The whole truth

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I remember the first time I heard a public figure uttering something about being “economical with the truth”. It was a top British civil servant testifying in a hearing about a legal matter. I learnt later that the term was a direct quote from Mark Twain, who is widely regarded as a pioneering American man of letters.

Hearing the term summoned up the image of the truth being tangible and measurable. To be economical with the truth would entail extracting parts thereof which could be useful in presenting a persuasive case for an agenda that the purveyor of the information in question wanted to champion or pursue.

In recent times, terms such as “post truth” and “fake news” have been coined to serve as euphemisms for the same sort of thing. There are of the moment developments in the way we receive information nowadays, but people have always wanted to tell stories and spread rumours to serve their own purposes.

Who decides what the truth is? Are there circumstances where the truth is absolute? Scientists like to deal with certainty, but the way that facts are interpreted can also be slanted to suit the interests of specific individuals and groups.

Maybe the real issue of the moment is the challenge of sifting through too much information, to ascertain the most useful things each of us needs to know.