Scientific policy advice as a socio-epistemic practice: Textual procedures ascribing significance, executive authority and responsibility

Project description

Scientific policy advice has been and still is the subject of diverse research, especially in the social sciences. So, it is all the more surprising that a linguistic and epistemological examination of policy advice texts as socio-epistemic practice has hardly been carried out so far. Therefore, the cooperation project of TU Darmstadt and KIT investigates to what extent text products as artifacts of scientific policy advice can open up a new approach to this field of research, aiming to close a conspicuous gap in the study of scientific policy advice.

The starting hypothesis is that science faces the dilemma of having to maintain scientific credibility and develop political effectiveness at the same time, especially when providing policy advice. This dilemma is aggravated or defused depending on the mutual role and competence requirements and expectations. The research interest of the project therefore focuses on how the current practice of scientific policy advice in Germany can be defined more precisely in terms of form, content, and function, both linguistically and epistemologically. One focus is on the question of how epistemic quality and social legitimation affect the (co-)construction of orientation knowledge in policy advice texts in terms of language and content. Texts of different genres on the topics of “bioenergy” and “water” from the last 20 years are examined, starting with those of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB), and the German Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina – National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina).

The project is also intended to make an interdisciplinary contribution to the ongoing controversy about the responsibility of science for social challenges and the public communication of its findings. This will allow for a critical self-reflection and linguistic reflection of science and will indirectly contribute to the public legitimization of science as a democratic institution.

We therefore examine the following relationships:

(1) How can scientific knowledge be preserved while it is processed and (co-)shaped?

Today, everything is on the internet and can be evaluated at any time in the future. Even the world of politics is involved in online activities, i.e., by backing up political statements with press releases. However, important details and contexts of knowledge processing can easily get lost, so the process of knowledge (co)production, for example, falls victim to editing and rewriting. Basic connections are lost in the “translation” between knowledge systems and communication standards – not only in digital transmission.

(2) How does scientific advice to policy makers “deal” with scientific knowledge?

Scientific policy advice is a special, hybrid form of scientific activity: in its advisory function, science faces the conflict of presenting content in a scientifically credible, unbiased, and value-free manner. At the same time, it has to present these contents in a politically effective form, i.e., in a way that guides action and is understandable to the public, and has to be able to make them “useful” for application contexts without explicit capacity building.

(3) What are the conditions for scientific advice to provide expertise and “deep knowledge”?

There is a specific imperative of usefulness for scientific policy advice, but responsibility and legitimacy in the use of knowledge are equally important. Usefulness is inherent in good scientific practice and is seen as a sufficient criterion for scientific knowledge – responsibility and legitimacy are not defined in this way. Concepts of orientation and utility accompany these approaches, but there is often a lack of sophisticated concepts and the integration of different ideas does not take place.

(4) How does science explain itself? How does it explain how it works and what it finds out?

We explore this field of science communication and its artifacts in order to question the policy advice process and its democratic capacity. Using exemplary cases, we examine the practice of scientific policy advice in Germany in terms of form, content, and function from a linguistic and epistemological perspective. Central questions are what is “scientific” about such policy advice and how it enables politicians and the public to act on evidence-based knowledge.

Publications by the project partners

Jahaj, D. (2023)
Wissenschaftliche Politikberatung in der Corona-Pandemie – eine diskursive Momentaufnahme? In: Pappert, Steffen; Roth, Kersten Sven (Hrsg.): Zeitlichkeit in der Textkommunikation. Tübingen: Narr (Europäische Studien zur Textlinguistik, Vol. 24). – im Erscheinen

Jahaj, D.; Rhein, L. (2023)
Beraten und Prognostizieren. Unsicheres Wissen in der institutionellen vs. der massenmedialen Politikberatung. Fachsprache 45 (1-2), S. 66-84
doi: 10.24989/fs.v45i1-2.2230

Jahaj, D.; Janich, N. (2022)
Nach bestem Wissen – Zum Umgang mit unsicherem Wissen im Kontext wissenschaftlicher Politikberatung. In: Aptum. Zeitschrift für Sprachkritik und Sprachkultur 18/2. Themenheft „Kritik an Wissen“, hrsg. von Lisa Rhein und Sina Lautenschläger, S. 115-130
doi: 10.46771/9783967692679_2

Jahaj, D. (2022)
Wissenschaftliche Politikberatung in der Corona-Pandemie – eine diskursive Momentaufnahme? Vortrag. Gesellschaft für Angewandte Linguistik (GAL) Sektionentagung 2022, 28.-30.09.2022 in Würzburg, Sektion Textlinguistik und Stilistik, Thema: Zeitlichkeit in der Textkommunikation

Janich, N. (2022)
Scientific uncertainties in policy advice – a linguistic perspective, Vortrag (Keynote). VAKKI Communication Research Association (Vaasa), Symposium „Responsible Communication“ 2022, 10.-11.02.2022


Journal Articles
Gondolf, J.
Scientific Responsibility and Legitimacy in Knowledge Translation Practices? Tracing Paradigms & Expectations Regarding Scientific Policy Advice in Germany (in &) after the Cov19-Pandemic
2023. STS-CH 2023 Conference “Science, Expertise and other Modes of Knowledge: Trends, Patterns, and Prospects” (2023), Basel, Switzerland, August 31–September 1, 2023 
Jahaj, D.; Janich, N.; Grunwald, A.; Gondolf, J.
Nach bestem Wissen? Veränderte Anforderungen und Erwartungen an Wissenschaft und Expertise – wissenschaftliche Politikberatung in Deutschland vor, in und nach der Corona-Krise
2023, November 16. Jahrestagung Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung (2023), Dortmund, Germany, November 16–17, 2023 
Gondolf, J.
Is there philosophy in, of, or around RRI? And if any, how many ...
2022. Philosophy of Responsible Innovation / Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW 2022), Online, January 12–21, 2022 
Gondolf, J.
3 Os between Responsibility and Innovation: Open Science - Open Innovation - Open to the world
2022. International Interdisciplinary Graduate Summer School “Open science” (2022), San Sebastian, Spain, July 18–22, 2022 
Janich, N.; Jahaj, D.; Grunwald, A.; Gondolf, J.
Wissenschaftliche Politikberatung: Transparenz und Öffentlichkeit durch Digitalität
2022. 10. Gestreamt, gelikt, flüchtig - schöne neue Kulturwelt? Internationale Konferenz des Netzwerks Technikfolgenabschätzung (NTA 2022), Bern, Switzerland, November 14–16, 2022 
Gondolf, J.
Translating Knowledge, Open Questions and Uncertainties into Useful Information for those outside the Field
2022. 5th European Technology Assessment Conference (ETAC5 2022), Karlsruhe, Germany, July 25–27, 2022 


Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-22500