Panel discussion

How chemistry and society come together - a panel discussion on the goals and target groups of science communication

Abb. 1: Das Podium
Abb. 2: Markus Antonietti
Abb. 3: Thomas Geelhaar
Abb. 4: Jürgen Hampel
Abb. 5: Beatrice Lugger
Abb. 6: Fragen aus dem Publikum

On September 2nd, the GDCh Working Group on Chemistry and Society invited the conference participants to a special panel discussion on the occasion of the Science Forum Chemistry in Dresden, which was not only about chemistry. Rather, it was asked how science communication works specifically in chemistry and how it can be developed to improve the visibility and perception of chemistry in society. Better communication between chemistry and the public is a central concern of the AG Chemistry and Society, which is headed by GDCh President Dr. Thomas Geelhaar was initiated in 2014. This is how the moderator of the panel discussion, Dr. Marc-Denis Weitze of the acatech office, first at him. Geelhaar believes it is essential that chemistry communicates differently in the future. One should not only communicate the undisputed topics and opportunities of chemistry, but also communicate its risks. The dialogue with society should concentrate on the essentials, on overall concepts and not get lost in scientific details. In contrast to physics , for example, he does not have a chemist who is well known among the population and who manages to explain chemistry in simple and understandable language. It is necessary to develop a culture of dialogue. And dialogue must also be strengthened between scientific disciplines and, in chemistry, between science and industry, in order to improve the transfer of knowledge. After all, it is important that the industry is also open about the consequences of its actions and that it increasingly relies on dialogue with civil society instead of Marketing . Geelhaar sees open dialogue as an important mediator between chemistry and the population. Professor Dr. Markus Antonietti, Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces, drew the attention of around 80 listeners to the interview that ChemManager conducted with Mr. Geelhaar in issue 15/2015. It is extremely worth reading, and I also provide answers to the questions raised in the panel discussion and suggestions worth considering. You have to make it clear to the population that chemists are able to create something new. If lobbyists tried to convey this - and this includes not only the VCI, but also the GDCh, for example - that is no longer credible. ?We, the scientists, have to talk. Only people are credible. ?The technology and environmental sociologist Dr. Jürgen Hampel pointed out, however, that chemistry is by no means one of the controversial sciences. The situation is perceived less negatively from the outside than from the inside. In his opinion, the image of chemistry is at best clouded with a view to food or agriculture, but in general chemistry has no acceptance problems - in contrast to genetic engineering, which is very controversial except in the medical field. In contrast to Geelhaar, Hampel believes that ?glossy brochures? can sometimes be useful if you do it right. In doing so, the contextualization is particularly important. But it is clear that trust cannot be achieved through successful communication. Time and again, he noticed great uncertainties among scientists when it came to communicating. Scientists often find it difficult to communicate on an equal footing. Their arguments are often put forward purely rationally and without emotional components, although the very rationalized communication would only produce "noise" and would not be really heard. Beatrice Lugger, who went into science journalism as a chemist and is now Scientific Director of the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik), said that nowadays the needs in science communication have been recognized and there are now different seminars for scientists. The current deficits have grown generically: In the early days of the natural sciences, scientists could have made their activities understandable in lectures and experiments. With the diversification of technical languages, science communication has increasingly withdrawn from the public. Open Access now makes it possible for everyone to read scientific articles, but understanding the content is impossible for most of them. Lugger welcomed the introduction of key notes in addition to abstracts in scientific articles, as this would allow social aspects to be combined with specialized content. She also welcomed the opportunity to communicate via social media such as Twitter and Facebook and broke the ground for science blogs. These would enable scientists to take on corrective functions themselves. Since society is mostly on the Internet, blogs and comments would be an important element of public relations today. It reinforced Antonietti's statement that scientists today also have to communicate on modern platforms. At least one person has to be found for a group of scientists who can do this. It must be the aim in citizens' dialogues that the message from scientists gets across correctly. From their point of view, communication should be included in the curricula. When Weitze asked how this was seen in the GDCh, Geelhaar said that there had been very controversial discussions about it, but that the majority had decided not to recommend that the subject of communication be made compulsory in the course. There was also a renewed discussion on the question of how chemistry should be conveyed in context. In any case, according to Antonietti, it does not work when chemists declare that they are solving ?world problems?. This type of lobbying also only creates ?noise?. He thinks it is an interesting approach not to ask for final theses in the course of study, but instead to have the students make short videos without making high demands on the quality of the film. For Hampel, the discussion now focused too much on the methods of communication. The central question is about the right topics, i.e. what society wants to know from chemists. He cited the subject of ?dioxin? as an example. It is important to systematically create channels so that the population can find out at an early stage what the problems are. Similar to Geelhaar, he advocated interactions with environmental or consumer associations. Weitze, however, again addressed the question of whether social media had the better success in science communication than traditional media. Lugger pointed to the great success of YouTube with young people, but made it clear, with special reference to the Max Planck Society, that scientific institutions often ?grit their teeth? here. Once again she pleaded for authentic blogs in which scientists themselves are present. In the case of highly controversial topics such as fracking, scientists should also have the courage to comment in large national newspapers. The suggestion came from the audience that with the information-saturated public, chemistry absolutely needs middlemen who are trustworthy. Using the example of ?excessively high nitrogen levels in the air in Hamburg? (quote from the press), it was also demanded that at least a minimum of general education should be imparted in schools. Hampel pointed out that knowledge about the natural sciences would be less and less disseminated through the newspapers because the media were under economic pressure. ?We have to live with false news. And the question is: What is general knowledge today? ?Lugger added that the science journalists now increasingly want to counteract the loss of quality themselves. Based on the British model, the Science Media Center has just been founded in Cologne. It is intended to promote competent reporting on science-related topics. From the audience it was regretted that there was probably no central authority in chemistry that could mediate competent discussion partners from chemistry. A representative of the GDCh Office made it clear that the GDCh could and also do this - mostly in the case of telephone or e-mail inquiries from media representatives. An enthusiastic participant in the science forum pointed out the social relevance of many of the topics dealt with in Dresden. These would not be viewed by the public as chemical topics, but instead assigned to biology, medicine, electronics and energy research, for example. Lugger confirmed: ?This is reality.? Journalists would avoid overwriting their contributions with ?chemistry?. How chemistry gets out of this dilemma in science communication, the final round tried to work out again: We have to look for fact-based communication, but also allow emotions to be recognized and taken into account (Lugger referred to factual communication as the ?feel-good corner of science?). Trust in the actors is central to acceptance and these actors must be individual people, individual chemists, who proactively communicate honestly. Author: Renate Hoer All pictures: GDCh / Christian Augustin, Hamburg Fig. 1: The podium (from left to right): Dr. Thomas Geelhaar, Prof. Dr. Markus Antonietti, Dr. Jürgen Hampel, Beatrice Lugger, moderator Dr. Marc-Dennis Weitze Fig. 2: Prof. Dr. Markus Antonietti, Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam Fig. 3: GDCh President Dr. Thomas Geelhaar, Merck KGaA Fig. 4: Dr. Jürgen Hampel, University of Stuttgart (Technology and Environmental Sociology) Fig. 5: Beatrice Lugger, National Institute for Science Communication

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last modified: 27.04.2021 11:09 H from