics, you can post about the PTP as a way of promoting ethical behavior among professionals. In short, adapt the PTP to each group.

Note that in some cases, groups are heavily moderated. Heavy moderation applies especially to larger groups, which of course are ones where you tend to have a bigger impact when posting about the PTP. In those cases, check who the group’s admins are, and ask them if they would approve a post about the PTP. For checking on Facebook who the admins are, see the directions here. Do a Google search for finding admins on other social media if you can’t figure it out easily. Then, pitch them on the PTP via the templates available here. If they take the PTP, suggest posting in the group about it.

Association/Organization Media Venues

Various associations and organizations often have their own media venues. Some will have a bigger likelihood of being friendly to the PTP, such as ones associated with science, philosophy, politics, ethics, psychology, and similar topics. To spread the message via these venues, first pitch the people in leadership roles in the association on the PTP via the templates available here. Then, once they take the PTP, ask them to spread it to their audiences.

In some cases, they will ask you to write an article targeted to their audience. That’s great! For example, when we wrote this article for the Skeptic Society, it went to their email list of 100K, and resulted in about 700 people signing the PTP. Another example is this article for the United Coalition of Reason. Get the halo effect going for you by associating the PTP with that organization and the relevant audience. For example, in the Skeptic Society article, the title was “THE PRO-TRUTH PLEDGE: An Effective Strategy for Skeptics to Fight Fake News and Post-Truth Politics.” It would have been just as accurate to use the phrase “for people” as “for skeptics,” but using the latter phrase helped the audience identify with the PTP and made them more likely to take it.

Guest interview

You can also try to get on media venues as a guest to talk about the PTP. Doing so takes figuring out the contact information of the media venue and specifically the person booking guests; getting in touch with the person and showing them why the PTP would be relevant for their audience; and then showing why you would be a good person to be a guest on the show to talk about the PTP.

It helps if you have any of the following five characteristics: 1) have been active in the PTP movement for a while (over 6 months); 2) have previous interview experience; 3) are a public figure; 4) have expertise in a certain area of the PTP, for instance are a behavioral scientist with expertise in the research behind the PTP; 5) belong to a certain demographic served by a media venue, for instance if you’re a resident of a city and a radio show focuses on that city, or if you belong to a certain demographic and a podcast focuses on that demographic. We have many guest interviews you can check out as models for talking on shows about the PTP: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Conclusion

We’re excited to learn about your efforts to get media attention for the PTP! Post comments here with successes and failures, and make any suggestions on improvements in the strategies describes in this blog.

Impact of the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Meme saying “one does not simply claim that the Pro-Truth Pledge is effective without evidence”(Made by blog author)

So you want to know whether the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) is effective? Fair enough!

Let’s talk about what effectiveness means in this case. For the PTP, effectiveness involves making a substantial impact on shifting our society toward truthful behavior. For that to be the case, three things need to take place: getting the pledge in front of people for them to consider signing it, then seeing whether people take the pledge when they learn about it, and then finally seeing whether it changes behavior.

The first two are easy to evaluate. The PTP was launched in March 2017, and by the end of the year had just under 5,000 pledge-takers, including over 500 public figures and organizations. A number of prominent public figures have taken the pledge, such as globally-known public intellectuals Peter Singer, Steven Pinker, and Jonathan Haidt, prominent liberal US news personality Ethan Bearman and conservative news personality John B. Wells, owners of media venues like the CEO of Women’s Radio Network Pat Lynch and History News Network founder and chief editor Rick Shenkman, business leaders such as CEO of First City Bank Doug Simson and Managing Director of Essex Lake Group Michael Tyler, values-based leaders such as Episcopal Bishop Pierre Whalon and American Atheist magazine editor Pamela Whissell, and many dozens of politicians on both the left and the right, such as the Republican Christopher Peters and the Democrat Kathie Allen. The PTP has already had positive media coverage in prominent print venues, whether US newspapers such as The Columbus Dispatch, or UK ones such as The Guardian, magazines such as Scientific American, as well as on TV, on radio, and in podcasts and videocasts.

So we know that, when people are exposed to it, a certain proportion take it, including globally-known public figures. Moreover, the media coverage shows that there’s enough interest in the pledge for it to spread. The more difficult question to evaluate is whether taking the pledge changes behavior.

