The title ‘Interesting Facts About Europe’ is misleading, but that’s the problem with facts. One person’s truth is another’s lie. As it’s not in my nature to disappoint anyone, I kick off with 5 very Interesting Facts About Europe:
1. The World’s 14 Most Charitable Countries are in Europe. (Official Development Assistance by country as a percentage of GNI, 2006), source Wikipedia). Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, UK, Belgium, Austria, France, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Spain.
2. The largest City in Europe is Moscow, with a population of 10,425,075. If you discount Istanbul (part of which is in Asia), the next largest is London 7,517,700, followed by Paris with 2,153,600.
3. The official religion of Denmark, Iceland and Norway is Lutheran.
4. Two of the world’s top 10 oil-producing countries are in Europe. (Russia, number 2 with 9.67 million barrels; and Norway, number 10, with 2.79m barrels.) Number 11 is Kuwait.
5. Romany gypsies are Europe’s largest ethnic minority.
Dictionary.com defines fact as: ‘Something that actually exist; reality; truth.’ Similarly truth is: ‘the true or actual state of a matter’. Unfortunately, as every politician knows, facts and the truth can be manipulated to mean whatever you want them to.
Take, for example, Interesting Fact #1, which states that the top 14 ‘most charitable countries’ are in Europe. This is worked out on percentage of GDN (each country’s Gross National Product); if you look at it in pure monetary terms, the USA gives the world the most aid. If you take out military funding and defence costs, then it’s Norway. All facts.
All the truth.
Fact number 2 cites London as ‘Europe’s second-largest city’. That’s odd, London isn’t even a city. It is made up of 2 cities (the Cities of London and Westminster) plus 31 other London Boroughs. The area governed by the Mayor of London is sometimes referred to as ‘Greater London’ and that’s what is being counted here. Surely it’s only a matter of boundaries? If politicians decide to move the Greater London boundary out 30 miles, it becomes the world’s largest city. If they reduce it by the same you’ve got London competing with St David’s for Britain’s smallest.
On the Wikipedia site there are several versions of London’s population. Here are the first five I found: 7,517,700; 8,278,251; 7,512,400; 7,581,052; 7,517,700. It’s possible that they were all right at one time or another and it’s more than likely that none of them are actually as of now. Yet these are ‘facts’. The same fact, five different answers.
The truth is subjective. And that’s a fact.
The shape-shifting nature of truth is at its most dangerous when it comes to Justice. Two witnesses watching the same scene unfold will perceive two entirely separate events. Take two men fighting: miss the initial punch and the man retaliating is seen as the aggressor.
As for eye-witness testimony, that’s when things really go wrong. I would find it virtually impossible to recognise a waitress a few hours after leaving a restaurant, never mind identifying a man seen briefly running away from a crime scene months or even years afterwards.
Invariably misinformation will come in the form of Facts and The Truth. In 2003, the usually reliable Observer reported: ‘One in every 100 black British adults is now in prison, according to the latest Home Office figures.’ Right-wing ‘newspapers’ The Sun and The Daily Mail made more of the story, but that’s irrelevant. Aside from the happier implication that this means that 99% of black British adults are not in prison (which is not news apparently), the better and truer story might have been, ‘82% of worse-off British adults are now in gaol’. Black people are more likely to be poor, poorer people are more likely to commit crime and so are more likely to go to prison. The false implication was that black people are more likely to commit crime, which is obviously rubbish, but I wonder how many people took that away with them after reading the article – even in the liberal Observer?
Beware of the truth: it’s almost all lies anyway.