Research hypes and "hot topics"

Who decides what is research-worthy? When is a topic being funded, and why? ITA expert Karen Kastenhofer recently discussed these crucial questions with international researchers of different disciplines and discovered a number of similarities.

When is it time to change a research topic? Or is it better to stay tuned? Answering this question is more complex than one might think.

Karen Kastenhofer, who has been working in the field of systems biology at the ITA for ten years, puts it this way: "The landscape has changed in recent decades. Whereas in the past investments in traditional basic research fields were a given, today research hypes and innovative 'buzzwords' enable new research topics. The money follows, but after five years the funding is over again. As scientists, we must ask ourselves: How can we achieve a certain depth in our research, and when is it really time to devote ourselves to new focal points?

Liberties at stake

At the Oslo Conference of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, Kastenhofer discussed this with her research partner Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburgh) and experts from the fields of history, philosophy, sociology and technology assessment. Systems biology was used as a case study, as it is one of the new fields of research that had recently been the aim of national and international funding programs before being replaced by other topics such as synthetic biology or artificial intelligence.

"This problem is relevant for everyone, even if historians and philosophers arrive at a research topic in completely different ways than we do from technology assessment (TA). For TA it is only particularly explosive. After all, our task is to prepare a socially relevant topic for politics and the public in order to make informed decisions possible. This requires independence from situational hypes and media logic.


Karen Kastenhofer currently runs the project "From biology to the techno-sciences - addressing fundamental scientific change in technology assessment"

By: Denise Riedlinger