“Post-truth” – my new favourite word

Oxford Dictionaries this week announced their word of the year to be “Post-truth”. This is a word that questions the concept of facts themselves. It means that objective facts are less influential in shaping public policy than personal beliefs and appeals to emotion.

“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly charged political and social discourse,” Casper Grathwohl, Oxford Dictionaries’ president, said in an essay on the company’s website, which cited “the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.”

Post-truth derives from the Brexit and Trump campaigns which were both heavily laden with emotional “arguments” and where facts and evidence were largely ignored. It’s also been associated with the phrase “post-truth politics” which seems to be a euphemism for lies or conspiracy theories. It implies that we are living in a world where facts, data and evidence are unimportant or irrelevant.

5s-simulationLast night, I attended the Operational Research Society’s annual lecture and “post-truth” featured in the President’s opening speech. She said that OR Society members have a particularly important role to play in the “post-truth” world. The society is a membership organisation for people from numerate disciplines such as mathematics and statistics who focus their skills on helping organisations make better quality decisions. Despite “only” being a Chemistry graduate, I’m a member because much of my working life is spent looking at data to get a better understanding of problems and to identify insights and solutions.

My second favourite new word which I also discovered this week is “truthiness” which was coined in 2005 and basically means facts that someone wishes to be true, rather than facts known to be true. Truthiness is a one-word summary of a phrase I came across earlier this year: “You are entitled to have your own opinions, but you are not entitled to have your own facts”.

All my friends will know my obsession with data and evidence, which we have used to good effect to help improve the health of Dachshunds. Evidence-based veterinary medicine is an increasingly hot topic and often challenges conventional wisdom about what is the best treatment for an animal.

Look out for my next Our Dogs Best of Health article which is all about the power of data to generate insights and solutions for Dachshund health and welfare problems.

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