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Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schulz, Thomas Prinzler und Prof. Dr. Ulrich Panne, Gesprächgäste der 12. Ausgabe des LNDW Podcast zum Thema "Fake News" und der Frage, sind "Wissenschaften die Antwort auf Fake News?", Aufnahme im Haus des Rundrundfunks des rbb, Foto: rbb/Thomas Prinzler

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schulz, Thomas Prinzler und Prof. Dr. Ulrich Panne im Haus des Rundfunks des rbb, Foto: rbb/Thomas Prinzler

Science as a Response to Fake News (episode 12)

Fake news and lies are especially popular in times of pandemics, while facts have a hard time in periods of great uncertainty. Lies fly, truth limps behind, as the Irish satirist Jonathan Swift knew. "Science as an answer to fake news" is the topic of the twelfth edition of the Inforadio podcast "Long Night of the Sciences".

Guests of the programme: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Panne, President of the Federal Institute for Materials Testing and Research (BAM) and Chairman of the Long Night of the Sciences Association, and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schulz, Professor of Strategic Communication Planning at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). The recording took place in a study of the rbb in compliance with the corona rules. Below we reproduce excerpts from the conversation. You can listen to the full conversation in the ARD Audiothek.

Thomas Prinzler: Prof. Panne, I had the pleasure of welcoming you here once before, about exactly a year ago. Back then, the Long Night of the Sciences had to be cancelled for the first time. Now the Long Night must be cancelled in 2021 as well. How much does the cancellation hurt you? And above all, how are the scientific facilities and institutions of the LNDW feeling about it?

Prof. Panne: That hurt! We started in autumn 2020 with the goal of bringing science back to life on site. We planned the Long Night of the Sciences 2021 with a lot of verve and confidence, but we also had to bow to the pandemic. And this night – this magical night when you can go into laboratories, when you can visit places you cannot see otherwise – the Long Night thrives on presence – this Long Night we unfortunately also had to cancel this year. Since science advises strict contact avoidance and many other measures, we as organisers from the science sector would have led ourselves ad absurdum. In this respect, we also had to do without the Long Night of the Sciences in 2021.

Science begins with doubt

In the Science Barometer 2020 of the initiative Wissenschaft im Dialog (Science in Dialogue), two-thirds of respondents say they have great confidence in science and research. About the same number also consider the corona measures appropriate according to the ARD Deutschlandtrend in April 2021. The trend in both surveys, however, is shown to be downward. This contrasts with the result of an Allensbach survey, according to which around forty percent of the population see facts as a matter of opinion. Where does this discrepancy come from?

Prof. Schulz: Scientists begin with doubt. Descartes already expressed this with his saying "dubito, ergo cogito" ("I doubt, therefore I think"). Therefore, regarding the surveys you quoted, I would ask doubtfully what is meant by the concept of ‘confidence’. I think that respondents are also sometimes overwhelmed with what is meant by ‘trust’. In my opinion, such questions often have to do with a trivial understanding of science. Science is often reduced to statements of individual sciences, which are then heard as experts. True to the motto of a humourist: "From far away he comes, Professor Dreist". As an expert, he provides information about what is "right" and flips the switch. As if it were so easy to make a simple distinction between truth and untruth. But that is not the case in the sciences, in the humanities as well as in the natural sciences.

Outlook for the LNDW 2021/2022

The Long Night of the Sciences is dead. Long may the Long Night of the Sciences live. Prof. Panne, what will happen next?

Prof. Panne: First, despite the now cancelled on-site events, there will also be digital offerings on 5th June 2021. You can keep tabs on them on the LNDW website from the beginning of June. I invite all listeners to follow virtual laboratory tours and other interesting things there. I would also like to draw your attention to our special broadcast on RadioEINS on 5th June, between 7 and 11 pm, where we will present some exciting projects over the airwaves. I am firmly convinced that we will have a great Long Night of the Science in 2022, in the best weather, with unbelievably great insights into science on site in Berlin and Potsdam. And we at the association and all our partners are particularly looking forward to it.