"Raise your word, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." Rumi
Whilst many of us were sheltering indoors due to the very severe weather conditions on the weekend, three students from Archbishop Beck Catholic College were taking part in the English Speaking Unions (ESU) regional final in Cheshire.
Matthew, Katy and Amy had the honour of not only representing Archbishop Beck Catholic College but also the Liverpool Merseyside Branch of the ESU. Katy spoke on the Topic
"Myth is more memorable than Fact", so what chance does Truth have?
This was public speaking at its best with 6 schools vying for the honour of going to the National Grand Final in April.
Outstanding presentations, speeches and a very supportive atmosphere provided our students with a truly amazing experience. Although not the overall winners, the College was awarded the BEST QUESTIONER of the contest. This was awarded to Amy for her in-depth, probing and skilful questions. Congratulations to the winners Manchester High School for Girls, it was a hard fought contest.
I am delighted to be here to talk about three key words that can and do have the ability to change the world.
Myth, FACT and Truth. I hope to convince you that FACT is the dominant
As a child, my mum would say to me "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"! We all know eating fruit and veg every day is important for our overall health. But an ‘apple’? A ‘day’? Turns out, that old myth was actually spot on.
A 2013 study found that if all people aged over 50 in the UK ate just one apple per day, they would actually prevent or delay 8500 heart attacks and strokes every year. A Fact.
Let us now move to another example. In 1953, the bosses of America’s leading tobacco companies met John Hill, the founder and chief executive of a leading public relations firm in America.
Despite the impressive surroundings - the Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park in New York - the mood was one of crisis. Scientists were publishing solid evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. From the viewpoint of Big Tobacco, more worrying was that the world’s most read publication, The Reader’s Digest, had already reported on these facts in a 1952 article, “Cancer by the Carton”.
The journalist Alistair Cooke, writing in 1954, predicted that the publication of the next big scientific study into smoking and cancer would finish off the industry. It did not. PR guru John Hill had a plan - and the plan, proved tremendously effective. Despite it was product being addictive and deadly.
The tobacco industry was able to fend off regulation, litigation and the idea in the minds of many smokers that its products were fatal, for decades. So successful was Big Tobacco in postponing that day of reckoning that their tactics have been widely imitated ever since.
Robert Proctor, a historian at Stanford University who has studied the tobacco case closely, coined the word “agnotology”. This is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced; the entire field was started by Proctor’s observation of the tobacco industry. The facts about smoking - indisputable facts, from unquestionable sources - did not carry the day. The indisputable facts were disputed. The unquestionable sources were questioned. Facts, it turns out, are important, but facts were not enough to win this argument.
Agnotology has never been more important. “We live in a golden age of ignorance,” says Proctor. “And Trump and Brexit are part of that.”
In the UK’s EU referendum, the Leave side pushed the false claim that the UK sent 350m a week to the EU. It is hard to think of a previous example in modern western politics of a campaign leading with a transparent myth, maintaining it when refuted by independent experts, and going on to triumph anyway. That performance was soon to be eclipsed by Donald Trump, who offered wave upon shameless wave of demonstrable falsehood, only to be rewarded with the presidency. The Oxford Dictionary declared “post-truth” the word of 2016. Facts just didn’t seem to matter anymore.
The endgame of these myth is that matters of vital importance become too boring to bother reporting. Proctor describes it as “the opposite of terrorism: trivialism”. Terrorism provokes a huge media reaction; smoking does not. Yet, according to the US Centre for Disease Control, smoking kills 480,000 Americans a year. This is more than 50 deaths an hour. Terrorists have rarely managed to kill that many Americans in an entire year. But the terrorists succeed in grabbing the headlines; the trivialists succeed in avoiding them.
Ladies and Gentleman, let’s not get too carried away, because I believe Facts have longevity. They can be seen through the smoke and mirrors of politics. A publicity campaign or a political speech full of falsehood bursting onto the scene and swaying an opinion poll, BUT when the mob calms down, and the newspapers move on, what remains are the FACTS.
The tobacco lobby tried to stifle research and create myths, the efforts are now well-known, the number of people in the western world smoking has dropped to an all-time low. If facts can triumph over the weight of some of the world's largest companies, throwing money and lobbying a myth, then we have to continue to believe that it is the facts which will be remembered long after the myths have faded away and so called truths.
Facts have longevity!