May 21, 2024

Two former science ministers discuss research and the FPÖ

Harald Marrer and Heinz Fassmann, presidents of the Chamber of Commerce and the Academy of Sciences, talk about the future of research – and why a coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria should not be formed.

Press: Hardly any country records more measles cases than Austria due to its low vaccination rate, and the same is true for influenza, with Austria leading in deaths in Europe – all in one of the most expensive health systems in the world. Is this the scientific skepticism everyone always talks about?

Heinz Fassmann: That might have something to do with it. However, there is an underlying trust in science, which is encouraging. What some people accuse science of is the suspicion that research is driven by politics and economics. There is also an anti-elite rhetoric behind this: “Those at the top control the science.” This leads to questioning the achievements of science. Vaccinations are definitely part of this.

Harald Maher: While digital technology and social media help to significantly reduce the complexity of communications, a vibrant environment has of course been created in which such activities can have a much greater impact than 30 or 40 years ago. Little is questioned. Interestingly, people who take a lot of nutritional supplements and do not look at what is written on the package are also skeptical about vaccinations.

Fassmann: Disinterest and skepticism depend on each other, and furthermore: you will never reach 100% of the population.

Isn't this completely irrelevant to the research and thus to the job site if there is a relatively large group of skeptics of about 15 percent?

Fassman: We scientists always have something of an evangelistic nature because we want to convince people that what we're doing makes sense. From a political point of view, we cannot care if a certain percentage is not interested in science at all. Ultimately, we need public funding. Basic research is funded privately by public budgets in all countries, and we need to ally with the population.

Maher: I would like to put it more dramatically: the future of the Republic is directly linked to the fact that there is a clear political commitment to basic and applied research. This is essential to our entire liberal system of the Western-style constitutional state. However, if scientific skepticism is manipulated politically and popularly, I am undermining this basic consensus. I have always been of the opinion that you can never spend enough on research, but during my time as Science Minister in the dispute over budget funding, I noticed that in the end the roundabouts are often more important than the research programme.

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