Visiting Professorship for Science Communication: Linking Research with Political Advocacy?

British science communicator Fiona Fox designs courses on science, politics and media at Heidelberg University

Should scientists step beyond the bounds of research and advocate for particular policies? The question of how an ever closer connection between science and politics affects science communication is a central topic of the current Nature Marsilius Visiting Professorship for Science Communication, which Fiona Fox is taking up at Ruperto Carola in the 2024 summer semester. The founding director of the Science Media Centre in London (United Kingdom) will hold several courses and give a public lecture. The visiting professorship programme - a joint initiative by Holtzbrinck Berlin, the Klaus Tschira Foundation and Heidelberg University - is intended to train young researchers, in particular, for presenting their academic work to the general public and contributing to a societal dialogue about the significance and responsibility of science.

In view of the social relevance of science, it is often argued that researchers, due to their specialist knowledge, have a duty to publicly challenge political narratives and to give informed support to policy-makers. Contrasting with this, however, is the call for impartiality and scholarly objectivity. Is political engagement a risk to public trust in science? Can scientists preserve their credibility while getting actively involved in political matters? British science communicator Fiona Fox will raise these topics in a four-hour course addressing the increasing visibility of researchers in society and politics. Participants will be invited to debate "how best to wield the power of scientific expertise in shaping a better world," says the Nature Marsilius Visiting Professor.

A second course offered by Fiona Fox is open to researchers interested in media work and science communication. Here she wants to equip participants with the skills and tools to productively cooperate with the media and promote evidence-based reporting. In this context she will also present the Science Media Centre (SMC) in London. An independent and public-benefit institution, the SMC gives the public and the media access to scientific findings when science itself becomes the topic of reporting. Fiona Fox sees the centre, which she co-founded, as a model for authentic, honest science communication. On the example of the SMC there is a comparable institution in Germany, too, which supplies facts and expertise from science and supports journalists in reporting on scientific issues with the aid of a network of researchers. Together with Volker Stollorz - the manager of the Cologne-based Science Media Center Germany - the current Nature Marsilius Visiting Professor will hold a third course to discuss the changing role of science communication and the ensuing consequences. Fiona Fox’s public lecture on "Toxic public debates? Why we need scientists to engage in news more than ever" will take place on 19 June 2024.

Fiona Fox is the manager and founding director of the Science Media Centre, which since its establishment in 2002 has become an important resource for science journalists in the United Kingdom. She has a degree in journalism and worked for several years in media relations for well-known British organisations, such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. For her services to science communication she has received several awards, including the Order of the British Empire. 2022 saw the publication of her book "Beyond the Hype: Inside Science’s Biggest Media Scandals from Climategate to Covid".

The Nature Marsilius Visiting Professorship for Science Communication is a joint initiative of Holtzbrinck Berlin, the Klaus Tschira Foundation and Heidelberg University. In the context of the professorship, notable experts are invited to the university to hold their own courses at the Marsilius Kolleg on what makes for quality reporting about scientific work and research findings. At the same time, the visiting professors are expected to spark a broad-based discussion about new forms of exchange between academia and the public. The most recent holders of the visiting professorship include Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, Michele Catanzaro und Martin Enserink.

The Klaus Tschira Foundation (KTS) funds natural sciences, mathematics and information science, seeking to enhance the appreciation shown these subjects. It was founded in 1995 by Klaus Tschira (1940-2015), physicist and cofounder of SAP, with private finance. Its three funding priorities are: education, research and science communication. Its nation-wide engagement starts in the kindergarten and continues in schools, universities and research institutions. The foundation advocates for dialogue between academia and society.

Holtzbrinck Berlin - Inspire Together belongs to the ZEIT Verlagsgruppe and to Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Since 1994 it has worked with selected partners to promote the responsible and differentiated discussion of issues of present and future significance. Its focal themes are science communication in direct exchange between the general public and experts, campaigns in the digital sphere, as well as designing and coordinating multiple projects and events on literature, research, culture and society.