Joel Mogy, Tim Wolf, and Karen Elliott House pledged a combined $1 million to support RAND's research on Truth Decay, the diminishing role of facts and analysis in public life.
April 10, 2020
Joel Mogy has seen “Truth Decay” spreading through the financial world. Tim Wolf has seen it creeping into big business. And Karen Elliott House has seen it eating away at the foundations of American journalism, and American democracy.
What they share is a long commitment to RAND, and support for its research on Truth Decay, the diminishing role of facts and analysis in public life. They have pledged a combined $1 million to push that work forward and help it reach as broad an audience as possible. Each of them described it as essential at this moment in American history.
“If you don’t have the truth, if you don’t have a set of unassailable facts, then you’ve got confusion, you’ve got mayhem, you’ve got dissonance, and you’ve got corruption,” Wolf said. “There’s really no more important cause. Without truth, you can’t address climate change, you can’t address poor education or health. The list is a mile long.”
For Mogy, it was a challenge from his rabbi, Sharon Brous, that convinced him to get involved. Don’t sleep through life and then wake up one day and ask yourself what the heck just happened, she told him. Get out there and do something.
He is an investment counselor, the founder of Joel R. Mogy Investment Counsel, Inc., and a supporter of RAND for more than 20 years. He sees Truth Decay as an existential threat to America, metastasizing in financial scandals and lurking at the root of geopolitical crises.
He pledged $500,000 to establish the Joel and Joanne Mogy Truth Decay Fellowship, to support research on Truth Decay, civics, and democracy. He said he hopes it allows a researcher to not just focus on the causes and consequences of Truth Decay, but to work across fields to identify potential solutions.
He selected RAND, he said, because of its independence, integrity, and commitment to this issue. “This was a way I could act on my value system,” he said. “I’m making an investment to ensure we fix what we have.”
Wolf saw the opposite of Truth Decay growing up. He’s the son of the late Charles Wolf, Jr., whose storied career at RAND made him one of the world’s most respected international economists. He learned early to marshal facts to fight fiction.
He’s now the president of Wolf Interests. His resume includes executive positions at MillerCoors and Coors brewing companies and the Walt Disney Company. In the business world, he said, “the ability of folks to use fable and fiction is astounding.” He has pledged $250,000 to support RAND’s Truth Decay research. He sees it as a continuation of his father’s commitment to facts.
“The truth is at the foundation of every single relationship, be it interpersonal, be it commercial, be it governmental,” he said. “If you don’t have a hardened commitment to fact, then everything is just an absolutely unmanageable gulash of silliness that makes it really hard to make progress.”
Or, as House said: “We’re kind of, unfortunately, all drowning in a cauldron of hot commentary.”
She’s the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and former senior vice president of Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Before that, she was an international reporter for the Journal who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Middle East. She’s also the chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees.
She pledged $250,000 to support Truth Decay research as part of a $500,000 commitment she recently made to RAND.
She sees Truth Decay as a problem, first and foremost, of journalism. Good reporters used to be taught that they could get to facts, get to truth, by digging hard and pushing for answers. Today, they too often just go on television and talk. The marketplace of news has become one big blur of voices and views.
Countering Truth Decay is going to require not just reversing that trend and repairing journalism, but also rebuilding the public’s faith in the media and other institutions. And that is going to require research that focuses public attention on the problem as a first step toward solving it.
“I think everybody—,” she says, and then catches herself. “Well, maybe not. I was going to say, I think everybody understands what a mess it is. I guess they don’t, actually, because if they did they’d try to do something about it.”
— Doug Irving