Which TV shows promote anti-intellectualism?

Interfering from researchers is necessary, but not a matter of course

A guest comment from the NZZ on Sunday January 21, 2018:

Scientists had to listen to a lot in the past year. They should teach less, interfere more or do it the same way as before - simply much better. In a time when anti-intellectualism and selective hostility towards facts are the political agenda, scientific thinking, factual loyalty and sophistication seem more in demand than ever.

But the demand for more scientific intervention in public is double-edged - especially for scientists themselves. On the one hand, they are required to become socially active and to speak out immediately if facts are misused. On the other hand, they should not allow themselves to be instrumentalized and should be strictly neutral in political disputes.

This presents researchers with a fundamental dilemma: Those who remain purely scientific in their appearance and actions are hardly noticed outside of the academic world, because scientific writing and speaking is - for good reasons - not suitable for the masses. So sometimes scientific arguments have to be sharpened to get people to listen to you in the first place.

That makes you vulnerable. Anyone who expresses themselves pointedly as a scientist seems to quickly find himself in combat mode in the eyes of the critical public and has to defend himself against the accusation of placing political ideology above scientific honesty. However, certain scientific questions are so politicized that every harmless research result becomes a political issue. Researchers who talk about the effects of the weed killer glyphosate or about the differences between the sexes, for example, often have to find out that their statements develop a life of their own in the debate, that they are taken out of context, falsified, abused or even used against their authors become.

A socially committed scientist also threatens resistance from within his own ranks. Anyone who speaks out not only academically but also publicly will not necessarily meet with goodwill from their research colleagues. Guest contributions in newspapers, discussions on Internet platforms or working on political solutions do little to improve the scientific reputation at best. In the worst case, they can damage your career.

Such an atmosphere does little to promote social commitment - especially among scientists who are still at the very beginning of their research work. And yet it needed her voice most urgently. For it is they who will determine the image, the content and the appearance of the sciences in the years and decades to come. But anyone who has to fear that their social commitment will torpedo their own scientific work will think twice about whether to speak out in public.

However, a withdrawal of scientists from the public debate would be fatal. A look at global developments in general and the USA in particular shows what we get when science and politics work against each other instead of with each other: in the best case, nothing, otherwise Trump.

Conversely, of course, the quality of a researcher must not be measured by his social charisma. Today, as in the future, universities need solid scholars, rather than eloquent rhetoricians or political activists. But it is annoying when scientific interference in society is always demanded but rarely encouraged. Universities, research institutes and donors should therefore not only tolerate the social commitment of their researchers, but actively support them. This not only requires specialized doctoral programs and communication training, but also a cultural change. Academics who consider themselves both academics and citizens should not be punished for this attitude.

The public debate about science demands more than television documentaries and university communiqu├ęs. It requires an exchange on an equal footing between the sciences, politics and other parts of society. The open ear of the politicians is just as essential as the support in the academy. Otherwise, all demands for more social commitment by the sciences will remain mere lip service.

You can read the original comment here.