Editor’s Note: The anniversary of the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob seeking to overturn the 2020 election provides an opportunity to reflect on how we think about the nature of truth and evidence in public discourse – and what this has to do with scholarly communication. Coincidentally, Rick Anderson published a post on just that topic only three weeks before the attack on the Capitol. In observance of the anniversary of that attack, we’re revisiting the post today.

The four years of the Trump administration have been painful — indeed, traumatic — for a great many people, for a great many reasons. One source of distress has been the administration’s unprecedented assault not only on the truth itself, but also on the idea that truth matters more than political expediency. This has created an unusual challenge for journalists, who have always had to deal with politicians whose relationship with factuality is, shall we say, complicated, but who have never encountered an administration that misrepresents facts and actively advances falsehoods so constantly, so brazenly, and so reflexively.

We have to acknowledge, of course, that undermining the authority of “facts” and “objective truth” isn’t a phenomenon that originated with the Trump administration. The propositions that “reality” is whatever we all agree it is, that there is no such thing as historical fact, that “objectivity” is merely a pretense used by the powerful to defend their interests, and that the putative search for “truth” is really just a tool of oppression have been significant currents of postmodern and critical academic discourse and teaching for several decades. (Go back a bit further, of course, and you have Foucault asserting that “reason is the ultimate language of madness”; earlier than that, there’s Nietzche: “The real truth about ‘objective truth’ is that objective truth is a myth”.) As President Trump has constantly attempted to twist or reverse the truth to fit his agenda, it’s been interesting to hear voices from quarters that once characterized objective fact as a myth, and reality as a social construct, now calling us urgently to stand up against Trump’s offenses against objective fact and reality. (To be very clear, none of this is to say that, as some have argued, postmodernism itself is to blame for Trumpism — though the mental image of the President consulting a volume of Derrida or Irigaray while composing his counterfactual tweets is admittedly kind of fun.)

image of a magnifying glass with a wooden handle on a textured white surface showing the word authentic but magnifying the word fake resembling counterfeiting

Be all that as it may, for the purposes of this post let’s take it as given that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that it matters what the truth is. Furthermore, let’s stipulate that factual claims can generally be confirmed or debunked by appeal to empirical evidence, and that it therefore matters whether evidence supports the claim that America’s voting machines were infected with algorithms created at the behest of the late Hugo Chavez, or the assertion that Republican observers were barred from vote-tallying facilities, or the claim that Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager ran a child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor. If we can all agree, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as objective truth, that it matters, and that it can generally be established by appeals to evidence, then we can proceed with the questions I’d like to address in this post.

The questions are: what is the media’s responsibility to sort truth from error in public discourse, and what does this have to do with preprint servers?

Question 1: What Is the Media’s Responsibility to Sort Truth from Error in Public Discourse?

One thing the past four years have shown us is that if the media simply report things that political leaders say, and leave it at that, they may be doing only part of their job. When the statements of those leaders are expressions of debatable opinion or are factual statements that have some reasonable correspondence to the truth, reporting them without editorial comment has been the traditional journalistic approach, and is arguably the right one; it seems entirely appropriate for journalists, in their role as seekers-out and reporters of facts, to avoid putting their thumbs on the scale of genuine public debate. But what about when a powerful leader is saying things that are patently and dangerously false? President Trump, his proxies, and his formal spokespeople have created this dilemma to an unprecedented degree, and after a certain amount of understandable thrashing around and hand-wringing, the mainstream media have eventually settled on the strategy of characterizing his most blatantly false claims as just that: think about how many times you’ve read or heard sentences in news outlets over the past few years with qualifications like “the president claimed, falsely” or “the president asserted, without evidence.” It seems now to be broadly accepted that even when what’s being reported is not the presumptive truth of a statement but simply fact that a public figure made it, there are circumstances in which the dangerous falsity of the statement itself really should be flagged.

But for those of us who accept that premise, a genuinely difficult question arises: whom should we trust as public arbiters of what is and isn’t patently and dangerously false? Once we clear the way for reporters to characterize blatant falsehoods as such, who will draw the line between blatant and dangerous falsehoods and assertions with which the reporter simply strongly disagrees?

