Charlotte SLEIGH, University College, London (UCL), United Kingdom
On Feb 4th, 2011, on the US TV show Real Time with Bill Maher, US astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson quipped that ‘the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it’. His comment was swiftly promoted to internet meme, quoted in inspirational screensavers, and printed and sold on thousands of T-shirts. In this paper I dissect the cultural and political threads of scientism that led to this moment. During the first decade of the 21st century, epistemic claims were stressed, tested and realigned due to unprecedented events, including 9/11, US conservatism and climate change. For entirely understandable reasons, scientism came to embrace its own kind of fundamentalism that exacerbated the culture wars and spoke contrary to the liberal instincts of many of its own supporters. The paper then moves a little deeper in history, to highlight two populist accounts of scientism from the late twentieth century: one positive, culminating in the claim that science can produce true knowledge; the other negative, emphasising scepticism as core to the ‘scientific method’. The paper concludes by recontextualising trends within recent history, using this as a springboard to ask how science is best discussed in public today.