German Science Communication by Beatrice Lugger

Beatrice Lugger is a chemist, science journalist and social media expert. As a journalist and author, she has been working freelance for over two decades, her work includes publications in WIRED, FOCUS, and Süddeutsche Zeitung. In addition, she coordinates various institutional social media presences such as the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. She is the Deputy Scientific Director at NaWik, Germany.

Beatrice participated as a Sciolang ambassador and wrote this amazing collection of notes about science communication in Germany. While I am still looking for an outlet to give more exposure to her notes, I think it is time to make them available to the public even from this small corner of the Internet:

From Beatrice Lugger:

Here are my notes about the science communication focuses and purposes in Germany.

Part I – Science Reporting and Blogging in Germany

1. Science News

We have a huge range of science special magazines and caption in newspapers as well as radio and TV. Most of them are also active online. I only mention some examples, as the variety is really enormous. I am pretty sure that Germany is very special with this great variety of journals, magazines and newspapers.

2. Print/Online

2.1. Newspapers/Magazines Online

Spiegel Online

Süddeutsche Zeitung

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Zeit Online

2.2. Popular Science Magazines

Bild der Wissenschaft

P.M.

Magazines known in the USA or GB with an editorial team in Germany

Spektrum (the counterpart to Scientific American)

National Geographic

WIRED – I was part of the editors’ team of the first 3 magazines. WIRED will start to be published in Germany monthly soon.

Interestingly the attempt to establish a German version of the ‘New Scientist’ did not work. The publisher stopped the magazine after only 6 months.

2.3. From TV and Radio

Science ORF (Austria)

DRadioWissen

SWR Planet Wissen

Quarks & Co

2.4. Science Blogs

We have three Science Blogs Communities in Germany plus many further blogs.

Scilogs – community launched by Spektrum and also has an English counterpart scilogs.com

Scienceblogs – former Burda Media, Seed and now Bild der Wissenschaft

Hypotheses – a great community for the humanities

3. Special Science Debates

Certainly in Germany as in Austria we have special science debates due to our different culture and history.

Such topics definitely are e.g.

nuclear power,

genetically modified plants/food,

stem cell research

politics (investments)

Currently we have many debates about assisted dying.

On the other hand topics such as creationism are not at all discussed in Germany.

4. Universities

All universities offer the content of their website naturally in German AND English.

But on social media – Facebook and Twitter – they absolutely prefer German, for community building etc. see e.g. FU Berlin

5. Research Institutes and Societies

Content of the websites are presented in both languages.

On social media most of the institutes and societies prefer German.

Like Helmholtz FB and Twitter; or Fraunhofer FB and Twitter.

Except the Max Planck Society as a more international working science society they also post on FB and Twitter in English.

Others leave the decision to the individual communicator. Like the Helmholtz Center Berlin on Twitter

6. Our Institute, NaWik

Last not least our Institute (National Institute for Science Communication, nawik.de) offers special seminars for scientists to improve their communications skills since 2012 in Germany. The aim is a better dialogue between scientists and the public (children, politicians, decision makers, other scientists, NGOs…) Therefore the seminars are held mainly in German as lay people are the potential target audience. We offer writing, presentation, interview, video, risk communication courses and not at least how to present yourself in the web using websites, blogs and social media and science networks.

 

 

7. Let’s end with

George Bernard Shaw: „English is the easiest language to speak badly.“

Part II – Discussion about the topic on the blog and Twitter

In my blog post the Qs were commented quite vivid – also on Twitter. I try to gather the answers and further thoughts for you (by Joachim Schulz, quantum physicist; Markus Dahlem, Neuroscientist; Jürgen Schönstein, geologist and manager of scienceblogs.de; Wenke Bönisch, historian; Reiner Korbman, science publisher; Gerhard Samulat, physicist and science journalist, Alexander Stirn, physicist and science journalist; Helmholtz Center Berlin; Hans Zauner, biologist; Josef Zens, press officer MDC; and more… )

I translated and summarized the statements.

 

How important is it to have a universal language of science across all national boundaries?

Absolutely. (!!!!!!!!) (exclamation marks stand for their voting)

  • If we don’t have an international language we may not share scientific knowledge and ideas.
  • A scientific result only published in a rare language would mean a loss of information.
  • We need one common scientific language for the reproducibility of scientific results.
  • As research teams in one lab, at one institute are more and more international, we also need English for community building.
  • It is essential to share a common encyclopedic ontology like Wikipedia, which has more entries in English than in German.
  • As we have one lingua franca this opens job opportunities all around the globe.