Behavior Change and the Pro-Truth Pledge: Case Studies

We have performed some follow-up conversations with pledge-takers to determine whether the pledge impacted their behaviors. A US Army veteran and member Special Operations community, John Kirbow, took the pledge. He then wrote a blog post about how it impacted him. He notes that “I’ve verbally or digitally passed on bad information numerous times, I am fairly sure, as a result of honest mistakes or lack of vigorous fact checking.” He describes how after taking the pledge, he felt “an open commitment to a certain attitude” to “think hard when I want to play an article or statistic which I’m not completely sold on.” Having taken the Pro-Truth Pledge, he found it “really does seem to change one’s habits,” helping push him both to correct his own mistakes with an “attitude of humility and skepticism, and of honesty and moral sincerity,” and also to encourage “friends and peers to do so as well.”

A Christian pastor and community leader, Lorenzo Neal, took the Pro-Truth Pledge. He related how he “took the Pro-Truth Pledge because I expect our political leaders at every level of government to speak truth and not deliberately spread misinformation to the people they have been elected to serve. Having taken the pledge myself, I put forth the effort to continually gather information validating stories and headlines before sharing them on my social media outlets.”

A former US intelligence officer, who retired from service after 4 decades, took the Pro-Truth Pledge (he prefers to remain anonymous due to his career). He later described how soon after taking the pledge, a piece of news “that played right to my particular political biases hit cable TV and then the Internet and of course my first inclination was to share it as quickly and widely as possible. But then I remembered the pledge I’d signed and put the brakes on. I decided to wait a bit to see how it played out (and boy-howdy am I glad I did.)… As it turned out the story was a complete dud, ‘fake news’ as they say. That experience has led me to be much more vigilant in assessing, and sharing, stories that appeal to my political sensibilities. I now make a much bigger effort to fact-check before I post or share.”

We also engaged in some observations of people engaging in behaviors associated with the pledge. A candidate for Congress, Michael Smith, took the Pro-Truth Pledge. He later posted on his Facebook wall a screenshot of a tweet by Donald Trump criticizing minority and disabled children. As he is a congressional candidate, it got a number of shares. However, after being called out on it, he went and searched Trump’s feed. He could not find the original tweet, and while Trump may have deleted that tweet, the candidate edited his own Facebook post to say that “Due to a Truth Pledge I have taken I have to say I have not been able to verify this post.” He indicated that he would be more careful with future postings.

Caption: Screenshot of Michael Smith’s Facebook post with retraction.

A candidate running for the state house in Arizona, Johny Martin, also took the pledge. He made a misstatement during a public rally, and later posted on Facebook about the misstatement, retracting it and citing the pledge.

In another case, Mark Kauffman, a photographer from New York, shared an article from OccupyDemocrats.com, a site shown by credible fact-checkers used by the PTP to be systematically unreliable. Other pledge-takers, following the behavior of asking people to stop using unreliable sources regardless of the credibility of the article, asked him to withdraw it, and he did so.

Pro-Truth Pledge Impact: Empirical Evaluation

Such case studies of interviews and observations, while illuminating, would be stronger if supported by more systematic quantitative data. Thus, we have conducted a survey evaluation of of pledge-takers to see whether their sharing of information on social media was impacted by the pledge. We decided to target Facebook, as the most popular social media platform: 44 percent of US adults got news via Facebook in 2016.

Our hypothesis was that taking the PTP will impact sharing on Facebook, both when people share news-relevant content themselves on their own Facebook profile, and when they engage in other venues on Facebook, such as Facebook groups or other people’s profiles. Examples of engaging in other venues would include behaviors like asking people to retract incorrect statements, as was the case with pledge-takers asking Michael Smith and Mark Kauffman to retract their statements. To test this hypothesis, we have conducted a study of private citizens who took the PTP and engage actively in sharing news-relevant content on Facebook. Since these people already care about the truth – otherwise, they would presumably not take the pledge – any difference between sharing behaviors before and after taking the pledge can be attributed to finding out about the pledge and taking it.

