Monday, January 23, 2017

"Alternative Facts"

I am irritated that the phrase "alternative facts" is being used to describe "lies."  The concept of alternative facts actually seems useful to me, if it means factual information contextualized differently, rather than fabrications.

There are lot of circumstances where opposing sides of an argument use the same set of factual information to uphold their position.  Here's an example: Planned Parenthood says that only 3% of their services are abortions.  They also say that they serve 2.5 million patients and perform around 300,000 abortions each year, which means that about 1 in 8 Planned Parenthood patients will receive an abortion.  That means that 12% of Planned Parenthood patients receive abortions.  However, the way Planned Parenthood crunches their numbers is by counting every service, rather than every patient, so while 12% of their patients receive abortions, only 3% of the services provided to their patients are abortions.  So every woman who gets a pap smear, an STI test, and a breast exam counts for three separate services.  And any patient who gets a pregnancy test, an abortion, and a birth control prescription counts for three separate services, as well.

Alternative facts: it is true that abortion comprises only 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood each year.  It is also true that 12% of Planned Parenthood patients receive abortions.  It is also true that Planned Parenthood provided over 300,000 abortions last year.  Heck, it's even true that Planned Parenthood committed over 300,000 abortions last year, if that's how you'd like to style things.

Depending on the point that you want to make, you can use actual facts to support a variety of claims.  There is no call, no call at all, for styling lies as alternative facts.  Period.

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