Vigilante Science: Examples, Trends and Causes
I employ the term “Vigilante Science” – in analogy with the vigilante heroes in comic books – to describe cases whereby self-appointed individuals policing the claims, methods and governance of the scientific community have not been recognised by its members as legitimate authorities. Recent examples of vigilantism in science have occurred in climate science, social psychology and nutrition science. I will discuss the possibility of interpreting the alleged “Climategate” scandal, the “replication crisis” in psychology and the “sugar conspiracy” as evidence of a wider social trend of public suspicion, if not complete distrust, towards certain scientists. I will outline two historical and sociological causes for this trend: first, the progressive integration, over the last century, of the disputed sciences into government agendas and industries; and second, the expansion of formal education and the consequent emergence of a better-informed and more self-confident citizenry that is suspicious of the declared political autonomy of scientists.
Biography: Dr Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé is The Sociological Review Fellow of 2017. Prior to being awarded this writing fellowship based at Keele University, she was a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at University College London. In November 2015 Meritxell obtained a Ph.D. in STS from the University of Edinburgh with a thesis that examined the roles of trust and scepticism in science. Her academic interests are in the sociology of science and research methodology.