We are constantly looking for new experts. We aim to be prepared, even before an important topic makes the headlines.
Thus, we use our time to systematically identify the domain specific experts on the topics we deem important for public discourse. We then invite the researchers to become part of our ever-growing database of experts. Until now (March 2022), we have identified over 3000 experts, are in contact with 2300 of them and regularly and reliably worked together with 1000.
Our goal is not to collect as many as people with expertise as possible for every topic in encyclopaedic completeness. Instead, we are looking for the specific scientists with deep and reliable expertise who should and want to inform the public debate on a topic.
Public issues are topics relevant to the public that fulfil two conditions. Firstly, they are not yet adequately taken care of by existing institutions. Secondly, solving these issues critically depends on the way that the public weighs in.
Thus, they are not just any kinds of topic. Three examples:
- Climate change mitigation: How can we – globally and individually – stop using the atmosphere as a giant emissions dump that will harm future generations?
- Electronic cigarettes: How can we decrease the harm from tobacco consumption without at the same time nurturing a new generation of teenagers addicted to nicotine?
- Autonomous driving: How safe do autonomous vehicles have to become, until we accept them on the road?
Public issues are decisively influenced by scientific experts for the respective issues. “[The expert] is there to represent the unseen. He represents people who are not voters, functions of voters that are not evident, events that are out of sight, mute people, unborn people, relations between things and people. He has a constituency of intagibles.” according to US-American publicist Walter Lippmann. And further “The function of news is to signal an event; the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and to make a picture of reality on which people can act.”
We do not use fixed checklists to identify reputable experts, since the essence of expertise is different in different fields. However, some criteria are valid across scientific fields and helpful for orientation when searching for adequate expertise.
We look for researchers who have published relevant scientific works in their fields. To judge that, it is necessary for us to gain an overview over the research in that field. Due to the large number of universities, research institutes, scientific journals und publications this is a challenge. We use various scientific databases, such as Pubmed, Gepris, Dimensions and many more. Furthermore, we monitor distinguished journals for the latest publications and thereby continuously identify relevant experts. Amongst other information, we specifically use the reputation within scientific peer groups to identity scientific experts. That is based on the conviction that whoever is referenced a lot by other experts has to be important und respected within that scientific field. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, yet, our editors have a high level of meta-expertise in recognizing scientific expertise and are regularly in contact with many experts of the relevant disciplines. Also, we use the typologies and the periodic table of expertise by the sociologist Harry Collins in order to map domain-specific expertise.
Since we mainly address German-speaking media professionals with our work, we usually search for German-speaking experts or experts currently working in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. The only exceptions are in case we cannot find a German-speaking expert or a topic can only be properly put into perspective by experts from other regions. To reach out beyond German-speaking experts, we cooperate with a growing number of international science media centers. If an international experts wishes to write in english, this is no problem, we aim to translate the statement accurately.
Researchers supporting us are committed to comment upon topics relevant for society under time pressure. They wish to enrich public discourse with their scientific arguments.
Experts whom we ask for their expertise should disclose any relevant conflicts of interest. We ask them to disclose these whenever we publish their statements.
- Is a claim still firmly anchored in science or not?
- Which scientific qualifications in the relevant discipline does the person who makes the claim have?
- Is there regular interaction with other researchers from the claimed field of expertise?
- Which publications of the person are peer-reviewed?
- For how many and which publications has the person been contributing or main author?
- Did she or he get research grants or scientific awards for the research?
- Do other scientists from the relevant field seriously consider him or her a scientist and take his or her claims seriously?