This is such a fantastic dissection of the whole “fake news” meme. I have been wanting to articulate my thoughts on it for a while but you covered a lot of it very smartly here. I went to school to be a physicist and was as rational and empirical as they come, but what I started to see happening was a growing tendency for people to cite all scientific studies as though they were facts so long as those studies fit their narrative.
Learning how difficult it is to empirically verify something as fundamental as the gravitational constant made me keenly aware of just how hopelessly difficult it is to verify any of the hypotheses laid out in the soft sciences. When I see them being referenced as objective facts it drives me nuts. It is equivalent to people plucking passages out of their favorite bible in order to advance their narrative — maybe worse, since pious people at least admit there are facts only God can know.
What we have today is exactly as you say: two sides machine-gunning empirical “facts” at each other with very little effort at crafting a meaningful, value based argument. Doing the former requires only a connection to the internet and spare time and as you say: the victory will always go to the side that seeks to discredit. Doing the latter requires deep introspection, a well rounded and eclectic education, a passionate dedication to finding the truth (however ugly it may be), and a level of humility few people seem to possess these days.
I think the way to stop our descent into nihilism may be a call for everyone to re-engage in the Socratic method of debate in a cooperative effort to discover the truth rather than antagonistic empirical oneupmanship. However, in order for that to happen people must have been introduced to the basics of critical thinking from an early age. I fear that ship may have already sailed for a large section of the population.
Again, great work!