On the quest for an objective news source

I’ve commented a few times now that no matter who wins an election in the U.S., the losing side feels oppressed. We distrust each other’s information, calling it “fake news.” We distrust each other’s motivations, calling them hate. In effect, we deny each other’s legitimacy.

So a question has come up a couple times now: Where should we go for objective news?

It’s actually a good Human Science question. I have a Ph.D. in Human Science. And I’m going to duck that question.

For anyone, let alone journalists, to claim “objectivity,” they must be able to answer the critique of objectivity. In essence, that critique is that objectivity depends upon omniscience—a “God’s eye view.” None of us has that view; therefore, according to the critique, none of us can be objective.

I don’t have an answer for that critique. I don’t think anyone does.

Which is a pretty unsatisfactory situation. What do we do about it?

Are you ready for a lame-ass answer? My lame-ass answer is, the best we can. And know that whatever we come up with will be fallible.

When people ask what Human Science is, I reply with the answer we agreed upon in my Ph.D. program: It is about the experience of being human in social contexts.

But the practice of Human Science is largely about epistemology. How do we know what we claim to know? The only truth I can offer is, we don’t. There is no theory of truth that withstands scrutiny.[1]

So we accept personal experience as subjective “truth.” We seek to represent that truth as faithfully as we can. We accept a wide variety of methodologies for pursuing that truth.[2] And we go on from there.

But it is subjective truth. It is fallible.

I am proud of my Ph.D. I have no regrets about my education (albeit with plenty of regrets about how the job market receives that education). But perhaps the most profound thing I have learned from it is a humility about truth.

So I actually wince a bit inside when somebody asks me to recommend an “objective” news source. It cannot exist, at least among humans.

  1. [1]Bradley Dowden and Norman Swartz, “Truth,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, September 17, 2004, http://www.iep.utm.edu/truth/
  2. [2]Just to start: Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2011); Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).

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