Advanced accounting for public utilities

Evaluating Facts in "Post-Truth" Times

Authored by Hillary Hogan

2016 was a pretty significant year for me.  It was the year I got married, bought a house with my husband, and said goodbye to my last living grandparent.  But despite these personal milestones, my feelings and recollections of 2016 have been dominated by Brexit, a Donald Trump presidential victory and the polarizing aftermath being felt in both of the countries I call home.

How did we get here?  We’ve heard a lot about “social media bubbles” and confirmation bias and certainly we are all guilty of believing in narratives that support our pre-existing views and dismissing those that don’t.  But now that there is a media outlet to cater to every ideology, the importance of facts seems to be losing out to emotional appeals and talking points.  With headlines about the Bowling Green Massacre[1] and how the UK pays £350 million a week to the EU[2] clogging up our news feeds for the past 12 months, it’s no wonder that “post-truth” was named the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year[3].  Even the Twitterer-in-Chief will deny saying or knowing something when there is overwhelming evidence to prove that he did.[4]

As forensic accountants, we deal with differing viewpoints all the time. A hotel chain might forecast a 20% increase in sales following a new marketing campaign.  We might question whether this is achievable in the face of an economic recession and a history of actual performance falling below overly optimistic corporate expectations.   Much like the complex world of politics, settling an insurance claim requires an agreement of the facts and thoughtful discussion of the issues.  To do this we must be willing to consider the merits and limitations of our own positions as well as those of the other side.  Rejecting certain facts, even when they don’t fully support a position we think is right, damages our credibility.  We serve our clients and ourselves better by being open to different perspectives and allowing the facts to shape our views.

In our personal and professional lives, we are all entitled to our beliefs and opinions and we won’t always see eye to eye with others.  However, civil discourse is fundamental to democracy and at a minimum helpful to business negotiations (though The Donald may disagree with me “big-league”).  While we debate our differences, it’s important that we don’t let “alternative facts” replace objective reality.





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