Communication Yearbook 39 (Elisia L. Cohen, 2015 editor) in perhaps in a trend going forward, features a section this year called Focused Systematic Reviews (Part IV.)
Systematic reviews have been around for a long time in the sciences, medicine in particular, growing out of the “evidence movement.” Evidence-based medicine, a term coined back in 1972 in an influential article by A. L. Cochrane, refers to the practice of physicians judiciously consulting current research in order to make the best clinical decisions. To do this, urged Cochrane, required strategies for accumulating and assessing current research on a medical topic or question. Not only physicians, but public policy makers could be more effective with a more thorough, i.e. systematic approach to crafting informed policy. To this day, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) is the gold standard resource for systematic reviews in health care. Fast forward to the 1990s when systematic reviews started to matter to the social sciences. The EPPI-Centre was set up in 1992 at the Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London to develop a database of interventions evaluations in the fields of education and social welfare. Before long the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services was commissioning reviews in the area of health promotion along the same lines as the Cochrane reviews but for non-clinical health issues. Today systematic reviews are in all disciplines, humanities included. They are sometimes referred to as meta-analyses–the terms are sometimes used interchangeably when in fact they are different. A systematic review focuses on protocols around how to ask the question and the search strategies involved in gathering and organizing information that addresses the question. Meta-analysis is more focused on the review part—thoroughly synthesizing (statistically where appropriate) all that’s been gathered. A meta-analysis cannot occur without a systematic review, but not all systematic reviews lead to meta-analyses. For a quick overview on the topic see Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: a Practical Guide by Mark Petticrew and Helen Roberts.
Back to Communication Yearbook 39. The systematic review I want to point you to is the lead piece on nuclear power:
Communicating Nuclear Power: A Programmatic Review by William J. Kinsella, Dorothy Collins Andreas, and Danielle Endres.
Civil and commercial nuclear power production is a material and discursive phenomenon posing theoretical and practical questions warranting further attention by communication scholars. We provide a brief discursive history of nuclear power, followed by a review of scholarship in communication and related disciplines. We then examine five areas for further research: 1) the fragmentation of technocratic and public discourses, 2) regulation and governance, 3) the politics of nuclear waste, 4) critical social movements, and 5) intersections of communication, rhetoric and nuclear risk. We provide a rationale and foundation for further work in these and other areas related to nuclear power.
Like all good systematic reviews it includes a substantial bibliography (in this case twelve pages, over a third of the piece). The other two reviews in the section are The Persuasiveness of Child-Targeted Endorsement Strategies (Tim Smits, Heidi Vandebosch, Evy Neyens, and Emma Boyland) and Expectancy, Value, Promotion, and Prevention: An Integrative Account of Regulatory Fit vs. Non-fit with Student Satisfaction in Communicating with Teachers (Faviu A. Hodis and Georgeta M. Hodis).
It remains to be seen if Yearbook 40 will continue the “new tradition” or if next year I’m saying “what tradition?”