“Scientists have to communicate more” is, at least in the perception of the scientific community, a current demand of politics. This can be inferred from the BMBF funding guidelines and from the recently published action recommendations by #FactoryWisskomm. “In accordance with the wishes of the politicians, every researcher should bring his findings to the public.” This is how Marcel Knöchelmann puts it at this point and then rejects it: “But that would not benefit society or science.”
In fact, for various reasons, the demands of politics are viewed critically by the scientific community. Some of the critics warned that, in the context of the growing demands of scientific institutions, it is almost impossible to make scientific communication mandatory without neglecting the core tasks, that is, research and teaching.
Another part is more concerned with the headwind, with the harsh tone that scientists not only have to fear in these times, but also experience when communicating. In the face of heated debates over the crown or climate change, researchers, the argument goes, should be more protected than front row. Communication should be left to the professionals. After all, not everyone can be expected to be able to weather these storms and hostility without moving and confidently while still calmly explaining what the results of science mean to society. For this reason, the voice was increasingly heard that scientific communication was carried out only by heads and professional press offices or the so-called “scientific councils”.
This position misjudges the realities of German universities and research institutions and their possibilities for quasi-dirigiste control of their communication. Equally unrealistic is the opposing position’s demand that all women scientists be sent to the forefront of scientific communication.
The key question has yet to be named: What needs to be communicated? Only when this has been clarified do the questions of who and how arise. Classic ‘Scientists have found that …’ reporting of results no longer works: Associated press releases are not heard too often, brightly colored magazines fade unopened in the reading corner. Therefore, it is unwise and undesirable to hone science through centrally controlled and professional high gloss communication.
Representatives of German scientific organizations, as well as politics, science communication and science journalism participate in a round table at the end of the first #FactoryWisskomm. : Image: dpa
What we need is scientific communication that conveys a realistic and honest image of science and is based on the knowledge acquired by its target groups and not on the reputation of the communicating institution. The authentic understanding of the world of science, of its values, processes and methods, must come directly from the laboratories, from those who investigate. They can say best with authenticity and great enthusiasm about discovering, questioning and investigating an object. Even if the results can be spectacular, communication will only be successful if the rocky path from science to the result can be credibly portrayed, and scientists are often the best at it.
Scientific communication as part of training.
Communication becomes even more successful when it can be made visible that research is painstaking, that excellent and ultimately successful research often explores many dead ends first, produces null and negative results that are learned from, and that Ultimately, they can be the foundation for success. Documenting zero and negative results and making them visible is an essential element of good scientific practice! Only in this way, directly from science, will it be possible to make visible, explain and justify the plurality and diversity of perspectives and positions in science. This is essential to maintain confidence in science and research at a high level.