In 2016, the
selected “post-truth” as their Word of the Year and the White House coined the term
“alternative facts.” Enabled by social media platforms, the rapid spread of fake news
has deepened political polarization and undermined basic democratic processes. The
cornerstones of democracy rest on the principle of education that creates an informed
citizenry. In this day and age, it is essential that an informed citizenry be equipped
to discern between fact and fiction. This often requires us to think about the very
nature of truth. How do we know what we know? What is knowledge? Moreover, how should
we deal with the massive gray areas that often exist between the dichotomies of fact
or fiction? The Fact or Fiction intellectual theme asks us to think deeply and seriously
about these issues.
Illinois Wesleyan University’s Mission Statement tells us that “A liberal education
at Illinois Wesleyan fosters creativity, critical thinking, effective communication,
strength of character and a spirit of inquiry.” Critical thinking and a spirit of
inquiry are at the very heart of the Fact or Fiction intellectual theme.
Cultivating curiosity and a spirit of inquiry can do a great deal to stem the tide
Learning to discern fact from fiction is a truly interdisciplinary challenge that
requires the full array of skills developed through a liberal education. Mathematics
and economics teach us quantitative literacy so we are not so easily misled by biased
data. The sciences teach a tried and true method for evaluating scientific facts.
Psychology helps us to understand the underlying cognitive processes that make it
so hard to see through fake news with which we agree. Philosophy pushes us to consider
epistemological questions about the nature of all knowledge. When studying actual
works of fiction, we often learn something about how to be our best selves in the
real world, while history shows us that fake news and propaganda are nothing new and
have been contended with before.
We invite all students, faculty, and staff to explore the intellectual theme of Fact
or Fiction and we encourage you to think about how this theme can be a part of any
programs that your department, class, or student organization may sponsor this year.
Please contact Student Affairs, 556-3111 with event details for inclusion.