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What are you reading, Prof. Graßmann?

Heike Graßmann has been Administrative Director of the MDC since October 2018. Before moving to Berlin, the graduate in business administration was Administrative Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig. In our reading tip, she reveals why facts make her curious.

In my spare time, I prefer to read fiction. In a professional context, I look for books and articles specializing on business management topics. I’m also interested in popular science non-fiction.

Heike Graßmann

Most recently, I read Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim's book "The Smallest Common Reality". The spine of the book pronounces "FACTS AGAINST FAKES!" That made me curious. Our judgements are too often colored by personal perceptions, not objective facts. The not-new insight: science is complex and method-driven. So, for experiments and results, "it depends". It depends, that is, on the research question and research methodology and also visualization.

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, PhD chemist and science journalist, explains scientific studies and experiments and the data collection and evaluation methods used. The nine chapters are entertaining and accessible and written with a touch of humor (but sometimes too "youthful" for me). The author is driven by the question of whether there is a lowest common denominator - between facts and personal opinions. Her basic idea: In each chapter she uses  controversial issues as food for thought and questions them scientifically. Along the way, there is a refresher course in everyday statistics for laypersons. The questions are controversial political topics such as: Are animal experiments ethically justifiable? What’s the real story behind the gender pay gap? Do women think differently than men? How safe are vaccinations? How political can science be? Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim explains her many examples and graphics as well as scientific methods and the evaluation of the studies used in a way that is easy to understand, even for people unfamiliar with the subject.

What is true? What is false? What is plausible?

My conclusion: In any (scientific) debate, it is important to deal constructively with a diversity of opinions and to critically question the methodology of a statement. Another important conclusion: scientists must communicate about their findings and also talk about how they arrive at their results. Public trust in science is strengthened when the public knows how knowledge is created and how experiments and data are evaluated and used.

Communicate popular science for lay people! Scientists do this with remarkable commitment in talk shows, during the Long Night of Science or Science Slams and similar formats. And I am glad that science communicators like Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim or Ranga Yogeshwar are so prominent in Germany. But I am even prouder of all the MDC scientists who not only communicate scientific findings of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine to their colleagues, but also apply a popular science approach to reach out to the general public.

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, The Least Common Reality - True, False, Plausible - The Greatest Controversies Scientifically Revisited. (only in German). Verlag: Droemer HC, 368 Seiten, ISBN: 978-3-426-27822-2