Who Creates, Negotiates and Communicates Science?
Statement for the discussion within the Networking Event Entanglement Ongoing after the screening of the interactive artwork Quantum Logos at the Ars Electronica Festival 2019 on new pathways in communicating quantum technology.
We need spaces to negotiate scientific developments to spark the conversation about how we use new technologies and create a society and a future according to our values. The Ars Electronica is such a space.
Also, in Germany, a lot has been invested in the last 20 years in explaining science. Science communication has extended its mission: to make R&D understandable to the public, to interact with society's stakeholders, to inspire young people to study a STEM discipline and also, to make the purpose of public funds transparent.
However, to negotiate science to achieve real understanding and advance and benefit society requires rethinking the formats scientists, researchers, and developers use to interact with the public and the media. This year's festival theme of the digital midlife crisis fits very well to the crisis in science and tech communication and the increasing coverage of major tech scandals, which fueled the distrust in R&D. Topics, such as transparency, participation, and co-creation, are vital issues.
In many disruptive fields, the private sector has created reality, and the social and political discourse is barely catching up. The impacts of social media, or the developments in AI, for instance, driven by the private sector, have led to new societal challenges that are negotiated when already established. Classical academic institutions have lost their former unique status in the generation, dissemination, and preservation of scientific knowledge. Emerging theoretical knowledge and the development of new technological applications are now distributed across corporations and start-ups. The call for taking companies to task for the social implications of their technologies and services is getting louder. However, Academia is also astonishingly reluctant, to cooperate beyond different disciplines and to negotiate the impacts of new developments with the public and society.
Even though the ethical and practical relevance of "guidelines" for science communication, developed in 2016 by a supra-institutional working group in Germany, were undisputed, the German Rectors' Conference (HRK), and the German Research Foundation did not recommend them to the universities as an orientation aid, as Jens Rehländer describes in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper from May this year (1). It was stated that the guidelines would "make statements that go far beyond the topic of communication," such as "transparency" and "good scientific practice." It was declared that these are not related to science communication. Given that public science is oriented towards the common good, this is hard to understand. Besides communication training for scientists and explaining and mediating scientific results, we need to address the integration of the public based on self-reflection of researchers and developers in science and business as well as the responsibility for the results as an individual in Academia and industry.
To communicate Quantum Technology, we face additional unique challenges: Digital technologies rule today's world, driven by zeros and ones but it is composed of quanta, the smallest physical units, the quantum, as the carrier of all physical interactions. The exploration of Quantum Technology lies on the boundary between challenging subdisciplines from physics, engineering, and informatics. Researchers communicate the counterintuitive observations and experimental results in quantum mechanics using mathematical language. This has implications for teaching and understanding: currently, quantum physics is taught from a theoretical viewpoint, with a mathematical approach. To establish foundations for understanding quantum technologies it is essential "to develop concepts for a more intuitive approach, (…), and allow a(n) (…) even playful approach to quantum physics," according to a specialized publication of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany in 2018. (2)
Artists and designers create their own languages and metaphors to explore, to discover, and face even the contradictions in human communication and existence. Does thinking occur in images, abstract symbols according to mathematical logic or words? Is imagery fundamental in thinking or have mental images no causal role in thought processes? Is it accurate to think of the mind as a symbol-manipulating machine? Quantum Logos aims to ease access to the counterintuitive phenomena of quantum reality. They all underlie the universe’s natural structures, from the waves of inanimate matter to the vivid systemic photosynthesis in plants to the human brain and consciousness, which seem to produce the results of quantum physical measurements. Can we explores the basics of quantum theory as expressed through cultural archetypes within an immersive, reactive audio-visual experience?
1 Das unterschätzte Gespräch mit Politik und Gesellschaft, Jens Rehländer, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung für Deutschland , 16.05.2019.
2 Quantum technologies – from basic research to market, A federal Government Framework Program, Specialized Publication of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, September 2018and research, September 2018.