A crisis of authority in scientific discourse

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Scientific training often begins with learning content knowledge and techniques. As a student progresses, they are required to communicate the results of their experiments with their instructors in a manner that other scientists would understand. This style of communication is stressed throughout their entire training. But what happens when the need arises to communicate with interested nonscientific audiences? Scientific discourse has typically been considered what philosopher of language Mikhail Bakhtin termed an “authoritative discourse,”—a discourse that “binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally,” whose hegemony is traditionally a priori, unquestioned. However, within the public realm, that authority is in crisis. There is an unsettling rise of anti-scientific counter-discourses such as the anti-vaccine movement, the growing Flat Earth movement, climate change denialism, and a host of other “movements” grounded in either pseudo-science or an outright dismissal of scientific authority. In response to this crisis, scientists and educators have called for more attention to improving scientific literacy among the general public. By examining the generic conventions of scientific discourse using the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, we hope to point out some of the barriers causing the current crisis in scientific authority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)643-650
Number of pages8
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number2
Early online dateJan 9 2021
StatePublished - Jan 9 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Authoritative discourse
  • Bakhtin
  • Science communication
  • Scientific authority
  • Scientific discourse


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