Myth-Busting Books: 13 Antidotes to ‘Alternative Facts’

When an administration official says with a straight face that she’s not lying — she’s offering “alternative facts” — it beggars belief. It may feel as if the administration is seeking to challenge basic western epistemology; after all, if an alternative fact is as good as a fact, how do we acquire real knowledge? And how does one combat the lies?

It was Jonathan Swift who acknowledged that, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” although the modern equivalent may be that “Donald Trump tweets it and the truth never gets reported by FOX News.”

But for all the cynicism, there is good news. A recent study cited by the Guardian shows that people can be “inoculated” against misinformation “through an explanation of the logical fallacy underpinning the myth.” In other words, showing believers how their belief in false facts is built on illogical fallacies can actually prevent them from buying into future alternative facts.

To further understand truth and lies, facts and alternative facts, below is a list of helpful books. At the beginning are some of the philosophical ur-texts that helped to establish western epistemology, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy can provide one with a primer on how we came to understand what “truth” is. It took the ancient Greeks time before they associated truth with facts, and it took until the Enlightenment until that connection started to break down.

The debate rages on about what role the internet plays in the public understanding of facts and the truth. On one hand, the internet provides us with a nearly infinite set of sources to gather facts from; on the other, people increasingly segregate themselves into information groups where they get all of their information from a few sources from the same ideological viewpoints, so that beliefs are never challenged. As a consequence, we live in a country with communities of climate-change deniers, Holocaust deniers, and those who believe that the theory of evolution is a myth.

Telling the truth in a time of alternative facts is an act of resistance. Be a rebel.