Truth and Consequences — Fracking is Real(ly Bad)

by S. Tom Bond on November 22, 2014

Commentary — Two Kinds of Truth for Your Consideration

Truth is elusive with consequences

Written by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Observers have been amazed with the division of attitudes toward modern high volume, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing which has come into use since the year 2000. It is as though one party says something is yellow and another, looking at the same thing, says it is blue. The obvious answer is, “Who is making money from it and who is paying a price?” That goes for people actually in contact with it, but what about the millions who form opinions in spite of no contact?

I think that is related to two kinds of truth, which I hope to distinguish. What is needed is to sort out a general idea, truth, and how one arrives at “truth.”

As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, “Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest.” So I must define truth to begin with: Truth is a belief which serves as a basis for individual action. If you believe something, that is your mental map of what is. Truth is one’s understanding of the real world, the guide for ones action.

Most works on philosophy include several definitions of truth. Almost all of them have one which has to do with verifiability. That means the ability to check, item by item, the contents of the verbal map of reality. Lets call this verifiable truth.

A second kind of guide for action is to respond to authority. If you believe some authority, it is a kind of truth. This may be a King, a religious leader, or simply “the boss,” who in our era (and many others), is whoever controls pay for your labor. This we will call authoritarian truth. Such a believer’s action is determined by a mental map provided by the authority.

What does this have to do with the understanding of the nature of fracking? A lot, really.

Concerning fracking the general public (including officials) must choose between the claims of the banks and the drilling companies on the one hand , and the cries from the injured on the other. The individual who is not directly affected, and cannot see what is going on, must choose what to believe.

Those in the field can see what is happening. People are hurting, and loosing what is theirs. For some who gain even a slight advantage it is easy to ignore another’s pain. That is also a human attribute. It makes possible wars, racism and genocide. It also makes it possible for some to be rich while others are poor. Those who aren’t seriously affected can adopt the authoritarian truth as a psychological defense.

One of the principal characteristics of authoritarian truth is that it is not constrained by verifiability. It offers an explanation, and suggests a course to follow for the believer’s advantage. It causes an expected reward for action. It may, and often does, involve deception about verifiability, however. Left out details don’t exist for the authoritarian believer. It is received truth.

Verifiable truth comes from direct sensory experience of the phenomenon, or from observers judged by the individual to be reliable. Who is reliable? Direct observers who don’t have an advantage by being untruthful and are able to understand what effects them. Simultaneous changes are a strong key to understanding.

If one thinks rural people are willing to lie about what affects them, or are too dumb to understand, or are people whose interests aren’t a significant part of the commonwealth, the economic whole of our state and nation, you might adopt such a view. You might be more willing to adopt a story put out by some authority.

In a situation where people need to act, people who are not where they can observe facts themselves, perhaps by voting or by buying, it becomes a considerable labor to decide what action they should take – in other words who to believe. We humans have a long history of cooperation with each other. Frequently it has been the best path to simply follow some leader, rather than to try to go it alone or join a minority. Most of our past has involved a choice between leaders without reference to verifiability of claims, or perhaps no choice between leaders at all; the choice is simply the degree or enthusiasm with which we follow some designated leader of our group. Consequently, we humans have developed no easy way to distinguish which kind of truth one is following. It is a labor and a learned skill not necessary for survival of the human race.

Because of this bit of human nature, those who can form belief on the basis of our own observation, and the observation of people we trust because we understand them, must aggressively present the story of what is going on to the wider public, who invest, who vote, and who regulate the world we live in.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.”


Fact to fiction — A twisted tale of how good research became bad information

By Elizabeth Miller, Boulder Weekly, November 20, 2014

The philosophy that University of Colorado research associate E. Michael Thurman applies to scientific research, he says, is: “You can sort the error from the truth if you work hard enough.” This week, that task became far more difficult as Thurman and his research associates came under fire for apparently declaring the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing operations to be harmless.

But it wasn’t true. The researchers never said anything like that, nor did they intend to. Like the children’s game of telephone, as word spread from one mouth to the next, the truth got so mired in errors it was nearly invisible by the end.

So how did a study designed to analyze traceable components of fracking fluid so potential contamination in groundwater could be identified get transformed into a headline that declared fracking fluid safe? The answer is poor communication and bad journalism.

…… the details are in the Article on hydraulic fracturing ……

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