Method

We had participants fill out Likert scale (1-5) surveys self-reporting their Facebook engagement with news-relevant content on their own profiles and also with other people’s posts and in groups before and after they took the pledge. The specific questions asked were in the form of the following:

  • Before you heard about the Pro-Truth Pledge, to what extent did your behavior on your personal Facebook profile align with the Pro-Truth Pledge’s 12 behaviors? Please give an estimate of 1 to 5, with 1 at lowest level of alignment to 5 being full alignment. Lowest alignment means sharing misinformation. Highest alignment means actively fighting lies and promoting truth. Remember that in this question, you are evaluating only your behavior on your personal profile, not your behavior in groups or in response to other people’s posts.

All other questions followed a similar format. We asked a separate question about whether study participants wanted to clarify any aspects of the questions, and no one reported being confused by the questions.

To avoid the Hawthorne effect of study participants being impacted by observation, the study did not evaluate current behavior, but past behavior. We only recruited participants who took the pledge 4 or more weeks ago to fill out the survey, and asked them about their behavior after taking the pledge. Giving them this period also gave people an opportunity to have the immediate impact of taking the pledge fade from their mind, thus enabling an evaluation of the medium-term impact of the PTP on sharing news-relevant content. We recruited participants via Facebook posts and emails to people who took the pledge and were interested in receiving pledge updates soliciting participation in a study about the pledge, and participants were not given any incentives to participate. With these limitations, we were able to secure 24 participants.

This study method was informed by the approaches used by studies of whether honor codes address cheating, which is the most comparable form of intervention to the PTP. Such studies similarly rely on self-reporting by students on whether they have cheated or not cheated. Similarly, studies of whether virginity pledges delay sexual onset similarly reply on self-reporting. Thus, our method of evaluating the PTP faces the same problems faced by those studies: self-reporting and self-selection. Regarding the former, we cannot be certain whether, despite the clarity of the questions to the participants and the clarity of the behaviors outlined in the pledge, the study subjects gave accurate evaluations of themselves. Regarding the latter, there is a possibility that some people who failed to uphold the virginity pledge or the honor code might have chosen to avoid participating in studies of the impact of these interventions. However, given that these studies of honor codes and virginity pledges have been acknowledged as appropriate and influential in the literature despite the potential problems of self-reporting and self-selection, we have chosen to use a similar methodology to test a similar intervention.

Results

Our results show that taking the pledge results in a statistically significant increase in alignment with the behaviors of the pledge, both on one’s own profile on Facebook and when interacting with other people’s posts and in groups. Specifically, on one’s own Facebook profile, the median alignment with the PTP score before taking the PTP is 4 (SD=1.14), and the median alignment score after taking the PTP is 4.5 (SD=0.51). We conducted an Asymptotic Wilcoxon-Pratt Signed-Rank Test to compare PTP alignment on one’s own profile before and after taking the PTP. The null hypothesis H0 for the test states that there is no significant score difference before and after taking the pledge and the alternative hypothesis H1 proposes a significant difference. The results reveal a significant increase of PTP alignment after taking the pledge with a large effect size; z = 6.12, p < 0.000, r = 0.88. Based on the p-values, the null hypotheses H0 can be rejected and the alternative hypotheses H1 is accepted. These results suggest that taking the pledge really does influence alignment on one’s own profile. Figures 1 and 2 represent the results visually.


Figure 1, Individual responses on the survey for PTP alignment on one’s own profile, with 1 at lowest alignment and 5 at highest alignment.


Figure 2, Average of responses on the survey for PTP alignment on one’s own profile, with 1 at lowest alignment and 5 at highest alignment.

For engaging with newsworthy content on other people’s profiles, the median PTP alignment score before taking the Truth Pledge is 3.5 (SD=1.06). The median PTP alignment score after taking the Truth Pledge is 4.5 (SD=0.65). As before, we conducted an Asymptotic Wilcoxon-Pratt Signed-Rank Test to compare alignment in groups and other people’s profiles before and after taking the Truth Pledge. The results show a significant increase of Truth Pledge Alignment after taking the pledge with a large effect size; z = 6.11, p < 0.000, r = 0.88. Again, H0 can be rejected and the alternative hypotheses H1 is accepted. These results suggest that taking the Truth Pledge really does influence Truth Pledge Alignment in groups and on other people’s posts. Figures 3 and 4 represent the results visually.


Figure 3, Individual responses on the survey for PTP alignment in groups and on other people’s profiles, with 1 at lowest alignment and 5 at highest alignment.


