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"Alternative facts" can be found in scientific research too

Mar 27, 2017

It was a verbal tug-of-war that thrust the term "alternative facts" into our vocabulary.

NBC's Chuck Todd grilled White House counselor Kellyanne Conway over the Trump administration's insistence on inflating the crowd size at the president's inauguration.

But pushing out "alternative facts" is not new. It's been happening in the scientific arena for decades.

For instance, "alternative facts" have made their mark on climate change, said Kevin Elliottan associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University.

Distracted by "alternative facts," a portion of the population remains skeptical about climate change. That's despite overwhelming scientific evidence in support of its existence.

Elliott said identifying these "alternative facts" in science "isn't always easy for the public."

"And that's where I do think that the media can play a really valuable role in sort of helping to give a sense of sort of key reports and the perspectives of the scientific community as a whole," Elliott said. "Of course, there are certain basic things the public can do. Obviously, it's always more important to appeal to peer reviewed publications than those that aren't."

It's also crucial to educate yourself, he said, "to realize there are these efforts to confuse the public and to create, you know, think tanks ... that sound good, that have good names, but that are actually trying to present this sort of skewed message."

For the full interview, including how the tobacco industry once used "alternative facts" to deter the public from realities of secondhand smoke, listen above.

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