Dr. Rainer Lange


Head of the “Research” department, Office of the German Council of Science and Humanities, Cologne.

Dr. Rainer Lange Copyright: © Wissenschaftsrat / Peter Nierhoff

Ideas from the COVID-19 Pandemic

It was as early as Spring 2020 in which the research committee of the German Council of Science and Humanities decided to tackle the subject of what can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in the position paper “Ideas from the COVID-19 Crisis”, which was adopted in January 2021. The strengths and weaknesses of the scientific system that are addressed by the German Science and Humanities Council in this paper will occupy us in the coming months and years. I shall deal with four of them here:

During the early days of the pandemic, it was particularly in healthcare research that processes were missing which were needed to enable the organization of large studies and to enable interdisciplinary cooperation. Sometimes, scientific rivalry stood in the way of scientists’ willingness to share data. This strengthened the notion that competitiveness in the field of science could be becoming too intense.

A further indication of this would be the existential fear that young scientists experience when their research is interrupted or when they have been active in the field of digital teaching and learning. In the future, it will be important to appreciate their efforts more visibly, since they do indeed benefit everyone. This in turn will serve to create a more cooperative climate.

One of the most striking phenomena of the pandemic is the high level of visibility of science. Though it initially seemed that science with serious analyses was falling on sympathetic ears in Germany, the manner of speaking quickly became rougher. Discussion oscillated between the notion that virologists were ruling the world and the claim that politicians were acting completely without evidence. One of the tasks that we must take seriously is to clarify what scientific communication and political advice can achieve and indeed, how this can be achieved.

Science must be able to act in an independent manner in the digital world after the pandemic. It must be able to articulate and assert its requirements of quality, data security, transparency, and interoperability. This being so, it must not become dependent on individual providers. At the same time, it must operate its digital infrastructure in a sustainable and failsafe manner and be able to defend itself against attacks of all kinds.

What’s more, the pandemic has shown how the global political climate has changed in the last few years. It would be naïve to believe that scientific collaboration is an exception to this rule. Freedom of science is not a concept that is understood universally in all places. As a result of this, our understanding of freedom of science must be articulated and we must remain open to the concept of cooperation. At the same time, we must make scientists aware of the fact that our partners may be following different procedures.