Inderscience Publishers

When does science become 'junk'? An examination of junk science claims in mainstream print media

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This paper examines the definitional content of junk science claims in the newsprint media, finding the term evoked for multiple ends. This paper begins by briefly examining some of the more prominent attempts by 20th century philosophers of science to establish criteria to differentiate science from non-science, each of which has failed. This failure has lead to a sociological turn in how science is defined and demarcated from other ways of knowing – what is known as 'boundary work'. To highlight how the term junk science is involved in this boundary making process, I examine its use in mainstream US print media. Drawing from the Lexis-Nexis database, ten years (1995?2005) of newspaper articles containing the term 'junk science' in the headline are systematically analysed and coded according to how the term is used. A total of 11 definitions of 'junk science' are identified through this analysis. Understanding how the term junk science is used will enhance debates surrounding the science of sustainability. For by better understanding what science is, we will be better positioned to use it optimally and accurately as we seek to plot a sustainable path forward.

Keywords: boundary work, scientific controversy, environmental policy, conflict, knowledge, climate change, junk science, print media, newspaper articles, sustainability, sustainable development

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