@brute - I liked your post but I did not see any mention of the importance of having a contextual framework for understanding facts and how the existence or lack of framework makes a huge difference in one's level of insight into a collection of facts.
Here's an extremely simple example, perhaps suitable to explain 3 year olds to 7 year olds' insight into numbers.
Lets say there are numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 on a clock. That's all there is.
We also have a bunch of kids.
The 3 year old knows how to identify a few of them. And I'm going to do this in Danish just to make the point clearer. He knows en to tre. For added realism, put some mashed potatoes in your mouth and say it out loud: "en to tre". Basically he knows the sounds that corresponds to a few symbols on the clock face.
The 4 year old knows en to tre fire syv ni ti elleve tolv fem otte seks. He has 12 facts, namely 12 sounds mapping to 12 symbols .
The 5 year old knows en to tre fire syv ni ti elleve tolv fem otte seks and he knows entotrefirefemsekssyvottenitiellevetolv. Basically a rhyme that puts them in order just like how many people need to sing [part of] their ABC to figure out which letter is halfway between L and P. He has 13 facts: 12 symbol sounds and a song.
The 6 year old knows all the written symbols and all their sounds but he also knows that they correspond to numbers. E.g. he knows that fire means 4 and that it's a way to summarize 4 objects, like 4 apples. He also knows how to count. He has 12 facts, one framework (the sounds correspond to numbers), and one method (counting). Notice how he doesn't need to sing out entotrefirefem ... anymore to tell what comes after ni.
At this point, things speed up.
The 6.5 year old learns that for numbers higher than 12 (The world is bigger than the face of the clock), there's method for making the sounds for a given number. He knows how to say 85 even if he's never memorized what that number sounds like. Same reason you know how to read out 768,136,629,012 even if you were never directly taught the word for this particular number. While you don't know the word, you know the method for constructing the word, and that is as good as knowing the word.
The 7 year old knows all that ... but he also learns addition. If you give the 6 year old 3 apples he'll count 1-2-3. You give him two more. He'll count 1-2. You ask how many he's got, he'll count them all from the start: 1-2-3-4-5 --- he has 5 apples. The 7 year old will count 1-2-3 ... but then count on 4-5. And soon he will understand what 3+2 means (without having apples in front of him) and that it's 5. He knows about 30 facts (about the sounds that make up any number up to 10000), one framework and four methods (symbol->name, counting, adding by counting, and abstract addition).
I could go on to the point where the average math professor has a couple of dozen frameworks and many hundreds of methods. And the average adult human has few frameworks (numbers, fractions, simple algebra) and little more than a handful or so methods (+ - / * > = ^ sqrt). An average STEM with a bachelor degree knows several frameworks and a few dozen methods. He is much closer in ignorance to the average person than the average math professor when it comes to mathematical insight. Of course your average math professor is still below the combined effort of your average math department, that is, a collaboration with other math profs leads to more insight than being stuck doing your own thing in the library or the sociology department.
And maybe we can agree that such a process also happens for other fields: Reading, playing the piano, algebra, programming, woodworking, calculus, ... and even self-consistent models of the heat transport and chemical behavior of the Earth's atmosphere, land surface, and oceans.
What I see with post-factualism is the increasing belief that frameworks beyond one's personal comprehension simply don't exist!
("If I don't understand something, nobody else does either." Corollary: "I understand anything as well as any other person".)
For example, a statement like "nobody knows facts from first principle(*)" is essentially saying that we don't know that 2928 is the next number after 2927 as long as we've never personally counted that high. It's also saying that we don't know how to pronounce the number 72723358 because nobody has ever told us directly what it sounds like.
Now in the universe above, a statement like "we can't know facts based on first principles" would make sense to the 3 yo, the 4yo, and the 5yo. The reason is that none of them know any methods. Nor do any of them have a framework. To the kids at 6, 6.5, and 7 such a statement would seem rather silly. Of course they know what comes after 2927 and they know how to say "totusindenihundredeogsyvogtyve" without having memorized or seen this previously. They will also know that given a truckload of apples and the fact that there's 2927 apples in there ... then if they count them ... lo and behold there will be 2927 of them. If they somehow get another number, either somebody is lying or they miscounted but in any case, they KNOW that they could in principle (first principle that is) establish how many apples there are by doing a recount and maybe they will do the recount.
In other words, they know FACTS about 2927 from FIRST PRINCIPLE. The principle of counting objects.
(*) It occurs to me that some people might not know what "first principle" actually means ... but it refers to deducing a result based on established methods, such as counting or addition. In more complicated situations, like science, it means starting _without_ making empirical assumptions during the deduction. For example, calculating the Earth's orbital configuration (which are facts) from Newton's law of gravity (which is fundamental) would be knowing facts from first principles. On the other hand, calculating the configuration from Kepler's laws (which is empirical) is NOT knowing facts from first principles. One can however, derive Kepler's laws from Newton's laws. This means that Newton's laws are a strong framework for understanding not only facts about the world but also in explaining simplified frameworks like Kepler's.
