The Corrupted Scientist Archetype and Its Implications for Climate Change Communication and Public Perceptions of Science

Environmental Communication

In debates about policy responses to anthropogenic global warming (AGW), arguers sometimes challenge the credibility of scientists by alleging that those scientists have been tainted by financial and political commitments – in short, that they are Corrupted Scientists. Arguers use this technique to both challenge and support the scientific consensus on AGW. This study undertakes a detailed discourse analysis of 20 U.S. Congressional Hearings to examine how arguers invoke the Corrupted Scientist archetype to make arguments, how others respond, and the implications of both for climate change communication and public perceptions of science and scientists. Although the archetype might help reveal corruption, it could also distort the public’s understanding of scientific disinterestedness by characterizing it as a matter of individual virtue rather than institutional safeguards (e.g. peer review). This distortion of disinterestedness presents three rhetorical challenges for science communicators and others.