Figure 4, Average of responses on the survey for PTP alignment in groups and on other people’s profiles, with 1 at lowest alignment and 5 at highest alignment.

For sharing content on their own profile, 70.83% of participants (17 of 24 respondents) reported an increase of their PTP alignment after taking the PTP, eleven participants increased by one point on the alignment scale, five by two points, one by three points, while the rest maintained the same score. For sharing content in groups and on other people’s walls, again, 70.83% of participants reported an increase of their PTP alignment after taking the PTP, twelve participants increased by one point on the alignment scale, five by two, while the rest maintained their initial score.

These results indicate that taking the PTP indeed significantly improves social media sharing, and thus the PTP is an effective intervention for addressing the scourge of fake news. The results also contradict the hypothesis that all those who take the PTP are already honest and that taking the pledge is simply a way to signal their honesty publicly. If that was the case, there would be no statistically significant increase in alignment with the truth-oriented behaviors in the PTP before and after taking the pledge.

Moreover, if we look at Figures 1 and 3, we see that about half of the survey participants were actually at 3 or below for the quality of their Facebook engagement before taking the pledge, and thus can hardly be called truth-oriented. It is only after taking the pledge that they improved their behavior. In fact, all study participants who scored at 3 or below reported some improvements in their behavior to align more with the pledge after taking it.

This study does not tell us whether the difference in sharing behaviors can be attributed simply to finding out about the pledge, or specifically to taking the pledge. Thus, the actual intervention we are measuring is the combination of “finding out about and taking the pledge” as opposed to the more fine-grained intervention of taking the pledge after finding out about it, or finding out about the pledge without taking it. While it may be an interesting question of whether just finding out about the pledge makes a difference in Facebook sharing behavior, or whether it’s a matter both of finding out about the pledge and taking it, we had no reasonable way of reaching out and recruiting the many people who heard about the pledge without taking it. Moreover, from the perspective of social impact, it makes little difference: if finding out about the pledge and taking it is an effective intervention to decrease sharing misinformation, we can still ethically recommend encouraging people to learn about and take the pledge regardless of our lack of certainty about whether the actual mechanism involves just one or both components.

Overall, the survey results provide solid evidence that people improved the honesty of their behavior on social media because they have heard about and signed the pledge, and there is no reason to believe they would have improved if they did not hear about and sign the pledge. Thus, we can say with relative confidence that voluntarily taking the PTP decreases the spread of misinformation online. By extension, the same finding implies that pledge-takers practice more truthful behavior in other areas of their civic engagement. Further research is needed to determine whether that is indeed the case. We also do not know whether presenting the PTP in a semi-voluntary context, such as when students are presented with an honor code with an implicit expectation that they sign it in order to attend the college of their choice, will maintain the impact of the PTP: further research is needed as well. Likewise, we would also like to conduct research on what would be the impact of just hearing about the pledge without taking it to tease out that aspect of how the pledge works, although it would not substantially affect the policy implications of the pledge itself.

Conclusion

So with this evidence, we can clearly say that the Pro-Truth Pledge is effective in changing our society to be more truthful. The PTP successfully addresses the three components necessary to achieve this goal: it can garner media coverage, a certain percentage of people exposed to it take it, and those people actually do behave in a more truthful manner after taking it. We can confidently say that the remaining challenge is scaling up this project, meaning getting the pledge in front of enough people to get them to sign up and change our society to be more truthful.

Pro-Truth Pledge Translated to French

Serment pro-vérité

Je fais le serment de m’employer à:

Partager la vérité

  • Vérifier : valider l’information pour confirmer sa véracité avant de l’accepter et de la partager
  • Équilibrer : partager la vérité dans son entièreté, même si certains aspects contredisent mes opinions
  • Citer : partager mes sources de sorte que d’autres peuvent vérifier l’information
  • Clarifier : faire une distinction entre les faits et mes opinions

Honorer la vérité

  • Reconnaitre : saluer le partage d’informations véridiques, même par mes opposants
  • Revoir : revoir ma position si mes informations sont disputées, les rétracter si je ne peux les vérifier
  • Défendre : prendre la défense des autres lorsqu’ils sont attaqués pour avoir partagé des informations véridiques, même si nos opinions diffèrent par ailleurs
  • Aligner : aligner mes opinions et mes actions sur les informations véridiques

