Shopping for Truth in the ‘Wild West’ of Facts Finding


It’s a good time to think about the phenomenon of “fake news”. I’d like to share what I have found when searching for “alternative facts,” “political deception,” and “truthfulness & falsehood in politics“ as related to political persuasion from a scientific point of view.

Shopping for truth

As Rodgers (2017) is analyzing, there is not less truth around today, but there is a market of an overwhelming amount of information that is not anymore evaluated by a more collaborative process than through online “likes.” The truth is chosen by everyone individually according to their need to protecting their worldview respectively avoiding the unpleasant state of conflicting opinions that is called cognitive dissonance (Shermer, 2017). Fear that is determining beliefs and behaviors can be produced through certain or hypothetical threats (Macwilliams, 2016). And Cerf (2017) may be just realistic when mentioning that not everyone is enabled or motivated to put effort into critical thinking and that the answer on how to foster more critical thinking for more fact-checking and selection of quality information may be an ongoing challenge.

Grandiose, dynamic, and informal communication is trump

The argument of “if people are saying it, it might be true” serves to compensate for the absence of a societal mechanism that would implement effective truth telling standards (Alter, Scherer, Berenson, Elliott, and Miller, 2016). According to Alter et al. (2016) information spreads more when it is entertaining in the sense of, e.g., being provoking, regardless whether the content is true or not. Galeotti’s (2015) evaluation that a leader gains persuasiveness by not being cynical and by not lying may have to be revised in the sense that, in minimum in the case of Donald Trump, “a populist communication style – grandiose, dynamic, and informal – may have ‘trumped’ a carefully-reasoned platform” (Ahmadian, Azarshahi, & Paulhus, 2017, p. 52). Furthermore, non-verbal communication might be even more influential than words themselves persuading an audience to believe a presenter based on self-confident articulation and visual presence (Chernoff, 2016).

As a response to the age of the ‘Wild West’ of truth finding, I like the approach suggested by The Tweets We Hold to Be Self-Evident (2016) recognizing that there is a big unused potential for science to support informed discussions with objective and reliable facts.



Ahmadian, S., Azarshahi, S., & Paulhus, D. L. (2017). Explaining Donald Trump via communication style: Grandiosity, informality, and dynamism. Personality And Individual Differences, 10749-53. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.11.018

Alter, C., Scherer, M., Berenson, T., Elliott, P., & Miller, Z. J. (2016). The Truth Is Out There. Time, 188(15), 28-32.

Cerf, V. G. (2017). Information and Misinformation on the Internet. Communications Of The ACM, 60(1), 9. doi:10.1145/3018809

Chernoff, A. (2016). This Is Why Donald Trump Gets Away With Insulting Rhetoric. Fortune.Com, 1.

Galeotti, A. (2015). Liars or Self-Deceived? Reflections on Political Deception. Political Studies, 63(4), 887-902. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12122

Macwilliams, M. (2016). Who Decides When the Party Doesn’t? Authoritarian Voters and the Rise of Donald Trump. PS – Political Science And Politics, 49(4), 716-721. doi:10.1017/S1049096516001463

RODGERS, D. T. (2017, January 20). When Truth Becomes a Commodity. Chronicle of Higher Education. pp. B7-B9.

Shermer, M. (2017). When Facts Backfire. Scientific American, 316(1), 69.

The Tweets We Hold to Be Self-Evident. (2016). Scientific American, 315(3), 7. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0916-7

  • Indeed Mathias, but what if you can’t trust science either? I don’t say you can’t, but there are enough people saying there are conflict of interests and thus manipulated research/outcome/reports.

    • Hi Patty. Very good point you are making; the independence of research is indeed a concern. But there are (partial) solutions to it for research’s credibility and for us to evaluate its trustworthiness. I have outlined some important aspects in an earlier post: //