Beyond Fact Checking: Reconsidering the Status of Truth of Published Articles

Authors : David Pontille, Didier Torny

Since the 17th century, scientific knowledge has been produced through a collective process, involving specific technologies used to perform experiments, to regulate modalities for participation of peers or lay people, and to ensure validation of the facts and publication of major results.

In such a world guided by the quest for a new kind of truth against previous beliefs various forms of misconduct – from subtle plagiarism to the entire fabrication of data and results – have largely been considered as minimal, if not inexistent.

Yet, some “betrayers of the truth” have been alleged in many fraudulent cases at least from the 1970s onward and the phenomenon is currently a growing concern in many academic corners. Facing numerous alerts, journals have generalized dedicated editorial formats to notify their readers of the emerging doubts affecting articles they had published.

This short piece is exclusively focused on these formats, which consists in “flagging” some articles to mark their problematic status.The visibility given to these flags and policies undermine the very basic components of the economy of science: How long can we collectively pretend that peer-reviewed knowledge should be the anchor to face a “post-truth” world?