That troubling question notwithstanding — and recognizing that everyone won’t agree on where such lines should be drawn — it does seem to me that the line currently drawn by the mainstream news media represents a pretty reasonable distinction between what can be reported without comment and what needs to be flagged as a clear and potentially dangerous falsehood.

So why are we discussing this in The Scholarly Kitchen? That brings us to the second question:

Question 2: What Does This Have to Do with Preprint Servers?

Preprint servers, to which scholars and scientists can post preliminary reports of their research for public comment before submitting them for formal publication, aren’t intended to fill the same function as journalistic venues. While they’re open to the public, submissions to preprint servers are presented not as established science for public consumption, but rather as tentative findings for open discussion, mainly among other experts in the field.

Except when they aren’t.

A growing problem in the scholarly and scientific community is a population of opportunists who try to use preprint servers as a place to post crackpot pseudo-science and misleading public health information, all under the flag of scholarly “publishing.” They submit articles to preprint servers in the hope of publicizing them, counting on both an uninformed public and a too-credulous press to treat the reports as if they were vetted and peer-reviewed science published in a venue that is willing to accept responsibility for them. Just as predatory publishers have recognized in the APC funding model an opportunity to lie and make money, mendacious authors have recognized in the preprint-dissemination model an opportunity to lie and achieve political goals or professional advancement.

Here we see a direct connection to the journalistic issues raised above. Since the difference between publication in a peer-reviewed journal and “publication” in bioRxiv or medRxiv isn’t immediately obvious to non-specialists, journalists are a prime (and intentional) target for what amount to political scams: unscrupulous scholars and scientists (or people posing as such) posting papers to preprint servers and then touting them as having been “published.” Journalists who may or may not know better then report on these studies as if they represented vetted science.

How bad is this problem? A recent search of newspapers of record like the New York Times and the Washington Post suggests that these generally do a good job of identifying posted preprints as such, and making it clear that what they’re citing are unvetted scientific claims. I found that the Fox News website does this less well; articles with references to bioRxiv and arXiv often include qualifiers like “awaiting peer review,” but are just as likely to say things like “published in bioRxiv” or (worse) “published in the preprint journal arXiv.”

The time has come for those who manage preprint servers to take a firmer hand in vetting the claims that are posted there and to consider retracting preprints when the public good requires it.

A more troubling set of data points suggests a larger and deeper problem, though: over the course of several recent posts in his newsletter The Geyser, Kent Anderson has provided compelling evidence that white nationalists are disproportionately using unvetted preprints to promote pseudo-scientific racism; that alt-Right (and former Trump administration) figure Steve Bannon used CERN’s open-science platform Zenodo to amplify Dr. Li-Meng Yan’s dangerous conspiracy theory about COVID-19; and that other shady figures on the alt-Right have been taking significant advantage of the low barriers to “publication” that are a defining feature of preprint servers, and making disproportionate use of those venues to seed the public conversation with false and misleading claims designed specifically to push hateful and divisive narratives under the guise of “science.” The data and patterns he describes are startling and, in my view, worth serious consideration.

What can be done? I would suggest that just as the mainstream media (and, more reluctantly, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook) have gradually come to the conclusion that they have a responsibility to flag obvious and potentially dangerous falsehoods as such when they appear on their platforms, the time has come for those who manage preprint servers to take a firmer hand in vetting the claims that are posted there and to consider retracting preprints when the public good requires it — recognizing that while the purpose of a preprint server is not primarily to serve as a dissemination or “publishing” platform, what affects the public welfare is not whether it’s intended to be used that way, but whether it is used in that way. In this context, it’s worth noting that despite multiple calls to do so, Zenodo has never removed (or even flagged) Dr. Yan’s COVID-19 conspiracy theory, despite its thorough, repeated, and public debunking**. Similarly, a thoroughly debunked study that purported to find a causal connection between cellphone use and brain cancer remains on the bioRxiv site — where it is presented without editorial comment — and it continues to be cited. A deeply flawed study purporting to show similarities between COVID-19 and HIV was posted on bioRxiv early this year, and was eventually withdrawn by its authors following severe criticism by the scientific community. The term “withdrawn” is rather ambiguous, though, as the article is still on bioRxiv (though flagged with a banner indicating that it has been “withdrawn”).

