Truth to Tell?: Some observations on the application of truth tests in published information systems research

Webb, Brian (2004). Truth to Tell?: Some observations on the application of truth tests in published information systems research. In: Kaplan, B.; Treux, D. P.; Wastell, D.; Wood-Harper, A. T. and DeGross, J. I. eds. Information System Research: Relevant Theory and Informed Practice. IFIP International Federation for Information Processing, 143. Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 669–704.




A motivation for the 1984 Manchester conference was to question the applicability of scientific truth tests to the study of socio-technical systems. While most IS researchers now agree that such tests are not appropriate, or at least are not always appropriate, the debate on the use of alternatives continues. This paper examines several truth tests applied to two truth statements in one piece of published research. Since the paper was published in a mainstream IS journal, it is argued that the standard of truth tests applied to this paper is indicative of the standard of truth tests acceptable within the IS community.
It is observed that different standards of truth test are applied, for different purposes, at different stages of the review process, reflecting the different purposes and standards of the truth statements made. Whereas the truth tests applied to the first truth statement (an inductive statement reporting the findings of the research) can be read through the text, those applied to the second truth statement (a deductive statement seeking to generalize these research findings) cannot. The observed differences in the application of internal and external validity tests point to the need for greater transparency in the application of this (second) type of truth test to better inform authors, reviewers, and readers alike; thereby improving the quality of truth statements made and of resultant publications.

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