The ZEIT Science Forum is a series of discussion events. Founded in 2001, it aims to open controversial contemporary issues to critical scrutiny. The forum takes place at the Leibnizsaal of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science.
We humans doubt. Fortunately! In science, for example, 'methodological doubt' is an important instrument for getting to the bottom of things through research. Whether completely new questions are asked or an experiment is repeated, whether new data disprove previous study results or new technologies provide a completely different picture of a research object - our knowledge is always expanded.
To give room to justified doubts and to admit mistakes is therefore indispensable to do good science and to gain new insights.
But what should we do if scientifically proven facts, such as man-made climate change or the need for vaccinations in general, are doubted? Worldwide, research is confronted with an ever-increasing populist scepticism that deliberately works against scientific expertise and enlightenment.
So how can we distinguish a negative doubt that is closed to good arguments from a constructive doubt that takes us further? How do we know when to believe statements? When do we know what is true?
More than six million Germans are unintentionally childless. Thanks to the rapid development in international reproductive medicine, doctors today are often able to fulfil patients' desire to have children even if it does not work naturally. But in Germany there is a nearly 30-year-old Embryo Protection Act (ESchG) which does not permit a lot of the existing therapies. From a scientific perspective, doctors describe the current legal situation as antiquated and medical ethicists as unjust. Lawyers have long complained that it creates considerable legal uncertainty.
The National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities therefore published a statement in June of this year in which they called for a comprehensive revision of reproductive medicine and also for a uniform reproductive law in Germany.
For it is not only a question of clarifying which treatments may be used, but also who is allowed to. Health insurance companies only cover costs if a couple is married and young and heterosexual. That excludes many persons. It must therefore be regulated what is permitted in reproductive medicine and what forms of family the state permits.
In November 1884 the so-called "Africa Conference" began in Berlin, which "sealed" the division and occupation of the African continent. Decades of oppression, torture and exploitation of the people by German companies and the military in East Africa, Namibia, Togo and other parts of Africa were the result. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were murdered or abducted.
To this day, European museums possess many art objects that were stolen or acquired in a colonial context. Provenance research investigates the history of this art and suggests ways of restitution to politicians. Experts from East Africa criticise that they have not been sufficiently involved and that this return transfer cannot be organised. There is a lack of political support on the ground, money and museums.
What is the right way to restitute cultural assets? How does Germany deal with its responsibility? What consequences does colonialism still have for today's art scene and for People of Color in Germany?
Interventions in the human genome, the development of artificial intelligence, experiments on animals - to what extent may the freedom of science, research and teaching anchored in the Basic Law go?
According to a survey of 2018, the most important reason for distrusting scientists is their dependence on financial backers. How independent are scientists? What significance does freedom of science have for an open society?
But science itself is also increasingly at risk. In the international area - in Turkey, Hungary and the USA - freedom of science has come under strong pressure in recent years. How do we defend the freedom of research and thought?