A fact is something that is true. Period. That is the established meaning of the word; it only causes confusion and miscommunication when it is used otherwise.
The alternative to a fact is something that is false. Hence, there is no such thing as “an alternative fact.”
It is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun. Any alternative, such as that the sun goes around the Earth, is false.
An alternative to anything is “another possibility.” When President Donald Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, disagreed with Chuck Todd, she should have said she was presenting “alternative possibilities,” not alternative facts.
Never miss a local story.
Of course, we often do not know whether a possibility is a fact or not — in which case we should simply say we “believe” it is true. If we have proof that something is true, then we don’t just “believe” it is true; we “know” it.
Is President Trump’s claim that his inauguration crowd was larger than President Barack Obama’s true? I believe he is wrong — but I don’t know. What I do know is that it is very important for us to use certain terms — like true, false, fact, falsehood, possibility, probability, alternative, belief and knowledge — in the same ways so that we each know what the other person means to say to us, and so they understand what we mean to say to them.
Then we can work together to try to establish the facts of the matter.
Richard E. Creel