Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic has been accompanied by an excess of accurate and inaccurate information (infodemic) that has prevented people from finding reliable guidance in decision-making. Non-professional but popular science communicators—some with a political agenda—supply the public with scientific knowledge regarding Covid-19. This kind of communication represents a worrisome force in societal discourses on science-related political issues. This article explores online content (N = 108 articles) of two popular German “alternative news” media (NachDenkSeiten and PI News) that present and evaluate biomedical research concerning Covid-19. Using thematic analysis, we investigated how scientific evidence was presented and questioned. Regarding the theoretical background, we drew on the concept of “evidencing practices” and ideas from argumentation theory. More specifically, we studied the use of the following three evidencing and counterevidencing practices: references to Data/Methods, references to Experts/Authorities, and Narratives. The results indicate that the studied alternative news media generally purport to report on science using the same argumentation mechanisms as those employed in science journalism in legacy media. However, a deeper analysis reveals that argumentation directions mostly follow preexisting ideologies and political agendas against Covid-19 policies, which leads to science coverage that contradicts common epistemic authorities and evidence. Finally, we discuss the possible implications of our findings for audience views and consider strategies for countering the rejection of scientific evidence.
Keywords: alternative news media; argumentation theory; counterevidencing practice; Covid-19; science communication