Media Debates on Human Genome Research in Germany and the USA

Project coordinator

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gerhards

Project researcher

Mike S. Schäfer, M.A.

Homepage

Detailed project homepage

Research question

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.

 

Research methods

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:

  • standing: which actors acquire mass media standing, who appears at what time and how often in mass media debate?
  • framing: what perspectives and "frames" are employed how often and by which actors, which hegemonic framings can be identified?

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.


Duration

01.08.2002 – 31.12.2005


Funding

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".

Publications

  • Gerhards, Jürgen & Mike S. Schäfer (2010): Normative Modelle wissenschaftlicher Öffentlichkeit. Theoretische Systematisierung und Illustration am Fall der Humangenomforschung [Normative Modells of Science in the Public Sphere. Theoretical Systematization and an Illustration Using Human Genome Research]. in: Georg Ruhrmann, Jutta Milde & Arne Zillich (eds.): Molekulare Medzin und Medien. Zur Darstellung und Wirkung eines kontroverson Wissenschaftsthemas, edited by . Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, S. 19-40
  • 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.

  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2006): Hegemonie der Befürworter. Die deutsche und die US-amerikanische Debatte über Humangenomforschung im Vergleich. in ZiF Mitteilungen 2006/1. 12-28.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2005): Öffentliche Hegemonie? Eine Analyse der Medienberichterstattung über Humangenomforschung in Deutschland und den USA. S. 85-103 in Graumann, Sigrid & Grüber, Katrin (Hg.): Biomedizin im Kontext. Münster u.a.: Lit.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2005): Mediale Diskurse über Humangenomforschung. Berlin: Statusseminar "Ethische, soziale und rechtliche Aspekte der Molekularen Medizin" des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung, 14.-16.09.2005.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2005): Mediale Diskurse über Humangenomforschung. Berlin: Friedrichshainer Kolloquium "Biopolitische Diskurse um das humane Genom" des Instituts Mensch Ethik Wissenschaft, 24.05.2005.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2005): Humangenomforschung in deutschen und US-Massenmedien. Bielefeld: Kongress "Forschung in den Schlagzeilen. Biomedizin und Reproduktionstechniken in den Massenmedien" am Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung der Universität Bielefeld, 20.-22.04.2005.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2003): Öffentliche Debatten über Humangenomforschung in Deutschland und den USA im Vergleich: Eine Projektskizze. in GenomXPress. Informationen aus der deutschen Genomforschung 2003 / 2: 15-16.
  • Gerhards, Jürgen und Schäfer, Mike S. (2003): Mediale Diskurse über Humangenomforschung in Deutschland und den USA im Vergleich. Bonn: Vortrag auf dem Statusseminar "Ethische, soziale und rechtliche Aspekte der Molekularen Medizin" des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung, 2.-4.4.2003.