Alternate facts

Boing Boing’s Facebook page shared a Little Golden Book parody mocking Conway’s use of “alternative facts.”

By now, we’re all familiar with Trump Adviser KellyAnne Conway’s remark about “alternate facts.” If not, a brief summary:

The outrage over “alternative facts” began Sunday, when Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” and defended press secretary Sean Spicer’s inaccurate statement about the size of inauguration crowds.

“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts,” Conway said.

“Wait a minute,” host Chuck Todd countered. “Alternative facts? … Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

That has led to all sorts of internet hilarity (my favorite is the picture above). More on this in a second.

Sadly, however, this is an instance in which it’s clear that Conway means or should mean “rebutting facts” or “challenges to those facts.” To be precise, we probably should be talking about “alleged” facts in this case, or better, “claims.” A little charity and precision, in other words, would do much to clarify the matter.

Once we settle this common language problem, we can determine who is more likely to be right about this (not them). This is really what we ought to be focused on anyway (although, this particular question seems completely pointless). We’ve got, after all, a well-established way of settling these things. It’s not great, but it’s well-established.

This raises a question, however, as to whether this choice of term (“alternate facts”) is just the point.  This “alternate facts” stuff sure provokes a lot of laughter from logic types like yours truly. And perhaps this is just the point.  Sad.

5 thoughts on “Alternate facts”

  1. Hi John, I agree. It’s a problem with language — Conway’s talking about convergent but defeating reasons. This isn’t a post-truth line she’s taking here, it’s that issues are complicated (esp. when Spicer’s line means viewership). The trouble is that I’d prefer that the folks who are making decisions can keep their first-order assessments distinct from their vocabulary about reasons.

  2. Hey Scott–I think you nail it: we’ve got a first-order/second-order confusion here. The evidence suggests this is somewhat intentional on the part of the Trump people (Newt Gingrich suggests as much). This raises the question of how to negotiate this part of the discussion–it also points us back to what I call “outflanking” and what you and Rob called something else: the meta-move when the meta-move is not the move to make.

  3. Hi John, Right on. In fact, Rob and I have a piece in the works for 3QuarksDaily on exactly this. I’ll be sure a link to your observation about ‘rebutting facts’. Exactly the kind of metalanguage we need to talk about the relevance, instead of ‘alternative’.

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