Franziska KOHLT, University, United Kingdom
This paper will explore recent manifestations of a hagiographic instinct in public science communication in the United Kingdom as a particular type of scientism, and shed light on the risks it poses to science and risk communication environments.
Bringing together methodologies from narrative analysis, communication science, science history and the history of religion, this paper will draw parallels between two case studies. Firstly, it will analyse the utilisation of science and scientists in nationalised politics as hagiographic discourse through historical figures, such as Alan Turing, Ada Lovelace or Florence Nightingale. Secondly, it will show how it was the same hagiographic instinct, and science-history-orientated narrative patterns, that shaped the science communication environment of Covid-19, from its ‘Nightingale Hospitals’, to the ‘John Snow Memorandum’, or the ‘apotheosis’ of such ‘Covid saints’ as Sir Captain Tom Moore (Kohlt 2020).
This paper will therefore, on the one hand, be able to give a theoretical framework to such recent hagiographic trends, shedding light on distinct shifts in public discussion of science and science history in popular public discourse, and contribute to rethinking scientism within recent rise in populism. Enhancing discussions of the use of religious metaphor, structural and narrative patterns in Climate Change and AI discourses (Singler 2020; Piggott 2020), this paper will also be able to trace their distorting and inhibiting effects on science communication environments – which are opposed to their intended, elevating objectives, inherent to hagiography. Explaining, thus, the risk they pose in times of anxiety and crisis, this paper will make the case that this makes their use in science communication discourse a matter of ethics.