Giving science a bad name: Politically and commercially motivated fallacies in BSE inquiry

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13 Citations (Scopus)


It is a feature of scientific inquiry that it proceeds alongside a multitude of non-scientific interests. This statement is as true of the scientific inquiries of previous centuries, many of which brought scientists into conflict with institutionalised religious thinking, as it is true of the scientific inquiries of today, which are conducted increasingly within commercial and political contexts. However, while the fact of the coexistence of scientific and non-scientific interests has changed little over time, what has changed with time is the effect of this coexistence on scientific inquiry itself. While scientists may no longer construct their theories with various religious dictates in mind, growing commercial and political interests in science have served to distort the interpretation of science. Using the U.K.'s recent crisis with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as my context, I examine two ways in which this distortion has occurred - the interpretation of the science of BSE by politicians and by commercial parties for the purposes of justifying policy decisions and informing the public of risk, respectively. Fallacious reasoning, I contend, is the manifestation of this distortion in these contexts. In demonstration of this claim, I examine how politicians and commercial parties alike have employed two fallacies in their assessments of the science of BSE. These fallacies extend in novel ways the set of so-called traditional informal fallacies. The interpretation of science, I conclude, is a rich context in which to conduct a study of fallacious reasoning; moreover, such a study can contribute in significant ways, I argue, to the public understanding of science.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Authority
  • BSE
  • Commercial and political interests
  • Fallacy
  • Interpretation
  • Part/whole
  • Reasoning
  • Scientific inquiry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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