Restoring Democracy with Politician Truth Ratings

by Benjamin Howard Davis

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Missing avatar By Benjamin Howard Davis
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About

The Acropolis at Athens - Leo von Klenze 1846
The Acropolis at Athens - Leo von Klenze 1846

 

Dear friends,

For the past few years we have been working on a project we believe will change the way we select our elected officials, both local and national.

The project is based on analyzing the truth of what politicians say, in such a manner that we can produce a scientifically sound measure of the average level of truth. This is called a Politician Truth Rating.

The purpose of our Kickstarter page is to raise funds for the project, which will be used to build the software for TruthRatings.org and begin to create the data for actual Truth Ratings. It's a very ambitious project, but we think it will work because it's based on analysis and evidence, as explained on the page.

This Kickstarter page is what we have so far. It's incomplete. Soon it will have a video at the top and a Support column on the right. The funding goal is estimated but will soon be derived from a budget.

We would like your feedback on what we have so far in these areas:

1. Is your initial reaction negative or positive? Please explain.

2. Is there more information you would like to see?

3. Is this something you would want to share with your friends?

4. Do you have any suggestions in general on how we can make our Kickstarter campaign succeed?

Please contact us by email with your feedback, since we have so much to discuss.

Thanks so much!

Ben, Scott, Martha, and Jack

What exactly is going on in the world's political systems today? The health of democracy is sliding downhill. For example:

  • Russia has fallen back into authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin.
  • Far right parties in Europe, once seen as pesky little things to be tolerated, are growing in strength and having sizable impact.
  • Rodrigo Duterte swept into power in the Philippines on a platform of uncontested ability to ignore the law when pursuing drug dealers and anyone else he didn't like.
  • Recep Erdogan has turned Turkey into an authoritarian state, by demanding and getting the power to personally appoint or dismiss ministers, select judges, and rule by decree if he deems it necessary.
  • To top it off, the United States recently elected a populist authoritarian president who is clearly unqualified, preaches intolerance and hate, and is deliberately provoking international conflict, such as with North Korea, as well as internal conflict. 

Meanwhile the problems that really matter go unsolved, like climate change, avoidable large recessions, high income inequality, and large-scale discrimination. If the climate change problem in particular is not solved, global catastrophe literally lies dead ahead. Traditional approaches to activism are simply not working. 

WHY is this? Why is traditional activism unable to solve these problems?

Thwink.org is a small think tank in Atlanta, Georgia, US, founded in 2001. After several years of research, we refocused the question into a new one, as explained in this video:

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The video is from Film One in the Democracy in Crisis Film Series. Thwink took the world’s top problems and organized them into solved and unsolved problems, and asked The Right Question: Why are activists able to solve some problems and not others? That led to this answer:

All problems arise from their root causes. If it's an easy problem, the root causes are obvious or change resistance from the system is low, as it was for the solved problems. They took time, but they were solved.

We define a difficult problem as one that’s resisted solution for over 30 years. Difficult problems have high change resistance and their root causes are incredibly hard to find. If you don't know their root causes, difficult problems will resist solutions again and again, and just plain wear you out, until you walk away exhausted, demoralized, and muttering how the problem is impossible to solve.

Impossible to solve? That's not true. The business world solves thousands of difficult problems a day, all by applying root cause analysis in one form or another. If it works for business problems it can work for social problems. But how do we do that? How do we apply the powerful business tool of root cause analysis to social problems?

 

Our challenge was to figure out how to apply root cause analysis to social problems, so we studied how the business world solved its own problems. In all cases they used a formal process designed for a particular class of problems. The tougher the problem, the more mature the process had to be. To meet this challenge, over a seven-year period Thwink.org developed a process designed to solve difficult large-scale social problems.

Called the System Improvement Process, the tool allowed us to find the main root causes of the problem. We would have never found the root causes otherwise. Here's a high-level view of the results, from Film 3 in the Democracy in Crisis Film Series

 

There's a lot packed into this image. The biggest surprise of the analysis was that the unsolved problems are symptoms of a deeper problem, one we've come to call the Broken Political System Problem. That problem causes the side effects of the three types of un-sustainability, which in turn cause the unsolved problems to remain unsolved.   

The right tool has reduced confounding complexity to crystal clear simplicity. To solve the unsolved problems, we need to solve the Broken Political System Problem by resolving its root causes. Unless the laws of physics change there is no other way.  

