ABSTRACT

In 1985, sociologist Richard Whitley stressed the fact that science popularisation has become: ‘a means of claiming legitimacy for many social movements and interest groups, and also part of scientists’ claims for social support and legitimacy as a separate group of autonomous intellectuals’.1 He added that: ‘by successfully combining claims to universal validity and social utility through popularisation, they laid the foundation for the present domination and expansion of the sciences’.2 Whitley’s point offers a highly critical view of the legacy of the deficit model, in which any signs of philanthropy, generosity or charitable interpretation seem to have no place. This book concurs to a large extent with Whitley’s thesis, inviting a critical approach to popularisation as a complex mechanism of communication in a given historical context and integrating the reasons and interests of the different actors. However, Whitley’s forceful words, which match many of the main ideas in the preceding chapters, could be criticised for introducing elements that are too relativist and critical of the experts, and for giving excessive centre stage to society in general and to the laypeople in particular. It is an understandable reaction. Until recently our scientific culture has given preference to an elitist view of the great ideas and figures that legitimised the status quo of present-day science. It has been an instrument for analysis and selection of elements of the past, subtly anchored in Hilgartner’s ‘dominant view’, in itself not far from that of Whitley.