The Scientists Have Betrayed Us! The Effects of Anti-Science Communication on Negative Perceptions Toward the Scientific Community

Michael Hameleers, Toni G. L. A. Van der Meer


In today’s digitized media ecologies, anti-science beliefs and deliberate attacks on the legitimacy of experts and empirical evidence are getting more widespread. Blaming scientific elites may be an important populist communication tactic used to fuel disenchantment and cynicism toward scientists regarded as part of the “corrupt” elite. To investigate the effects of different blame attributions to scientific elites, we rely on experimental data collected among a representative sample of Dutch citizens (N = 475). We randomly exposed people to populist versus nonpopulist blame attributions to scientific elites, or conspiracies in which different elite actors were accused of secretly collaborating to manipulate and mislead the people. Our findings show that, under some conditions, anti-science communication negatively affects evaluations of scientists. By demonstrating the impact of anti-science populism, we show how the public’s opposition to expert knowledge and the rejection of truthful information may be fueled by blaming scientists.


anti-science populism, blame attribution, climate change, conspiracy theories, disinformation, populism, post-truth politics

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