Rhetoric, power and legitimacy: A critical analysis of the public policy disputes surrounding stem cell research in Australia (2005-6).

16 May 2016

In December 2006, the Australian Parliament liberalized regulation governing stem cell research. This decision and preceding legislative review generated considerable public debate, which centred on objections to the deliberate creation and destruction of human embryos for research purposes. This paper draws on qualitative research conducted on the public debate surrounding this policy episode. The aim of this research was to examine how science and scientific knowledge is mobilized by participants in these debates to support their arguments. Data was collected from 109 newspaper opinion editorials as well as 23 in-depth interviews and examined using qualitative content and thematic analysis. Results of this analysis depict science as a rhetorical, moral and political resource that provides opportunities for participants to gain legitimacy, negotiate meaning and assert authority in the public domain. The mobilization of science in public discourse is discussed along with suggestions that are aimed at encouraging greater transparency and inclusiveness in public debates around contested science and emergent technologies.