New Jersey resident writes book, grows public policy think tank
Despite great financial risk, New Jersey resident James D. Agresti has successfully pursued his goal of creating an online fact-source for public policy issues.
He has also written a book, “Rational Conclusions,” which documents evidence for the Bible’s truth from a variety of academic disciplines.
Agresti graduated from Brown University with a mechanical engineering degree. During the 1992 presidential race between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, Agresti’s brother went to him with questions. “He was calling me and asking all these questions, and I always seemed to have facts and figures. And that impressed him.”
Agresti’s brother then decided to put this information on the internet. “The dotcom boom has not quite started yet, and there were a lot of domain names still available. So, he bought ‘justfacts.com’ and he said, ‘I want you to give me some facts, and I’m going to put them online.’”
Agresti did not seriously consider the website that he was working on. He even ignored it for several years while he focused on other projects. Yet despite this, justfacts.com “developed a following. Before you know it, we had close to a quarter million unique visitors a year.”
Agresti later discovered that the Taiwanese embassy in New York City included Just Facts in a list of American think tanks. “Amidst the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institute and all these big think tanks is Just Facts. So, I think to myself, ‘This is crazy… but what a great idea!’”
With the help of the Atlas Foundation, Agresti began to expand Just Facts.
He quit his job as chief engineer of a firm that customizes helicopters, and his income “plummeted, and it stayed that way for a long time, but my wife and I set up some money we had saved to buy a house, and we thought about it, and prayed about it, and felt like this was where we were being led, and we decided to take that money and invest it not only in Just Facts but also in me finishing ‘Rational Conclusions.’”
Agresti does not regret the decision, and says it has allowed him and his wife to accomplish what is important to them, “which is to lead people to Christ, and lead people to the truth, because when it comes to public policy, these things matter.”
Just Facts’ mission is to “change people’s viewpoints from views rooted in misconceptions to views rooted in reality – in facts… Our objective is to move that public opinion dial closer to reality so that people actually have a view rooted in fact.”
In spite of its initial struggles, Agresti says Just Facts is successfully growing in influence as it attempts to reach its goal of creating an informed public. “For many years when we first got started, we were on a shoestring budget. I like to say about the size of an average hot dog stand. We’re probably the size of about half a dozen hot dog stands now, and it’s been growing progressively every year.”
Agresti’s book, “Rational Conclusions,” stems from his Christian testimony. “I was an atheist. I grew up kind of like a cultural Catholic. Never really took it that seriously.”
Agresti stopped believing in God when he was in 7th grade, “and by 8th grade I hated going to church.” By his freshman year of high school, Agresti’s parents told him he no longer had to attend church.
Agresti remained an atheist until the age of 25, when a friend gave him a Bible. “I decided to read it, and I read it cover to cover in the course of a year, and based on what I knew from a wide range of academic disciplines, I was like, ‘This is true, this is true. And if it’s true I have to react to it.’”
His reaction was conversion to Christianity.
When Agresti attended Long Hill Chapel of Chatham, New Jersey, the church’s youth pastor asked him to teach a Sunday school about the evidence that led him to Christ. “So I did that Sunday School, and when I was done I was like, ‘I kind of have a book here.’”
He expected to write the book in a year. “Well, 10 years and 14,000 hours later, it was done. And it required leaving work to get it done because it was just so intense and so much study.”
The book cites evidence for the Bible’s truth from a wide variety of academic disciplines, including archaeology, genetics and paleontology.
Agresti wanted the book to be unique in terms of the sources it cited.
“There’s a lot of Christian books in the same vein, but oftentimes they’re citing Christian sources, and I wanted to cite highly credible non-ideological primary sources, which often took reading something, seeing who they cited, seeing who they cited, digging back four, five, six, seven layers sometimes, to get to that ultimate primary source.”
Agresti applies his dedication to thorough research to his website, “Just Facts,” which offers fully documented “comprehensive, issue-based facts” on public policy issues such as energy and gun control.
All of the site’s sources are “very highly credible primary sources. They’re not the newspaper that reported what the social security administration said. We’re going back to the 300-page social security report where in there we have that data. It’s all presented very cleanly and very easy to get at.”
Furthermore, Just Facts’ sources are accessible on the website through footnotes. Clicking on a footnote leads to the excerpt from the source substantiating the fact, as well as the data’s inherent caveats.
“Oftentimes we have links. You can ‘click here’ and we’ll send you the data set that we used to calculate the figures.”
Agresti is also dedicated to presenting simply the facts, rather than opinions or interpretations of facts, on his website. What people do with those facts “can boil down to ideology, and subjective things of what’s important and what’s not important to you, but our goal is to at least get people to have the facts right.”
Speaking about personal bias, Agresti said, “We all have an innate desire to want to be right, and feel that our worldview helps people and feel good about what we do.”
However, he said that unless we ask tough questions about our beliefs, such as, “Is this really helping people? Or is it hurting people? Or is it neutral – am I wasting my time here?” then “we really don’t care about people, because we’re not being effective enough and honest enough to challenge our egos and say, ‘What really is the truth here?’”
And so Agresti’s message to college students is simply that the truth matters.
“It’s important that you get the truth, that you know what it is, because if you’re working with bad information, odds are you’re going to do bad things with that. You’re going to hurt yourself, you’re going to hurt others. And it’s just important to get the truth.”