Challenges to Science and Politics
Bonn, May 1990 - A short summary by Heiner Benking
for more pictures about this exhibition please go here
In 1988-1989, after the Global Change Conference in Moscow, initiatives
were started world-wide to study the challenges to Science and Politics
under the premise that their is something like Global Environmental. Each
country was invited to present their view on the matter and present the
status of what we know and what can be done in a synoptic exhibition which
needs to address the public, science, industry, and politic at the same
The author of this summary was invited, beside the research centeres who can contribute, like National Research, Frauenhofer Institute, Max Planck Institutes, National Global Change Secretariats,... to contribute to such an overarching topic. See full list of partners can be found here.
Not only researchers or administrators with their in-depth knowledge, but also independent writers and synthesisers were finally involved, like a journalist in charge of PR and media of the German research centers (AGF), Eberhard Gockel, and a researcher from a center for arctic research (AWI) Dr. Manfred Lange who was later appointed head of the GLOBAL CHANGE secretariat (1992). By the way, inviting science writers and jounalists to do such jobs is the typical thing to do, when you want to make an exhibition for the public. You have to hire the "macroscopic" view, the step back from the issue, the ability to see and visualize relations, which you typically can not "afford" or maintain when you are personally involved and "in charge for certain details in your "field".
So what we are talking here about was a "one-time ever" event. No other country tried to put all together to see the CHALLENGES synoptically. The problem is one of language and concepts, do be right and precise, and of context at the same time in order to be understood by children, scientists, politicians,... anybody. The other is neutrality, coherence and completeness, because everybody sees his work as of paramount importance and wants to present it, first to show is contribution, second to make sure funding continues or new programmes can find support out of the public or political will generated from the insight into "what is going on".
This paper is a report not only to make this exhibition more public, as it was somehow lost in the world-wide political agenday, the Berlin Wall disapeared, and the interest was suddenly in the new directly at hand "bonazas" of the East, not into long term perspectives of economy and ecology with dubious qualities, trends, scales...
The Exhibition made some records, it toured Germany for eight years and was so well received that is a backlog for another 3 years of towns or universities interested to host the exhibition. Due to this demand and the rapid change of research and insight it was necessary to update the temporal presentation of research projects and, like an eternal law, the number of posters presenting "unique" contributions of certain research institutes, grew gradually. The problem: research projects come and go but the central issues do not get the needed publicity when the interest is primarily on the most recent research initiative.
But the public showed much interest in the overall theme and as there was never a catalogue prepared, people poored in to see the exhibition. After the organizing and contracted institution, the AGF changed his name, becoming the Helmholz Society it became necessary to change the central posters with the names and do a general overhaul in1997-8 as some posters where worn out after so much travel, and also some changes had to be made as our insight into what is going on changed gradually, maybe marginally some might say. But beside that, there were short term changes to be considered. For example our president (Richard von Weizsaecker, on a bicycle to show life stile changes) had to leave his post and there is even an incoming president to be considered in 1999, as is predecessor might very well not be in place next year.
Fragmented interests, short sightedness and vested interests
This paper is written as the whole exhibition is endangered, even though as up to date than never before during the last 8 years, the experts have met and found that certain details, typically in their specific range of expertise need and update and even more naturally a new research programme! This is unacceptable to the author as his invited contribution was about to be implemented in the general (lasting) section and had been worked on for 8 years to present a new step in communicating complexity.
As a background inforamtion: During the last 11 years the number of posters presenting research efforts of certain institutions increased gradually and present the mayor part of the exhibition. Updating of such technology survey posters were costing a lot of money as their is a high fluctuation, but to no surprise thecentral posters, the content and context, how things are connected and what needs to be done remained unchanged or only with minimal changes.
We can summarise: Institution in charge of research and in search for
money from politics, are in the wrong place as curators of exhibitions
which have a theme which covers societal, political, cultural, philosophical
It was possible to create the exhibition as independent thinkers and writers in that institution had the power to invite contributors and keep interests of certain institution in check. But when such persons retire, we are confronted with a very serious alternative, 1. the research centes consider Challenges to Science, Politics, even Culture and Humanities their turf and misuse the broad educational mission of the exhibition for their acquisition of research monies. 2. The administrator now in charge is not at all interested in the broader topic, even cherishes a "Contrarian View" and creates all to have experts decide that details are "OUT OF DATE". In this case such posters should have been considered: "Akquisition of funds from politics" and been disposed like brochures anyway after a couple of months or have to pay to be part of an exhibition which was invited by politics to show alternatives for society and cultures.
What can we learn from that, maybe also in view of the forthcomming Rio+10 preparations: