Other | 18. September 2013 | posted by Jan Wörner

Science, science management and science policy…

Though none could claim seriously that research, development and science tip the balance in the outcome of elections, they nevertheless retain a fundamental significance: the insight we acquire today will serve tomorrow in the interests of safeguarding our country and our society as a whole. This is especially true for countries that, as a result of geographical, geological and other regional factors, focus on investing in 'minds' – because they have to. Thus, the development of research, development and science is relevant, and leads individuals to 'interesting' conclusions. But beware – in the words of Max Weber: "Academic life is a mad hazard," it is resistant to short-term planning!

The research landscape in Germany is characterised by a variety of activities in universities and non-university research institutions, as well as public and private activities. In particular, the question of control arises repeatedly when the work is supported by public funds. The developments of the last few decades and looking beyond national borders have shown us that some principles are of particular importance:

  • Research cannot be planned in detail.
  • Research should not be limited to the latest trends, but must be understood as the basis for future developments.
  • Research requires reliable framework conditions.
  • Diverse content and organisation of research activities must be ensured.
  • A seamless innovation chain, from basic research through to the market/society/individuals is ensured by the interaction of different players.
  • Decisions must be made as scientifically as possible.

Based on these fundamental considerations, the various tasks fall to different participants:

Science policy

Of course, politicians, legitimised by elections, set basic requirements for the use of public money. Care must be taken to ensure the appropriate level of specifications and feedback to the taxpayer. Detailed control and arbitrary restrictions are out of place here.

Science management

Science management must be understood as an enabler. In the spirit of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it." As Chairman of DLR, I'm a science manager and try to find a balance between controlling the use of taxpayers' money and maintaining motivation and creativity-inspiring space within the programme-oriented funding. Simultaneous 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' activities in the definition of projects and plans, and a lot of dialogue initiatives within and outside DLR keeps it 'close to the science', while at the same time ensuring the relevance of the work. Without in any way failing to take heed of the chances the market provides, all simplified arguments with a short-sighted and utilitarian focus must be stripped of their imediacy in favour of a further-sighted outlook.


Last but not least, the central theme of science. Science has its clever minds and needs support, either through human or material resources. But science also needs a climate in which the clever minds can pursue and implement their ideas. One could consider it a misfortune that science divorces itself from five-year-plans and other more stringent roadmaps. But it is precisely therein that lies the wonder of science, namely to draw on what is known and what has been experienced to seek and also to find all that is new. Particularly with the use of taxpayers' money, this demand for freedom cannot be arbitrary. But it is also wrong to mutually criticise research in the hope of getting a bigger slice of the limited 'funding pie'. Here, diversity must be a future-oriented motto that applies to research topics just as it does to the organisation and structures.

Image: Laminarflügel im Windkanal (DLR CC-BY 3.0)


About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage