Provisional Truth

A prime example of Provisional Truth that we use many times in our course is the demotion of Pluto in 2006 from a planet to a "dwarf planet. Based on observation of orbits of other objects, astronomers long theorized a ninth planet and in 1930, an Arizona observatory confirmed it with photos. But then in 2006, newer and more sophisticated images showed it is just another object in the Kuiper belt…a mere dwarf planet. Around the same time,  the IAU realized it had no precise meaning of the term planet. So they voted Pluto out.


We can be reasonably confident in the truthfulness of a report that unfolds over the course of many days.

Think of it as the process of a picture slowly coming into focus by photographers whose aim is to collect as accurate a representation as possible of what is in front of that lens…and the difference between a wide-angle lens and a super-close-up lens can change the type of “truth” in that representation.

This can be frustrating for a culture that wants to know everything right now.  We are likely to see some sharp reversals of journalistic truth as new information comes to light. This is why smart news consumers look for reporters who never quit digging.


When a German Wings plane crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 what we knew was there were 144 passengers and 6 crew and all were expected dead.

Later that day, we learned no distress call had been issued.

The major break came on Wednesday night, when the New York Times reported the Pilot had left the cockpit and was locked out.

Thursday morning, the French prosecutor announced that his hypothesis was that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the jet.

In this case, had the truth changed, or merely our understanding of the truth?