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 Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ), University of Zurich, Switzerland. My research focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism and its implications for science and science communication, and survey methodology. From March to May 2022, I was a visiting scholar at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison.