Research and lies: where the saboteurs of truth let off steam

Dhe pandemic makes you weary, but the majorities stand. Our science culture is alive and well. One could thus interpret the survey results the new science barometer delivered a few days ago: an unbroken “high level of trust” in the population and an even clearer “desire for political advice from science”. 61 percent trust the scientific staff more or fully, and 69 percent believe that political decisions should generally be based on scientific findings. The representative survey by “Wissenschaft im Dialog” could hardly have been more clear. Corona, as the surveys last year showed, has brought science and society closer together. In the years before the pandemic, trust was well below that, around fifty percent.

Joachim Müller-Jung

Editor in the features section, responsible for the “Nature and Science” section.

So the crisis welds us together. That would be the all-round positive interpretation – and would also help in overcoming other major crises. Another, less flattering interpretation of the proof of trust results from a conclusion by analogy with a current sociological study by Chemnitz University of Technology and the University of Konstanz on the causes of the often complained deviations in the vaccination rate information: Many lie in surveys because they do vaccination – in the science barometer scientific evidence – recognized as normatively desirable.

The well-known effect of “social desirability” does not have to be harmful, at least not when it comes to crisis management. In terms of democracy theory, however, the matter is hairy, as the possible future finance minister Christian Lindner has impressively shown in his most recent self-involvement on the subject of corona measures. In the “Tagesthemen” (Topics of the Day) he stiffly maintained that the effectiveness of Corona measures such as contact restrictions had not been scientifically proven. The next day he apologized for his “misleading” answers.

Of course, that wasn’t a coincidental hint of “lateral thinking”. Lindner, but by no means only he, repeatedly played publicly with sometimes populist, anti-scientific allusions in the Corona election campaign. The calculation is easy to see through: What is socially desirable in many milieus now also includes excessive skepticism about science, which there is disguised as so-called common sense. Do not take everything at face value that is supposed to be evidence, that is still one of the argumentative models in the climate debate to disavow “scientific mainstream”. Here, however, with a decreasing effect. The risk of socially desirable – but secretly misunderstood or denied – knowledge consists primarily in its political abuse.

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