TELI Session @ WCSJ 2013

Producer: Hajo Neubert, TELI


Science is beginning to outpace our global policymaking apparatus so rapidly that the situation is posing serious challenges to democracy, and yet these people don’t even seem to understand the enormity of the problem or the need for discussion to begin to understand. — Shawn Otto

Ironically scientists and policy makers [understand it] perhaps better than science journalists. — Wolfgang Goede

Science Debates generate stories and income.

With Science Debates science journalists perform even better with their role in society.

This session aims directly at the heart of the WCSJ motto “Critical Questioning in the Public sphere” as Science Debates are a solution for science journalists to perform better with their role in society.

Although many serious political decisions, which affect the lives of citizens, are dependent on research results (genetics, medical research, climate, environment, energy, mobility, communication), no real public debate is taking place about the meaning and aims of science. However, the interest in taking part and being heard increases especially in young citizens. From their point of view, political decisions even in research and innovation are made by a closed, distant kind of parallel society. Furthermore, transparency is largely missing, thereby blocking the desired participation by citizens.

There are plenty of debates organised by governments or science institutions on topics such as electric mobility or the future of the energy supply, but these are usually quasi-debates aimed at gaining a retroactive acceptance for decisions which have already been made. Thus the variety of topics is limited to hegemonic ones which follow political fashions.

The proposed Science Debate is about the role and social position of science and technology per se, including the humanities and social sciences. It is true that science and technology can solve problems, but they also produce them. One aspect that is often forgotten is that science is also a cultural activity like art and music.

Science journalists do play an important role in this context. In particular, they can set journalistic agendas. Traditionally, journalists do research, explain facts, select and evaluate.

In doing so, they try to give their audiences as independent guidance as possible for their own decisions. At the same time they are also mediators between science, politics and their audience, the public. Ideally, they play back the questions, problems and ideas coming from the public to the scientists, to the politicians and organisations involved in science, and call for answers in interviews, which in turn may be subject to reports and stories. The Science Debate will deliver topics which are of real interest for the citizens, and which are not driven by the interest of researchers, industry, or governments as donors. In a socially broad-based Science Debate the debate itself can deliver topics for news, reports, commentary, or science stories.

Thus a science debate can be used for story digging comparable to data-driven journalism.

Goal of the session

The session will show the relevance of Science Debates as tools for science journalists in an international framework. As such it will help to strengthen the role of science journalists in society, especially when they want to achieve “Critical Questioning in the Public sphere”, the WCSJ motto.


Duration: 40 minutes on Tuesday, June 25 among the parallel morning sessions
3 Presentations: Neubert, Ennet, Otto
Networking/exchange of contacts (5 min)


Hanns-J. Neubert (10 min): The need to think anew in science journalism and experiences from the German Science Debate.

Priit Ennet (10 min): The Estonian Science Debate and the need to be international.

Shawn L. Otto (15 min): The idea of the first ever Science Debate, the tenets learned from two election campaigns, and the need to broaden globally.


Hanns-J. Neubert

Freelance science journalist, Co-Founder of the German Science Debate, Member of the board of TELI (Germany), Chair of the International Advisory Network for WCSJ2013, President Emeritus EUSJA



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