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Post-truth in the scientific assessment and communication context

Omar Eduardo Mayorga-Gallardo

According to Oxford English Dictionary, post-truth “relates to or denotes circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In the present situation of modern-day scientific scholarly publishing, which clings to scientific assessment, the post-truth phenomenon perfectly reflects how some researchers, publishers and, of course, university bureaucracies, have owned the well-known and over-simplistic discourse of “international scientific quality” articulated, virtually, by means of (a) journal’s Impact Factor, (b) citations of articles, (c) articles written in English and (d) most prestigious international indexes—Scopus and Web of Science (WoS).

Such string of constituent elements of the so-called “international scientific quality” has done nothing but distort one of the most important activities of the communication world of significant academic knowledge—the publication of research journals.

When assessment of researchers was reduced to publishing articles in “internationally recognized” journals, the labor of scientific research was conceived in a way that for social sciences and humanities turned out to be preposterous.

The post-truth phenomenon in the research assessment and specialized journals context is reflected in the fact that the discourse from organisms who design and implement scientific policy in certain countries from the region is controlled by half-truths. That is, by the belief that research and scientific journals are considered quality products provided that they’re part of commercial repositories and databases.

Even if no one is discussing your ideas, what really matters is how much your paper is being cited. We live in a liquid information age, an allusion to one of Zygmunt Bauman’s crucial concepts, meaning: “information with no basis or unconfirmed, whose foundations are similar to rumors.”  1

Ad nauseam have I heard Scimago’s sales representatives and their epigones—who also provide editorial consultancy—say that English is science’s lingua franca and that unless Latin American journals publish in English they will remain stuck on the sideline of the global scientific conversation. A half-truth some people with good intentions fall for, though in reality their texts don’t engage conversational partners.

When assessment of researchers was reduced to publishing articles in “internationally recognized” journals, the labor of scientific research was conceived in a way that for social sciences and humanities turned out to be preposterous

Those who have nodded to the “international scientific quality” discourse, consisting in publishing articles in Scopus and WoS’s indexed journals, have forgotten the social and educational role that university scholarly publishing has played in our countries historically. Literally, I have seen them biting their nails, anxious that their work will not be accepted in journals indexed by for-profit repositories.

A colleague, who wants to dismantle such discourse, after posing his question, one that was everything but naïve, hears the researcher’s resolute answer: “Well, the only thing that matters to me is to meet the S.N.I’s (National System of Researchers) requirements so that I can keep my incentives from CONACYT (National Council of Science and Technology) and the university.”

Satisfied is how researchers feel when they receive an email informing them that their article was accepted and will be published in certain journal. They blow their own trumpets for such news before their students. They also tell them how hard was for them to render it into English. “With this article I will certainly make it to level two,” they usually discuss among colleagues.

I have also seen pathetic cases of level one and level two researchers from the S.N.I. They complain of journals published by their own institutions, arguing lack of rigor, but actually it’s an old trick in order to make home publishers publish their works omitting processes of acceptance.

Anyway, many are the defects that the national policy of science and technology, which is finally being discussed, brought along. Particularly, as regards criteria to assess research work and science communication through specialized journals.

We need a new assessment model for both researchers and journals that classifies criteria by knowledge fields. The sheer aspiration to overcome the quantitative view of assessment is essential and represents a step forward, leaving behind post-truth.

In this context, I gladly accept the proposal of colleagues from Seminario Permanente de Editores mostly coordinated by friends at UNAM. Aside from criteria to establish a new science and technology policy linked to research assessment and scientific communication, it seems to me that the truly important matter is the initiative of writing and spreading a text byproduct of academic collaboration—the work of publishers and researchers. This reflects, on the one hand, the autonomy of a fundamental part of the scientific realm: specialized journals. On the other, the absence of intrusive fields such as the economic one through firms that seek to outsource publishing work and, ultimately, trade publicly-funded publications.

At its core, the initiative also aims to pose, once again, questions that will enable us to find the meaning of scholarly publishing linked to the country’s and our communities’ big issues: What shall we publish about? What academic writing genre shall we use? For whom are we publishing? Who are our readers? Whom are we addressing? Which are the social, educational and cultural dimensions of our work? How can research contribute to our country’s development? All in all, what is the true nature of our efforts on scientific communication?

As colleagues from the Seminario suggest in their “proposals for national policy of science and technology,” we need a new assessment model for both researchers and journals that classifies criteria by knowledge fields. The mere aspiration to surpass assessment’s quantitative view is essential and represents a step forward, leaving behind post-truth. We need to surpass today’s organization of scientific work linked to science industrialization, which meant “(science’s) commitment is with economic, social and political power centers, all of which now have a decisive role in defining scientific priorities.” 2

In light of this the proposal of discussing such criteria must be accompained with the vindication of initiatives and national and regional efforts of scientific open access repositories that suggest a different view on the nature and dynamics of scientific journals, such as Redalyc, Latindex, CLACSO, and recently, AmeliCA too.

In the short term, we need to establish communication and collaboration relations with stakeholders that develop scientific communication tasks from the academy; not only to vindicate their centrality in spreading regional science but to build a more strategic and wider alliance with universities, centers, institutions, publishers, scientific associations and national Latin American organizations that influence scientific policy’s design and implementation in their countries. The goal is to surpass each “international scientific quality” criterion that the model from the North has exported.

If post-truth is a social phenomenon that distorts the right perception of things, this is the time then to dismantle the discourse promoted by firms who trade with scientific information. We need to escape from the mirages this lyberinth coils so as to think and jointly create an original model that meets Mexico’s and Latin America’s pressing needs and expectations, with whom we are united, among many other things, through the Spanish language.

1. See RAMOS CHÁVEZ, A. Información líquida en la era de la posverdad. Revista General de Información y Documentación, Norteamérica, July, 28th. 2018. Available at: <>. Accessed January 30th 2019.

2. See DE SOUSA SANTOS, B. Una epistemología del sur. Argentina, Clacso-Siglo XXI, 2009, P. 39.