Post Truth Initiative Series

This Sydney Ideas series examines fake news, alternative facts, lies, bullshit, and propaganda, from a range of perspectives–from the courtroom to cancer research, from philosophy to screenplays, from Orwell to Spice–with the goal to better understand the post-truth crisis, and to advise on how facts and reason might survive in this climate.

The series is presented by the Post Truth Initiative, a Sydney Research Excellence Initiative at the University of Sydney. The initiative brings together scholars of media and communications, government and international relations, physics, philosophy, linguistics, and medicine, and is affiliated with the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), the Sydney Environment Institute and the Sydney Democracy Network.

Series Chair: Professor Nick Enfield, Professor of Linguistics.



17 July - Scientific fraud and truth

The checks and balances of peer review have traditionally been seen as the best way to ensure sound scientific and medical research. But how does the community deal with fraud when it does arise? Are the small numbers of incidences of fraud just an aberration, or are there cultural issues that need to be addressed? Is the problem of fraud an inevitable consequence of the increasing pressure to publish, and the resultant exponential increase in volume of scientific output today?

A Sydney Ideas, Westmead co-presentation.


  • Professor Jennifer Byrne, Professor of Molecular Oncology Discipline of Child and Adolescent Health, University of Sydney and The Children's Hospital at Westmead
  • Rebecca Halligan, Director, Research Integrity and Ethics Administration, University of Sydney
  • Professor Stephen Leeder, Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, the University of Sydney, and Director, Research and Education Network, Western Sydney Local Health District

29 August – Wrongful conviction and truth

When does evidence obscure the truth? Wrongful convictions can and do happen – it's a sad fact of the Australian legal system. This panel looks at how evidence in legal proceedings can inadvertently support false conclusions if handled by non-experts (as is usually the case). Panel members are associate lecturer in psychology Celine van Golde, barrister and senior lecturer in law Miiko Kumar, both of the ‘Not Guilty’ project at the University of Sydney, and professional linguist Helen Fraser, of Forensic Phonetics Australia. They present real-life cases in which errors, by eyewitnesses, police, prosecutors, and other experts led to people spent years in jail following unfair trials. With reference to their ongoing research on human perception and memory they then ask: what can we do to prevent future miscarriages of justice?


  • Dr Celine Van Golde, Forensic Psychology Lab, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science
  • Dr Helen Fraser, specialist in cognitive phonetics
  • Miiko Kumar, Barrister and a Senior Lecturer in the University of Sydney Law School

14 September - Politics and Truth

There are many signs we’ve entered a ‘post-truth’ era defined by the burial of ‘objective facts’ thanks to a public avalanche of ‘appeals to emotion and personal belief’ (OED). Critics of this ‘post-truth’ trend like to stress the political dangers of growing government secrecy, the lies of politicians, corporate bullshit, media silence and populists’ talk of ‘fake news’. They call for a recovery of ‘truth’ in public life. But how credible is the appeal by journalists and others to recapture ‘truth’ in our public lives? What exactly is truth? Why is it important? Or is it not as important as we imagine? Does truth-telling have its limits? Might ‘truth’ be fading from our lives, and might bidding ‘farewell to truth’ be a good thing? Two white, male still-very-much-alive professors explain their agreements, and their disagreements.


  • Professor John Keane, Director, Sydney Democracy Network
  • Professor Colin Wight, Department of Government and International Relations, School of Social and Political Sciences

This event was co-presented with the Sydney Democracy Network for 2017 Festival of Democracy.

20 November - Truth, Evidence, and Reason: who can we believe?

The international panellists who are at the forefront of current debate on rational discourse and the post-truth crisis dissect the current state of public discourse around truth, evidence, and reason, and associated questions including trust, faith, and identity. They discuss their answers to the question “who can we believe?” and each, in their own ways, show how truth is intertwined with complex questions ranging from knowledge to authority to reality.


  • Sarah Haider is an American writer, speaker, and activist. In 2013, she co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA)
  • Tom Nichols is Professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College, and author of the recent book The Death of Expertise: The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters (2017)
  • James A Lindsay is an American thinker, not a philosopher, with a doctorate in math and background in physics. He is the author of four books, most recently Life in Light of Death (2016)
  • Dr Caroline West is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sydney

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28 November - El Chigüire Bipolar and The Chaser

The makers of Venezuela's leading satirical news site El Chigüire Bipolar discuss the politics of satire with the makers of Australia’s in no way leading satirical news site The Chaser.

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4 December - Carbon Capitalism and Communication: Confronting Climate Crisis

2016 surpassed 2015 as the warmest year recorded since 1850, and 90% of the increase was due to the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, levels not seen for 4 million years. There is now a mounting consensus that we are likely to face a continuing and intensifying climate crisis. Communication systems are playing a central role in this crisis. This panel brings together activists and academics to discuss the central role of communication in environmental debates and launch the book Carbon Capitalism and Communication, Confronting Climate Crisis edited by Benedetta Brevini and Graham Murdock with Naomi Klein, Michael Mann, Alan Rusbridger , David Ritter and Blair Palese.


  • Benedetta Brevini, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media
  • Kari Norgaard, University of Oregon
  • David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific
  • Christopher Wright, Professor of Organisational Studies
  • Dr. Terry Woronov, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology
  • Alana Mann, Media and Communications Department Chair

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