Opinion: “What is truth?”


In times of post-truth it seems scientific facts do not count for much anymore, and topics are often treated as nothing but questions of faith. In his opinion piece, FNR Secretary General Marc Schiltz explains why we can continue to trust scientific facts.

“What is truth”, is a question already posed by Pontius Pilate 2000 years ago.

In the context of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump there is much talk of a time of “post-truth”. The term was crowned word of the year by Oxford Dictionary. Post-truth or is an attitude where facts and established knowledge are just pushed aside.

Example climate change: Over the past years, climate researchers worldwide have gathered and analysed vast amounts of data. They have compared their analyses with those of others, scrutinised each other’s findings, with each attempting to reproduce the other’s findings.

By now the conclusions are clear: climate change is real, and humanity has played a part in causing it. More than 97% of climate researchers agree with this conclusion.

Yet, we now have a president of the most powerful national in the world who just denies this, acting as though it is nothing but a question of faith: climate change, either you believe in it, or you do not. And if you don’t believe in it, then it is not real.

And then there are the usual tactics to convince oneself and others: data and analyses are looked at selectively; pseudo experts appear out of nowhere, and everything that does not conform to ones beliefs is disparaged.

However, we do not necessarily have to use examples as radical as climate change and Donald Trump.

Here in Luxembourg, we are in the midst of a discussion about one of our favourite topics: The place of the Luxembourgish language in this society. However, for this topic also, there is quite detailed and complete data by now, which has (among others) been gathered by STATEC.

Language researchers at the University of Luxembourg have analysed this data in more detail and have come to the conclusion that Luxembourgish is a vital language. More and more people are learning Luxembourgish as a second language, so it cannot be said that the language is at risk of extinction.

Research is based on facts, on proven findings. It develops continuously, because researchers can –with a critical view of course – use the results of other scientists as a basis. These research findings, which are vetted again and again and are achieved over longer periods of time, can reach beyond research and contribute to and cement socio-political decisions.

This opinion piece was originally recorded as a Carte Blanche on RTL in January 2017 

Marc Schiltz is Secretary General and Executive Head of the FNR

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