Scientific and particularly bioscientific advantages and disadvantages have been publicly discussed in many countries over the past years. Discourses on genetically modified organisms and food, stem cell research, reproductive and 'therapeutic' cloning or genome research can be identified in Germany and the United States as well as in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland etc.
Our research project compares the mass media debate on human genome research in a cross-national perspective. With Germany and the United States, two of the most important Western countries and participants in the international Human Genome Project are compared. With human genome research, i.e. the sequencing of the entire human DNA, a crucial bioscientific topic of the past years is analyzed: The topic was hailed by 'Science' as the "breakthrough of the decade, perhaps even the century", lifted media coverage on biotechnology to generally greater importance and provides a good example for cross-cultural and cross-national comparison, as it is characterized by a small number of internationally acting institutions, and activates national political, economic, cultural, and religious values and interests.
With mass media, modern societies' most important forum of negotiation is analyzed: In complex differentiated societies it has become the main source of scientific information for the public, with science and particularly biosciences being detached from most people's lifeworlds. Accordingly, opportunities and restrictions of scientific development are (also) influenced by values and norms negotiated in mass media discourses — people have to decide on scientific development based on information mostly acquired from mass media. Therefore, societal actors from various subsystems try to position themselves in the mass media, to formulate their positions and to further a public opinion suiting their needs. Mass media integrate diverse societal subsystems such as science, politics, economy, religion, ethics etc. and play a crucial role as an original discursive field.
The project analyzes processes of discourse formation in detail. The entire coverage on human genome research of both countries' largest quality broadsheets (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, New York Times, Washington Post) provided the analytical corpus. It included some 2,000 articles, 3,000 actors and 7,000 different statements on human genome research. Analysis combined qualitative content analysis - to identify relevant "frames" in the debate — and quantitative content analysis, that was used to scrutinize two main dimensions of both countries' debates:
To explain standing and framing characteristics of German and U.S. mass media debates, we will employ several analytic strategies. We will recreate national "discursive opportunity structures" that may explain some characteristics. We also use semi-structured interviews with (mainly collective) actors who were or might have been relevant in the mass media debate on human genome research: e.g. to scientists, politicians, industry, churches, NGOs, and journalists. Using the interview data, we try to reconstruct these actors' positions towards human genome research as well as their communication strategies, aims, resources, experiences and successes — and to compare these data to our findings from the mass media debate.
01.08.2002 – 31.12.2005
The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in its research program "Research on ethical, legal and social implication of molecular medicine".
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2010): Is the Internet a Better Public Sphere? Comparing Old and New Media in Germany and the US. New Media & Society12 (1): 143-160.
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2009): Two Normative Models of Science in the Public Sphere: Human Genome Sequencing in German and U.S. Mass Media. Public understanding of Science 18(4) 437-451.
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2008): Legitimation durch Massenmedien? Die öffentliche Thematisierung der Humangenomforschung im Ländervergleich [Legitimatized by Mass Media? Public Presentation of Human Genome Research Internationally Compared]. In: Karl-Siegbert Rehberg (ed.): Die Natur der Gesellschaft. Verhandlungen des 33. DGS-Kongresses. Frankfurt & New York: Campus, S. 1078-1094
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2007): Hegemonie der Befürworter. Der öffentliche Diskurs über Humangenomforschung in Deutschland und den USA im Vergleich [Hegemony of Supporters. Comparing Mass Media Debates on Human Genome Research in Germany and the United States]. Soziale Welt 58: 367-395.
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2007): Demokratische Internet-Öffentlichkeit? Ein Vergleich der öffentlichen Kommunikation im Internet und in den Printmedien am Beispiel der Humangenomforschung [The Democratic Web? Comparing Public Communication on Human Genom Research in the Internet and in Print Media]. Publizistik 52(2): 210-228.
Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2006): Die Herstellung einer öffentlichen Hegemonie. Humangenomforschung in der deutschen und der US-amerikanischen Presse [The Construction of a Public Hegemony. Human Genom Research in German and US Media]. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.