M.Do we really have to reorganize scientific policy advice? Caroline Schmutte and Heyo K. Kroemer plead for it with clear words in their factual and committed guest article in this newspaper. Especially now, in view of the vivid experiences of the last few months, the time has come to break new ground. In order to be prepared for the next crisis, it is necessary to structurally put scientific policy advice on a new foundation.
The topic has been addressed in different tones, sometimes even temperamentally, from different perspectives in the last few months. There is no doubt about clarifying the form and purpose of scientific policy advice. The question is by no means marginal, it hits the center of the self-understanding of modern societies, it affects both the political legitimation of decisions and the self-positioning of the sciences – and not only in times of crisis. Let me remind you, to name a few examples, of the suggestions Georg Schüttes on the challenges of successful science communication, for which the Volkswagen Foundation has launched its own program, Caspar Hirschi’s intervention, which appeared here in view of the Leopoldina’s statement of December 2020, and the subsequent, in some cases out of hand, debate about the function and role of Experts in organizations providing political advice or the striking question Wolfgang Streeckswhat science one should actually follow if one wants to follow science at all.
Science: not a crisis services company
Many statements and references by Schmutte and Kroemer can be unreservedly approved, and yet at some points there are questions that are not trivial. On the one hand, they concern the assumed objective of scientific policy advice, and on the other hand, the measures.
In liberal democratic societies, the public, rational and comprehensible justification of political action is extremely important. It is a misleading shortening when the thesis is put into the room that it is science that not only can give reasons, but should also. The problem with this is not simply what exactly one should understand by “science”, it is also questionable that the justification of political action belongs to political action itself and cannot be delegated. Otherwise you lose yourself in the popular ping-pong game of relieving responsibility, in which one study is played off against the other, but hardly any study is appreciated within the limits of its scientific claims and under the conditions of different political options for action.
The sought-after scientists of the corona pandemic: A live stream from the annual conference of the “Society for Virology” in spring brought the audience and experts together
Image: obs / dpa
Of course, political action and thus also the justified making of decisions cannot hide reality. But this reality cannot be reduced to the existence of valid data, which in turn have to be interpreted again. Social reality is a valid datum of its own kind. If this reality is to be recorded with the aim of regulating it, it is not just theoretical knowledge that is required, but also cleverness and judgment. Especially when no data is available in manifest times of crisis, and this is likely to be a characteristic of the same, one will have to rely on these forms of rationality.
In their article for this newspaper, Schmutte and Kroemer advocate establishing a permanent structure for policy advice over the respective crises (whoever defines them as crises), for which the British, for example, should Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies orientate. Up to 300 experts could be organized into subgroups depending on the topic, while a core group of 20 to 30 scientists formed the framework of this structure. Such an advisory structure is by no means limited to health crises; it can also be active in other scenarios. The past flood disaster in parts of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate is cited as an example. There is cautious talk of a structure that can only be maintained in the long term, however, in the form of an (additional) organization.