Scientific Counterpublics: In Defense of the Environmental Scientist as Public Intellectual


Global warming and climate change pose a significant threat to the livelihoods of future generations. Although there is a consensus among qualified climate scientists who believe that scientific evidence supports anthropogenic climate change (ACC) theories, this has not translated into public understanding or trust in these theories. In this essay, I trace policy debates in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s concerning the link between CFC pollution and ozone depletion. Based on a rich tradition of counterpublic scholarship and empirical success of ozone scientists, I argue that a rhetorical defense of global warming science in the form of counterpublic intellectualism may help environmental advocates overcome public disbelief in ACC theories.

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  1. 1.

    The potential of counterpublics is found in their movement between varying publics. Counterpublic oscillation is the ‘back and forth’ of engagement and reengagement with multiple distinct others. When oscillating, translation—the conversion of discourse from one language to another—is necessary for engagement on behalf of constituent interests.

  2. 2.

    Throughout the essay, ‘public’ is italicized to represent the theoretical usage of the term, as opposed to ordinary meaning. The ordinary meaning of the term ‘public’ denotes: of, or relating to, the people. The theoretical meaning of the term ‘public’ denotes: an actually existing, discursively expressed group of actors that has the power to marginalize and suppress alternate opinions, beliefs and identities.


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This essay is an expansion of a previous work published in Disturbing Argument, selected works from the 18th NCA/AFA Alta Conference on Argumentation published by Taylor & Francis. I am grateful for the helpful questions and comments provided by the reviewers, and the editorial guidance provided by Gary Bricker.

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Correspondence to Brett Jacob Bricker.

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Bricker, B.J. Scientific Counterpublics: In Defense of the Environmental Scientist as Public Intellectual. Topoi 38, 681–692 (2019).

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  • Climate science
  • Global warming
  • Counterpublics
  • Public intellectual