Caring about the truth is what universities – through their members – do. But what about the truth of alleged facts that are appealed to as grounds for governments to go to war or to engage in military interventions? Such claims are not typically the fruits of academic research. So the question is whether universities have any particular business truth-checking them. The answer is not obvious.
In my latest article, published in MR Online, I argue that since universities are already getting drawn into the world of fact-checking controversies, some strategic reflection on how best to do so would be in order.
The article considers two starkly contrasting methods of finding truth ‘in a post truth world’ – Bellingcat’s and that of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. It comes to a very clear recommendation about why and how universities should care about checking the truth of the claims that are leveraging their reputations.
“How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print” – Karl Kraus
From – http://www.openletteronline.com/main/2006/11/aphorisms_by_karl_kraus-print.html
Reputation is key. Everyone is constantly concerned about their reputation. The question is towards whom. An ivory tower academic has a sense of reputation which is detached from mainstream reputation schemes, such a scheme being the sources(people, ideas, principles) they approve and the sources they want to get approval from. A scholar can have a reputation scheme which also looks at other scholars and disregards other schemes. It is possible to accept being reviled in general when you are feeling approved by a minority (even a minority in the past or the future). Once you start interacting with public life things can get complicated. WGSPM is interacting with public life now. The mainstream press aligns its reputation scheme to its sources, advertisers , the public mood.
So the question to academia is to what extent they are willing to sacrify their public reputation, or at least mainstream public reputation at this point in time, for their scholarly reputation. And maybe their future public reputation.
Greg Koblentz has managed to block or delay publication of the analysis of the the article about the Khan Shaykhun crater : https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/09/scientists-clash-over-paper-questions-syrian-government-s-role-sarin-attack
Postol’s observation is important. Koblentz has a different interpretation of science. Instead of the old ‘rebel’ version of science you get the modern gaming version of science. Publications are the measure of funding and of reputation and their value gets inflated.. Once something is published you treat it as true. If you don’t approve of the authors then try to block publication.
This mindset maximizes groupthink. It is bad for science.