'There is clearly a great sense of uncertainty'

February 21, 2017

Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, on developments in the light of Brexit and the election of Donald Tump as US President

Whether Britain's vote to leave the EU – the upcoming Brexit – or the Presidency of Donald Trump: the most recent political developments have led to a great sense of uncertainty within the world's scientific community. This feeling is particularly strong in England and the USA, the countries with the world's most research-intensive universities. Their scientists  – especially those across the Atlantic, and depending on the branches of science they are active in – fear increasing political pressure on research funding as well as restrictions on the freedom of research. Our Max Planck scientists are highly networked with colleagues in the USA. A radical change in research priorities would not only affect the MPG, but also the German and international scientific landscape as a whole. The same is true for the US President's executive order on immigrants. More than 230 scientists from Iran and Syria are currently working at Max Planck Institutes. Under the travel ban, most of them were unable to visit the United States for a certain period of time. This has serious negative implications for international cooperation, which is so crucial for science.

In Great Britain, the upcoming Brexit also raises concerns about the future of scientific collaboration in networks and the financial support for such cooperation. The British government has always been far-sighted in its science policies and keenly aware of the value of science, and this has not changed under the new leadership. But over the past few years, we have made great progress in Europe in scientific networks. The EU has promoted scientific excellence, supported young researchers to ensure their mobility, and bolstered weaker countries. When Great Britain is no longer available as a net payer of the EU, who will close the gap? Which areas will be hit by cuts?  It will not be agricultural subsidies that are affected, but short-term projects, which are so characteristic for science. This is one of the issues that should worry us. It can be compared to an intricately woven spider web: by cutting just one thread, the whole web is destroyed – even if a few strands are still left in place. I am deeply concerned by the developments in Europe and North America as science plays a decisive role in shaping virtually all areas of society. It therefore needs a solid foundation worldwide, that is to say individual, institutional, and financial autonomy. 


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