Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Truth Stands in Your Way, Turn Around!


A fine sentiment, an axiom worthy of Ben Franklin, Alexander Pope, or Dr. Phil: When truth stands in your way, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

The trick is to discern the truth, and that, Dear Readers, is never easy. Each of us wears a pair of rose-tinted glasses, honed and polished by our own hands, and those lenses allow us to see what we need to see when we look in the mirror, sometimes to our own detriment.

These lenses account for the divisiveness among us. FOX newshounds watch only FOX, believing that they are indeed seeing and hearing a fair and balanced news report. Similarly, MSNBC fans cannot bear to tune in to FOX anymore than FOX fans can stomach MSNBC. Both sets of viewers prefer their rose-colored lenses, allowing them to find the reality they seek; neither set wishes to subject themselves to something incompatible with the reality they have molded and baked in a hot kiln until it is solid and sure.

Once a colleague decried the teaching practices of a teacher unknown to me because that teacher required her students to watch Al Gore’s Academy-Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. After I determined that the documentary was appropriate and relevant to the course being taught, I asked, “Why? What’s wrong with exposing students to the film?”

Before my colleague could answer, a freshman biology teacher added his thoughts: “Who’s showing that film? It’s been debunked. There are at least nine glaring errors in it. No one shows it. No one should show it!” And thus, having delivered his opening and closing arguments without any objections, he left the room.

“Is that your objection? Nine errors?”

“No, I didn’t know anything about any errors. I’ve never seen the movie, and I’m not about to see it. It’s just trying to scare all of us into believing that global warming is real, and it’s not.”

Stunned to discover that I was in the company of a genuine climate-change denier, A Flat-Earther, and quite possibly, a Birther, too, I said no more, unwilling to learn how shallow her pool of information in all areas. Worse, I had no ready, pithy reply worthy of the moment. I could have said and should have said, “When truth stands in your way, you’re headed in the wrong direction.” But I didn’t. The moment passed, and I set out to discover my own truth about An Inconvenient Truth.

I found a list of the nine so-called errors in Gore’s film, one that had impressed me, by the way, especially because he manages to make charts, graphs, and data riveting, a feat that many public school teachers find enviable (but then most of us lack the high tech display tools and a riser that can carry us to the top of a large viewing screen). I also found a news report about a judge in the United Kingdom that cautioned schools to provide full disclosure about the misstatements or exaggerations in the film after a British teacher, funded by big energy, brought suit to prevent the film from being used as a teaching tool. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk /earth/earthnews/3310137/Al-Gores-nine-Inconvenient-Untruths.html)

And I found a rebuttal to the so-called Nine errors (http://voices.washingtonpost. com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_team_gor_1.html), and this rebuttal persuaded me to believe that overall, An Inconvenient Truth is well-researched and well-intentioned. The information shared can and should be used to shape Environmental Protection Agency regulations and U. S. policy, but not to the exclusion of more comprehensive analyses that the Gore film boiled down to their simplest ingredients for a 100-minute presentation designed to elicit an emotional and behavioral response from the audience. Director Davis Guggenheim and speaker Al Gore sought to grab our attention and convince us to leave our seats with a promise to recycle, reduce our footprints, and require better of policy-makers. Those, I believe, to be worthy pursuits, and I found, I had not been lied to about anything major. No malice aforethought in Gore’s film, in my opinion.

One other respectable piece further persuaded me to trust the film, and that is a National Geographic News article (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/ 2006/05/060524-global-warming_2.html) wherein scientists assess and evaluate the accuracy of the information in the film. According to Eric Steig, an earth scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, present at a preview and watching for mistakes, “the documentary handles the science well.”

My own eyes, judgment, and research allowed me to conclude that I can trust An Inconvenient Truth, that I should seek the opinions of opponents, and that I must examine those opponents’ facts as well as the proponents’.  In other words, wearing my rose-colored lenses may have helped me believe the film’s argument, but tearing them off and daring to seek another point of view, helped me determine in which direction lies the truth.

I hereby propose that we remove our rose-colored lenses and strive to see the Truth naked before us even if it means that we must grant that our old truth cannot be sustained, even if we must admit our own faults and burn in shame. The truth may be hard to find, but it’s neither camouflaged nor buried where no one can find it. We can pursue it and expose it if we care to do so. And we must do so because those politicians who refuse to let fact-checkers impede their progress are right when they say that this is a crucial election, one upon which the direction of the nation depends.