I've seen over the last few years, members of congress and others, using news articles as sources of factual information in official testimonies. Additionally, news organizations regularly repeat their own spin on something, and I've seen it take hold just by virtue of the repeated communication setting it's own context. Is there anything preventing a strong, repeated narrative that goes against fact, from being taught in the future as fact, without a strong resistance to dispute it? I'm sure there are example where this happened in early history that we're taught right now in schools as though it's fact, but there's nobody left to dispute it.

One example currently up for grabs, may be the Coronavirus Wuhan Lab debate. It's strange to debate a fact, whichever way it really is - but are we going to round off/settle on "yes" or "no" as fact, what is going to keep that from going into history books if the result ends up really as "unknown", but those that can be heard are just saying "false"?

  • A question of historiography, rather than politics, methinks.
    – James K
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:56
  • @JamesK The reason I posted it here was a question of Politics as either permanent or temporary. I can see your reason also, and it looks like enough people agreed to close it.
    – Dan Chase
    Jul 16, 2021 at 6:38

3 Answers 3


Historians are trained to question their source.

  • Who wrote it?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • Could the author have had first-hand knowledge?
  • Had the author an angle?
  • Do other sources agree or disagree?

It would be a mistake to take a news report, or testimony in Congress, as fact. Each must be considered in view of the reputation of the source, the number of distinct sources, and the internal consistency -- could the author have known what is represented as fact? That being said, our historical understanding is biased by the sources or lack of sources.

Consider what we know about Carthage, and Gaul. The Romans won and left most of the written record. Professionals realize that there is an one-sided account, but popular writings might gloss over it.


There is nothing preventing things like this from becoming fact. A good example would be Marie-Antoinette who is said to have uttered the phrase "let them eat cake" a phrase that was written when she was just 10 years old if not sooner. While there are historians who know enough information to question the validity of it the general masses don't know this information.


Whoever uttered those unforgettable words, it was almost certainly not Marie-Antoinette, who at the time Rousseau was writing was only 10 years old—three years away from marrying the French prince and eight years from becoming queen

  • While Marie Antoinette may not have originated the phrase, nothing prevented her from repeating it, either intentionally quoting or independently. It's only recently that we've had the internet and the plagarism police.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 11, 2021 at 23:23
  • @jamesqf And there is no real evidence of her saying it and most people associate the phrase as something she alone said.
    – Joe W
    Jul 11, 2021 at 23:53
  • If there's no evidence of her saying it, it's not a fact. People may attribute it to her as much as they like, may feel like it's something she would have said, but their attribution doesn't make it a fact that she said it That's pretty core to what a fact is/how facts work. Things can't BECOME facts, they either are facts, or are not facts.
    – DariM
    Jul 12, 2021 at 3:42
  • @DariM That was the entire point of the question and answer though. Even though something isn't true it can become true in peoples minds.
    – Joe W
    Jul 12, 2021 at 3:51
  • @JoeW Yeah, that's the premise of the question - what stops people from treating it as fact when it isn't. I'm still partway through something that might count as an answer (sources is fun), but I would imagine "It's not really a fact", "There is no evidence", "People can question its validity", are all part of the things that WOULD actually prevent people treating non-facts as facts.
    – DariM
    Jul 12, 2021 at 4:55

History is as much politicised as current information. Even though a lot of historians worked hard to define the some scientifically based methods to separate as much as possible facts from propaganda sometimes it is difficult to do so sometimes there is not the will to do so.

You can take as an example the Russian revolution, it happened slightly more than 100 years ago. Is it a timespan long enough to consider it history? I don't know, but I know that the current politics is so much involved that we still don't have an objective account of the facts and for sure you won't find a source free from bias for a long, long time in the future.

BTW. There is no longer popular opinion today. The current system has made so easy to create fake voices that popular opinion is easily drowned out. What you think is popular opinion is actually a set of opinions spread around by a small group of people. By fake voices I do not mean just fake accounts on the internet, I also mean fake interviews, fake opinion polls or journalist writing false reports of the type: "young people think that ..."

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