Promouvoir la vérité

  • Corriger : demander aux gens de rétracter une information réfutée par des sources fiables, même si ce sont mes alliés
  • Éduquer : encourager les personnes autour de moi à ne plus se baser sur des sources non fiables, même si ces sources confortent mes opinions
  • Déférer : accepter que l’avis des experts a plus de poids lorsqu’il y a polémique sur les faits
  • Encourager : Saluer la démarche des personnes qui rétractent des affirmations incorrectes et alignent leur opinion sur la vérité

Pro-Truth Pledge in German

Das Gelöbnis der Wahrheit

Ich verspreche mich ehrlich zu bemühen um:

Die Wahrheit zu teilen
Überprüfen: Informationen prüfen, um zu bestätigen, was wahr ist, bevor ich sie akzeptiere und weiterleite.
Gleichgewicht wahren: Die ganze Wahrheit zu teilen, auch wenn einige Aspekte meine Meinung nicht unterstützen.
Zitieren: Meine Quellen zu nennen, damit andere meine Informationen überprüfen können.
Erläutern: Aussagen klar als Meinung oder Tatsache darzustellen.

Die Wahrheit zu ehren
Bestätigen: anerkennen, wenn andere wahre Informationen teilen, auch wenn wir anderer Meinung sind.

Neu bewerten: Meine Informationen neu zu bewerten, wenn sie herausgefordert werden, und zurückziehen, wenn ich sie nicht nachweisen kann.
Verteidigen: Andere verteidigen, wenn sie wegen wahrer Aussagen unter Angriff kommen, auch wenn wir ansonsten anderer Meinung sind.
Orientieren: Meine Meinungen und Handlungen mit wahren Informationen im Einklang bringen.

Die Wahrheit zu ermutigen
In Stand setzen: Leute bitten, Informationen zurückzuziehen, die von zuverlässigen Quellen widerlegt wurden, auch wenn es sich um meine Verbündeten handelt.
Umschulen: Die um mich herum mit Mitgefühl bitten, unzuverlässige Quellen nicht weiterzuleiten, auch wenn diese Quellen meine Meinung unterstützen.
Beehren: Die Meinungen von Experten vorrangig Glauben schenken, wenn die Tatsachen umstritten sind.
Feiern: Diejenigen Feiern, die falsche Aussagen zurückziehen und ihre Überzeugungen den Tatsachen entsprechend verändern.

Why a Conservative Christian Pastor Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Image from Lorenzo T. Neal’s website (Courtesy of Lorenzo Neal)

The phrase “You can’t handle the truth!” has become a part of American pop culture and we say it without even thinking about it. We expect the truth from media and our public officials. However there are many in the public sphere who believe the line from the movie, and think that Americans cannot handle truth. They have bought into the belief that alternative facts and misleading headlines and storylines are the only thing people can understand. They go out of their way to ensure that people stay in ignorant bliss while they continue providing lies and misinformation plaguing our daily news cycles and political rhetoric. One way to counter this great miscarriage of knowledge is by taking the Pro-Truth Pledge.

I happened upon the Pro-Truth Pledge after having Dr. Gleb Tsipursky as a guest on my Zera Today radio show. After hearing of his experience and expertise, I was convinced that I needed to take the pledge. The Pro-Truth Pledge exists to reverse the tide of lies by encouraging everyone including politicians and other public figures to commit to truth oriented behavior. Through the Pro-Truth Pledge, individuals are encouraged to honor truth, encourage truth, and share truth. They are encouraged to verify information before sharing on their social media, defend those who share truth even if it doesn’t agree with their personal beliefs or opinions. They are encouraged to educate by informing others in their sphere of influence to not use unreliable sources and courageously demand retractions when untruths are presented to the public. The Pro-Truth Pledge is all about holding everyone to the same level of accountability.

As a pastor in a Christian faith community, I am held to a higher standard of communicating truth. I also identify as a conservative politically (a classical liberal with libertarian leaning) and expect those in public service are held accountable to the promises they make on the campaign trail. Proverbs 10:32 says that a righteous person speaks things that are true and acceptable from their lips but the mouth of a deceitful person is perverted. Jesus of Nazareth spake some pretty famous words in John 8:32 when he “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Furthermore in James 5:12 and 3 John 1:4, truth is strongly encouraged against all falsehood. Whether one is religious or not, truth should be the synonymous moral standard for all individuals.

