You are here

Discussion Paper

Discussion Paper No. 12: Crossing Borders

How public should science be?

This publication (first published in German by FES) discusses how the relationship between science, politics and the public can be re-explored.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of what role science should play in political discourse has moved into the focus of public interest with unprecedented vehemence. In addition to governments directly consulting individual virologists or (epidemiological) research institutes, major scientific institutions such as the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina1 and the presidents of four non-university research organisations have actively participated in the discussion by providing recommendations. More than ever before, scientific problem descriptions, data and evaluations are influencing political measures. It seems as if the relationship between science, politics and the public is currently being reassessed.

The current crisis situation has not created a new phenomenon but has only reinforced the trend of mutual reliance between science, politics and the public, which has been observed for some time. Decision-makers in the political arena and in business were already looking for ways to better substantiate and legitimise their decisions through external scientific expertise when faced with major societal challenges, for example when trying to deal with increasing immigration, climate protection and when preparing for far-reaching reforms (e.g. of the labour market or the pension system) or in economic crises. Research is also held in high esteem within society. The special edition of the ‘Science Barometer’ was able to demonstrate in the surveys an increased trust in science in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, scientists have always been and continue to be active in the public sphere. For some time now, research experts have frequently been guests on talk shows. Authors from the field of science often write opinion pieces and guest contributions in daily newspapers and magazines. However, this role of research is by no means un-controversial.

Edel, A., Kübler, L., Lines, E., Nanz, P., Patzwaldt, K., Speiser, G., Stasiak, D. & Weißkopf, M. (2021). Crossing Borders: How public should science be? Discussion Paper No. 12, Berlin: Max Planck Society/Population Europe.