29 June 2017, No. 15/2017

Federal President Steinmeier: “We need the fresh air universities provide”

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed the role science plays in public debate.

As part of the Humboldt Foundation’s annual meeting, Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier received more than 570 Humboldtians from across the globe and their families in the park at Schloss Bellevue, the President’s official residence, this morning for the first time in his term of office. “We meet today in times rife with contradiction, especially with regard to the status of science”, he said, addressing his guests from 79 countries.

On the one hand, the need for knowledge in an ever more complex world is growing. On the other hand, “the rejection of knowledge and reason, the maligning of expert advice are becoming louder and ruder”, Steinmeier noted. We cannot “allow political discussion to coarsen and deteriorate to the point where the willingness to compromise, to listen to others and to discuss things objectively - and ultimately the acceptance of the better argument - is lost in the public and digital domains”. Steinmeier encouraged the Humboldtians from throughout the world and the German research community to become more involved in the social dialogue: “Just like universities call for support from the political sector and society, society also expects a strong voice from our universities”, he said. “Any time or place the social climate becomes stifling, it is here that we need the fresh air universities provide.” With an eye to developments around the world, Steinmeier stressed at the reception in Berlin: “Wherever science and scientists come under pressure, please know you are welcome here - as excellent researchers, as critical thinkers and as individuals.”

The President of the Humboldt Foundation Helmut Schwarz also encouraged the Humboldtians to make use of every opportunity to talk in public about what they as scientists or scholars do to combat tendencies that are hostile to science. “It should be a matter of course that critical thought and independence - alongside a thorough, well-informed analysis - are indispensable in a complex, globally interconnected world, and that this requires an open-minded, pluralistic society”, he said yesterday at the opening of the annual meeting at the Technische Universität Berlin. “The better freedom of science, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press are protected, the better the conditions will be for science and scholarship to thrive”, Schwarz stressed. 

The annual meeting brings together international researchers who are currently guests at a German university through a sponsorship from the Humboldt Foundation. In the years since the first meeting in 1955, the Humboldtians' annual visit with Germany's president has become a tradition. It is also the highlight of the annual meeting.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

JEvery year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 28,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 54 Nobel Prize winners.

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