Are Austrians really not believing in the science?

Surveys are not everything when it comes to explaining scepticism about science. Participation of citizens in science and the right communication in the right place are essential to convey the value of science, emphasise ÖAW experts at the Joint Academy Day.

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f.l.t.r.: Alexander Bogner from the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) and Matthias Karmasin from the Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies (CMC) of the OEAW. (Photo: OEAW/Daniel Hinterramskogler)

On 1 February, the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW) and the German Leopoldina held a "Joint Academy Day" to discuss the current challenges of science communication from the perspectives of science and the media. On the panel were ITA researcher Alexander Bogner together with Matthias Karmasin (CMD-OEAW), Eva Stanzl from the newspaper Wiener Zeitung and Michael Hallek, Christoph M. Schmidt and Ricarda Winkelmann from the Leopoldina.

A struggle for values

For Alexander Bogner, the scepticism of Austrians towards science cannot be clearly measured by surveys like the Eurobarometer: "We ask people whether they trust science, but we don't know what exactly we are measuring on the basis of their answers. We don't even know what these people think of when they hear the term 'science'." The protests during the Corona pandemic had deeper causes than a mere rejection of science, Bogner continues: "People protest when they feel their identity or political beliefs are threatened by science's explanations. They associate values and views with science that are not theirs," says Bogner.

Understanding through participation

For Bogner, a lot of research is still needed for the causes of science scepticism: "It is not just about the public understanding everything that research says, but about communicating the values of science, namely openness and critical faculties. Citizen Science, the participation of citizens, enables a rapprochement, an understanding of how science works."

For Mathias Karmasin it is not about more but about the right communication. "I have to think about who I address and what language I use. The public does not differentiate on as many levels as scientists often do. What messages are important? That’s something we have to negotiate before we pass them on." Events such as the Children's University or the Long Night of Research have an important function in the transfer of knowledge, Karmasin said.

Watch the panel discussion "New challenges for science communication" (in German) here on Youtube.