Is there really science in everything

"It is really time for this culture change"

The interview was published on November 14, 2019 in the "Wiarda Blog". Jan-Martin Wiarda asked the questions.

Jan-Martin Wiarda: Ms. Karliczek, when you were appointed Minister of Science in March 2018, you said you had to get used to it first and held back with any substantive statements. With one exception: science communication. You emphasized their importance from day one. Why?

Anja Karliczek: Many feel that our world is getting more and more complicated. The reasons are globalization and technological progress. Quite a few people feel overwhelmed by this complexity. They are looking for answers. I am convinced that science can give people orientation precisely in this regard.

Scientists as Explainers of the World?

That has always been a requirement of science. Science is a cornerstone of society. At the same time, it is an advisor for politics and provides knowledge and facts for political decisions. It is important that science communicates its findings in an understandable way. And it's not just about the findings, the finished result of the scientific work, but also about the way to get there. This strengthens people's trust in science. And last but not least, in the processes of democracy.

That all sounds very selfless: Science communication for the good of people and society?

Knowledge obliges. Science should also have a self-interest in a good dialogue with society. Dialogue creates trust. And last but not least, science is largely funded by citizens.

Since taking office, you have invited experts to meet with experts; your ministry has collected ideas from science communicators, journalists and media experts and commissioned analyzes. The result has been available since this morning. It is called "Policy Paper on Science Communication". What is the most important statement in it for you?

We want more dialogue between science and society. Citizens should have the feeling that science is opening up and exchanging ideas about their work. This means that science is always ready to receive impulses from society. This exchange will ensure that discussions become more fact-based. Science communication can thus make a decisive contribution to ensuring that discussions become more objective in a society that is currently sometimes very turbulent. My house would like to support this dialogue even more intensively.

How do you intend to specifically support science communication in the future?

We will continue the intensive dialogue on the further development of science communication. And we do that by creating a think tank. Here we would like to discuss tasks and goals with the heads of the science organizations and with experts from science communication, science journalism and politics, and also say who is already doing what and can do what in the future.

This think tank has a snappy name in your paper: #FactoryWisskomm. Otherwise it leaves me with question marks. Have you and your ministry not just had years of discussion rounds on the subject, isn't the paper a result of these discussions? And then now a working group? Do you want to keep discussing forever?

The difference is that we are now switching from the work levels to the executive suite. Because that is where the topic of science communication belongs. Anchoring it there is the real cultural change. And I can only say: Now is really the time for this cultural change. Science communication is becoming increasingly important - just take a look at the latest social debates about climate change. Yet these debates show how receptive society is to knowledge of science. Otherwise there would have been no Fridays for Future.

What kind of topics do you want to discuss with the bosses?

For me, the central question is, for example, how a commitment to science communication can be more career-enhancing. Of course, scientific excellence is and remains the be-all and end-all. But I don't see any contradiction here. The answers and ways for better science communication must above all be formulated by science itself. It would also be good if the topic were taken up in training and further education. Our goal is to produce results in the factory within one year.

Your policy paper proudly points out that science communication has already "found acceptance in the Pact for Research and Innovation". Do you think that really scratches the heads of research organizations?

In the past few months we have made it clear how important cultural change in science is to us. The interlocutors must have registered that too. I sit down with the presidents of the organizations on a regular basis, and I have made it clear to them in what feels like every round that science communication is no small matter for me, but that everyone in science is now called upon to enter into a dialogue with society. I also know that my claim does not meet with approval everywhere in science. I can even understand that in parts, because our concern also has an impact on their work.

And what can you, as a politician, do now while the think tank is still giving advice?

In future, BMBF funding will always include science communication as a cross-cutting issue. A certain part of the resources will have to be used for science communication in the future. In a research team, for example, a colleague could use social media and communicate the project there.

What kind of part are we talking about? The head of the Berlin Museum of Natural History, Johannes Vogel, once demanded that politicians should reserve a fixed percentage of the funding in every project for science communication.

We do not want to specify a fixed percentage. Communication doesn't always have to cost a lot of money. It is more important that sufficient capacity is created for this important task. It has to be taken into account right from the start. For example, some topics will be more complicated and therefore more time-consuming to communicate than another. In addition, communication formats are constantly evolving.

But one thing is certain: in the future, no scientist who wants research funding will be more concerned with the subject of communication?

Exactly. At the moment, some of them are already engaged in very active communication because they have a passion for it anyway. Others tend to shy away from it. This brings me back to this fundamental cultural change. In addition to great formats such as Science Slams and Long Nights of Science, there are so many opportunities and channels to enter into a dialogue with people. We also use research funding to signal that communication is a future issue! And one consequence should be: Scientific careers can also be promoted through engagement in science communication.

The policy paper also addresses the promotion of a new online platform. What should it be good for?

When we demand more science communication, we also keep an eye on how the quality of science communication can be secured. In order to enable reliable statements about this, we will expand research on science communication. Central questions are: How does science communication work best? What works How do I reach different target groups? Since October, "Wissenschaft im Dialog" has been working with our funding to set up a platform for evaluating and measuring the impact of science communication formats. This platform is intended to make tools available that enable those involved in science communication to better evaluate their formats themselves and to compare them with others.

Incidentally, the largest part of the policy paper consists of listing and praising well-known things: the years of science, for example. The participation process in the high-tech strategy should not be missing either, and further funding for citizen science will be announced. What's the message here? That most things are going really well in science communication or that the BMBF has not come up with anything new?

It shows how diverse what we already have is. And how tailored the individual offers are for the respective target group. The MS Wissenschaft as a floating science center is a great offer for school classes, families and other interested parties across the country. Citizen science, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to participate in research, for example when it comes to counting insect populations. And then there are again new places to meet in and with science. When I started here at the Ministry, the Futurium was being built next door, and I was really excited. I'm so happy that we have a place right next to the main train station to hold debates about science.

What about the counterpart to science communication, science journalism? Your paper briefly praises its independence, but then largely ignores it.

Science journalism is immensely important. Science journalists do a great job of translating from and for science into society every day. They are often experts in a very specific scientific discipline, highly specialized. We encourage scientists to venture more into the media world. Of course, this also has consequences for science journalists. In a sense, you will be in greater demand as a sparring partner.

Journalists don't want to be sparring partners, they want to work in a media system that can finance their work. The imbalance that science communication receives additional funding while science journalism threatens to break its business foundation is becoming more and more evident. Couldn't the BMBF then also fund an independent foundation for science journalism?

I know that science journalism is in a difficult position overall. This also applies to other areas of quality journalism. However, caution is advised with state funding of the media. To be clear, I am against it on fundamental grounds. The Basic Law guarantees the independence of the media. Funding the state is problematic against this background. Even an indirect promotion of journalism could raise suspicions that the state is influencing the media. That would not be a good thing in today's world, when quite a few people believe that the media are not objective. No, I think institutions such as the Science Media Center, which brings science and journalism together, make much more sense. By the way, more science communication offers more opportunities for media professionals. I believe that in the end everyone will benefit from strengthening science communication: science, science journalists, but above all society.