Renowned sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin explains that facts have no alternative

Where does the sun rise?
Where does the sun rise?
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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On Feb. 2, Kellyanne Conway fabricated a historical event she calls the “Bowling Green Massacre.” Conway, a close counselor to US president Donald Trump, also claimed that former president Barack Obama banned Iraqi refugees for six months as a result. Neither of these are true.

But they’re no surprise coming from Conway, who has previously defended the use of “alternative facts”—in other words, lies. This week, legendary fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin took issue with the phrase. An expert in invention, the author of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series refuted the mind-bending concept of “alternative facts” in a letter to the editor in OregonLive.com Feb. 1.

Says Le Guin, the problem with an “alternative fact” is that it purports to be truth, whereas science fiction and its “alternate universes” don’t.

Le Guin writes:

Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so—it has no “alternative.” The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or “alternative fact”) is a lie.

Conway first used “alternative facts” in defense of false remarks about the size of Trump’s inauguration made by press secretary Sean Spicer. The phrase has come to represent the administration’s communications strategy of rattling off unverified statements, which, among other things, forces the public into a kind of Orwellian doublethink.