Labeling or science-by-buzzwords: The semantic trap in academic research and how to get out of it

Klaus Solberg Söilen


The social sciences are drowning in new fancy academic terms or buzzwords, labels with unprecise definitions, rebranding phenomenon that somehow seem familiar. We are all surrounded by smart cities, innovation, and sustainability. What do these terms mean that we could not express earlier? Introducing
them also raises new questions, which at first may seem provocative: Are there dumb cities too, if so
where? Do we carry out research at our universities that is not innovative? Does the literature on
sustainability make our products more sustainable? Above all, these new fields are formulated in almost
suspiciously positive terms attracting the attention of our politicians and echoed everywhere. How can
anyone be against smart cities, innovation and sustainability? It must be good, important and therefore
it deserves funding. To become more relevant academic research must redirect its focus from buzzwords to problems, not
just smart “research gaps” in the literature. Instead of listing keywords, researchers, academic journals
and academic databases should list problems (1), and the problems should be stated in full sentences (2)
using as few (3) and as simple words as possible (4). We should also insist on clear, mutually exclusive
definitions. By searching for problems instead of labels it will become much easier to find relevant
research across different labels and disciplines.
We need to be much stricter when admitting new labels. If a new term is not exact and not much
different from a previous term it should be declined. Focus should be on what the Germans since the 19th
century understand by “verstehen”, as the "interpretive or participatory" examination of social
phenomena, not on coining new terms. Today new terms often come to life because we did not read
enough, or we thought more about internal marketing and our own self-promotion instead of focusing on
problems that are important for humanity. We are all guilty of this to a certain degree as it’s difficult to
escape the logic trap that is our current social science research system.


Market Market Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Competitive Intelligence, Information Systems, Geo-Economics

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See also:

Søilen, K.S. (2019) How managers stay informed about the surrounding world. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business. 9 (1) 28-35.

Søilen, K. S. (2017). Why care about competitive intelligence and market intelligence? The case of Ericsson and the Swedish Cellulose Company. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, 7(2).

Söilen, K. S. (2017). Why the social sciences should be based in evolutionary theory: the example of geoeconomics and intelligence studies. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, 7(1).

Solberg Søilen, K. (2016). Economic and industrial espionage at the start of the 21st century–Status quaestionis. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, 6(3).

Solberg Søilen, K. (2016). Users’ perceptions of Data as a Service (DaaS). Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, 6(2), 43-51.

Solberg Søilen, K. (2016). A research agenda for intelligence studies in business. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, 6(1), 21-36.

Solberg Søilen, Klaus (2015). A place for intelligence studies as a scientific discipline. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business, Vol. 5, No 3, pp. 34-46.

Solberg Søilen, K. (2013). An overview of articles on Competitive Intelligence in JCIM and CIR. Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business Vol 3, No 1, pp. 44-58.

Solberg Søilen, K. (2012). The Fallacy of the Service Economy. European Business Review, Vol 24, Iss: 4, pp. 308-319.



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