negotiating truth

‘Post-Truth’ was pronounced the 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. What followed was a vivid defense of truth by scientists, journalists, and politicians. Are we on our way to abandoning the notion of truth as we know it? Scientists should raise their voices against the trend, and civil society should fight post-factualism—that is what we hear these days.

 How do we get a handle on this problem?

Using examples of scientific disputes, Negotiating truth defines truth as a central instrument of power— supplying evidence to politics—and highlights emotions’ role in such a supply. Emotions enter evidence-making, they evaluate the range of actors and make them entitled to pronounce public concerns, and as such emotions have to be recognized as integral parts of knowledge-making with an impact on policy processes. We can’t fight post-factualism by highlighting rationality.

We have to analyse how truth is negotiated in public discourse:

Evidence-based political responsibility of modern democratic governments calling for the integration of scientific knowledge engendered the dichotomy of modern societies of civil rationality being threatened by uncivil emotionality. As a result, emotions have served as a way to delegitimize both knowledge and the actors who harnessed emotions. Being consequently limited to be the tools of social movements, empowerment strategies, and revolutions’ trump cards, emotions have been raised to be seen as virtues sine qua non for those who are against the establishment and against accepted truth.  We need to overcome this dichotomy of rational-emotional to analyze what values and beliefs are wrapped up in a particular emotionality in order to understand better the interplay of emotions in truth production.

 The Negotiating Truth uses a range of scientific controversies that demonstrate the recurrent fight for truth and its embeddedness in politics of emotion: one such contemporary case is represented by the international March for Science demonstration; another – historical case – is represented by the controversy over hand hygiene in the 19th century obstetrics, personalised by Ignaz Philippe Semmelweis.