In fairness, it should be noted that bioRxiv, and medRxiv both currently have banners at the top of their pages, warning users that the preprints do not represent peer-reviewed science and should not be cited as such in the media or used to guide clinical practice — and they’re making efforts to catch bad science before it’s posted. These are steps in the right direction. Given the incredibly high stakes involved during the COVID-19 crisis, however, it does not seem sufficient; on both platforms, all reports are still presented as if they’re on an equal factual footing, regardless of whether they’ve been seriously challenged or even completely debunked since being posted. And Zenodo offers no disclaimer at all — in fact, its main page leans in the other direction by noting, in a sidebar, that Zenodo currently “prioritizes all requested [sic] related to the COVID-19 outbreak” and offering to help researchers with “uploading (their) research data, software, preprints, etc.” Nowhere does it suggest that there will be any attempt either to detect or to flag (let alone retract) dangerous medical misinformation or even disinformation.

I should point out here that I’m actually generally a supporter of preprint servers and of the open and public discussion of preliminary scientific and scholarly findings. (Disclosure: I have served for years as an unpaid member of the advisory board for bioRxiv.) But like all dissemination models and systems, preprint servers don’t only solve problems; inevitably, they also create them. In a circumstance in which science is more highly politicized than normal and the stakes are incredibly high — such as during an unusually dangerous pandemic that is being weaponized by political actors — the problems with “publishing” unvetted science do come into dramatically sharper relief, and raise questions that need urgently to be asked and resolved.

* The Geyser posts to which I’ve linked in this paragraph are normally available only to subscribers, but will be publicly open for 24 hours in connection with this repost.

** Since this post was originally published, Zenodo has flagged Dr. Yan’s COVID paper with a “Potentially Misleading Contents” tag. The Geyser made note of this here.

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson is University Librarian at Brigham Young University. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno, and as Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah.


32 Thoughts on "Revisiting — Journalism, Preprint Servers, and the Truth: Allocating Accountability"


Thank you for running this fine piece again. Yes, “mendacious authors have recognized in the preprint-dissemination model an opportunity to lie and achieve political goals or professional advancement,” and yes, “Journalists who may or may not know better then report on these studies as if they represented vetted science.” And, yes, a remedy would be to “for those who manage preprint servers to take a firmer hand in vetting the claims that are posted there and to consider retracting preprints when the public good requires it.”

However, we should note that as soon as a non-peer reviewed preprint is published it comes under the scrutiny of scientists, some of whom are likely to have high expertise in the associated field. Thus, as Rick Anderson notes: “A deeply flawed study purporting to show similarities between COVID-19 and HIV was posted on bioRxiv early this year, and was eventually withdrawn by its authors following severe criticism by [non-anonymous members of] the scientific community.” Just as it is easy to post a preprint publication (always non-anonymous), so it is just as easy for those who severely fault that publication to post comments on the server, non-anonymously. While Rick may put “publication” in quotation marks, this is an example of post-publication peer review that worked so well between 2013 and 2018 as PubMed Commons. Just as it folk were beginning to learn about it, the NCBI closed it down. We need more post-“publication” peer review on preprint servers.

I’m glad that you wrote this, Rick. I was having the same concerns about pre-prints and the lack of peer review. Although they seem like a sizable victory for open information, the vetting just isn’t there.

Glad to see this piece again. It is excellent. Another way to address the very real problems summarized here is to attack from the other side. In this view, the problem is not the absence of peer review but the fact that naive users can stumble on unauthoritative content. The problem, in other words, is not in opening the servers to authors (with light vetting) but opening the database to readers, with no vetting.

The problem here, is where one would draw that line for readers. Do you need to have a PhD? Then no graduate students could access. An academic email address? Then no researchers in the private sphere. I’m not sure there’s a scheme that would work.

One possible solution (read it in other blogposts/articles): preprint access only after login via ORCID. A “fingerprint” would be generated from a given ORCID profile to crystallize field of expertise which then has to fit to the requested article.

