Why We Can't Have Our Facts Back

  • Noortje Marres University of Warwick
Keywords: demarcation, knowledge technology, knowledge democracy, digital society, public facts


How do we make the case for “knowledge democracy” in the face of the growing influence of right-wing figures and movements that denounce experts and expertise? While the threats to knowledge posed by these movements are real, it would be a mistake to return to a classic intellectual strategy––the politics of demarcation––in the face of this danger. Examining practical proposals for combatting fake news and opinion manipulation on the Internet, namely so-called "fact-checking" tools and services, I argue that they threaten to enroll us in a problematic normative project, one that aims to re-establish a hierarchy between knowledge and its presumed opposite, non-knowledge, or anti-knowledge. I list a number of shortcomings of this strategy. Most importantly, it distracts us from the role of technology in the crisis of public evidence in today's computationally-intensive societies. Social media are a truth-less public sphere by design. A politics of demarcation also puts us at risk of forgetting a key insight from the previous century that remains valid today: knowledge democracy is a re-constructive practice and an ideal. Instead of consolidating hierarchies of knowledge through facts that derive their authority form outside the public sphere, we need to recover the central role in public life of experimental facts: statements whose truth value is unstable. The experimental validation of public knowledge must happen in the public domain.



Author Biography

Noortje Marres, University of Warwick
Associate Professor and Research Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick
24 Jul 2018