Are we living in a post-truth world, where “alternative facts” replace actual facts and feelings have more weight than evidence? How did we get here? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Lee McIntyre traces the development of the post-truth phenomenon from science denial through the rise of “fake news,” from our psychological blind spots to the public's retreat into “information silos.”
What, exactly, is post-truth? Is it wishful thinking, political spin, mass delusion, bold-faced lying? McIntyre analyzes recent examples—claims about inauguration crowd size, crime statistics, and the popular vote—and finds that post-truth is an assertion of ideological supremacy by which its practitioners try to compel someone to believe something regardless of the evidence. Yet post-truth didn't begin with the 2016 election; the denial of scientific facts about smoking, evolution, vaccines, and climate change offers a road map for more widespread fact denial. Add to this the wired-in cognitive biases that make us feel that our conclusions are based on good reasoning even when they are not, the decline of traditional media and the rise of social media, and the emergence of fake news as a political tool, and we have the ideal conditions for post-truth. McIntyre also argues provocatively that the right wing borrowed from postmodernism—specifically, the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth—in its attacks on science and facts.
McIntyre argues that we can fight post-truth, and that the first step in fighting post-truth is to understand it.
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In this era, people of reason and critical thinking are dismayed to see that truth itself is under siege by those who seek to manipulate the public opinion for a political partisan agenda, by distorting and even denying the actual facts of life as it is known. In Post-Truth, author Lee McIntyre examines how this came to be, and what to do about it, in a non-partisan way. His measured tone is accurate and even-handed, and gives us hope that reason can once again prevail. From science deniers to political hacks saying that their opinion matters more than the truth, there is a wedge of people twisting the landscape into a distorted view of what is actual and what is their fantasy. Our republic cannot withstand this assault, and a continued reliance on what is wishful thinking over what is true will plunge us into authoritarian anarchy. If you do not want our world to resemble the one depicted in The Hunger Games, read this book and pass it on to others.