There are many subtle differences between the various words of this post’s subject line, but what they have in common is that they have little to do with the truth. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe something called the truth exists. Not everything is opinion. Not everything depends on your politics and philosophy. Facts is facts. Some events actually happened; some didn’t. The truth may be hard to establish, but in many cases it can be dug out and exposed if necessary.
Has the Internet exacerbated the problem with untruth? I’m not convinced it has. It may possibly have increased the volume of misinformation in circulation, but there never has been a period of history free of bullshit and lies. They have always thrived as propaganda, in the press, and of course in many a discussion between friends. Even academia did not worry too much about the modern idea of truth. Truth in medieval universities was defined by the writings of Aristotle, and he made up quite a lot of stuff. The only greater authority for truth was the Church.
Even if the Internet puts misinformation very much more in our face, it also provides us with the tools to check what we read. If we care about the truth, it has never been so easy to verify what we read. Are the author, and the people the information comes from, reliable? Are they biased? How do they earn a living? Do other sources agree? If relevant, what does mainstream science have to say about it? With the Internet it is now often possible to get answers to those questions in a matter of minutes.
As for the world of wine, I don’t think there is much that I would call fake news or deliberate lying. But that is more than made up for by the volume of bullshit – that is to say unsubstantiated statements that may sound plausible, but are at best doubtful. Sometimes the bullshit is a more or less subtle attempt to persuade or sell, or possibly merely a misguided attempt to help but, regardless of motivation, while the bullshit might speak to wine enthusiasts, the vast majority of people see right through it. To be frank, I usually go with the vast majority on that one.
I don’t guarantee to be totally free of bullshit myself, but that is my goal. And I also often call out wine bullshit whenever I think I smell it. As a result, many of my vinous views are rather extreme and unorthodox. For example I remain highly sceptical on issues like terroir, minerality and elaborate tasting notes; and have even more negative views on biodynamics, and objectivity in wine tasting. For interesting yet bullshitty subjects like wine, my advice is to listen carefully to every opinion, but remain sceptical. And to check the evidence before you repeat what you hear, particularly if you are putting it in writing. Remember – just because the same bullshit has been repeated many times does not make it any more true. In that sense at least, it is very much like fake news shared many times on social media.