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„The Politics of Research“ – A discussion on research funding and public opinion 

Together with the German Historical Institute Washington, DC, the DFG North America Office organized a high-level panel discussion on "The Politics of Research: Academic Freedom, Governmental Funding, and Public Accountability". DFG Vice President Prof. Dr. Julika Griem represented the DFG, the round was moderated by Doug Lederman (InsideHigherEd).

Simone Lässig (Director, German Historical Institute Washington DC), Wilhelm Krull (Secretary General, Volkswagen Foundation), Jon P. Peede (Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities), Mary Sue Coleman (President, Association of American Universities), Doug Lederman (Inside Higher Ed), Pauline Yu (President, American Council of Learned Societies), Julika Griem (Vice President, German Research Foundation), Rainer Gruhlich (Director, DFG North America Office)

(06/27/19) The panel discussion focused on political and social framework conditions for free research and their promotion in times when the pressure of justification on both sides of the Atlantic is steadily increasing and the principle of representation in Western democracies also increasingly questions publicly funded science and research. In the discussion about "impact" and "innovation" as well as in current approaches towards science communication and the debate on "citizen science," an expectation became clear that research, especially basic research, can scarcely measure up to. This is especially true for the humanities and social sciences: Because even though their expertise is urgently needed and sought after in our rapidly changing world, their position today seems anything but undisputed.

After introductory remarks by the Director of the German Historical Institute Washington, DC, Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig, and the head of the DFG Office North America, Dr. Rainer Gruhlich, Doug Lederman, co-founder of online journal InsideHigherEd and former editor-in-chief of the Chronicle of Higher Education, moderated the panel discussion. In addition to DFG Vice President Prof. Dr. Julika Griem, who participated on the behalf of DFG President Prof. Dr. Peter Strohschneider, Dr. Wilhelm Krull, Secretary General of the VolkwagenStiftung, and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jon P. Peede, represented the research funding organizations on the panel. Also on the panel were Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), and Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies - the umbrella organization of American professional societies.

Panel discussion at the German Historical Institute on  "The Politics of Research: Academic Freedom, Governmental Funding, and Public Accountability"


  • In many areas of science, particularly in the STEM fields, research is tangible and observable and therefore visible and understandable even to those not in a particular field. However, it is much more difficult to envision what research in the humanities “looks” like. Most everyone can envision an archaeologist at work, but how does one detect and measure the impact of a philosopher? These are just some of the hurdles researchers in the humanities face in their daily work, and why funding in the humanities often does not seem to be on pace with funding in other areas of science.
    The international panel recognized that one of the reasons might be epistemological: unlike the German word “Wissenschaft”, the English term “science” does not necessarily encapsulate research in the humanities and social sciences. While all available data clearly shows the importance and value of a work force educated in the humanities and social sciences, this might explain why programs in the humanities are being challenged at a higher extent than STEM programs.
    However, the panelists pointed to how such discussions and the act of defending research in the humanities are a double-edged sword. Have we, by advocating for research funding in the humanities, diminished its intrinsic value? Jon Peede, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in defense of advocating for research funding in the humanities, pointed to the economic return on investment specifically of funding in the humanities and said further that he had yet to see a modern thriving city without a strong and distinct culture.
    It is therefore incumbent upon us to utilize what leverage the science and research funding organizations have, specifically those represented on the panel, to fund competitive structures that reward people. Because even though science does not have borders, funding often does.
    The panel also confronted another great dilemma: the lack of continuity in research funding. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is tackling continuity in its excellence strategy, the aim of which is to strengthen German universities’ research capacities and the country’s position as an outstanding place for research, thereby further improving its international competitiveness. According to voices from the audience, however, the humanities require more than just that; they require better science communication, because research, specifically in the humanities, is a “formalized curiosity” and too often the formalized funding that supports it does not permit for anything new or the unknown. In the end, discussants agreed that creativity is what drives research forward, and not more, but better science communication, along with competitive structures that reward creativity, will breach the politics of research.

Emily Formica

Prior to the event, DFG Vice President Julika Griem and the Director of the DFG Office North America, Rainer Gruhlich, met with representatives of the Pew Research Center and the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Meetings were also held in New York with representatives of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the New School for Social Research, the American Council of Learned Societies, and representatives of German cultural mediators.