Arrogance in Science

Tara Malloy, Fall 2021

The arrogance theory of science is discussed in the article “Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science” by Brian Wynne (1992). Within this article, Wynne (1992) examined the social identities of sheep farmers in England and their relationship to scientific experts after the Chernobyl disaster impacted their livelihood. With a lack of transparency and information provided by the government and scientists, citizens were left to theorize why and how the information that they were provided was incorrect (Wynne, 1992). One such theory is the arrogance theory of science. In this theory, scientists, prioritizing their own ego, overstate the certainty of their findings and refuse to admit their ignorance of the science they claim to know (Wynne, 1992). This theory does not account for some of the uncertainty inherent in science and rather places full blame on the scientists conducting research.

Citizens who must encounter some change in their daily life because of scientific claims often invoke the arrogance theory of science. One such example can be seen with the construction of wind turbines in Botetourt County, VA. In many letters to the editor of the Fincastle Herald (the county newspaper), there is a tone of suspicion regarding the project. The use of words like “claim” in these letters indicate a clear lack of trust (Hundley, 2019; Scott, 2020; Treger, 2021). Some of these letters provide their own calculations, supporting the writers’ belief that the company scientists do not have adequate information/knowledge (Hundley, 2019; Scott, 2020).

This arrogance theory is a self-perpetuating side effect of the colonization of science. With more emphasis on the experts and avoiding traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and local knowledge, science is distanced from the local and native people (Trisos, Auerbach, & Katti, 2021). This distancing limits the gaining of knowledge, ultimately failing to fulfill what is often regarded as the goal of science in general. As science ignores the TEK and local knowledge, local people are often negatively affected and begin to distrust the scientists, especially when their claims were initially backed up by so much confidence (Wynne, 1992).

However, recognition of the arrogance theory of science allows for the breaking of that cycle. Acknowledging the beliefs and views of local people encourage greater inclusivity within science, as it discourages the elitist thinking that led to behavior from which such theories were conceived in the first place (Trisos, Auerbach, & Katti, 2021). Listening to local complaints without distancing can allow for science to be more ethically and properly conducted, resulting in more accurate and helpful conclusions from research.

Works Cited

Hundley, M. (2019). Supervisors should learn of the negative aspects of industrial wind plants

[Letter to the editor]. Fincastle Herald. Retrieved from

Scott, J. (2020). Is Rocky Forge really worth the damage it will cause? [Letter to the editor].

Fincastle Herald. Retrieved from

Treger, N. (2021). Wind turbine project makes no sense environmentally, financially [Letter to

the editor]. Fincastle Herald. Retrieved from

Trisos, C. H., Auerbach, J., & Katti, M. (2021, May 24). Decoloniality and anti-oppressive practices for a more ethical ecology. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 5(9), 1205-1212. doi:10.1038/s41559-021-01460-w

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