If we fall prey to the ongoing pursuit of alternative facts and lies by public officials and celebrities, we may lose our democracy. If we don’t hold government officials and people of influence to the truth, it will be hard to fight against corruption in government. The Pro-Truth Pledge brings everyone together around the commitment to the ideal of truth without consequences. It promotes true liberation from those who wish to maintain the status quo through a plethora of lies.

I am committed to promoting truth. That is why I took the Pro-Truth Pledge. My life and ministry is about empowering others to knowing and impacting the world around them. You can do more than protest. You can do more than vote. You can take the Pro-Truth Pledge and help others do the same.

Facts, Opinions, and Experts

Caption: Image of famous “FACTS NOT OPINIONS” motto at the Kirkaldy Testing Works (Wikimeida Commons)

So you took the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP), or are thinking about taking it, and are wondering what we mean by facts, opinions, and experts? Great questions, and very relevant two behaviors of the pledge:

  • Clarify: distinguish between my opinion and the facts
  • Defer: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed

Just the Facts

The main purpose of the PTP is to fight misinformation, and we take our approach to the facts from that perspective. We aim for a shared definition of “facts” on which all reasonable people can agree, including 1) physical phenomena we can reasonably observe with our senses, and 2) abstract phenomena we can reasonably derive from a few basic principles of logic, math, and other disciplines. Let’s consider the first, using the example of a basketball.

Caption: Image of basketball (Timothy Takemoto/Flickr)

We can all agree that a typical basketball is orange, round, makes a bouncy sound, and smells and tastes rubbery. That uses all five of our senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste (please don’t taste basketballs). We aren’t interested in the semantics of the deeper meaning of “orange” or “smells of rubber”: all we are concerned is that reasonable people can reasonably agree on these aspects of “basketball.” While we sympathize with people who have color blindness or synesthesia or other conditions that makes it difficult for them to trust their senses, our physical sensory experiences are one of the two best tools we have for a shared understanding of reality, which is why we use them as one definition of “fact.”

The way this definition becomes relevant in public discourse, which is the area covered by the PTP, stems from our ability to observe with our senses claims made by politicians. For instance, we have photographic evidence that Hillary Clinton did not land under sniper fire in Bosnia, unlike she claimed. On the other side of the political aisle, videotaped and photographic evidence shows that Donald Trump’s claims that he had the biggest inauguration size ever are incorrect. In both cases, we relied on our physical senses to evaluate these claims.

The other category we term “facts” refers to abstract phenomena derived from logic, math, and other related disciplines. Thus, reasonable people can agree that 2+2=4. We can agree that if a>b and b>c then a>c. We can agree that 50% of 100 is 50. We can agree that, following the guidelines of logic and probabilistic thinking, the more outlandish the claim, the more evidence it requires, and “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” a phrase popularized by Carl Sagan. We can also agree that if someone has a clear financial or other motivation that drives their claims, their claims should be considered less weighty. Likewise, sources that are frequently biased in one direction or another should be trusted less than more neutral sources on topics that align with the bias of the frequently-biased source. Moreover, sources that are more fact-based deserve higher trust than those which rely more on opinions.

Caption: Meme saying “Not sure if this is the time to be super-picky or if i should wait until later in this blog” (Made by blog author)

 

Just don’t go all lawyerly and start being super-picky. We’re talking about general principles on which reasonable people can agree. Likewise, we’re not trying to make an exhaustive list here, just listing a few examples. Any of these can be exhaustively debated in philosophy classes, but that’s not the point of the PTP.

Now going on to public policy relevance, we can see that if someone makes a claim that millions of non-citizens voted illegally in the 2016 election and does not show evidence despite repeated requests for evidence, while plenty of transparent studies show clear evidence of negligible voter fraud in US elections, the claim of millions of illegal voters can be safely judged as false. That was a claim made by a Trump supporter, and endorsed by Trump himself. Clinton, in turn, made a claim that she lost in Wisconsin because “200,000 people in Wisconsin were either denied or chilled in their efforts to vote,” an extraordinary claim for which she did not provide appropriate evidence.

