Wednesday, December 28, 2011

FACT

Don't be deceived, a fact can be a pretty slippery four letter word.

Word reaches us today of the death of Cheetah, the chimp who featured in the Tarzan movies of the 1930's.  The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida reported that he died at the age of 80 due to kidney failure.  Originally living at the estate of Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller, he was later the feature chimpanzee at the Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes sanctuary and hold the Guinness Book of World Records title of world's oldest non-human primate.


There is only one problem.

He was never in any movie.  He wasn't owned by Johnny Weissmuller.  And he wasn't 80 years old.  At least there is plenty of evidence that seem to indicate that these statements were false.

Thats the trouble with facts - they're pretty hard to pin down sometimes, and a good story will often trump them.

Facts have been showing up more and more in the news lately, particularly as the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, but even in more mundane situations such as product sales.  People can assert anything as a fact, but all too often evidence has been cropping up to the contrary.  Especially in a highly-connected age, more and more people are able to fact check claims that have been made against the public record.  Fact by assertions of authority are no longer taken at face value.

Take, for example, the sad case of Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing.  In the middle of dealing (badly) with a customer who was making some pretty basic requests for information, he loudly tossed around his associations with some big names in the Gaming industry and insulted the customer.  The email exchange got out, of course, and the big names pretty quickly disavowed any knowledge of who this guy was.  Not so very factual, it seems.

But even the fact checkers are accused of introducing opinion into the suposed dispassionate world of facts.  Consider Politifact's "lie of the year", for example, and the controversy it has raised.

I was going to end this with the quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts", but while looking it up to make sure of the source... I found at least three other attributions for the quote.  Thats another problem with the Internet age - facts can be invented, and then the evidence to justify them created.

Facts aren't as straightforward as they might seem.