Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: alternative facts

The “Alternative Fact” Surge

The alternative facts surge

Real facts are statements about the world that we know are true based on overwhelming evidence, such as water molecules consist of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms or the United States Declaration of Independence was agreed upon in 1776. “Alternative facts” on the other hand, are statements that are not at all true, but have been made up by ideologues that push it as if it was true. It is a form of targeted misinformation, but also the tacit claim that it is somehow possible to disagree with real facts and believe in a set of “alternative facts” that are just as valid as the real deal.

One of the most remarkable deployments of this tactic by political staff in modern times occurred during a Meet The Press segment in late January of 2017 where NBC journalist Chuck Todd interviewed Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway. The topic dealt with the audience size for the inauguration of President Trump and might not seem to be of much importance, but the very fact that the technique was deployed so openly and bizarrely had many people concerned that we might be seeing the rise of government-approved “alternative facts” in a similar fashion to the Orwell book 1984. Recent developments indicate that this was not a simple mishap, but part of a larger and continued media strategy.

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Current Battlefields in the Misinformation Wars

Battlefields

The spread of misinformation has never been greater. The Internet has been an amazing resource for people to access millions of scientific papers on everything from the molecular biology of cancer to climate models. However, it has also brought with it a terribly cost: misinformation can spread much easier than carefully considered facts and has the ability to emotionally manipulate millions of people into believing this that are demonstrably false. This can influence personal beliefs, consumer decisions and perhaps even national elections.

Although this is not a new problem by any stretch of the imagination, malignant threats such as post-truth, fake news, filter bubbles, “alternative” facts and fake fact checkers have spread enormously in recent years. This article takes a closer look at each of these threats, what they mean and how they can be fought. Although there are no simple answers at this point and skeptics as well as scientists struggle to find workable solutions, there are a few clues available.

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“Alternative Facts” Are Really Just Misinformation

Alternative facts

During the 2016 Presidential Election process, there was a near complete disregard for what was true (post-truth) and a massive surge in the promotion of false and misleading news items that pretended to the true (fake news). This was further amplified by the viral spread of sensationalist nonsense on social media. Even worse, many of those systems were run by mindless algorithms designed to monetize individual preferences and feed their users information that conformed to their own ideological biases (social media filter bubble). Together, this has become known as the misinformation wars.

Many of these things are not new and has plagued scientists, doctors, skeptics and other science advocates for many years. However, there was decidedly a massive surge that happened in recent years. People and groups that promote pseudoscience and bigotry managed to manipulate the mainstream media into giving them a ton attention and free publicity. These groups could then counter by spreading demonstrably false narratives in their filter bubbles to build what was and is essentially an anti-reality grassroot movement.

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Rise of the Fake Fact Checkers

Fake fact checkers

There is a growing assault on facts. The dark forces that scientists, doctors and scientific skeptics have fought for decades have now rapidly metastasized and forcefully exploded into the mainstream with the rise of concentrated misinformation and fake news that are reinforced by filter bubbles. People isolate themselves in social media communities that block contradictory information from ever reaching them. The intention to provide people with personalized results has had terrible consequences.

Those in power and those who profit from obscuring the truth are making every effort to destabilize democracy and undermine confidence in the mainstream media as well as scientific and medical organizations. This has led to the notion that we are currently taking part in the so-called misinformation wars and pro-science advocates are currently struggling with how to revolutionize science communication and skeptical outreach.

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