How can we resolve those root causes? Believe it or not, it appears it can be done with a single solution element, Politician Truth Ratings, because we know precisely where on the system to "push."

Root causes are resolved by pushing on their high leverage points with solution elements. Once a root cause becomes clearly visible, its high leverage point(s) is obvious. For example, once a doctor has diagnosed a bewildering illness and thus found its root cause(s), treatment is generally straightforward.  

Examine the Broken Political System Problem diagram. The change resistance sub-problem is what's preventing the system from solving the unsolved problems. The root cause of successful change resistance is low truth literacy. Citizens are too easily fooled by deceptive politicians into voting against their own best interests. (This root cause has some support in the academic community. Please see this paper by Thwink.org.)

For example, in the 2016 US presidential election the Republican candidates told all sorts of lies in debates, speeches, and ads as described in this New York Times article. Shown below is the key image from the article:

Image from New York Times, "All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.", December 11, 2015
Image from New York Times, "All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.", December 11, 2015

But there was one candidate who outshone them all in his ability to tell lies so clever and appealing that he won the primary and then the general election. It was a clear case of the biggest and best liar won. (Sadly, it's also become a classic case of the biggest liar can do a lot of damage.)

Why did the biggest liar win? Because of low political truth literacy. If voters can't tell the difference between a clever lie and the truth, the lie has more appeal. The lying politician can promise two chickens in every pot, while the truth telling politician can promise only one. The lying politicians can paint fearful images of (false) enemies everywhere, like immigrants and all those people about to take away your guns, or your religion, or Your Rights! But the truth telling politician cannot paint fearful images of false enemies. They can only point out the true enemies, which does very little to push the fear hot button because there are not too many true enemies and they are well known, and hence no longer feared.

Once you see the pattern, you can see why the biggest liar wins most of the time. This historic pattern has been going on for a long time.

But that pattern will stop once we have Politician Truth Ratings. Once we have a ratings system, voters can use the ratings to determine for themselves who's telling the truth and who's playing them for a sucker. Political truth literacy will quickly rise from low to high and the biggest liar will no longer win. Instead, the biggest truth teller will win. Here "truth" means the truth about what's best for the common good, as well as the truth about something that can be observed in the real world. 

 

We see ratings everywhere, like credit ratings, bond ratings, restaurant ratings, wine ratings, and product ratings like those by Consumer Reports. Ratings work because they save people time and allow them to make more accurate decisions. Ratings work so well that entire industries depend on and even thrive on them. The retail credit industry, for example, would collapse without credit ratings because it's prohibitively expensive for lenders to determine if a customer is creditworthy or not. 

An example of how credit ratings allow lenders to set interest rates in a reliable manner.
An example of how credit ratings allow lenders to set interest rates in a reliable manner.

The most important decision we make in our roles as responsible citizens is who to vote for and what issues to support. But where are the ratings that citizens need to help make those decisions? They are nowhere to be found. Politician Truth Ratings fills that gap.

Politician Truth Ratings work by pushing on the high leverage point of raise truth literacy. It does this by rating the average level of truth in a politician's important political statements (also called claims) about what is true. That information is then used to educate voters about those politicians, as well as how to spot the truth themselves.

Suppose a politician made 2,000 important claims over a period of five years. To achieve a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5%, the ratings system would randomly select 322 claims. Each claim would be analyzed to determine its truth confidence level, from zero to 100%. The average of all the analyzed claims is the politician's Truth Rating. Because the claims are randomly selected and are analyzed using strict protocols to minimize bias and error, the ratings are scientifically sound and accurate. (You can calculate the sample size needed yourself with this calculator. Enter 2000 for population size and click Calculate.)

Random sampling and averaging is widely used by industry to measure and control some aspect of quality. The books below illustrate how fundamental quality control has become in the business world. If quality control works on iPhones, brake pads, and Cheerios it will work on politicians. Imagine that. Soon you will be able to trust politicians just as much as you do your brake pads!

 

Politician Truth Ratings are the next step after fact-checking, which measures the truth level of a single claim. Ratings go much further by measuring the average truth level of many claims by a politician over a period of time, as well as organizing the analyzed claims by issue and providing in-depth educational material. The ratings would be calculated by independent non-partisan organizations like the Congressional Budget Office or Consumer Reports.

