What is pure science vs pseudoscience worksheet

Right pseudoscience: fake facts conquer universities

Right-wing populists turn feelings into facts, for example when it comes to climate change. In order to establish these, they are increasingly using scientific structures.

What are they doing? Photo: unsplash / Edwin Andrade

BERLINtaz | The term "alternative facts" was mainly coined by Donald Trump's press team. It describes a political strategy: If you don't like the facts, you create a new one. Alleged experts can always be found as well as marginal media spreading such facts. Most of the time, screaming at science is largely ineffective. But what if right-wing populist forces speak out of science?

In Germany, especially the AfD-affiliated milieu tries to make politics with perceived truths. And that works. In the current Mitte study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which examines right-wing extremist attitudes in Germany, half of the respondents stated that they trust their own feelings more than “so-called experts”.

Beate Küpper, co-author of the study, recognizes the thought patterns of right-wing populism behind this: “Calling things as facts that are not commonly traded as such. So instead of being objective, declare a feeling to be a fact. ”From this point of view, science is part of a“ corrupt elite ”, while the“ morally pure people who know what is right out of the healthy will of the people ”stand against it.

Science is used here, but without taking into account the prevailing consensus. This becomes very clear with climate change: While the overwhelming number of researchers share the view of man-made climate change, the AfD highlights those who question it. The "European Institute for Climate and Energy" is often quoted here.

For some it is an abstract threat, for many it is already a real threat. They are neighbors, family members, politicians: people who express themselves in a hostile manner or who already have a cohesive right-wing extremist view of the world.

Should we speak with rights, do we even have to? How do you fight back, by what means? How can one avoid the group, how can one approach people? How do you protect yourself when the threat is omnipresent?

In this series we look for people who are thinking about these questions or who have already had to answer them for themselves. All contributions under taz.de/UmiegenmitRechten.

“We try to imitate seriousness with any institute or label. They have nothing to do with our usual scientific criteria of having gone through an academic system and peer reviews, ”said Küpper. “Then conjure up some other expert out of your pocket to represent that. Without asking: "'What are the motives behind it, what is its expertise?" "

But once in the world, the "facts" generated in this way are perceived by those who doubt climate change as part of a complicated scientific controversy. Other irritating topics such as fine dust pollution, gender or migration are also specifically addressed.

Findings that are gained through years of research are opposed to assumptions and resentments. The basic logic of right-wing populism works contrary to science, says Beate Küpper: "The pattern is: A message that is true or false." Scientists who want to present complex facts correctly would have a hard time arguing against it. What contradicts political opinion is attacked as being methodologically impure. "As a 'method critic' you win twice: You are the supposedly critical spirit, you beat science with your own means." Another tactic: deny an entire branch of research the scientific nature of what is practiced in gender studies.

"Climate Change Hysteria"

The number of scholars who, with their academic reputation, use this logic is relatively small, but they do exist. One case: Ulrich Kutschera, professor at the University of Kassel. He did his doctorate in plant physiology and teaches evolutionary biology, but now also makes public statements on biologically established gender differences, negative effects on children of same-sex families, on "climate change hysteria" and on "gender dogmatics" - always scientifically proven.

Other evolutionary biologists criticize his statements, but Kutschera is invited to podiums of the AfD, gives the right-wing Catholic portal "kath.net" or the magazine Compact Interviews and his lectures can be seen on YouTube. What counts is the message, not the classification. Corrections and fact checks by colleagues, journalists or associations usually only follow later and then often no longer achieve the desired effect.

The AfD uses this for its agenda: For example, it is calling for the abolition of gender research, following the Hungarian model, and some AfD politicians deny man-made climate change in television interviews.

Another example of how academics pass the ball to right-wing trends is the Dresden political scientist Werner Patzelt. "This is also a symptom of the shift to the right that suddenly people at the universities speak up and speak out who have not done so before," state Alexander Busch and Lutz Thies from the TU Dresden student council. Since 2015, Patzelt has given several lectures at AfD invitation, prepared reports for them and - out of “researcher's interest” - took part in Pegida marches.

He was criticized by colleagues and students for his closeness to Pegida and the new right. In 2018 he initiated a petition with the creators of “Sciencefiles”, a blog that describes itself as “rational resistance” to the “ideologization of science”, but which itself attracts attention with content that is conspiratorial and anti-science.

The petition was initially illustrated with a graphic about the alleged "spiral of lies" between media, politics and civil society, backed up with a picture by Joseph Goebbels. In the text, the impression is given that in the case of the riots in Chemnitz, the federal government “spoke of hunted hunts against the facts” and deliberately withheld information. At the beginning of the year, the Philosophical Faculty decided against a senior professorship from Patzelt on the grounds that he had "mixed politics and science in such a way" that it had damaged the university's reputation.

Once in the world, the "facts" generated in this way are perceived as part of a complicated scientific controversy

In addition, there are always cases of academics who - possibly encouraged by the expansion of the "limits of what can be said" - express right-wing positions. Asta representatives from the TU Darmstadt took the initiative when they heard of racist and sexist statements from a lecturer in biology didactics. “A right-wing ideology came through: He tried to deduce biologically that there are races. Sexist statements were also made, he told women in his seminar that they should have children instead of studying, ”reports a speaker who wants to remain anonymous. A lot of perseverance and the support of fellow students and lecturers were necessary until his teaching license was revoked after more than a year.

Universities decide for themselves

Such individual cases, in which professors sometimes express themselves in an extremely right way, are often first addressed by students. The Bremen Asta, for example, fought in court to be able to say that the Berlin history professor Jörg Baberowski “spreads terrifyingly brutal theses that glorify violence [...], stand for racism and represent right-wing extremist positions”. During a lecture, students from Leipzig used leaflets to draw attention to racist tweets by Leipzig law professor Thomas Rauscher, and the press reported. The university and the Saxon Ministry of Science distanced themselves from him, and Rauscher lost his position as Erasmus officer.

But how to deal with right-wing professors is not stipulated. The universities make their own decisions. In principle, university professors enjoy special rights as civil servants. Their professional statements are protected and they are allowed to express their private opinions - even if they contradict the values ​​of the universities. The basic attitude: diversity of opinion must be guaranteed, at the same time certain limits must not be exceeded. This area of ​​tension is used specifically by the right to occupy the “pre-political space” of the universities.

Help for right-wing university teachers often comes from right-wing blogs like “Sciencefiles”, university groups like “Campus Alternative”, fraternities or right-wing students. The Campus Alternative in Magdeburg, for example, invited a neuroscientist and André Poggenburg to a panel discussion on the topic of gender. In return, criticism of such advances is seen as an attack on academic freedom.

In a small question that dealt with the Baberowski and Kutschera cases, among other things, MPs of the AfD stated that there was “a climate of repression and intimidation that fomented self-appointed guardians of so-called political correctness” and thus “impeded and prevented scientific discourse the freedom of science is threatened ”. The main focus here seems to be on the aspects of academic freedom and freedom of discourse that promote one's own argumentation.