The rise of the scinfluencers and the new narrative emerging from pseudo-scientific policy-making

The topic of science communication has gained a lot of attention in the last years and no higher educaton institution has not been involved in concepts related to “transfer” activities or the so called “third mission” of higher education institutions. While I have initially supported these activities, with the demise of social media platforms I have developed more and more doubts about science communication if it is driven by people who have never been involved in scientific work themselves. In the last time I perceive a trend which worries me. Weingart and Guenther (2016) have formulated this worry in the following way:

“science communication has become an arena in which many different stakeholders battle for attention and the power of definition, because there is money in the game, there are jobs to be captured, and there are professional identities at stake”.

A new profile of science-influencers (scinfluencers) has emerged in the last years especially through the more and more important role of policy-making institutions who want to influence the discourse and mission of higher education institutions. A remarkable trait of these roles seems to be that this job profile does not seem to have as prerequisite that the persons involved in policymaking have themselves experienced the complexity of scientific research or development of study programs. Furthermore, I also have the impression that many of these scinfluencers are also not aware of a scientific approach to policy-development, because often the (international) research about a topic is completely or partially ignored.

This leads to discussion papers, research selection procedures and strategic documents which are often not far away from opinions or crowd-sourced conclusions. Sources are combined relatively randomly, the scientific discourse is replaced with the internal discourse of the policy-making institutions and awareness about emerging paradigms but also the value of the historical discourse is low. Due to the centrality of these institutions the key people who are responsible for developing this discourse further have the power to replace the scientific discourse with a pseudo-scientific discourse. And if scienfluencers talk to scinfluencers there is a perpetuating power-narrative and new funding regimes are developed leading to huge financial investments which are not based on scientific findings but political goals.

My conclusion is that higher education institutions need to recognize the danger of influencers of all kinds and better follow a skeptical approach towards policy-making with an unclear interest. Instead I see a lot of institutions who are going where the money is and I am missing a national discourse on potential dangers of policy-making and influence in higher education.


Weingart, P., & Guenther, L. (2016). Science communication and the issue of trust. Journal of Science communication, 15(05), C01.

Marco Kalz
Marco Kalz
Professor of Educational Technology

My research interests is on open education, pervasive technologies and formative assessment to support (lifelong) learning and knowledge construction.