If I may foray one more time into politics. Watching the US presidential debates as well as the Canadian political debates, I was struck by the resounding lack of data. In 2008 why do we allow candidates to disagree on an issue without showing the facts of the matter.

To be fair, NBC did have a 4 minute segment after the debate on checking facts. But this is far too late. I think the data and fact-checking should be part of the debate. The goal is ensure the debate is conducted within the realm of reality.

I know that it can be done: In a world and on a network where I can watch an NFL game and immediately see that what I am currently watching is the lowest score by a Charger running back in the last 56 years - on-the-fly and in a pretty graphic, we can apply the same level of data mining & research to something far more important. It is completely unacceptable to me that we don't.

Q: Where would this get this data?

  1. They could have a team of people on the fly. Like the judges on Jeopardy (who occasionally rule or overrule on questions/answers). These people are well-versed in political matters, are experts at searching google, congressional hearings & rulings, encyclopedias, etc.
  2. They could treat it like a court and require all potential statements to be backed up by data: submitted prior to the debate (they'd just submit reams of data, anything that they potentially would want to use). Of course, they would have to submit it some time prior to the debate, so their opponent could review it and be informed on it.
  3. Similar to #1: they could crowdsource the judging and allow people to submit (text message, twitter, instant message, telephone, email) their facts and links to the facts (links to a reputable source).

I personally like option 1. Let the networks fight about who is the best and fastest fact checker. You can also mix in #3 or even all 3.

Q: How would it work?

For the most part, it wouldn't change the flow of the debate much. It would change it's content. I think there are 2 ways that data that would be shown:

  1. Side-points. If a candidate makes a statement that would seem unbelievable or is likely to not be believed by the viewing audience, the network shows some data to back it up - alongside the discussion. The debate continues uninterrupted.
  2. Challenged points. If a candidate argues that something is untrue or distorted, then they should be allowed to show their evidence proving the facts. Alternatively, if the "judges" of the network find something, they could suggest that to the candidate. This information would be shown (video, text, etc.) with the candidates watching. It would form part of the debate. Keeping the debate moving in the realm of truth - not opinion.

I'm all for opinions - and the vote is a decision based on personal opinion. But this opinion should be based on facts and data that is available. Such a system wouldn't solve everything - but it's better to use the facts that are available than to ignore those facts - If I may venture an opinion (and no data) on this subject.

Notes & Links

  • Political rallies would still be exempt from this truth requirement. The point is that we'd have at least 1 forum that required an honest discussion based on reality.
  • I'm not sure how you'd work in "opinion" elements. Possibly limit how many opinion-based statements are allowed (5 per debate). Possibly let the moderator of the debate err... moderate the "opinion-based" nature of the statement on the fly.
  • Hat Tip: Scott Berkun's recent quote of John Malkovich's opinion of the current political M.O inspired this post (as well as watching all the English North American debates over the last few weeks).
  • Photo credit: Seth W., J. Phil

Thursday, October 23, 2008, 12:00 AM

tagged: crowdsourcing, data, debates, election2008, politics, scottberkun