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Two normative models of science in the public sphere: human genome sequencing in German and US mass media

News vom 23.06.2009


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.




The public sphere and particularly the mass media have become increasingly important for the legitimation of science. Many publications on the issue explicitly or implicitly deal with the question of how science should be treated in the mass media, putting forward normative models of an ideal "scientific public sphere." In this article, we first present two ideal types of normative models identified in the literature: the "science-dominated scientific public sphere" and the "contextualized scientific public sphere." Whereas the first model calls for scientific dominance in mass media debates, the second model argues that science should be contextualized also with non-scientific actors and arguments. The second part of the article outlines how these two models translate into specific demands for mass media debates and proposes how to measure whether concrete cases of science coverage correspond with one of the normative models. We confront the two normative models with the example of media coverage on human genome research in Germany and in the United States in the third part of the article. Our findings show that the mass media debate on this issue is dominated by bio-scientists, affirmative positions, and scientific and medical frames in both countries. Hence, human genome research as an empirical case corresponds to the demands of the scientific dominance model, while failing to meet the demands for more contextualized mass media coverage.


Soziologie - Euiropäische Gesellschaften