Cosmos Briefing: The Decline of Truth

‘Truth decay’ is a subject that’s been growing in visibility; the shift away from an accepted and agreed set of facts and data has been eroding trust in public institutions for many years. The trend may have been more profound in the United States, but Australia hasn’t been immune.

The challenges presented over many years by climate change and more recently by COVID-19 have placed science firmly at the centre of debate about the veracity of information, and the qualifications of those dispensing it. Has science stood apart from the decline of truth, or has it played a role in widening the gap between fact and fantasy?
We set this question to our panel of expert guests: Chief Scientist of South Australia Professor Caroline McMillen, former Justice of the High Court of Australia The Hon Michael Kirby, and University of Adelaide philosopher Associate Professor Antony Eagle, hosted by ABC Adelaide’s Ali Clarke. 


Professor Caroline McMillen has been Chief Scientist of South Australia since 2018. She is a medical researcher, the chair or a member of multiple research and advisory boards, and she’s held academic leadership positions at multiple universities across Australia, including seven years as Vice Chancellor of the University of Newcastle.

The Hon Michael Kirby served as a Justice of the High Court of Australia between 1996 and 2009, and was Acting Chief Justice on two occasions during that period. He’s had an extraordinarily long and distinguished judicial career – upon retirement from the High Court he was the country’s longest-serving judge – and he’s served on the governing bodies of universities and national and international bodies including the World Health Organisation.

Associate Professor Antony Eagle is a philosopher based at the University of Adelaide. His research has mainly been in ‘theoretical’ philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of science, philosophy of logic and language, philosophy of probability, and philosophy of physics. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne and did his higher degrees at Princeton University in the USA.

Born in Brisbane, Ali Clarke has called Adelaide home for over 20 years and joined ABC Adelaide in 2016. When not running around with her three children, she is an ambassador to a number of charities, loves watching sport and finds any excuse to explore South Australia’s beaches and country towns.

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