Problems seen

  • Loss of information due to the hindrance it means having to translate everything into English.
  • Due to the specialization in the different sciences technical vocabulary more often only exists in English and even for the scientists themselves it sometimes is very complicated to define a correct translation in their mother tongue.

Dependence on the field of science (as we in Germany also name the humanities when we talk about sciences)!

  • In literature or history it is sensible to share and discuss in the mother tongue. Translations could mean a loss of special information as the spirit of the text. Most people are not able to describe philosophical thoughts as differentiated in English as in their mother tongue.
  • Each language sets limits to creativity and reflection.

Does the lingua franca necessarily have to be English?

  • Not necessarily, but it is established, not too complicated and fine. (!!!!!)
  • Currently, English is the lingua franca of science. Earlier, it was French or German. In the future, maybe … Chinese?
  • The system is anglophone. Take it or leave it.

Contra:

  • “In history – my research field – we always speak German and 98% of the publications are also written in German.”
    • >reply to this: Who wants to be perceived outside linguistic boundaries, must publish in English. This applies in my view also for national historians.
    • >another reply: For interdisciplinary communication we need English and we also need scientists from the humanities to be involved in debates. E.g. when chemists, physiologists, biologists… talk about genomic privacy, stem cell therapy and more.

How important is it to communicate science in the local language?

  • This is very important for political decisions, public dialogues, dialogues with politicians and dialogues with citizens. Therefore we have to communicate with the public all the time in the language they understand. Although you speak in your national language this language has to be differentiated and adapted to be understood and to open a dialogue e.g. talking to children or patients.
  • Indispensable, because science is a part of the society in which scientists live and work, and with which they must exchange ideas.
  • It is necessary to speak about science so that those who are concerned and pay for it understand – this means in our country: communicate in German and without jargon.
  • I blog in German because I want to be read by lay people. I am faster and I am not so fluent in English.
  • I communicate about science in German when I am not trying to advance science but to convey popular.
  • Not that important for the sciences, but important for the public.
  • We should not start teaching our students only in English. This means a great cultural loss.

 

When it comes to science publications in English: Will native speakers have better chances to get published?

  • Definitely. (!!!!!)
  • Every person who knows how to communicate has an advantage. This might be writing skills and/or the language itself.
  • Native English speakers definitely have an advantage. They may write more precisely and much faster.
  • It definitely is easier for English speakers. But if I am not sure, whether this also means they are more successful.
  • Yes, as many double and special meanings are difficult to learn in a language.

Balanced views

  • Good results will also succeed in bad English – although the review process takes more time.
  • I refer only to all the scientists with successful careers while not talking and publishing in their native language… Nobel Laureates.
  • For scientific writing and communication you need to learn the scientific language and communication rules anyway – this is comparable to learning a foreign language anyway.

During your daily business in the lab – When do you speak English or German?

  • All answers: As soon as one person is in the lab who does not know German, we all switch to English.(!!!!!!!!!)
  • English naturally is the language for collaborations.

 

 

Further remarks

What might native English speakers and writers do to improve the communication with other scientists:

It is the same as with every communication. If you want to reach your audience you have to adept your language so you will be understand. This does not mean you have to talk in French, Mandarin, Spanish and more. Just don’t talk too fast and too complicated….

The Italian geneticist and cell biologist Swedish understand one another often better than a native speaker. The Italians and the Swede are in fact united in how they tame English: rather small vocabulary, simple grammar, do not speak too fast.

Sometimes it is weird. Many group leaders recruit their staff only locally, but seminars have to be held in English, although all people present would cope much better in German. This way English often ends up in bizarre retching.

In Germany English increasingly also is the language of teaching.

When we ask: Should we have an army of translators bringing the world’s science into English? We also have to ask: Should we have an army of translators bringing the world’s science out of English? All languages? – This is what scientists and professional communicators do, when they communicate with the public.

 

 

Further Links to this discussion and topic – For German speakers only;-)

 

http://www.scilogs.de/quantensprung/science-oder-wissenschaft-%E2%80%93-englisch-oder-deutsch/

 

http://laborjournal.de/editorials/756.lasso

http://scienceblogs.de/geograffitico/2013/11/25/denken-auf-und-ueber-englisch/

http://www.focus.de/politik/gastkolumnen/rehlaender/not-amused-wider-den-englisch-wahn-an-universitaeten_id_3419991.html