Interview With Professor Thomas Kron

  Professor Thomas Kron in a Zoom Call Copyright: © RWTH Aachen

If you follow media reports about coronavirus deniers and anti-vaxxers, you may think that the mood in Germany has reached boiling point. Is this really the case? We asked Professor Thomas Kron, a violence researcher at the RWTH Institute of Sociology, what the current mood is in Germany.

RWTH: Professor Kron, some people want vaccination to become a requirement, while others are calling for all measures to be dropped – what effect does this difficult balancing act have on German society?

Kron: It's been proven that the pandemic exacerbates social problems. Issues that were already critical beforehand have become worse in the coronavirus period. Domestic violence, for example, has increased sharply because many people are living together in confined spaces for unusually long periods. If you have no garden or balcony, especially in the city, isolation becomes especially stressful. You have to understand that we have been living with uncertainties that have encroached upon almost all areas of our lives for two years now. This stirs up fear for some, while ignorance is growing for others. Some Germans tend to stick to either-or arguments – science is either right or wrong. Conspiracy theories offer simple answers; this gives some people clarity over their worldview again and the uncertainty is gone. Those who have gained apparent certainty in this way once are usually no longer receptive to scientific knowledge.

RWTH: Scientists are contradicting each other often these days. Is it understandable that people are feeling uncertain?

Kron: Of course. From our everyday work, we scientists are aware that many new findings are not set in stone and can quickly be discarded – especially when it comes to a new type of virus. We, therefore, have to keep reminding ourselves that those from non-scientific backgrounds are not used to this level of uncertainty and sometimes react defiantly to it. The media – even serious sources – do not help matters when, for example, they sit experts on a panel with an equal number of people who adhere to conspiracy theories or repeat statements that have not been proven. This apparent balance of opposing opinions is what we call false balance. Besides this, complicated data situations can be interpreted differently. Especially when data from another country have to be consulted – as is often the case in Germany because there is too little data available here. We usually look at England.

RWTH: What could be improved in the current crisis?

Kron: Communication! In my opinion, there should have been less talk about certainties that in fact were much less than certain from the very beginning. For example, that a series of two vaccination doses will undoubtedly be sufficient, that a further lockdown will be necessary, but it will be the last one, and so on. People should have been better informed that the situation is set to change over and over again – plus that no one in particular is to blame. This would have saved people a lot of frustration.