Merriam Webster is my favourite free online dictionary. I don’t just use it to look up words, but there are some interesting articles as well. They occasionally write about spiking words, which usually occurs after it has been used on TV. That happened recently when Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign strategist and now special adviser, used the term alternative facts on NBC. This was in response to the accusation that Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, had lied during his first press conference. He was talking about how many had watched the inauguration and argued that more people had watched it on TV and internet than ever before. This turned into the now very familiar abuse between Trump and the press, and the journalists probably felt they were justified, because how could there possibly be an alternative to the truth? (as if they don’t know what yellow journalism and misrepresentation means)
This is from the altercation on Meet the Press:
I’m not sure it is as illogical as it sounds. Most people look at science as the absolute truth. There is no alternative, only the unbiased conclusion from a study. In reality it’s not that simple. There have been studies where they repeated previous studies, and in too many cases they fail to get the same result, which is one of the most important principles in science. Publication bias is a well known fact in the pharmaceutical industry and probably kills a lot of people. Most people have also heard about the corruption that goes on in medicine and no matter what you think about vaccines, it is a fact that different studies have different end point. That is the reason why some vaccines appear to be more effective in some countries than in others.
Imagine a traffic accident. The witnesses may not give the same version of what happened. That doesn’t mean they lied, but there are many factors that could change their perception. They could see the accident from different angles and something blocking could change the sound for example. I have read some bizarre coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis in Norwegian newspapers, stories that sounded so unrealistic that they couldn’t possibly be true. Mainstream media also rely on Assad’s enemies, including one refugee in Coventry, England for accurate information from the ground in Syria. This is at best one of many alternative truths.
These are a few examples of dishonesty and different perspectives that may provide different versions of the truth. We have certain professionals that handle the facts for us (journalists, politicians, scientists), and if we immediately accept everything they say as facts, it becomes clear that the truth has multiple alternatives. Maybe this is about debating semantics. I seem to recall a president that didn’t have sex with “that woman” because he had a different definition of what sex was. When I think about how fluid the term fact is to many of the people that are supposed to convey the unquestionable truth, I wonder whether having an alternative is as unusual as some seem to think. Maybe we have no choice when we are faced with false experts.
Incidentally, there is also an alternative to oxymoron. Just leave out the oxy.