Indeed very strict and less open (and graduate students would need to have relevant publications in their ORCID profiles, ok). But there is vetting.

Suspect you are on the right track, but the vetting should apply to authors of articles and commentators on articles (as well as some vetting of content), not on readers. In this way PubMed Commons was better than the still surviving PubPeer (which allows anonymous commenting).

First, it’s worth noting that there’s very little oversight on who can sign up for an ORCID account. I believe Kent Anderson wrote a lot about the enormous number of spam ORCID accounts that largely seem to exist to drive SEO and links to less reputable websites.

I’d also question the ability of current technologies to accurately crystallize a researcher’s areas of interests, not to mention the stultifying nature of any system that only allows you to read about things that you’re already experienced in, rather than considering reading the literature as a way to learn new things and expand one’s horizons. And as you note, early career researchers may not have much, if any, of a publication record available for vetting.

It’s a fascinating evolution/devolution for sure, Rick, and arguably isn’t limited just to how we portray and consume political and science facts. Jason Steinhauer recently published a book (History Disrupted, on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3Fg17TS) that describes how history facts have been changing as well. Due to the influence of social media, we’re slowly seeing the death of expertise and the rise of crowd-sourced history (whether or not this retelling is accurate), along with an increased valuing of the kinds of history portrayals that manage to achieve virality through nostalgia, captivating images, storytelling, or latching on to current events.

Reading through his book, it occurs that much the same can be said for science communication as well—-that there has been a slow recalibration of how the public understands and consumes science. For years we’ve cheered on this change, thinking that easier access to science would result in better public understanding of science. But to the extent these efforts have also involved opening the floodgates to more distinctly unscientific work (publishing motives notwithstanding), unintended consequences have arisen.

Your solution of raising the barriers to entry in preprint servers may be kind of antithetical to the purpose of these servers—in most cases, to quickly establish discovery and get out a rough draft of science so it can be published in a peer-reviewed journal in short order (this happens within 12-18 months for about 2/3 of all preprint articles; see https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45133). Training the media to label preprints as such is helpful but ultimately probably a losing argument as well—kind of like a judge telling a jury to disregard evidence they find compelling. People are going to believe whatever conforms with their worldview, regardless of whether it is peer reviewed (and if they already have a dim view of established science, maybe they’ll be even more likely to believe information the establishment hasn’t approved).

More likely, I would argue, we’ve entered an information era where the genie won’t be going back in the bottle—experts won’t reclaim their perch as the sole guardians of truth. And this is probably a good development if our goal is to make information everywhere more open and more accessible. Broader participation is the flip side of broader access, though, that we truly didn’t see coming. So the solution may need to involve figuring out ways to make all of us more expert participants—gradually building, testing, and evolving systems that make it more possible for us to sort truth from fiction, not just in science but in history and politics as well. I have no idea what these solutions will look like—just saying that anything that smacks of censorship is probably heading in the wrong direction, both from a public perception point of view and also considering how our broad information consumption patterns are evolving.

Your solution of raising the barriers to entry in preprint servers may be kind of antithetical to the purpose of these servers

That’s not actually my proposal — my proposal is that those who run preprint servers take a more active and aggressive role in identifying, flagging, and (in some cases) actually withdrawing from their servers papers that contain dangerous mis- or disinformation. (I suppose one could characterize this as censorship, in a broad sense, but in that sense you could similarly characterize any journal’s rejection of a paper based on the quality of its content.)

As I pointed out, this vetting is already happening to a limited degree, but I’m arguing that it should be more aggressive.

No argument—I think the entire community has long been in favor of all science publishing venues taking more responsibility for their content. I think that on the scale of things, though, preprints as they’re currently envisioned (barring major changes regarding post-publication peer review as Donald mentioned in his comment) are always going to be just that—PRE prints—and therefore we needn’t necessarily focus as much on policing their content as we do with predatory journals (which you have written about extensively).

