In an age when falsehoods arrive in gleaming packages promising truth, ferreting out actual truth to help us make the most important decisions of our lives can be daunting.  Yet, the consequences of bad decisions are escalating daily.  If only we could know one truth, one big TRUTH, we could shine a light on its deniers and know they routinely lie about a host of other things as well.

This quandary was vexing me for the umpteenth time the other day when I found myself staring at my smartphone.  I had my answer.

In 2018 alone, Apple and its competitors were granted thousands of patents, most containing multiple inventions, many of which are embedded in the powerful computing devices we take for granted every day.  Yet, these numbers do not begin to scratch the surface when we ask how many inventions it has taken to wrench today’s computers out of the powerful clutches of Nature.

If you go through all of the chemistry, physics, material science, electronics, lithography, and coding, the breakthroughs of which undergird computing devices we now take for granted, one-hundred thousand inventions likely undershoots the mark.

All of those inventions have at least one thing in common.  They work because they conform with the laws of Nature.  How do I know this?  I know this because every time I violated those immutable laws in the lab as a research scientist my experiments failed, my products failed, I failed.  I failed because Nature does not cut breaks for, does not make deals with—anyone.  Wishful thinking does not help.  Claiming victory on a hunch or for personal gain is a fool’s errand.

Every scientist knows this.  Nature crushes pretenders.  If you don’t get it right, you become Wile E. Coyote and Mother Nature is the anvil, the eighteen-wheeler, the Roadrunner spinning your head around, its warning beep ringing in your ears.  Scientists know you can’t lie your way past ageless truth, so they don’t try.

That’s why, when essentially all scientists, people with families to worry about just like you and me, tell us to band together to ward off a climate catastrophe barreling down on us with unimaginable speed and fury, we have come to recognize the stark truth of their warning.

So, this is the TRUTH we can use to assess our representatives at all levels of government.  Afterall, they have access to even more information on our climate than we do.  They’ve been told the truth in detail.  Yet, the statements and voting records of so many in the U.S. Administration, Senate, and House of Representatives on down the line deny the existential threat of an unraveling climate.  Their denials identify them as the false prophets we seek to remove at the polling booth this Fall.

As these falsifiers block the light of truth, they cast a malevolent shadow across our land.  And the encroaching darkness carries a chilling question that is also a warning.  If, for perceived personal gain, these deniers can lie about the greatest threat to humankind since we crawled out of caves, how motivated will they be to lie about lesser catastrophes?  We all know the answer.  Very!

Suddenly, the sky is bright blue, and birds are singing!  We know who doesn’t deserve our vote in the Fall.  But let’s say you’re still hesitating.  You feel a little doublechecking might be in order.  For that, you’ll need another test.

Consider this.  A simple lie will always be easier to tell, and easier to hear, than a complex truth.  Putting simple lies out there takes little thought, so their perpetrators enjoy the luxury of not having to think much.  After a while, well-thought-out approaches evaporate.  Rational solutions to serious problems cease to be an option.  Just making it up becomes good enough.  Carelessness is the input, so sloppiness becomes the output.

Here’s how a Sloppiness Test works. Pick a disaster, any disaster.  No problem.  We have so many festering right now that we might as well pick the two doozies we can follow in real time—COVID-19 and the financial crisis.  Then, ask a few penetrating questions.

Did top Administration officials have measures in place to deal with the event before it happened?  Are they clear about what is happening and what is being done?  Do they have every American’s wellbeing front and center?  Do they have a clear, rational plan?  Do they even have a plan?  How are your representatives across the board performing on your sloppiness test?  Are they putting the interests of everyday folks above their self-interest?

As schools close and markets tank, we have a chance to turn these politicians’ pockets inside out to see what tumbles to the ground.  Will it be straight talk with clear-eyed approaches to complex problems—the sort of thing we can get behind?  Or will it be a pocket full of chaos masquerading as miracles?

If it’s the latter, you’ll know what to do.


Rich Clikeman, a retired research scientist and U.S. patent agent, lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, but grew up a bike ride away from Wisconsin in Rockford, Illinois.