My youngest son, Parker, walked into my study a couple of weeks ago with a question that had been troubling him from his World History class: Is there a difference between fact and truth? Funny that as adults and professionals we all still struggle with that same question. On business intelligence projects, I see it every week.
A fact is a statement of objective, actual reality. Two facts cannot directly contradict one another; that’s what "objective" means -- it’s not a matter of perspective. Either my SSN is 123-45-6789 or it is not. Facts are great, but they leave out something interesting. Consider this fact statement, and see what’s missing:
- I own 5 cars.
A truth is a statement regarding pattern or form. Truths deal with issues like "why" and "from this perspective" and "for this purpose" and "in this situation." Truths should be built upon facts, but a truth has the advantage of being actionable. Here’s what I mean:
These two statements are BOTH true, and they are built upon certain facts, but they cannot be facts themselves, because they are directly contradictory. To my wife, I am a car nut: she can expect that I will always have more cars than most people, that I will probably accumulate them, and that we’ll soon have hydraulic lifts in our garage. But, to local car brokers that deal in expensive cars, I am not a car nut: I don’t spend money on exotic or pop-classic cars, so they should not try to sell to me.
In the typical Business Intelligence project, people spend a lot of time and money trying to create a Single Version of Truth. Perhaps we should call it instead Single Version of Fact. We can all agree on the facts, and we can all glean different truths from those facts.