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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Science Studies

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Social Sciences | Science Studies | Research | The Role of Review Articles in Emerging Research Areas: The Case of Synthetic Biology

The Role of Review Articles in Emerging Research Areas: The Case of Synthetic Biology

Applicant: Prof. Dr. Martin Reinhart

Lead investigator: Dipl.-Soz. Clemens Blümel

Running: 2013-2016


Debates on the interdependencies of media, science and society often attend to journalists and their Janus-faced role. Allegedly important brokers of scientific knowledge into the public, they are often held responsible for biasing scientific knowledge in the course of popularization. By contrast, scientists are presumed to be “disinterested” (Merton 1985). What seems to be overlooked, however, is that academics depend on media coverage, not least, to justify their research (Weingart & Pansegrau 1998; Gilbert & Mulkay 1985). In this respect, addressing non-scientific audiences by communicating scientific findings seems to have become increasingly important (Weingart 2001). Emerging research fields in the life sciences have a particular need in legitimization, which requires specific communicative strategies to scientific and non-scientific actors (Jasanoff 2005). How does this need for legitimization affect publication practices, particularly for the choice of scientific genre forms? We assume that scientific review articles as a genre offer particular choices to address societal expectations that can be taken up by the media or other societal actors, especially in the formation phase of emerging research fields. Therefore, we aim at studying the role of the genre scientific review in the context of the establishment of such a field, focusing at the interplay of scientists, scientific journals editors and informed public. (How) does the role of the scientific review change in these contexts? Which non-scientific goals are addressed in these publications? How do they refer to societal expectations? The project builds upon research based on Charles Bazermans genre analysis of scientific formats (Bazerman 1988) and extends this approach regarding the addressing of non- scientific audiences.

For this reason, the concept of expectations in science and technology will be applied to the subject of this proposal (Borup et al.2006). The aim is to contribute to an understanding of the strategies of scientific actors situated at the intersection of a scientific community and other specific audiences. Emphasis will be also given to the editorial context, in which the placement of review articles is embedded. Furthermore, the use of scientific review articles by non-scientific actors will be analyzed. This will be achieved by applying a combination of scientometric investigations, document analysis and expert interviews.