Given the actual meaning of "first principle", it obviously means that saying that "we can't know facts from first principle" is bullshit.
Saying that "we don't have all the facts" suggests that the person lacks a framework to make sense of the facts they already have. In the example above, it could either be like a 3.5 year old who knows 10 symbols but sees that he's obviously missing some, like how to pronounce the word for "11". It could also suggests a 6 year old who believes that "nobody really knows how to pronounce 553,785,125,728,474" because he hasn't learned what the 6.5 year old knows yet.
Saying that "we need better facts" suggests that the person is unable to form or understand the framework because they're not really sure how to pronounce elleve or tolv because he hasn't heard it directly from a native or googled it on the internet. However, I presume that most people who have paid attention so far will have figured out that tolv = 12 even if they don't know how to pronounce it properly. And they also know that 5+7=12 and that 13 comes after 12 even if they never learned (from above) what the word for 13 is.
In other words, the existence of a framework and several methods can substitute for "not having the best facts" [sic] or "needing more facts". One does not need to know everything to know a lot already.
And I think it is the appreciation of that insight that's going away. That such frameworks exist and that such frameworks are useful
Lets insert some social dynamics and go to kindergarten or preschool where we have a bunch of 4yos and a 6yo. In such a situation, it's quite easy to imagine that the 4yos will mutually agree that there's no such thing as counting numbers and because if counting is too complicated for a 4yo to understand, then nobody understands counting. In fact, there's no such thing as counting. In a group setting where the stakes are low (e.g. they aren't counting their pocket money), it's easy for the 4yos to democratically convince themselves that the 6yo is just going blablabla ... On the other hand, in an alternate universe, it might also be that a couple of the 4yos think that this counting concept is really amazing and try to learn it for themselves. It requires a certain combination of curiosity and work to do that.
To me post-factualism essentially is tearing down frameworks ... and yes they existed back when I was a physicist but the general public took them a bit more serious back then.
For example, if you can spread the general idea that the media is biased, you're essentially spreading the idea that the media doesn't have a framework for presenting facts. This has the side-effect that anyone can present whatever they want. There's no longer a belief that anyone knows what's going on in the world ... or more precisely, that everybody knows equally little.
Similarly, if you spread the idea that graduate level physics is "too complex for anyone to understand" based on your high school level insight or your one semester college course in "astronomy for non-scientists", you're also spreading the idea that even people who have studied and worked on this full-time for 10+ years also lack such a framework. You're pretty much operating under the impression that "because jacob hasn't spent 50 years tracking all the planets in a telescope, jacob doesn't know how planets move because Newton's law of gravity is too complicated to understand and jacob doesn't know enough to build a computer program that iterates planetary orbits based on Newton's laws and compute the position of a given planet in the sky in the future (but I do).
And goddamnit, but Newton's laws aren't based on a set of beliefs in the same way that one's opinion about the outcome of a football game or whether emacs is a better editor than vi are based on beliefs. I find it thoroughly disturbing that this is the impression I get from above. It's not such that there is a "political reality" and a "scientific reality". There's ONE reality. Then there's a scientific understanding of that reality. And then one can create a policy based on the scientific understanding of that reality or one could base it on voodoo or personal feelings or whatever. But it's not like there are different realities.
However, if enough people get it into their head that "this stuff is too complex for anyone to know", then it's pretty easy for a well-spoken person, say your friendly neighborhood astrologer to convince the average person that "we" don't really know about this planet stuff to actually say anything meaningful and therefore one set of facts ("Venus is in the third house and Mars in in ascension" and "This determines whether you'll find your soulmate next year") is as good as another set of facts ("the position of Mars is 45degrees azimuth and 136 degress right ascension at 8:00:00 in Chicago and based on orbital calculations it will be in a new position 24 hours from now with the following coordinates" and "There's absolutely no relation between the planets in the solar system and whether you'll find your soul mate").
Same thing: You can make policy decisions about space launches based on what physicists and astronomers know about planetary motions or you can make them based on what astrologers know. That's just policy. "Political reality" might be that it will forever be unpossible to convince more than 66% of laymen that rocket guidance computers shouldn't be based on astrology... but that's aside from science.
Heading back to preschool/kindergarten to illustrate where we have with complex subjects like politics and climate science... this situation is one of where we have ten 3 yos + one 5 yo and one 7 yo in our number example. Now, if the 5yo and 7yo start arguing about whether addition is possible, it will be quite easy for the 3yos to come to the conclusion that the matter of addition of unsettled. It's quite clear to the 7yo that the 5yo doesn't "get it" but it is not possible to explain why to the 3yos because they "really don't get it". It's also quite possible for the 5yo to believe that the 7yo is just making things up as well as for the 5yo to believe that he's smarter than everybody because he's clearly smarter than all the 3yos and maybe the 7yo is just bullshitting. And as for the 3yos they entirely lack the framework to make the distinction. All they have to go on is that the 7yo is in 2nd grade and the idea that people in the 2nd grade probably "know about this". Now, if the 5yo was willing to listen or read a book, he could learn. But imagine he'd rather go read a blog or listen to a podcast instead thinking that he already "knows all the numbers because he learned them in school".
