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Wyant Lecture Series: Living in a Post-Truth World

On April 19, Dr. Raymond J. DeVettere sat before an audience of students, alumni, faculty, and staff to discuss the emergence of a post-truth world. DeVettere, an esteemed Professor of Philosophy at Emmanuel and a Wyant Professor, spoke as part of the Louise Doherty Wyant ’63 Lecture Series.

DeVettere began by defining “post-truth,” also known as Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016. The Dictionaries describe the adjective as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

As it turns out, this post-truth world has led to certain dangers and consequently, a great decline in the credibility of scientific journals throughout higher education. DeVettere said there is an epidemic of retractions from journals, particularly in science. In fact, there are about 600 retractions a year.

This caused him to wonder if these were pure errors or if they were deliberate.

For example, a British Medical Journal published an article in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggesting that vaccines for measles and mumps could collaboratively cause autism. This article caused and still causes widespread controversy. As it turns out, the argument was falsely claimed and unsupported by evidence. In 2004, ten of the authors withdrew from the study.

Still, the full study was not retracted until 2010, twelve years after publication. In that time, it was cited 670 times in literature. Even post-retraction, it has been cited 382 times by scientists.

With retractions becoming more common than ever, DeVettere declared, “You can’t trust science. Science is being undermined.” He insists those researching look at the track record.

“It might be retracted tomorrow, who knows?”

DeVettere, a member of the Promotion and Tenure Committee at Emmanuel, blames the drive to get published on the need for career stability in higher education.

“There’s this tremendous pressure to get publications out there,” he stated.

In order to move forward, there has to be a stop to this pressure of “quantity over quality.” DeVettere pointed out that people are getting their PhD by the age of 25, but are getting published well before that. This was not the case a decade ago.

“This is what we are dealing with in a post-truth society,” he announced.

Heather Alterisio ’17 is the Executive Managing Editor and a Staff Writer for the Hub. She can be contacted at alterisioh@emmanuel.edu or on Twitter @HeathAlt.

Posted by on April 27, 2017. Filed under Around Campus,Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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