Inching Towards Truth Ratings

October 12, 2004

A truth rating is the probability an argument is true. Trustworthy independent organizations would provide the public with truth ratings for important pubic arguments, such as key political speeches, important statements, and debates. Citizens could then far more rationally decide what positions to support and who to vote for. The consequence would be much better leaders and leadership results.

This is exactly what the press is inching towards, step by evolutionary step. A few examples will show this.

The Fairness Doctrine - Article in Washington PostWhen Howard Kurtz wrote in The Fairness Doctrine on October 12, 2004 that "ABC's political director wrote a now-leaked memo saying there is no need for artificial balance in truth-squadding the claims and charges of the Bush and Kerry campaigns," what he was really saying is there needs to be an objective measure of the truth in those claims and charges.

In the same article Kurtz says, "He said there were more distortions on the Bush side, and that the coverage should reflect this." If truth ratings were used on what both sides said, the results would clearly show which side had more distortions. The Bush camp might get a 40% truth rating for the week, while the Kerry camp might get a 60% rating. It would not take long for the public to respond appropriately.

Kurtz quotes this from the Halperin memo:

This is all part of their efforts to get away with as much as possible with the stepped up, renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions. It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right.

Kerry would not have to defend himself if truth ratings were available, because they would do it for him. They would do it for every honest man and woman who spoke out on an issue of critical importance. Truth ratings are a way for the press to formalize what it has been doing all along—telling the people what really happened, by telling them how true an utterance was, because:

The amount of truth is news in itself.

Now for a brief look at what truth ratings are. Credit ratings quantify the creditworthiness of a person, organization, or government. Product ratings, such as those in Consumer Reports magazine, quantify the worthiness of products. Both are widely used. Truth ratings would quantify the truthfulness of important arguments, such as those in political statements, articles, and so on. For example a few days after a presidential debate, its truth ratings would come out. They might say that candidate A averaged 45% true, while candidate B averaged 70%. Guess which candidate would probably win?

If the organization doing the rating was credible and the public trusted the truth ratings, a race to the top would begin. Politicians would compete to see who could be the most truthful and therefore the most helpful. Campaigns would become based on reason rather than emotion.

No one can become an expert on many topics and spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours analyzing each important argument. Therefore the public has no choice but something like truth ratings. So instead of individuals each taking on the difficult task of deciding the truth of an argument, organizations do.

Consumer's Union, an independent nonprofit organization established in 1936, is a highly successful similar mechanism. It releases thousands of product ratings a year to its millions of members. Their website has this to say:

Consumer Reports® and® are published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. CU supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants. Consumers Union is governed by a board of 18 directors, who are elected by CU members and meet three times a year. CU's President, James Guest, oversees a staff of more than 450.

More than 100 testing experts work in seven major technical departments-appliances, auto test, baby & child, electronics, foods, health & family, and recreation & home improvement, while more than 25 research experts work in three departments-product acquisition, product information, and statistics & quality management. In addition, we have more than 150 anonymous shoppers throughout the country. We test cars and trucks at our fully equipped auto-test facility in East Haddam, Conn. We also survey our millions of readers to bring you information on the reliability of hundreds of auto models and of major products such as appliances and electronic gear. Reader-survey data also help us rate insurance and other consumer services.

Judging by the success of the credit rating industry and Consumer's Union, truth ratings would be just as useful and successful.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had truth ratings right now? It could be the biggest single factor in determining the outcome of the November 2, 2004 election. If the side expressing the highest amount of truth won, instead of the side that has employed the greatest amount of deception and manipulation, the press would have done its job. And for that, the people would be eternally grateful.


Epilog - This later became the Politician Truth Ratings solution element. This is described in The Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace paper and the Common Property Rights book. Politician Truth Ratings can be implemented by the Political Persuasion Knowledge Base.