Let us imagine, the football World Cup last summer would(if at all) had only found a brief mentioning on the very last pages in the newspapers. Inconceivable we would say. But a similar experience readers interested in science had to make during the last few weeks and months. The news of the discovery of a first signature of inflation-like expansion of the early universe in the cosmic background radiation in March would have been an event that would easily classify as one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past decade. However, in the news we learned very little about it. At that time we could not know that the matter would develop into a sort of scientific thriller. The first doubts about the interpretation of the underlying measurements already emerged shortly after the announcement. This could have let us imagine that something exciting would develop.
Two groups in intercontinental scientific competition with each other: the American-led BICEPSObservatory and the European Planck project. With much hype in the press one group releases a scientific sensation(the American group, how could it be otherwise?). The other group holds back at first, but over time articulates more and more concerns about the interpretation of the measured data. By now the curtain of the second act has fallen: as it appears,the Europeans had it right. The Americans had seen nothing but dust particles. However, the last word has not yet spoken. A comeback by the Americans is possible. So we can hope fora continuation.
Misperceptions and mistakes are common in science.But the example show show communication has changed within science today. Increasingly, the „cutting edge research“is communicated, i.e.results that are still debated among the scientists themselves, that still represent no more than knowledge to beverified. This of course is great for us,as it brings us closer to the process of scientific research(it is just as if we were looking over Einstein’s shoulders while he was drafting the theory of relativity). We all love transparency, don’t we? However, with this also the errors, whichareas in all human endeavors an integral part of science, are widely publicized. Science is after all not as clear and clean as we like to think or as we are made believe. It can be a quite messy undertaking, and for a theory to be completed or a result to be established can take a long time and many controversial discussions. No problem, we would think. To err is human. And,of course, science is not immune against that. Unfortunately,that has a rather difficult side effect: Scientific experts are perceived as less credible by the public. Who else we expect clarity and objectivity from?The climate scientist know what I am talking about. But would it not be a strong evidence in favor of credibility when a scientist admits a mistake?
One would have expected that such an exciting scientific discussion was given more space in the news, at least in the Sunday editions of the newspapers. The entire process was a very illustrative example of how science really works today: confusingly large research groups, very complex problems, which the lay man cannot easily understand, plenty of PR–it is in the end also about money, isn’t it?–and much egoon the side of the protagonists involved(whoever thinks that the self-absorptioninCEOsis particularly pronounced, should once perform an anthropologicalstudyamong scientists).However, our expectation went sadly unsatisfied. Sometimes much more importance lies in the non-reported than in what is reported. We have already grown used to the fact that major scientific events do not nearly enjoy the degree of public interest as the presentation of a new iPhone, the final details of UliHoeness’prison life, or the events on the international football pitches. Butit’s amazing how little of physics, chemistry or biology is talked about, when journalists aim to explain the world dynamics to us. This is particular distracting, as the interplay of our everyday life and the scientific-technological progress, which takes place in front of our eyes, is by far more exciting than the details of the annual rendezvous of a self-proclaimed world’s elite in Davos. So those who have made the question-and-answer game their profession leave us rather alone with the important question about the mechanism and causalities of our modern living conditions.