Whatever enlightening points Anderson made about preprints and journalists was a bit lost amidst his apparent disdain for Trump and his 74 million supporters. As Anderson noted, twisting the truth for political expediency is hardly new, so repeatedly using Trump as a poster boy comes off as intentionally divisive. Political and personal ideology have no place in a scholarly science publication and blot the Scholarly Kitchen platform.

I can’t speak for Rick or his writing, but let’s be clear — The Scholarly Kitchen is not a “scholarly science publication” in any way whatsoever. It is an opinion and analysis blog, with a mission statement to bring “together differing opinions, commentary, and ideas, and presenting them openly.” I tend to think of it as some combination of an “explainer” blog and an editorial page. And editorial pages are filled with opinions that reflect the author’s ideology.

Good point. I appreciate the clarification. I shall recalibrate.

This article is about the undermining of factual accuracy in the public (political and scientific) discourse, and there is a strong factual evidence-base to show that the Trump presidency has been more untruthful (and more shameless about this) than any previous administration in recent history, by orders of magnitude. To point this out as part of the introduction to the article is not disdain for an individual, nor is it political partisanship, or anything to do with how many people have chosen to support this particular President. It serves to set the scene for a concerning trend. To compare the truthfulness of, say, the Clintons with the Bushes would be highly debatable and the conclusions inevitably partisan. But to cite President Trump as a ‘poster-boy’ for a new level of misinformation is both factually valid and entirely relevant.

You say Trump has been “more untruthful” than any previous administration (“by orders of magnitude”!!!), and I wish you had put a little more energy into your reply. For example, how is “more untruthful” measured? You cited a metric of frequency of untrue statements. We’ve all seen the line graphs of how prolific Trump is at lying about things that can be easily fact-checked. I think frequency is only one metric.
Another metric is impact. Lyndon Johnson lied about the scale of the Vietnam war (Pentagon Papers anyone?), which had an impact of thousands of dead soldiers (and civilians). Trump didn’t send soldiers to die based on lies. Bill Clinton lied under oath about multiple things related to the Lewinsky scandal and nearly got himself impeached. That seems like a big deal. Barack Obama lied when he said the NSA is not spying on Americans after the Edward Snowden incident. Spying on Americans seems like a big deal.
Another metric is quality of lying. One might argue that Obama’s lies were harder to fact check because he was just a smoother liar. Once the smoother lies are exposed, there is something more deceitful about them. One could argue that Trump was more hostile, and Obama was more cunning. Which one is worse?
And let’s be honest, Anderson invoked the right-wing, not just Trump. According to Anderson, the Trump years were “painful – indeed, traumatic . . . for a great many reasons.” PizzaGate rumors were spread by Alex Jones of the dreaded alt-right, not Trump. Fox News isn’t synonymous with Trump.
Why pick politics to “set the scene” in the first place? This article was about science preprints. Why not pick Andrew Wakefield, Elizabeth Holmes, the cold fusion guys of 1989, or the thousands of papers from Chinese paper mills to set the scene? By invoking multiple right-wing examples, Anderson couldn’t have picked a more controversial way to set the scene. My point is that it appears that Anderson picked Trump and the right wing to set the scene for a specific, partisan, and ideological reason. This may look “entirely valid”, but it’s divisive virtue signaling, and it creates a misleading and unenlightening narrative.

This article is not just about the dangers of inaccuracies entering an increasingly ambiguous scholarly record, but about how this has been used as part of the recently increasing undermining of truthfulness in the public discourse (especially in the context of medical claims). So it IS relevant and IS concerning that a recent past president has been so very untruthful – in the frequency of what he has said, if not in its impact. Anderson picked on the Trump administration (and said nothing about ‘the right wing’ in general – that’s in your imagination) to set the scene for a specific reason, which was that it was germane and timely for his current assessment. Your introduction of a smokescreen of ‘whatabouts’ citing Johnson, Clinton, Obama, Jones, Wakefield and Holmes does nothing to detract from the validity and reality of the example the author has used.

“Whataboutism gives a clue to its meaning in its name. It is not merely the changing of a subject (“What about the economy?”) to deflect away from an earlier subject as a political strategy; it’s essentially a reversal of accusation, arguing that an opponent is guilty of an offense just as egregious or worse than what the original party was accused of doing, however unconnected the offenses may be.

