Fake News: Fact or Fiction?

“Science fiction’s appeal lies in combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous. It is an appeal to the sense of wonder.”

                                                 – David Hartwell per Wikipedia

I’m a sci-fi fan and have been aware that there are two types of sci-fi: hard science fiction and speculative fiction. According to Wikipedia, it seems that “… speculative fiction typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.” On the other hand, “… hard science fiction, makes a conscientious attempt to be faithful to already known facts (as of the date of writing).” Speculative fiction breaks the rules of what we know and includes fantasy stories.

Wikipedia quotes author Robert A. Heinlein, “A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.”

Wikipedia also quotes Isaac Asimov, “Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”

So, science ‘fact’ equals hard science fiction; speculative fiction doesn’t require facts. However, I am also a fan of speculative fiction (fantasy) that doesn’t have to meet the rigorous test of reality. We all enjoy X-Men, Star Trek and Star Wars features that combine some factual bases with lots of cool, imaginary stuff. Harry Potter and his magical world are compelling, not just because it’s fantastical, but because the stories are true to human nature.

I categorize the subjects as ‘science’, ‘science fiction’ and ‘science fantasy’. See the difference?

Both sci-fi and fantasy transport our imagination into spheres we would not normally explore. They create a sense of wonder and possibility, however far-fetched. We can travel to areas only imagined, populated by the strange and weird that we would never encounter in our real-world daily lives.

The national political and social polarization these days is exacerbated by wild claims of false news and skepticism about the validity of scientists and science in general. Conspiracy theories abound, but have been with us forever. (Remember how Eve and the snake conspired to get Adam tossed out of Eden?) However, today’s political climate has unleashed and given credence to all kinds of incredibly fantastic beliefs and biases.

If the sources of “facts” or “fake news” are not demonstrably credible or unbiased, it’s hard to take them seriously. Science has a rigorous process to determine whether theories match the data or known precepts. Science also continues to repeatedly apply this process to evaluate theories as more information becomes available.

However, politically, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction these days. And it doesn’t help any that disinformation has been weaponized by our adversaries.\ as well as our fellow citizens.

 I believe it is possible to intuit things; however, some things are subject to verification and proof. Gravity, a scientific theory, has been subjected to millennia of testing, and everyone pretty much accepts it as fact. Of course, there are those “flat-earthers” that refuse to accept the Earth as a sphere, even given the photos taken from space. (Oh yeah, I forgot that all that space stuff was a giant conspiracy to fool the public.)

But most of us can identify the bounds between reality and fantasy. We can determine fact from fiction, even when while appreciating both. Unfortunately, many people fail to apply their judgement to make that determination. Fantasy politics has become the norm. “Facts,” no matter how silly or unsupported, are accepted as true and beyond question.

We are living in an era of political fiction, where belief triumphs over supportable fact. Everyman’s gut feeling is superior to the deepest expertise. Why bother with facts or fact-checking when you can write your own story and make up whatever facts support your beliefs?

I categorize the subjects as ‘politics’, ‘political fiction’ and ‘political fantasy’. Can you tell the difference?

Most days I agree with W.C. Fields, “Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”

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