Are we living in a ‘post-truth’ society?

Saturday 21 October, 11:0012:15, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EWUK satellites


This debate is part of Battle of Ideas Edinburgh, a day of debates at the National Library of Scotland. Full details and tickets here.

The vote to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump sparked a heated debate about whether we now leave in a post-truth era. The Vote Leave bus, seemingly promising an extra £350million for the NHS if we voted to get out of the EU, is routinely used as an example of how politicians and campaigners have been willing to lie to get a result – and the result suggests they can get away with it.

But Brexit and Trump are just the most obvious examples of how a debate over facts seems to have been replaced by one built on tribes and emotions. The independence referendum in 2014, for example, was notorious for the bellicose use of social media, with memes being widely circulated that had at best a distant relationship with the truth. The debate about climate change has remained intense, despite there being a widely reported consensus about the dangers of global warming. Michael Gove’s much-quoted, if unintentionally blunt, comment that ‘people have had enough of experts’ chimes with a feeling that expertise and evidence are out of fashion. If that’s true, does it spell disaster for researchers, journalists and campaigners attempting to get at the truth about how the world works? Or are claims of a ‘post-truth’ era overblown?