Compared to fact-checks, Politician Truth Ratings offer a more complete and reliable measure of a candidate’s tendency to tell the truth. Ratings do everything fact-checks do and more, as listed below:

The last feature is particularly important. It’s much harder to correct a false belief after people have been exposed to it with a fact-check, because most people will never see the fact-check. In addition, once people are exposed to a false belief and infected by that belief, it’s hard to change it.

Much better is to do what the field of medicine does: inoculate people against infection by deception before they are exposed to it by raising their truth literacy. Politician Truth Ratings raises truth literacy by educating voters on how various fallacies work, how politicians use those fallacies, and how analysis of what a politician has said can be used to calculate a scientifically accurate Truth Rating that you can trust. Armed with this knowledge, voters can increase their immunity to the corrosive effects of attempted deception.

Truth Ratings can be used on any type of source, not just politicians. Given the rising influence of fake news, we foresee implementing Source Truth Ratings for news sources as necessary.

Truth literacy is the ability to tell truth from deception. Universal truth literacy is just as important to the health of democracy as reading literacy, because if people cannot “read” the truth they are blind to what the truth really is. They are easily controlled by any politician who uses deception to hoodwink the masses into supporting him and his positions.

A marked-up text can be published as an online article. Readers can read the article and click on the Facts, Rules, Reusable Claims, and so on to explore the argument the article is built around. They can educate themselves very efficiently on a whole new type of knowledge: how a claim was analyzed and how its truth rating was calculated. This type of information in this type of article was never available before. That's why we suspect that claim analysis articles could be a new form of journalism. 

There's more. Once we have lots of analyzed claims in the database, another new type of article becomes possible: news about patterns of truth and deception. Article titles like "The False Dilemma Fallacy Is Gaining Ground. Here's How to Spot It." and "Thanks to the Politician Truth Ratings System, the Level of Truth in the Last Election Was Up by 8%." could be the wave of the future of journalism, and of democracy!

The first generation of Politician Truth Ratings was developed two years ago. We are now developing the second generation, which will be funded by this Kickstarter campaign. We are just getting started. After further development it will be online at TruthRatings.org. At first there will be very few ratings. As more and more political systems begin using Truth Ratings, that will change.

Building the system and doing a good job is expensive. Kickstarter gives you a chance to be part of this project, all the way from now to implementation on politicians in your voting area. This will take some time and a lot of hard work, but with your participation (including product testing and feedback if you like) we are certain it can be done. 

After you've watched the video at the top of this page, check out the prototype here. The Ratings will look something like this:

On TruthRatings.org you will be able to find a politician, look at his or her rating, drill down on the rating to see how it was composed, and drill down on issues to see where the politician stands on those issues and how trustworthy they are. You can examine every scrap of information that went into calculating the truth level of a claim, including the rules of logic used.

This is crucial, because far too many politicians are using fallacies like False Dilemma, Cherry Picking, and Ad Hominem attacks. You can click on one of these to see how it was used, why it's fallacious, and how to spot this particular pattern of deception instantly. If you spend some quality time here, perhaps just a few hours, you will be transformed. You will be inoculated against further deception by the fallacies you've studied. Your truth literacy will have gone from low to medium and maybe more, because you can no longer be fooled so easily.

 

Raising truth literacy from low to high (for as little as 5% to 10% of a country's voters since most important elections are close) will solve the Broken Political System Problem. But until that happens, the problem is unsolved and modern democracy is broken. It no longer works as intended because democracy depends on two fundamental assumptions:  

1. The first assumption is that people must be allowed to choose their leaders. As enshrined in so many constitutions, citizens have the right to vote. How to do that is described in enough detail to implement a voting system. All democracies rely on their voting systems to choose their leaders.   

2. The second assumption is that people will be wise enough to elect good leaders. How this assumption will be achieved is nowhere to be found, in constitutions or anywhere else. The unfortunate result is that people are frequently NOT wise enough to elect good leaders. As we have explained, political truth literacy is low. A person's level of truth literacy is largely a matter of cultural chance, since nowhere in the average person's education and later life are they formally educated in truth literacy. As a result, voters are easily hoodwinked into voting for candidates who promise one thing and do another, and use all sorts of crafty deception to play on voters fears and emotions. Therefore, this assumption is false. The end result is democracy is broken.  

But the second assumption becomes true once nations have a standard, trusted mechanism to ensure that "people will be wise enough to elect good leaders." 

Please join us in making the second assumption become true!

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