Language and reasoning in scientific policy advice

What and how do researchers write when they provide policy advice? How do they remain scientific, neutral, and independent? A new project examines scientific policy advice from linguistic and epistemological perspectives.
Addressee Bundestag: Researchers investigate language and reasoning in scientific policy advice. (Photo: Alana Harris / Unsplash)

It is not new that scientific policy advice is studied scientifically. Surprisingly, however, there has been little research to date that addresses its language and argumentative basis. In order to close this gap, ITAS focuses on texts as products of policy-advising institutions in a new DFG-funded project. Cooperation partner is the Department of German Linguistics at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Scientific policy advice in a quandary?

“In policy advice, we are dealing with a special type of scientific publication where scientists run the risk of being caught in a double bind,” says ITAS head Armin Grunwald, who is also head of the project. According to him, the dilemma of scientific policy advice is that its content and presentation must be both scientifically credible and politically effective. After all, policy advice does not only require analyses, but also explicit statements or recommendations for action.

Contributing to the discussion on the responsibility of science

The project examines the form, content, and function of policy advice using the example of texts on the topics of “bioenergy” and “water” from the last 20 years. The linguistic approach pursues the question how scientific justification and quality can be linguistically “read off” from the texts, so to speak.

In addition, the aim is to determine how scientific findings are dealt with in relation to societal challenges. In other words, what arguments, methods, and references does research use when it intends to make its findings available to others?

With their interdisciplinary approach, researchers want to join the discussion about the responsibility of science as an independent and democratic institution. They aim to contribute to improving the public dissemination of scientific results and, at the same time, to further develop scientific policy advice. (05.08.2021)

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