Science-related populism: Conceptualizing populist demands toward science


Populism is on the rise in many countries. Scholars have stated that it is characteristic for political populism to describe society as a fundamental struggle between an allegedly virtuous people and political elites which are portrayed negatively. This anti-elitist sentiment not only targets politicians, however, but also other representatives of the alleged establishment—including scientists and scholarly institutions. But the specifics of such science-related populism have not yet been conceptualized. We aim to do so, integrating scholarship on political populism, the “participatory turn,” and alternative epistemologies. We propose to conceptualize science-related populism as a set of ideas which suggests that there is a morally charged antagonism between an (allegedly) virtuous ordinary people and an (allegedly) unvirtuous academic elite, and that this antagonism is due to the elite illegitimately claiming and the people legitimately demanding both science-related decision-making sovereignty and truth-speaking sovereignty.

In Public Understanding of Science, 29(5), 473–491.
Niels G. Mede
Niels G. Mede
Science Communication Researcher

I am a Senior Research and Teaching Associate at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ) of the University of Zurich, where I also completed a PhD in communication studies. My work focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism, digital media, climate change communication, and survey methodology. In 2022 and 2023, I was a visiting researcher at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison and the Oxford Internet Institute. In June 2024, I joined the Digital Media Research Centre of the Queensland University of Technology as a visiting scholar.