Health emergencies, science contrarianism and populism: A scoping review.

Publication date: Apr 01, 2024

Populism has emerged as a central explanation employed by both media outlets and scholars for the mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. Nonetheless, the relationship between public health and populism extends before and beyond the pandemic. This paper offers a comprehensive overview of existing evidence and theoretical conceptualisations on the intersection of populism, health emergencies, and contrarian scientific positions, drawing from a diverse range of disciplines. I conducted a scoping review of 283 original studies, analysing their analytical framework, geographic focuses, and methodological approaches. Employing quantitative text analysis, I summarised the research field into 18 common topics, organised into five coherent categories: citizen’s perspective, political elites, political communication, pandemic consequences, and non-COVID-related issues. While the scholarly interest in this area has surged since the onset of the pandemic, it has predominantly concentrated on specific cases, such as Brazil and the US, often conflating different policy types. The evidence summary elucidates that populism assumes varying roles within distinct contexts, and there is no linear relationship between political populism and specific approaches to health crises and science. I further compare definitions of populism within the context of health and scientific positions. I propose that future research should employ a policy typology for health emergency responses, assessing political positions based on policy arenas. This paper contributes to the understanding of the complex interplay between political populism, contrarian scientific perspectives, and public health.

Concepts Keywords
Brazil COVID-19
Future Health crisis
Mishandling Populism
Political Public health
Scholarly Science contrarianism
Scoping review
Text as data


Type Source Name
disease MESH emergencies
disease MESH COVID-19

Original Article

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