Understanding what makes a fact a fact

In the inaugural episode of Penn Today’s “Understand This …” podcast series, Professor of Education Sigal Ben-Porath and Professor of History Sophie Rosenfeld face facts.

Sophie Rosenfeld and Sigal Ben-Porath in College Hall
Sigal Ben-Porath, professor of education in the Graduate School of Education, and Sophie Rosenfeld, professor of history in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Welcome to “Understand This …”

“Understand This …” is the latest podcast series from Penn Today, a journey to understand how to solve problems of the day—and of our timeby uniting minds from different disciplines across campus. In the first episode of the series, Sigal Ben-Porath, a professor of education and author of “Free Speech on Campus,” and Sophie Rosenfeld, a professor of history and author of “Democracy and Truth: A Short History,” are asked to consider this: How can we, as a society, agree again on what constitutes a fact? 

Below, find jump-off points for the conversation and a stream of the podcast. Follow us on Apple Music to continue with us on the path to interdisciplinary problem-solving.

1:37: Conversation starts

4:55: “What you may or may not do with facts”

5:50: “The problem with a fact is it’s hard to even agree what one is”

15:00: Trust and mistrust of media

19:25: When to take action from facts

23:30: Social media’s influence on the dissemination of information 

29:40: The loss of serendipity in the pursuit of knowledge

32:00: Rosenfeld’s course on the history of democracy and truth

34:00: What to do when someone recognizes a fact and doesn't care

40:30: Rosenfeld’s anecdote about jury duty and why Ben-Porath is feeling hopeful