The tactic behind whataboutism has been around for a long time. Rhetoricians generally consider it to be a form of tu quoque, which means “you too” in Latin and involves charging your accuser with whatever it is you’ve just been accused of rather than refuting the truth of the accusation made against you. Tu quoque is considered to be a logical fallacy, because whether or not the original accuser is likewise guilty of an offense has no bearing on the truth value of the original accusation.

Whataboutism adds a twist to tu quoque by directing its energies into establishing an equivalence between two or more disparate actions, thereby defaming the accuser with the insinuation that their priorities are backwards.”

Anderson picked on PizzaGate and Fox News. Those are right wing.

It is kind of telling that the things you consider representing the right wing of politics in the US are 1) a completely debunked conspiracy theory and 2) a news network, that by the very definition of journalism, should be objective and neutral, unless it had been subverted into becoming the sort of propaganda machine that Anderson is discussing.

And for the record, Fox News is not mentioned in any context regarding political content or viewpoint, but instead is one of several news organizations where the author notes the qualifications the organization puts on preprints when they report on them. How is accurately recording how a news network characterizes preprints a denigration of a political viewpoint?

Anderson cited PizzaGate as an example of a claim about which it seems obviously important to establish the truth or falsity. If PizzaGate represents a false claim, then that would indeed reflect poorly on Alex Jones, who promulgated the claim. How exactly does this undermine the value, relevance, or reliability of my piece?

(And by the way, if you read the whole post you might notice that many targets of my criticism are actually from the academic left.)

Reply to David Crotty, re: Fox News

Anderson wasn’t just citing the performance of Fox News. He cited Fox News as doing a comparatively worse job than the Washington Post and New York Times, two outlets well-known to be left-wing symbols. Fox News is well-known to be a right-wing symbol. Anderson selected news outlets that are obvious proxies for Left and Right political viewpoints. His implied conclusion: Left is morally superior to Right at representing preprints. Seems obvious to me.
Anderson’s claim wasn’t even based on standardized investigations. It was based on his informal perusal of an unknown number of stories. Who knows if it’s accurate.
All outlets are commonly misrepresenting preprints. Comparing Left to Right added no rational value to the preprint discussion.

Thanks for the piece. Just a small correction. As I was following your links to pick examples for a lecture I’m preparing for fellow libarians, I noticed that Zenodo actually added banners to the two cited preprint.
“…Zenodo has never removed (or even flagged)…”

Yes — that happened since this piece was originally posted. If you follow the double-asterisk at the end of the sentence you’re referring to, you’ll see that I made note of that fact at the end of this re-post.

Reply to Rick Anderson, re: PizzaGate

Glad you asked, Mr. Anderson. Understanding how your use of PizzaGate and other right-wing signs undermines the value of your piece requires applying what we’ve learned from other episodes where personal beliefs and ideology influence what one believes to be true or false. There is no way for me to answer your question without speculating about some aspects of you as a person. If this concerns the moderator of the blog, note I’m only answering because it was asked.
Here’s the playbook I think you’re following which has been used many times before for other causes. You picked on Trump and other right-wing symbols for excessive lying as an act of moral shaming. It’s important to frame it as a moral issue because humans are uniquely moral creatures who are constantly preoccupied with self-inflation. Those are generally good qualities because those make us productive people who are competent and can be relied on in a social group. But in the modern world, when dealing with complicated problems, those values get easily subverted. When one singles out one’s opponent for immoral behavior, this elevates one’s moral status while lowering the moral status of the opponent. Mission accomplished. That’s really the whole point of the exercise.
I speculate that you believe you have greater moral status than those who do not share your political views, or, at least, you pine for it. By attacking Trump, you are counting on readers sympathizing with you, or at least not disagreeing with you, that Trump and the right-wing are a horrific political development in American history, and you all feel morally assured together.
The trouble is that by creating this moral atmosphere in the article, and then yoking it to your opinions about preprint servers, the topic of preprint servers becomes fueled imperceptibly by a moral basis, not a rational basis. You did this on purpose, whether you know it or not. The effect can be summarized a few ways: “Believe like me on politics and then you ought to believe like me about preprints.” Or, “Agree with me about preprints and you’ll acquire greater moral status like me.” Greater moral status is the reward, not any outcome about preprint servers. It’s a clever trick that many movements that tend to be left-wing, but are not exclusively left-wing, have mastered. You are swinging away in an ideology war and you seem to be only dimly aware of it.

