Saturday, May 20, 2017


The underlying difficulty of today’s polemics about post-truth is that many well-meaning residents of the reality-based community are talking as though it is ­always obvious and uncontroversial what is a “fact” and what isn’t. And yet the very idea of a fact is a social construct with an origin. (As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has written: “Facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a 17th-century invention.”) Facts are fuzzy and changeable; in scientific practice, matters of truth and evidence are always at issue. The best scientific theories are social constructs. Whether they should be taken as accurately describing reality is still an unresolved debate in quantum physics; and, as the biologist Stuart Firestein has written: “All scientists know that it is facts that are unreliable. No datum is safe from the next generation of scientists with the next generation of tools.”

-Steven Poole, as excerpted from this essay


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