Beliefs Trump Fact: MA Conference 2017

Rebecca Horton, International Training Programme Coordinator

Beliefs Trump Fact was a session at the MA conference and was a reaction to a current observation that belief and feeling appear to trump evidence and fact in the news. When belief is retold it becomes a quasi-truth to the masses, which is defined in new terminology as ‘fake news’ or ‘alternative facts’. The chairperson and speakers discussed the consequences of this recent phenomena and  what role museums have in this climate…

Chair: Sally MacDonald, Director, National Museum of Science and Industiry, Manchester


Samira Ahmed, Journalist and Broadcaster

Ian Blatchford, Chair, National Museum Director’s Council and Director, Science Museum Group

Matthew d’Ancona, Writer, The Guardian

The speakers presented aspects of life which define current times, meaning that now is different to what humans have had to encounter and deal with previously. Matthew D’Ancona described a post-truth society where people collude in the lies rather than the source of the lies and groups are choosing their own truths. This could be the result of a combination of two occurrences:

  1. A collapse in trust in established institutions: parliament, newspapers, previously respected television personalities… Something which museums have escaped.
  2. The digital age: algorithms on the internet connects users to what they are interested in, limiting their scope to know the truth.

How can museums attempt to encourage the search for real truth?

  1. Teach people how to conduct good research and specifically research in the digital age – encourage users to scrutinise what they read and to deduce what makes a reliable source
  2. Facts are not enough in the current climate, museums must challenge emotions and motivations in order to engage audiences
  3. Encourage curiosity because curiosity leads to knowledge
  4. Museums have become digital communities and should use their large digital reach to engage with audiences so that they will use the museum as a resource
  5. Use museums as places for dialogue and debate but make sure many voices enter the debate on equal terms and that it is not polarising