From Peer Review to Crowd Review

(auf internationationaler Konferenz — deshalb heute mal auf Englisch)

Let me share a few points with you that I had the opportunity, today, to make during a presentation and panel at the EU “Media for Science Forum 2010” about public “science debates” like the one during the Obama campaign: In the run-up to the US presidential elections, researchers analysed 171 TV interviews with the candidates, amounting to 2975 questions. Only 6 of those dealt with “climate change” (and 3 with “UFO”s). This was one of major „reasons why“ it came to the “science debate” – generating more than 800 Million page impressions – with dozens of further debates mushrooming in all areas of technology. (see Shawn Lawrence Ottos’s keynote presentation at the 2009 Nobel Conference: (min. 25-26)).
Is this just an American phenomenon? Which relevance does science have in European politics, European media, and in the general public?

An analysis of prime-time news in European TV shows:

  • an increase in number and airtime of science-related stories (by the factor 4 since 1989), but also</li>
  • only 45 Sci-Tech topics among the 2676 news stories analyzed within two weeks (less than 2% compared to e.g. to 9,7% with crime topics).

Within our own study („WK Trends„) we also analysed the general elections in Germany 2009 trough the most comprehensive survey among science journalists, science PR, and science centers, as well as among scientists and experts in communication research. The unambiguous result: Less than 1 out of 9 people believed that the relevance of science during the campaign had increased, compared to the previous election. (see Slideshare for first results)
Therefore, an association of German Science Writers (“TELI”), together with founding members of the European Union of Science Journalists‘ Associations (“EUSJA”), also started a public science debate in 2009.
The European Commission has long reacted to these challenges and offers several opportunities for stating your opinion, also on the subject of technology or research policies, e.g. „Your Voice in Europe„.
In Germany, right at this moment, there is an  idea contest within the national “Year of Energy Research”.
There are also plans by the European Science Foundation for a transnational science debate.

Every public debate, however, is threatened to become a victim of its own success in three ways:

  1. As soon as more than a few dozen people engage in the discussion, the thread of the debate becomes confusing, previous arguments are being repeated or important arguments are being ignored. This is neither effective nor efficient.

    Therefore: How can many people discuss complex issues? How can large -scale online deliberation be accomplished? (Audiatur et altera pars!)
  2. The high degree of complexity of most scientific or even technological issues prevents the debate from becoming truly transparent, simply due to the amount of conflicting viewpoints and necessary previous or expert knowledge. Therefore: How can hundreds of people engage in a debate and still find their way and orientation within the thread? How can they intuitively explore a highly complex subject in depth?

    An answer to the first two questions lies in the new web-2.0-based interactive collaboration and visualization technologies. We have answered this challenge by setting up a research project at INNOCOMM. The project website will be online in a short while, just like today’s presentation – please give me a few days…

  3. The impact of a successful debate will inevitably attract lobbyists and industrial PR: They will feel tempted to exploit, manipulate or even instrumentalise the discourse. Therefore: Who is qualified to neutrally conduct and moderate such a discourse, manage the sub-communities, research, validate and contrast certain facts, put these into the right context, initiate new discussions, activate, approach and interview important players?

Since these are actually all journalistic skills, we see a new line of action for science or specialized journalists!
Today, as authors and editors, they are mostly carrying “Science into Society”, whereas in the future they will also be able to carry “Society into Science”!

Among the countless software tools that could be applied to this task are: Mind Map / Mind Meister / Xmind,  Compendium, Cohere, BCisive / Rationale, Debategraph and others. The differences lie in their online/offline capability, interactive functions, collaboration etc.

For the MFS conference we have set up a website that demonstrates how the project is basically going to work:

Here we start with a controversial topic that is at the heart of this conference as well as central to our own project: “Commnication failure or information deficit: Is there really such a thing like this?” We present this issue by using the Debategraph technique of debate-mapping.

The challenge of applying these technologies to future science debates does not lie in re-inventing the wheel by developing yet another software tool without having the learnings from communication research in mind. We need:

a) Empirical Research in order to find out which tools work best in which contexts. The existing body of research in this field is rather dispersed.

b) Methods for the public discourse on science, technology and innovation. Established methods for cooperation management and group moderation have to be transferred to the realm of online deliberation. We will also need qualified people to neutrally conduct and moderate such a discourse (i.e. the new line of action in science journalism).

c) Support from politics as well as from the main scientific institutions, in order to integrate such projects into the real process of defining the research and innovation agenda.
The vision we are working on together with our network partners, has been well described by Mark Klein, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence:
„Today, governmental policy-making is complex, cumbersome, and slow. Experts can talk past each other, while experts and policy-makers have unproductive conversations. News media summaries are necessarily incomplete […] Imagine […] a new kind of on-line forum […], used around the world, by […] experts, policy analysts, legislators, and concerned citizens.“

If you think you can help, please do not hesitate to get into touch:

And now: Feel free to engage in a public debate on “media for science” – right here, right now:

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  1. Pingback: TELI – Wissenschaftsjournalismus und die Wissenschaftsdebatte 2010» Blog Archive » Wissenschaftsdebatte 2.0

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