Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. “The fake news is the everyday news” in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. “They just make it up.”This problem is not going away, partly because the mainstream press has not exactly covered itself with glory lately. Consider the campus rape stories from Virginia and Duke that made headlines before turning out to be fabricated. If those weren't fake news, why not? Or all the stories on pre-election polls. If a thousand headlines proclaiming Hillary the likely winner turned out to be wrong, were they fake news? Why not? Because they relied on the calculations of professional pollsters, who as card-carrying members of the establishment have the credentials to be taken seriously, whereas ordinary Trump supporters who just felt in their bones that he was going to win do not? What about all the news stories about the findings of so-called "dietary science"? What about all the famous experiments in psychology that have failed replication? And what about all the news stories that treat one failed replication as proof that the original finding was wrong, without making any attempt to compare the details of the two experiments?
Some supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump have also taken up the call. As reporters were walking out of a Trump rally this month in Orlando, Fla., a man heckled them with shouts of “Fake news!”
Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.
I think the scientific community is making a terrible mistake by proclaiming the certainty of climate projections that are nothing but educated guesses. As I have said many times, I worry about the effects of filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and wish we would stop this mad experiment, but I think models of the climate future are no more reliable than election polls. I really wish people would be more careful with their claims, because not even pushing for action to protect the planet is more important than defending the whole notion of truth.
My readers know that I try to be careful in figuring out what is true and what is not. I regularly preface claims about cancer treatments and archaeogenetics with "wonderful if it turns out to be true." I cannot think of anything to do in the face of truth's erosion except to double down: to work even harder to sort the probable from the possible from the false, the slanted from the exaggerated from the lie. It simply won't do to put stories from the NY Times in one category and tweets from Trump in another, because sometimes the Times is wrong and sometimes Trump is right. The lazy news habit of just citing what spokesmen from both sides say has to be abandoned, because recent experience shows that spokesmen lie, and it is absolutely the business of journalists to figure out who is lying and call them on it.
In a world of ever more brazen lying, it falls to those who care about the truth to defend it as an absolute value, more important than partisan politics. As the elite consensus collapses, it falls on believers in reason to put it back in the center of our discourse.