The goal of this inter-institute research center (laboratorio, in the sense of article 6, Statuto dell’USI) is to chart – and claim – a new territory spanning the communication content, processes, and actors in the sciences. It does so by rallying the research, teaching (e.g. Lugano Methods Summerschool), and transfer know-how already present within the faculty of Communication Science and USI.
Within Switzerland, and even internationally, USI COM is in a uniquely-well suited and privileged position to articulate this vision and pursue the opportunity in a timely fashion due to its singular internal make-up comprising various disciplines. In particular, the Communication-in-Science Research Center sets out to create a kind of ‘faculty beacon’ to boost external visibility, attractiveness for funding agencies (including foundations), as well as internal cohesion, synergies, and output for the following areas:
- Sociology of science: The interaction between different stakeholders (authors, reviewers, editors, readers) in academic discourse represents a kind of argumentation in context, where the theoretical contribution and methodological sophistication of research results are (re-)negotiated before, during, and after their public dissemination, with journals and conferences taking unprecedented measures to ensure (or re-establish) transparency, credibility, and rigor of the process (which is in the process of being formalized in MSc programs by major institutions, see https://hss.sas.upenn.edu/stsc). The fundamental question here regards the limits on the effective production of new knowledge imposed by the current environment and the current practices of academia.
- Legal and ethical aspects of scientific discourse: Several high-profile visibility cases of forgery, (self) plagiarism, citation-coercion, manipulation of impact factors, and significance levels of research results by politicians, scientists, and journal editors poses fundamental questions about legal standards and ethical considerations in the logic of scientific discovery, handling/storage of data, authorship questions its (transparent) communication, and consumption within the academic community as well as the broader public (including taxpayers). The axiomatic ‘trust-but-verify’ underpinning science at large appears in crisis, as more and more cases of non-verifiability of lauded research results appear, causing opinion leaders including Nobel laureates to launch influential wake-up calls (e.g. http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.6716.1349271308!/suppinfoFile/Kahneman%20Letter.pdf)
- Methodology as a socio-argumentative process: Qualitative and quantitative methods are reconsidering calls for reliability and reporting conventions (in light of recent scandals, see www.retractionwatch.com for an overview), with blurring boundaries along the usual quant/qual and data collection/analysis divides (e.g. Bayesian approaches, qualitative comparative analysis, computational linguistics). As a result, the once-standard codification of reporting procedures, methodological sophistication, validity and reliability is now very much in the eye of the beholder requiring a reconsideration of communication conventions between authors, reviewers, editors. For instance, qualitative methodologists have recently suggested that argumentation is the syntax of qualitative research and argumentation theory can play a key role in ensuring its rigor.
- Science communication and transfer: Beyond the academic community, communicating research results with the wider public, raises questions about how to best make scientific discovery impactful, meaningful, and fundable http://www.ideatorio.usi.ch/. Science communication in the public media requires translating the discourse within the scientific community so that its results can be understood, assessed, and eventually appreciated by those not directly involved (e.g. http://www.science-et-cite.ch/). Ultimately, reliance on funding agencies, career pressures and increased competition among scientists for slots in journals and funding monies raise fundamental questions of independence of research and researchers, managing conflicts of interests, the reliability, and relevance of scientific results.
The research center is open to faculty from any institute within USI COM and beyond, including other faculties, university-level initiatives (Data Science institute), and services (servizi comunicazione e media). It’s medium-term objectives are starting, managing, and sustaining teaching (on Bachelor, Masters and Ph.D. level), new research, and funding (including fund raising) activities and innovations, in close coordination with the CdF of USI COM.