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Truth and Post-Truth in Public Policy: Interpreting the Arguments (2021)

(Publisher : Cambridge University Press)

Author(s) : Frank Fischer

Frank Fischer has been until recently Distinguished Professor of Politics and Global Affairs at Rutgers University in the USA. In addition to the Department of Agricultural Policy and Politics at the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Humboldt in Berlin, he is at present research scholar at the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam.


This book examines the problem that post-truth politics poses for the public policy-oriented sciences.  Whereas the standard response is to call for more or better factual information, the study shows that the effort to understand this phenomenon has to go beyond the emphasis on facts to include and understanding of the social meanings attached to them in the political world of public policy. 


The phenomenon of post-truth poses a problem for the public policy-oriented sciences, including policy analysis. Along with “fake news,” the post-truth denial of facts constitutes a major concern for numerous policy fields. Whereas a standard response is to call for more and better factual information, this Element shows that the effort to understand this phenomenon has to go beyond the emphasis on facts to include an understanding of the social meanings that get attached to facts in the political world of public policy. The challenge is thus seen to be as much about a politics of meaning as it is about epistemology. The analysis here supplements the examination of facts with an interpretive policy-analytic approach to gain a fuller understanding of post-truth. The importance of the interpretive perspective is illustrated by examining the policy arguments that have shaped policy controversies related to climate change and coronavirus denial.


‘With ‘Truth and Post-Truth in Public Policy - interpreting the arguments’, Frank Fischer offers us a powerful framework of critical analysis to unravel the complex thread that has brought us to the current and extreme situation of strong social confrontation … It is a book that not only feeds the debate, but our hopes.'

Rosana Boullosa - Critical Policy Studies

'Fischer guides readers through a systematic and artfully argued application of the interpretive policy framework, offering not only a nuanced discussion about post-truth but also a tour of the workings of the framework (e.g., the concepts of social cognition, plausibility structures, truth regimes, and narrative arguments). As such, this is both a contribution to scholarship and a useful text for those seeking to learn more about the framework itself. Readers will benefit from Fischer’s multi-disciplinary and critical theoretical perspective, sharpened over a career of provocative research about public participation and expert knowledge in policymaking. Above all, the book is a highly enjoyable and fluid read that not only provides an appraisal of where policy research currently sits in understanding post-truth but also establishes a roadmap for that research in the coming decades.'

Kris Hartley - International Review of Public Policy

Table of contents

1. Introduction: Policy science, facts and the post-truth challenge
2. Post-truth defined
3. Post-truth: Ignorance and “anything goes”
4. The political rise of the post-truth culture
5. Emotion and post-truth: living with falsehoods
6. Social media and disinformation
7. Beyond the critique: rescuing interpretive social science
8. The interpretive policy-analytic approach: social meanings and alternative realities
9. Social Meaning in Interpretive Policy Analysis
10. Interpretive social science and the scientific community: The “hard” sciences
11. Citizens confront the experts: Context and emotion in ordinary reason
12. Political and policy knowledge as ordinary practical knowledge
13. Climate policy and denialism: A political illustration
14. Climate Policy and politics: the social translation of evidence into political knowledge
15. Climate research: Uncertain knowledge and falsification
16. COVID-19 denialism: Interpreting narrative arguments
17. Narrative arguments and the policy-analytic challenge: Interpreting COVID-19 statistics in social context
18. Rejecting COVID-19 lockdown: Interpreting political-economic and ideological arguments
19. Deliberating with post-truth deniers: Concluding remarks

Bibliographic Information

Fischer, Frank, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, 98 p., ISBN 9781108854344. Paperback: £17.00

Book Review


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