We acknowledge that the two categories above are a rather narrow understanding of “facts.” In other contexts, facts might include one’s internal mental experiences, such as feelings of pleasure or pain, or one’s thoughts about a topic, such as whether a politician changed her mind based on actual evidence or just to be elected. However, those internal mental states are inaccessible to external observers, and we tend to overestimate our ability to know other people’s subjective experiences. Since the pledge is meant to prevent misinformation, we want to have a narrow definition of facts. Our aim is ensuring that when someone who signed the pledge is accused of making a false statement, we can either reasonably observe the false statement with our senses, or reasonably derive it from principles of logic, math, and related disciplines.

Opinions

Caption: Meme saying “So you have an opinion… tell me more” (Created by blog author)

One of the behaviors of the PTP involves differentiating your opinion from the facts. By opinion we refer to anything that is an evaluation of a situation, whether a personal opinion or an expert analysis. Let’s start with something easy: “I think you stink” is an opinion. By contrast, “I smelled your body odor from about 30 feet away” is an observation of fact. We’d want to get other noses in there to verify the fact, but you get the gist. Another fact: “it’s 70 degrees outside, according to the reading on the thermometer.” An opinion would be “yeesh, that’s hot” or “brrr, that’s cold.” The US federally-mandated minimum wage is $7.25: that’s a fact, as of 11/8/2017. An opinion might be that it’s too low, too high, or just right. Holding everything else steady and cutting the income tax would result in you paying less taxes: whether doing so would create more jobs is an opinion.

To continue our use of Clinton and Trump, many people who dislike Clinton claim that it’s a fact that she’s a criminal and needs to be in jail. In turn, many people who dislike Trump claim that it’s a fact that he has colluded with Russia to undermine the US election. In both cases, what these people hold are opinions, rather than facts. Despite a long investigation, Clinton has not been convicted of a crime or even charged with one, while the investigation into Trump’s potential collusion with Russia is ongoing at the time of this blog post’s writing. To continue treading these somewhat dangerous waters, some people claim that it’s a fact that Bernie Sanders is not a “real Democrat.” Of course, their claim depends on their own opinion of what makes someone a “real Democrat.” Someone else might claim that Trump is not a “true conservative,” which again depends on one’s opinion of what makes someone a “true conservative.”

As we can see from these examples, opinions are often subjects of disagreement among different people. However, even when judgments about reality are subjects of common agreement, they still fall into the realm of opinion. For example, you’ll find few people in Columbus, OH, where I live, who would not describe a temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit as “hot” or who think that we should not have any taxes and just fend for ourselves. Still, despite our common agreement about temperature or the benefit of government functions, these areas of common agreement are still opinions. Remember, your opinions are opinions even when they are widely shared: as a side note, be suspicious when you perceive your opinion to be widely shared, as we tend to overestimate the extent to which other people share our opinions.

So make sure to enact the pledge by recognizing the difference between the facts and your opinions. If it might be unclear to others whether your statement is a fact or opinion, clarify this matter. Minimize editorializing, meaning mixing in your opinion with facts, such as in “our currently too-low minimum wage is $7.25” or “our government’s incompetent UN Ambassador is heading to a meeting in Brussels.” Both of these statements combine opinion with facts, and make it unclear which is which: it’s best to avoid such statements. We have a relatively high standard of what constitutes a violation of the pledge, and only the more extreme forms of such editorializing that convey information in an obviously deceptive manner would qualify as violations. Still, I would encourage all pledge-takers to orient toward fully enacting all the behaviors of the pledge, as opposed to doing the bare minimum to not violate it.

Experts

Caption: Meme saying “one does not simply disregard the opinions of experts” (Made by blog author)

Any one of us can have an opinion on any topic. We can have the belief that chocolate ice creams is better than vanilla, or that baseball is boring and basketball is not, or that cats are better than dogs, or any other opinion. In the realm of public discourse, we can hold the opinion that our taxes are too high or too low, or that one politician is better than another, or that the government should do more or less to cover people’s medical bills, or that our gun policy is too strict or too loose. Anyone’s opinion, everything else being equal, has just as much validity as all other people’s opinions from the perspective of truth.

However, everything else is often not equal, since some people have more expertise than others. Thus, the Pro-Truth Pledge asks signers, as one of the behaviors, to “recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed.” Let’s unpack this behavior.

