CliSAP successfully finished in 2018. Climate research continues in the Cluster of Excellence "CLICCS".

Should Climate Researchers Engage in Politics?


Not as far as Prof. Hans von Storch is concerned. At a discussion on Wednesday evening at the KlimaCampus, the director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht explained, “It is the purpose of science to contribute to knowledge. This knowledge can be used to help solve social problems - but how to do so is a matter for politicians and citizens to decide.”

Together with the Helmholtz-Zentrum, the KlimaCampus hosted the podium discussion in the Geomatikum at the University of Hamburg. Its subject: “Climate Science in a Democratic Society.” The international podium agreed unanimously that the mistakes in the IPCC report and discussions of a possible “Climategate” place science in front of a new “post-normal” situation. The validity of important findings made over the last years is suddenly in doubt and researchers now perceive how their findings are under a cloud of general suspicion.

Jerry Ravetz, a mathematician and renowned philosopher of science, has in reaction started advocating more involvement in policy-making and against a strict division between science and society. One example of an interesting idea advanced by the Oxford scientist is the expansion of the peer-review process into the blogosphere. This would allow the scientific community to review the quality of writings on science through an extensive system of anonymous expert opinions.

In his introduction to the evening, the ethnologist Werner Krauss criticized the concept that “knowledge speaks to power,” which advances the idea that science need only contribute enough new findings to inspire a reaction. This idea is out of date - an opinion repeated by, among others, Jeroen van der Sluijs from the University of Utrecht. Research is no longer just about knowing ever-increasing amounts, or verifying existing knowledge more carefully. Today, it is much more about a society reaching a decision on when and how we should move forward, despite remaining uncertainties.