This undermines the value of your piece because it adds a moral basis that is unenlightening about preprint servers. Whatever worthy points you conclude about preprint servers or whatever actions you recommend, readers should wonder how you came to those conclusions and what your true motivations are, and they should wonder what recommendations you’re not able to think of because you’re motivated by your need for moral status instead of objective rational thinking. I think many readers can keep your political comments and moral shaming separate from your points about preprint servers. And for those readers, it actually makes your piece more reliable to interpret, because they understand your general motivations better.

This is a truly fascinating piece of analysis. But I’m genuinely curious: how does it account for the second paragraph of my post?

The second paragraph of this post — the one we’ve been discussing.

Dude. This post. The one you’re critiquing. It’s titled “Revisiting — Journalism, Preprint Servers, and the Truth: Allocating Accountability.” Scroll to the top of this very page and you can read it.

In case you also need help identifying the second paragraph, it’s the one that begins “We have to acknowledge, of course, that…”

I don’t know. There’s a lot of different things going on in that paragraph and it’s not written in a straightforward fashion. It seems like a Rorschach test. But I noted several interesting things. First, it includes more Trump bashing with an attempt at sarcastic humor that a fiend of Trump’s caliber would know anything about postmodern philosophy. Second, you simultaneously back off Trump by saying he’s not the first one to engage in immoral lying, and suggest innocuously that maybe he was just channeling postmodern philosophy. I’ve noticed you often do something similar in your posts; you portray yourself as an even-minded person by tipping your hat to both sides of an issue. You want us to think you’re a moderate even though your recommendations are radical. Third, the lack of straightforward writing seems like a feature, not a bug. You make recommendations and the reader isn’t quite sure what you’re recommending because they’re just vague enough, or they’re wrapped in misdirection about other topics, which again helps cloak you as a moderate. Fourth, you went to lengths to impress readers by name dropping four philosophers. That seems like another way to signal moral superiority.

I’ll respond once more, and then let you have the last word if you want.

I think it’s very interesting that when I criticize the Trump administration for its offenses against the truth, you find that sufficient evidence to support a lengthy and wildly inferential analysis of my deepest personality characteristics, and to conclude that I’m carrying water for the political Left. But when I point out that my post also includes a long list of examples of the academic Left “undermining the authority of ‘facts’ and ‘objective truth,'” suddenly my writing has become a “Rorschach test” and is somehow no longer “straightforward” enough to provide any evidence that might complicate your analysis of my politics.

Since you’ve already committed yourself to the conclusion that I’m “swinging away in an ideology war” on behalf of the Left (though “only dimly aware” of doing so), I can see how it might be difficult for you to accept this, but just for chuckles let’s consider one possibility: maybe I really am an “even-minded person,” one who aligns himself with neither the political Left nor the Right and can see moral and logical strengths (as well as weaknesses) on both sides. I realize that may sound far-fetched, but can we agree that it’s at least possible? And if so, maybe we can even entertain the possibility — bear with me, now — that I don’t see this as a position that makes me “morally superior” to anyone. Maybe it just reflects the fact that I genuinely and honestly agree only selectively with any particular point on the political spectrum. And maybe — maybe — readers would benefit more from considering the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments than from trying to divine my personality (and hidden motivations) from them.

I’ll say this, though: I have friends on the political Left who would absolutely wet themselves with laughter at your suggestion that I’m some kind of culture warrior fighting on their side. But then, I guess it’s not really fair; they actually know me.

I did say it was speculation. I agree discussing someone personally is problematic. But discussions that include personal convictions is sort of the whole point. Your post gave an impression that you had personal political preferences, which should have no place in science discussions, and was my first comment. Consequently, I’ve come full circle: No author, reader, or commentator should have to traverse each other’s personal political views.

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