How to exercise expert authority: A case study of a scientist facing The Sceptics.

Posted on 11 September 15


Goodwin, Jean. (2015). Comment exercer une autorité experte? Un scientifique confronté aux Sceptiques. Argumentation et Analyse du Discours, 15. Retrieved from https://aad.revues.org/2035
[How to exercise expert authority: A case study of a scientist facing The Sceptics. (2015). How to exercise expert authority: A case study of a scientist facing The Sceptics.]

Argumetation theorists’ primary loyalty should be to the practical knowledges arguers exhibit in ordinary argumentative interactions. I demonstrate the power of this approach through an analysis of how climate scientist and master communicator Stephen Schneider and a television audience of self-described “Skeptics” construct their non-cooperative interaction. Both Schneider and the audience recognize that the situation involves a deep division between the scientific community, represented by Schneider, on one side, and non-scientists on the other. One strategy Schneider adopts for managing this gap is to co-construct common ground, inviting the audience up into the scientific community while also bringing his discourse down to the nonexpert level. Schneider and many in the audience recognize, however, that this attempt to bridge the divide cannot succeed. Schneider’s second way of managing the divide is to exercise his authority. This strategy again has two faces: it requires him to earn trust by exercising appropriate modesty, but also gives him the right to declare some views to be simply wrong. I close by noting the sophistication of the views of authority in this discourse, relative to theories put forward by argumentation theorists.

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