Now, it used that the proverbial 3yo would realize that they didn't know enough to judge the case by its merits and therefore default to credentials: "Clearly a 2nd grader is smarter than a preschooler". However, in a post-factual world, that's going away. And that wasn't the case even 10 years ago.
PS: And since this has bearing on a certain thread, I suppose I should briefly establish my scientific credentials (which you can look up google scholar or arXiv for those who know what that is). I have PhD in theoretical physics and graduated summa cum laude (the Swiss system gives grades for dissertations). This was followed by five years of postdoctoral work. My work during those 9 years was in fully self-consistent computational simulations of the surface layers ("atmosphere and ocean") of neutron stars and white dwarfs. This [self-consistent] means FIRST PRINCIPLE stuff. I built models in 1D, 2D, and 2.5D (that's a cylindrically symmetric sphere) and simulated the fluid dynamics (how gas moves, winds and shocks), nuclear/chemical reactions in the atmosphere, heat transport (how heat moves around: radiation, advection, convection). These are what in climate science are referred to a "general circulation models" (GCM). I didn't just run stuff from other people. I built stuff too. The output was then compared and verified against astronomical observations (what you see through a telescope, either ground based or orbital). A few of my first-authored (<- meaning I was in charge/did most of the work) papers have been cited dozens of times. Now ... the physics and the kinds of models I worked on for that time are very similar to what's being used to simulate the earth hydro/atmospheres. Obviously simulating gases near room temperature in 1g (i.e. planet Earth) is much easier than the top of a neutron star. Point being, the physical METHODS are EXACTLY the same if if the range [of numbers in the metaphor] is different. I have a very strong background in this stuff, I am therefore able to read publications and understand what climate scientists (modeling: I'm extremely confident I know much more about complex physics systems than any skeptic I've ever come across... grain yields: I wouldn't have a clue ...) do and why they're doing it. This is why I'm able to to talk about it and also why I'm able to dismiss certain skeptic blogposts as bs or "missing the point" (even if they come from skeptic professors with a background in economics or geography) because it's very easy for me to see when/if they only demonstrate a familiarity with simplified models (what in astrophysics is called a "toy-model")---something that might look profoundly complex to an undergraduate but which to me falls under the "but doesn't everybody know this?"/"sure, but have you thought about this other issue". You will notice how I don't really have a detailed position on things that are outside my specialty even if I did took a couple of courses in them back in undergrad. For example, I have no position on solid state physics, like what is the best photovoltaic material or where is the ultimate limit (insofar it's not beyond 100% efficiency obviously) or where nanotube research is going. Point being ... the difference between taking a couple of one-semester classes and working and publishing in a field for 9 years (and that includes teaching some of these classes)... is HUGE and much larger than the difference between your average undergrad and your average high school dropout or adult member of society.
And yes, ... science is not based on beliefs about "facts" from other people. I'm sure computer science students recompile/look at source code to verify that their programs actually come from somewhere and check that applications aren't run by magic elves living inside the computer or appreciate that source code isn't just made up because nobody hasn't looked at single piece of software in the world
It might blow your mind, but science students do the same thing
Forsooth, even in high school we measured the charge/mass ratio of an electron (Lorentz force) and showed how the electron charge was quantized (Milikan oil drop). If anyone seriously tells me that they've never done that, I'll believe them but I'll also believe that this is because HS education has been dumbed down further over the past 20 years, because I didn't go to a fancy private school. This was normal HS/standard part of the physics curriculum back in 1994. Later, I did lab experiments directly measuring sound speed in different gases, ... even got to play with a 400keV accelerator (the size of a small class room) for the final lab experiment. Overall I've done about 20 or so experiments measuring stuff. I've also collaborated closely enough with experimental physicists to be qualified to post on nucl-ex for a while (I'm sure I can't anymore because it requires staying active in the field). Now, I don't think any of that made me an experimental expert but I personally got close enough to believe that scientists who've spent decades perfecting a more detailed measurement would come up with a more accurate number than what a bunch of 17-23 year olds can do in the span of five hours. For example, the electron charge is now known to 8 decimals worth of precision. That's way better than the two decimals we managed within two hours in high school using a stopwatch and a caliper. Still ... high school(!!) ... and pretty close. In terms of temperatures ... yeah, I know how to read a thermometer and so I presume other people are able to do so too but do so more accurately over time using fancier instruments than I am. Surely you guys don't think that temperature records are established by wetting the paw of a puppy and sending him outside for 5 minutes and then listening to how much he woofs.