What percentage of oral statements are not totally true?

May 1, 2010 | By | Reply More

How many times a day does it happen that someone tells you something that is purportedly factual, yet it is totally or partially untrue? It happens dozens of times every day.  For instance, someone says that the meeting is at 2, but it’s really at 2:30.  You ask someone directions and they get it terribly wrong.  Someone claims that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

Lots of falsehoods and unsubstantiated claims fly whenever people try to sell you something. Untruths occur even when experts make claims, even within their expertise.  Lack of accuracy happens when people who don’t know lack the courage to say that they don’t know. It happens when politicians tell us that we can drill our way out of the energy crisis. It happens when people allow hope to triumph over the truth. You see it where people aren’t careful or when they aren’t self-critical (maybe that’s redundant). You see it where someone’s memory is faulty and whenever they are overwhelmed with emotion.  It often happens on homework assignments and tests, even after the students carefully study the topics before providing their answers. It happens where people conjure up imaginary worlds and beings for their eternal protection. It happens when people substitute words for knowledge. It happens when people don’t understand what they are talking about, or when they assume. You see it and hear it whenever someone’s intellectual reach is greater than his or her grasp. I hear it all the time at work, even during sworn deposition testimony. I hear lots of white lies by kind-hearted people. I hear the untrue words of people trying to save face. I hear the untrue sentences of parents trying to spare their children from complex or intense truths.


Image by noahgolan at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

You hear untrue statements even when people are trying their hardest to be accurate. Just listen, for instance, to the number of times well-meaning people correct other well-meaning people during ordinary conversations.

Bottom line:  A lot of things that are said during the day are not accurate, from coast to coast. Of course, many of these inaccuracies are not intentionally incorrect.  I’m not claiming that most of these inaccuracies are the result of lying, although a huge chunk of it is due to paltering.

After this thought occurred to me today, I walked out into the hallway and sprung the following question on two unsuspecting attorneys:

What is the percentage of purportedly factual statements spoken by every person living in the US over the past year that are completely true by any reasonable measure of truth?

When I asked the question, I was assuming that my acquaintances would answer with something like the number that I had in my head:  40%

One answered 15% and the other said 10%.

Gad. I hope that neither of them is correct.


Category: Communication, Current Events

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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