UW News

November 19, 2018

UW political scientist Mark Smith asks: How do we know what’s true?


In a timely new University of Washington political science class, professor Mark A. Smith asks: How do we separate fact from fiction these days? How do we know what is true?

Personal beliefs often overpower objective facts these days, Smith says. People are losing faith in the traditional arbiters of truth — government, media and organized religion.

People walking in a crowd, looking at their phones.

It’s easy to find ourselves in a ‘filter bubble’, reading a small set of news sources and not questioning information we already agree with, says Smith.Matt McNulty / Unsplash

“Everyone will say, ‘I’m totally open minded — I always look at all the evidence before I make up my mind. But then if you look at what they’re reading, what they are exposing themselves to, how they interact with information, they are actually not open-minded,” Smith says in this video by Kiyomi Taguchi of UW News.

Smith is teaching a new undergraduate fall quarter class “Seeking Truth in an Age of Cynicism and Political Polarization” (Political science 334). The class aims to teach students basic tools of critical and scientific thinking, and then apply them to current politics and other public controversies.

Mark A. Smith, UW professor of political science.

Mark A. Smith, UW professor of political science.Kiyomi Taguchi / UW News

As Smith discusses also in an interview on his department website, the class reaches beyond traditional courses in critical thinking to help students become more aware of how the ways they process information can create systemic biases.

Because, as Smith says in the video, “It’s extremely hard to be open minded. It’s a lot easier to isolate yourself into what we call a filter bubble than it used to be.”


For more information, contact Smith at masmith@uw.edu.