First, the term “expert:” what does that even mean? Well, “expertise” can refer to many different things. For example, say I spend 30 minutes researching the best Android phones of 2017, which I did yesterday after my phone started acting up and I decided to get a new one. That research gained me some expertise. Thus, my opinion about what are the best Android phones of 2017 will likely be closer to reality than another person who did not research this matter and whose activities in general are not related to smartphones.

However, that’s not what we mean by “expert.” We mean someone who has a quite significant familiarity with a specific topic area, as shown by commonly-recognized credentials such as a certification, an academic degree, publication of a book, years of experience in a field, or other way that a reasonable person may recognize an “expert.” Thus, an expert in Android phones might be someone who has worked for several years in making these phones, or an experienced salesperson, or a technology writer. They would be able to hold a lengthy conversation on the specs of smartphones, describe why certain people might prefer one or the other, and how to determine which is right for you.

Experts like that are able to draw on their substantial body of knowledge and experience to provide an opinion – often phrased as “expert analysis” – that is, as the pledge states, “more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed.” That doesn’t mean an expert will always be right, simple more likely to be right when the facts are disputed, following probabilistic thinking. So for policy expertise, a geologist studying well water issues is more likely to be closer to reality in evaluating hydrofracking than someone who has not studies well water for years; an economist specializing in taxes will be more likely to be correct about the outcomes of proposed changes in taxation than someone who is not; a foreign policy expert in North Korea will be more likely to be right about the reactions of the North Korean leadership to any given external event than someone who is not.

This greater likelihood of experts being closer to the truth when the facts are disputed explains why the pledge encourages pledge-takers to defer to experts. However, this is not an absolute principle by any means. First, research shows that experts do best in evaluating reality in environments that are relatively stable over time and thus predictable, and also when the experts have a chance to learn about the predictable aspects of this environment. Thus, an expert on North Korea may be less able to make an accurate evaluation in the context of a regime change, since her previous good read on the leadership is now less salient with a new leadership. Likewise, an expert on taxation might have less capacity to predict the impact of taxation on newly-emerging fields like cryptocurrency. Second, other research shows that ideological biases can have a strongly negative impact on the ability of experts to make accurate evaluations. Third, financial and other material motivations can sway experts to conduct an analysis favorable to their financial sponsor. Other factors may also cloud expert judgment.

Thus, while we recommend that pledge-takers by default defer to expert judgment as more likely to be accurate, we do not demand it, except in two limited cases. One is in expert evaluations by credible fact-checking organizations, as described in this post, and another is in the scientific consensus. Credible fact-checking organizations hire experts whose expertise is in unearthing the facts and comparing the facts to statements made by public figures, to evaluate the accuracy of the statement. Their financial motivations and field of expertise align well to ensure they focus on figuring out the truth of reality, and their reputation is maintained if they do a good job. Since we consider “credible” only organizations that Facebook uses for its fake news fact-checking program, and since Facebook would stop using these organizations if they stopped performing at a high level, we are comfortable with asking pledge-takers to abide by the evaluations of these fact-checkers.

Similarly, while individual scientists may make mistakes, it is incredibly rare for the scientific consensus as a whole to be wrong. Scientists get rewarded in money and reputation for finding fault with statements about reality made by other scientists. Thus, for the large majority of them to agree on something – for there to be a scientific consensus – is a pretty clear indicator from a probabilistic perspective that whatever they agree on reflects reality accurately.

That doesn’t mean that credible fact-checkers can’t be wrong, and neither does it mean that the scientific consensus can’t be wrong. What it does mean is that going against credible fact-checking organizations and the scientific consensus will be very, very likely to be wrong. Let me phrase it this way: I’d be happy to stake a $100 to $1 bet on the accuracy of the scientific consensus or a credible fact-checking organization. Because of this high likelihood of losing if you bet against the scientific consensus or a credible fact-checking organization, we perceive such bets to be motivated not by a search for truth but biased motivations. Therefore, we ask that pledge-takers do not make such bets and abide by the scientific consensus and credible fact-checking organizations as part of taking the pledge.

Conclusion

I hope these guidelines help you see where we’re coming from when we talk about facts, opinions, and experts from the perspective of the pledge. Let us know what questions you have!

PSAs for Podcasts and Radio Shows