Conference Week: On science and trust

2023-03-08 The conference week closes the Leuphana semester for the approximately 1,300 first-semester students. This year's motto was "OUR TURN". Renowned guests from science, politics and business discussed freedom, human rights and earth politics in the changing times with the students. Sustainability scientist Maja Göpel and medical ethicist Alena Buyx spoke in the central building about, among other things, the consequences of scepticism about science and the increasing infodemic.

Maja Göpel und Alena Buyx auf der Konferenzwoche 2023 ©Johann Floeter
Maja Göpel und Alena Buyx auf der Konferenzwoche 2023 ©Johann Floeter
Maja Göpel und Alena Buyx auf der Konferenzwoche 2023 ©Johann Floeter

"In Germany, we still have a high level of trust in science. In the USA, for example, things look different. But even in the Federal Republic, about a third of people are considered sceptical about science," says Alena Buyx at the conference week. The doctor has been chair of the German Ethics Council since 2020. Possible reasons for the doubts include a lack of education, the feeling of being left behind or being overwhelmed by the increasing acceleration. Often, people do not come into contact with the science system. Alena Buyx is one of the best-known experts who advised the federal government during the Corona pandemic and informed the public in the media.

A student from the plenary asked how researchers should meet people who are sceptical about science. The two experts agreed: the fronts should not be closed. "Historically, we have always had a smaller proportion with whom a reality space could not be shared. That is not a bad thing, because we are still a democracy capable of making decisions. Protection of majorities and minorities is part of it," said Maja Göpel.

The task of science in society is, among other things, to demand valid scientific criteria, to show chains of reasoning, to give alternative arguments and to create transparency: "Why, for example, did we recommend compulsory vaccination? As scientists, we have the task of showing how we arrived at this recommendation," explains Alena Buyx. The German Ethics Council is a legally standardised body, which means there is an Ethics Council Act. Members are nominated through a formal process and work independently: "I represented the positions of this body during the pandemic. A pandemic has difficult ethical conflicts," Alena Buyx explained. She said she had "crashed into a politicisation like I could not have imagined. We have been assigned to one camp, but see ourselves as ethicists in an interdisciplinary context. We would rather explore the intermediate positions."

Opponents of vaccination were nothing new for her: "But it was the first pandemic of mankind that was accompanied by an infodemic. Many mechanisms have been transferred to the current war debate," Alena Buyx explained. Disinformation is a devastating problem for democracy, added Maja Göpel: "Science functions according to objectivity criteria. Results are verifiable, reproducible and explainable. Disinformation abandons these criteria. Especially with regard to the climate crisis, this is a big problem."

At the conference week, students present their results from the module "Wissenschaft trägt Verantwortung – Science bears responsibility". It is part of the Leuphana Semester. Within the framework of interdisciplinary modules, all first-semester students develop a common introduction to scientific studies. The conference week and the Leuphana Semester are part of the unique study model at the college. Prominent guests include the Chair of the German Ethics Council Alena Buyx, Hamburg's Senator for Culture Carsten Brosda, the German-American economist Rüdiger Bachmann, the journalist and doctor Gilda Sahebi, the transformation researcher Maja Göpel, the philosopher Richard David Precht and the filmmaker Franz Böhm. Mayor Claudia Kalisch and architect Almannai Fischer will continue to think about the "Zukunftsstadt – future city – Lüneburg".