investigating the nature of fact in the digital age

Quotes about facts, bias and truth

If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.

– Albert Einstein


Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

– Mark Twain


There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.

– Maya Angelou


The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

– Winston Churchill


“It often seems to me that’s all detective work is, wiping out your false starts and beginning again.”

“Yes, it is very true, that. And it is just what some people will not do. They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”

― Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile


To put it plainly, “better communications” is a euphemism for spin and neither has anything to do with telling the truth.

– Tim Dunlop, “The more things shuffle, more they stay the same”, The Drum


In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies.

– Winston Churchill


The routine political promise is like a piece of Mary Poppins pastry: easily made, easily broken.

And do we care? Probably not so much. Trust has been worn down by the constant repetition of brazen insincerity. We are resigned.

“No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”

No change either to the post-truth framing of modern politics, a place where a promise is simply a piece of positioning to sway popularity whose impact is immediate and not dependent on execution.

If we wanted truth, we’d probably vote for it. As it is, we seem to prefer a more gestural approach: a sense of plausible coherence rather than too much specific commitment. We want a sense that things will be better, that things will be managed. That we all might quietly prosper and get on.

Truth is as far from the point as conviction.

– Jonathan Green, “When broken promises become tests of character” (The Drum, November 20, 2014)


There are no facts, only interpretations.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Notebooks (1886-87)
[Variant translation: “Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying ‘there are only facts,’ I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations…” – As translated in The Portable Nietzsche (1954) by Walter Kaufmann, p. 458.]


Remember, any lie you are told, even deliberately, is often a more significant fact than a truth told in all sincerity.

― Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier


Truth is something believed in heart.
Fact is anything happened in realities.

― Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut


We out here don’t want to be confused by critical detail. No wonder politicians get away with fact murder.

– A despairing SMS sent by listener “Jeff” to Jon Faine on Mornings, ABC 774, August 11. The text message was in response to a discussion with Terry Mulder, state minister for transport and roads, about the lack of economic modelling details released by the goveenment for the East-West road link.



– Twitter, September 24, 2014


Democracy will save the planet but only if influential,
well intended change agents take time to understand
exactly how democracy works. The attitude of experts to
democracy expressed by one scientist (Sydney Morning
Herald, 17 June, 2013:9) when arguing that we should
leave coal in the ground that

“It isn’t our job to reconcile the politics of this with the
science; we are simply presenting the facts as we best
know them”

cannot continue.

– Dr Randal G Stewart, Climate Change in a New Democratic Age: Why we need more, not less, democratic participation (2013)


The lamp of ‘Facts, Facts, Facts’ … cannot guide the study of politics, political thinking and history. As in life more generally, facts invariably depend upon interpretations; interpretations depend upon narrations; narrations depend upon concepts and rules of method; and concepts and rules of method are shaped by interpretations and narrations, and by the languages, events, characters and institutions that provide the raw material (‘the facts’) or interpretations, narrations and ways of thinking about power and politics, understood in the broadest sense.”

– John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (2009)


Morris tried to keep the books in some sort of order, but they always mixed themselves up. The tragedies needed cheering up and would visit with the comedies. The encyclopedias, weary of facts, would relax with the comic books and fictions. All in all it was an agreeable jumble.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce


The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that need altering.

– The Doctor [Tom Baker] (Doctor Who, s14e13, “The Face of Evil”, 1977. Quoted in Wit, Wisdom and Timey-Wimey Stuff, 2014)


It was a strange choice of words. In June last year, the Liberal senator from Tasmania, now minister for employment, Eric Abetz, addressed a conservative forum in Sydney. In his speech, Abetz quoted one of the most radically despairing philosophers of the 19th century. “It was Friedrich Nietzsche,” he told the faithful audience, “that said, ‘There are no such things as facts, only interpretations.’”

Abetz made the unusual citation in a speech attacking the bias of the ABC – specifically, its new Fact Check exercise, formed to “determine the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate”.

Abetz followed the quote with his strong belief that “anyone who asserts a capacity to determine and divine the truth and facts in all matters should by definition be treated sceptically – especially when it impacts on our democratic processes”. Which, logically extended, would seem to not only serve as a rejection of ABC’s Fact Check, but the whole project of journalism itself – and much of politics.

– Martin McKenzie-Murray (The Saturday Paper, September 13, 2014)


A killer point or a clever statistic will get you over the line in a debate, even if, on later examination, it turns out to be false or a misrepresentation. But it’ll hurt you in an ongoing game where you need to build trust.

– Peter Martin on Treasurer Joe Hockey’s debating skills (The Age, August 19, 2014)


The fact of the matter is that I can only get the facts out there and explain the facts; how people interpret them is up to them.

– Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey to Fairfax Radio station 2UE in response to criticism of his claim that poor people do not have cars or drive very far in cars (August 15, 2014)


I don’t give a rat’s ass about facts. I give more than a rat’s ass – in fact, every breath I breathe – about truth. Shakespeare’s truth. Tolstoy’s truth. Not this legal mumbo jumbo, that’s just the graffiti on a Roman temple, forgotten in a year.

– A scriptwriter during a deposition in a defamation case, defending his fictionalisation of a man’s life to serve the narrative of a film, The Good Wife (s2e14: “Net Worth”)


… it is facts rather than ‘belief’ that matter.

– The Australian, cited on Media Watch (ABC, July 28, 2014)


Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

– Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, AD 170-180)


I don’t understand evolution and I have to protect my kids from understanding it. We will not give in to the thinkers!

– A “smiling, angry” woman addressing an anti-evolution protest at the Wozniak Nerd Academy, Futurama (s7e9: “A Clockwork Origin”)

Smiling angry people protest against evolution.

Smiling angry people protest against evolution.

Spanking and Creationists – a match made in heaven?

Spanking and Creationists – a match made in heaven?


We [journalists] don’t report the news, we make it. Accuracy is so time-consuming. Fiction is the new fact.

– Roger, American Dad! (s10e19: “News Glance with Genevieve Vavance”)


You’re a fixed point in time and space, you’re a fact. And that’s never meant to happen.

– The Doctor (David Tenant) to Captain Jack Harkness, the man who cannot be killed and cannot die (Doctor Who s3e11: “Utopia”)

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