The Truth About Facts
When I arrived at my friend’s home, I gave a candy bar to her two small children, as all good “aunties” do.
They were elated; mom not so much. From the corner of my eye, I saw her son digging into his candy — even though he was explicitly told by mom to eat it after dinner.
As we got ready to head out for a walk, he came over with chocolate smeared on his face. Mom asked whether he ate the candy. He adamantly denied it. As she and I walked, I asked her: “How do you feel when your children lie to you?”
She quickly corrected me: “He didn’t lie, he fibbed. A fib is a lie about something unimportant.”
Fibs, lies, falsehoods, fudged truths, disinformation, misleading information — and let’s not forget a new term trying to penetrate our vernacular — “alternative facts.” They are terms-of-art that seriously concern me.
It was mindboggling for me to hear White House spokesman Sean Spicer explain the president’s overstated inauguration attendance numbers by paralleling it to weather forecasting.
“There are times, like anything else, it’s not alternative facts, it’s that there’s sometimes you can watch two different stations and get two different weather reports. That doesn’t mean the station was lying to you.”
A fact is a stable, real, verifiable, objective piece of information.
Mr. Spicer, weather stations do not lie or make false claims. Weather stations make forecasts about the weather — a future event.
A lie is a false claim. A truth is a claim of facts. The weather becomes a fact only after it occurs. Only then can we definitively state the weather of that day and make it an irrefutable fact.
A fact is a stable, real, verifiable, objective piece of information. A fact is considered dead and the reason why we use the expression, “cold, hard facts.” A fact is not dissuaded by opinion, beliefs or temporary passions. You cannot have “false facts,” but you can have false claims of fact. A false statement that claims something is a fact, is a lie.
Why does this matter to me as a risk manager?
Our jobs as risk management professionals are hard enough without introducing lying into our daily equations. We can’t let lying become acceptable. We, as an industry, cannot collaborate in lies and we simply cannot marginalize lying.
We are an industry that makes daily decisions, often life and death decisions, on behalf of people who trust us to say the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant. The decision to buy kidnap, ransom or terrorism coverage is hard, often unpleasant. It requires facing ugly facts.
We often guide our clients’ decisions using forecasts but we genuinely try to perfect our prophecies using facts so that our clients can rely on them. When we go to court defending or prosecuting a claim, only facts must be in our briefcases.
We must remember that our clients often treat our predictions as real. We must have the highest duty of care when it comes to truth and facts. &