On February 8th, we held a panel discussion on the theme of post-truth, alternate facts, and fake news, all subjects of great interest within the discipline of general semantics, and issues that general semantics can help to solve. These three relatively recent coinages may be viewed as symptoms of a larger concern that our culture is in crisis, making this particular topic especially vital to try to understand.
Participants on this background hailed from a variety of backgrounds, making for an especially lively and insightful discussion about science, journalism, philosophy, and language. Here is the list of panelists:
Babette Babich, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University
Peter Brown, Science Writer and former Editor-In-Chief of The Sciences, and Natural History, and member of Scientific American's Editorial Board.
Katherine Fry, Professor of Media Studies and Chair of the Department of Television and Radio, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Paul Thaler, Professor of Communications, Adelphi University
Moderator: Lance Strate, NYSGS President & Professor of Communication & Media Studies, Fordham UniversityAnd here is the description of the program:
Post-Truth, Alternate Facts, & Fake News:
Our Culture in Crisis
On November 8th of last year, Election Day in the United States, Oxford Dictionaries announced its word of the year: post-truth. The selection represents a response to both the American presidential election campaign and Great Britain's Brexit vote.
Over the past year, the phrase fake news has also been frequently invoked, especially in regard to online communications and social media.
On January 22nd of this year, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway used the phrase alternate facts during a Meet the Press interview.
Modern science and journalism both are based on the ideal of objectivity, that we can gather data about our environment, examine the evidence available to us, and evaluate facts and claims regarding reality. General semantics is based on the understanding that scientific method can be applied to human communication, thought, and action, to the benefit of individuals, and humanity as a whole.
There is nothing new, however, about the idea that we have lost all sense of cultural coherence, that we are subject to all manner of Orwellian doublespeak, or that public discourse has been trivialized by an emphasis on sensation and amusement.
But, have we turned a corner over the past year, as the emergence of terminology like post-truth, alternate facts, and fake news might seem to suggest? Have we reached a crisis point in our culture regarding the role of rationality and reality-testing? Are we on the verge of the kind of dystopian society commonly depicted in so many of our recent young adult novels?
Or is there hope? And are there ways of coping and strategies for fighting for the future that can be adopted by writers, journalists, educators, and citizens?