Be a Truth Detective

Did you know Florence Nightingale was a ‘truth detective’? She looked at the data and used a pie chart to show why good hygiene and sanitation in medicine was so important to saving lives. You can read this interesting story and others in Tim Harford’s new book, The Truth Detective, in which he helps young people “make sense of a world that doesn’t add up”.

In a world where misinformation is rife, where good information can be hard to find, and where we are being persuaded to believe this, buy that, vote for this, support that, reject this, share that, follow this, and so on, it’s not easy to always know what’s true and what isn’t. The truth can sometimes be hard to find in the numbers we see.

Tim is an economist (so, a ‘numbers guy’), a renowned broadcaster, journalist and the presenter of the BBC Radio 4’s More or Less. He spoke to young people and families at the Sheldonian Theatre during the Oxford Literary Festival. Andrew Kensley, Science Oxford’s Head of Education Outreach and Training, introduced Tim to the theatre full of curious young minds. After the talk, we all came away empowered to seek out the truth.

Tim gave three pieces of advice. And making them easy to remember, the keywords are all Cs!

Be calm, Tim says. Sometimes we want to believe certain things because it feels good. We sometimes accept certain facts but reject others because of how they make us feel. But our emotions can get in the way of really asking what’s true or not. If we can identify when this happens, we can find a way to dig deeper.

Get context, Tim says. Sometimes things are ‘true’ in science, but we can only understand them if we know the context around that truth. Because any one situation can have so many variables, sometimes somethings are only true in one particular set of conditions.

Be curious, Tim says. We should have an open mind for learning, and question the limitations of our own knowledge.

It’s great advice to help us make all kinds of decisions. Thanks Tim and the Oxford Literary Festival!

Get your copy of this recommended book to get more helpful advice.