DELIVERED. Scientific truth, integrity and fake news

Will it become a vade-mecum in the face of “fake news” and the erosion of university values ​​such as the production and transmission of excellent knowledge? By its title alone The urgency of academic integrity (1), the 528-page collective work which has just been published indicates the level of the threat, as estimated in any case by the two teacher-researchers who directed its publication, Michelle Bergadaà, professor emeritus at the University of Geneva and Paulo Peixoto, professor at the University of Coimbra (Portugal) (2).

“We are working for the future”

“We are working for the future”, they said during a day organized around the release of the book at the end of June 2021 at the University of Geneva, hoping that it will become a “reference tool for all those who want to know how to act without wasting time” (read the box below). They consider that it is necessary “to surpass ourselves in the face of the dangers that threaten our profession […], our civilization of knowledge being threatened as much by the new models of production as by the lack of embarrassment of the delinquents of knowledge “. An observation shared by a recent French parliamentary report from the OPECST (l‘Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices), worrying about the lack of trust that could develop between scientists and citizens.

“Three prohibitions: fraud, falsification, plagiarism”

Does the danger come from some form of “Taylorization of science, of a fragmentation of the publication space” ? This is what Patrick Furrer, who currently coordinates the program suggests. open science swissuniversities (3). Note the publication by the latter, in May 2021, of a new “code of integrity” highlighting “the fundamental principles of reliability, honesty, respect, responsibility”. In the field of science, there are “three prohibitions: fraud, falsification, plagiarism”, recalls Sarah Carvallo, one of the 40 authors, which we cannot all quote here. Simple? Not sure when it comes to concretely implementing scientific integrity at the international level when the definitions of “bad research conduct” differ from country to country. And that many institutions practice silence in the face of gray areas of the profession of researcher or teacher. For the professor of philosophy of science at the Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon, the “difficulty of implementation expresses an internal tension in the globalization of science confronted with the persistent pluralism of disciplines, cultures, institutions”. Hence an original proposal: “deploy [la notion d’intégrité scientifique] like diplomacy, that is to say a place of translations between scientific modalities “.

Pragmatic, ethics professor Christoph Stückelberger underlines the concerns: “Students and their parents: what studies will allow me to find a job, to be well paid? Or which is the best university?” But because he considers integrity to be a primary requirement, the founding president of launches a real injunction to any candidate for long studies, research or teaching: it is necessary to d ‘first think carefully before committing. And ask “three fundamental questions: what is my motivation to study? Who do I want to be? What will people say about me after I die?”. Nothing less.

1. The urgency of academic integrity, edited by Michelle Bergadaà and Paulo Peixoto, ems editions, management and society, 528 p., € 35

2. Five years ago, in June 2016, they co-founded the International Institute for Research and Action on Academic Fraud and Plagiarism (IRAFPA)

3. With the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Agency for the Promotion of Innovation Innosuisse and the Swiss Academies of Sciences

Confidence in a changing world

The 32 chapters of the book are organized into 6 themes:

Restore academic confidence. “Without this trust, we risk discouraging many young colleagues or valuable doctoral students, and civil society would tend to respect less the search for truth that we pursue, in favor of fake news circulating freely.”

The role of publishing * in a changing world. “Our academic order, based on publication, is shaken by multiple problems of retraction of articles published by the best journals.”

The reciprocal powers of the legal and academic orders. “Two orders which never cease to refer to each other the responsibility of the real management of integrity breaches”. And where we see, in some countries, fraudsters “access ministerial posts thanks to a very tolerant political system”.

Towards an institutional culture of integrity. “Act without naivety and with pragmatism”

Rethinking integrity training in times of change. This formation “concerns teachers, librarians, heads of ethics committees, legal services as well as students”.

Spread integrity. How to structure distribution networks.

* We have made a contribution in Chapter 8, under the title “Journalism, Science and Integrity”.

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