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Exploring (mis)alignments between science supply and societal demand: research portfolios on rice and obesity

AuthorsRafols, Ismael ; Ciarli, Tommaso; Cassi, Lorenzo; Wallace, Matthew L.; Sautier, Pierre; Turckheim, Elisabeth de
Issue Date2015
CitationAtlanta Conference 2015
AbstractScience policy is shifting towards an increasing emphasis in societal problems or grand challenges. Previous experiences of mission-oriented research, such as Nixon's war on cancer, suggest that while such mission-oriented emphases are useful in legitimising research, the extent to which mission-oriented policy succeeds in shifting research funding priorities and research practices towards the missions it claims to pursue is controversial (Sarewitz, 1996). The controversies are due to both the ambiguity in framing of the societal problems and their socio-technical solutions, as well as the uncertainty about the research options that can deliver those solutions (Stirling and Scoones, 2009; Wallace and Rafols, 2014). Tackling complex global problems or grand challenges – such as climate change, food security, poverty reduction, the risk of global pandemics – requires not only to increase R&D expenditure, but also to exploration and eventually to coordinate of a variety of stakeholders with different areas of expertise, pursuing diverse research avenues and often with contrasting world views. Typically these challenges benefit from the understanding of the physical and biological phenomena underlying the problem (e.g. the virus and its genes), but also demand an understanding of the environmental and social contexts in which they occur, and the policy networks and instruments available in those contexts (Ely, Van Zwanenberg, & Stirling, 2014). In this context, public debate is seen as necessary on democratic grounds, given that both problem framing and priority setting are value-ladden and politically charged (Stirling, 2014). This debate can be enriched by an understanding of the plurality in societal demand for a given mission such as fighting obesity and the various research options that may contribute tackle it (Sarewitz and Pielke, 2007). In this article, we present quantitative tools based on semantic analysis of scientific and policy documents that aim to facilitate understanding and foster debate about science supply, societal demand and the relationship between the two for two case studies: rice and obesity research. Most conventional bibliometric studies have focused on the mapping of knowledge production side in terms of mapping research areas and measuring scientific influence, in a way that implicitly assumed an "internalist" view of science (see Rotolo et al., 2014, for a different view). In contrast, mission-orientation and grand challenges demand to investigate the articulation of societal needs. We present an exploratory investigation of rice research (a major staple crop) and the grand challenge of obesity (an emerging health problem with enormous social costs). We illustrate a potential approach, showing how scientific publication can be used to describe existing science supply by using semantic networks and clusters based on publications' abstract. In the case of rice, the diverse focus of research is analysed for various countries and related to different societal demands and contexts --e.g. rice exports in Thailand and crop yields in Indian. In the case of obesity, we also use question records in the French and EU parliaments as an instance of social demand and we compare between the publication maps with parliamentary maps to explore (mis)alignments between societal concerns and scientific outputs. In summary the paper contributes to the discussion on the role of societal demand in science by illuminating existing research priorities for a given topic, and contrasting them with socio-economic drivers and discourse on needs for that issue.
DescriptionResumen del trabajo presentado a la Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy, celebrada en Atlanta (US) del 17 al 19 de septiembre de 2015.
Appears in Collections:(INGENIO) Comunicaciones congresos
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