How Politicians’ Attacks on Science Communication Influence Public Perceptions of Journalists and Scientists

Jana Laura Egelhofer
Vol 11, No 1 (2023): Science Communication in the Digital Age: New Actors, Environments, and Practices

Abstract:  In today’s “post-truth” world, concerns over political attacks on the legitimacy of expert knowledge and scientific facts are growing. Especially populist politicians frequently use their social media platforms to target science and journalism, arguing these are part of an “evil elite,” deliberately misleading the public by spreading disinformation. While this type of discourse is highly concerning, thus far, we lack empirical evidence on how these accusations affect the public perceptions of scientists and journalists. To fill this gap, this study tests how politicians’ attacks affect citizens’ trust in journalists and scientists and the information provided by them. Furthermore, it investigates whether this discourse renders hostility towards journalists and scientists acceptable and whether there are effects on the image of politicians using such anti-science rhetoric. Findings suggest that the effects of politicians’ attacks on citizens’ perceptions of scientists and journalists are limited. Only individuals with strong anti-elitist attitudes are susceptible to disinformation accusations and indicate less belief in discredited scientific information. Interestingly, these individuals also perceive politicians using such attacks as more trustworthy and authentic.

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