The aim of science and research is the acquisition of knowledge. Scientists are asking questions and wanting to get answers as general as possible. A natural motivation for scientists is their curiosity. In doing so, it is often not important whether the answer to a question has an expected benefit or even a practical application. It is important to carefully examine the obvious question as well as the answers and the limits of their validity.
One would think that the question of how society should properly deal with infectious diseases can be answered scientifically. This is not the case. It is a question that can be answered completely differently, individually and socially, with good reasons in each case. It is not possible to determine which answer is correct and which is wrong, because there is no absolutely correct moral or ethical standard by which we can act, as much as one may wish.
Requires transparent speech
In a pluralistic and free democracy, according to our German federal constitution, the concept is that such questions are solved in a transparent societal discourse. However, such questions cannot be answered through scientific research alone or through announcements by scientists according to the slogan “Follow the Science”. It is also the mission of science in an informed society to make its knowledge available to society.
In addition to hard facts, knowledge also includes knowing the limits of the present state of knowledge. This contribution from science forms an important basis for social decision-making.
However, scientific knowledge must be weighed against ethical, political, and other viewpoints in order to obtain an appropriate answer to a socially relevant question. And so it seems very strange that Leopoldina, the National Academy of Sciences, writes in a statement about the Coronavirus epidemic: “Although the vaccination campaign may start early, from a scientific point of view, it is absolutely necessary that it remains very high significantly, rapidly and significantly reduce The number of new infections through severe closure. “
Difficult political demands
For example, what scientific knowledge says when and whether the number of new infections is very high, or that the number of new infections has decreased dramatically, or that this decrease must be achieved through strict lockdown? I don’t even want to talk about how well these infection numbers are known at all (keywords: inappropriate PCR tests, unreported numbers).
It is unbearable that one of our most famous scientific institutions campaigns for the difficult political demands of the current federal and state governments under the guise of its scientific expertise. This harms citizens’ confidence in our scientific organizations and in the sciences as a whole. Thus, criticism of Leopoldina from academia and the media, and sometimes also from Leopoldina itself, is very welcome.
On October 27, 2020, the President of the German Research Foundation and the heads of the Fraunhofer Association, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Society, the Max Planck Society and the Leopoldina published a joint declaration in which they included “strict adherence to” mask requirements as well as control over concepts of hygiene, for example in hotels, restaurants and events “deemed necessary to maintain Low case numbers, and thus demands adherence to AHA + L + A rules (Distance, Hygiene, Daily Mask + Ventilation + Corona-Warnapp) “can be better controlled and punished continuously if not noticed.”
Here the directors throw the weight of the research institutions they openly into the balance in order to interfere in everyday German politics. This action may be appropriate when it comes to science policy. However, it is the brazen politicization of German scientific institutions that clearly overestimate their competencies and thus endanger their credibility and the reputation of science as a whole.
And now there is a call “Scientists are calling for a European strategy for a rapid and sustainable reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases” by a group of scientists led by Professor Viola Pressmann (MPI Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen). Even if this appeal has been signed by just over a thousand scientists so far, it is important that they include the President of the DFG and the heads of Leibniz, Leopoldina, Fraunhofer Society, Helmholtz Association and Max Planck Society.
Heads of scientific organizations are also allowed to sign an appeal as scholars. However, they appear here explicitly as the head of their organization, and as such they should be politically neutral.
But that’s exactly what they are not doing, because this call also takes a completely unilateral stance of the government’s actions on Corona. The appeal does not in any way balance the protection from Covid-19 infection and the consequences of the measures taken, that is, the proportionality of it is discussed. The specific measures by which a reduction in the number of Covid 19 cases found necessary have not been identified. The fact that this will likely go hand in hand with complete surveillance of all citizens and extravagant mass examinations for an indefinite period of time has not been touched.
Instead of supporting papers such as these, it would be advisable for presidents to initiate a social discussion about the suitability of aura scales and make a balanced scholarly contribution to them. I urge all scientific organizations in Germany to do so: Dear Presidents, please assume this responsibility!
Meanwhile, politicians are reacting very weakly to clearly justified criticism of Corona policy. The most recent example clearly illustrates this when Christoph Lott was fired from the Ethics Board of the Bavarian state government. In government advisory bodies in particular, broad experience and a wide range of opinions are essential in order to find better solutions to societal challenges. This is especially true in such a dead end situation as Germany’s Corona policy.
It is time for scholars to stand against their political coordination. It is clear that such an initiative can only come from below. The administrative level of scientific organizations betray science to those in power if they present their policy as necessary from a scientific point of view and therefore without an alternative.
Therefore, every scientist is called and invited to speak out against the appropriation of science by politics, for freedom of research and teaching, for open and public discourse, and for pluralistic and free democracy.