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Social Reasoning and the Politicization of Science during the Covid Pandemic

Jar Žiga Marušič


Published: 2022/12/01


The Covid crisis was a time of strong political polarization, such that it also infected medical science itself — political divides were created on the basis of endorsement or rejection of official anti-Covid measures. This article attempts to make sense of this phenomenon by integrating the social brain hypothesis with 20th century social-psychological research on attitude formation and change into a holistic model of social reasoning. I propose that social reasoning is the tendency of people to engage in consensus-based reasoning for most subjects outside their own area of expertise — information is evaluated based on correspondence to in-group consensus and the speaker’s status within the in-group, rather than independently observed reality. Scientific matters are no exception. In fact, they are a prime target for this given their complexity. This idea is then applied to the understanding of the lay public’s relationship to medical science during the Covid pandemic. Most Covid-related information was evaluated by social reasoning, not by the rational assessment of facts. This tendency of the public to engage in non-scientific reasoning about scientific matters is a key factor causing science to become political. This bottom-up process forms a feedback loop with the top-down process of monopolization of truth by the scientific establishment, where truth creation and dissemination is the sole purview of the expert class — creating a Foucauldian regime of truth. This feedback loop then causes science to become increasingly political. Keywords: Politics, Science, Social reasoning, Covid-19, Power, Counterculture

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