Facts are, in Fact, Facts

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, commonly known as 1984


By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have been lately contemplating what changes mean. Certainly we have witnessed the emergence of populism in our government; furthermore, we have experienced 2016 as the warmest year on our planet. One change that I find troubling is the recent rhetoric regarding “alternative facts”.NPR’s broadcast on The Two-Way, on January 25, 2017, discussed how Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post cited the phrase from George Orwell’s book, 1984. She talked about 1984  On CNN’s Reliable Sources, in which Tumulty said “alternative facts” was a “George Orwell phrase.” Expanding on that idea in an interview today Tumulty said it reminded her of the double speak found in 1984 where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Within Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society, “alternative facts” are actually prevarications, falsehoods. For example: Fact: The earth is spherical in shape. What would an “alternative fact” be, that the earth is flat, an idea prevalent during the Middle Ages? If I remember my earth science class correctly, Isaac Newton proved the earth is spherical in shape in the 17th century, although he was aware that Greek astronomers in the 3rd century B.C. believed as Newton did. Another example: Fact: The earth rotates around the sun, a fact Copernicus presented in the 16th century, although those savvy Greek astronomers wrote about a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century, B.C. Is an “alternative fact” one that adheres to the ancient belief that the sun rotated around the earth? Thanks to my former earth science teacher, I retained these facts. Facts are, in essence, facts, and as such are not open to “alternative facts”.

In my many years of teaching in higher education I have stressed the importance of doing one’s own work, and not resorting to plagiarism. I informed my students that anyone who cheats, likely would cheat in larger things later in life. The example I use is Bernard Madoff. There is a sense of pride in doing  one’s own work; there is little dignity in scamming from the work of another. Another salient point I present is that of the student who attempts to steer the class conversation in a different direction in order to deflect from the reality that the student did not do the homework. Or the student simply has nothing to say on the class subject because the student is so ill-informed that he tries to redirect the conversation in order not to highlight his own ignorance.

Purporting fabrications and distortions of facts and truth are behaviors we attempt to correct in children. To hear and read about adults engaging in such nefarious behavior is both an affront to our dignity and an insult to our intelligence. George Orwell understood this.

Ciao for now.