f.l.t.r.: Berit Weiß, Prof. Dr. Markus Schrenk, Julia Frese, Christoph Sapp, Dr. David Löwenstein, David Niemann, Dr. Amrei Bahr
© Christoph Sapp/Universität Düsseldorf
Team under Düsseldorf philosopher Markus Schrenk receives award for innovative and forward-looking science communication
This year, the Communicator Award conferred by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and Stifterverband goes to the public philosophy project denXte and its team of researchers. In addition to Markus Schrenk, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Düsseldorf since 2014, the group also includes the two postdocs Dr. Amrei Bahr and Dr. David Löwenstein as well as four philosophy students: Julia Frese, David Niemann, Christoph Sapp and Berit Weiß. They jointly receive the award worth €50,000 for their innovative and future-oriented approach to creating captivating yet challenging communication in a subject area that is otherwise rather difficult to access.
In its decision, the Communicator Award jury praised the denXte project for its participatory approach to arousing interest in philosophy among citizens of different ages and educational backgrounds. The six-member team set itself the task of inviting people with no previous knowledge of philosophy to engage in dialogue about socially relevant topics through the format of the philosophical thought experiment. In the process, participants not only contribute their own questions and arguments, they also get to learn about the basic intellectual tools of philosophy along the way.
As the jury of science journalists, communication specialists and PR experts chaired by DFG Vice President Professor Dr. Julika Griem emphasised, the project goes beyond the mere communication of academic facts and focuses on a facet of science communication that has been little illuminated: it trains the capacity to think and to negotiate problems in a rational and systematic way. This is particularly important in times of debate and conflict, in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to form one’s own opinion. Based on participatory thought experiments organised for different target groups, the Düsseldorf team is able to take classic dilemmas, key problems and also the specific challenges of current crisis situations and transfer them to discussion situations.
In view of changes in working styles and increased collaboration in science communication, the DFG and Stifterverband expressly encouraged teams to apply for this year’s award. The jury was particularly impressed by the balanced collaboration and distribution of tasks within the denXte project team. In addition to working closely with each other, the project members are each firmly integrated in their university as well as being well networked beyond their own institution. In this way, denXte also makes an important contribution to the profile of the University of Düsseldorf as a citizens’ university.
The team behind denXte uses a whole range of activities to engage philosophically with different target groups, including live chats, social media, videos, surveys and events. The core of each format is the philosophical thought experiment, i.e. scenarios that serve to verify or refute philosophical claims, arguments and theories. In 2019, for example, there was an event on organ donation, while another dealt with the question “What is Fake News?”. An event planned for this year will address the question: “What would it be like to know your own future?”. Short video clips are also presented that address current ethical issues such as the lockdown policy. In addition, five live streams including a chat function have been organised to date, while a separate podcast is currently being planned, as is the denXte Lab – an experimental laboratory designed to allow students to engage in philosophical thought experiments.
The jury was particularly impressed by the orchestration of the various formats, which were not conceived as standalone elements but contributed to individual topics on a clustered basis, thereby reflecting a multimedia approach in the best sense of the word.
The Communicator Award – Science Award of the Stifterverband has been awarded every year since 2000 and is regarded as Germany’s most important prize of its kind. The award goes to researchers who are particularly creative in their science communication, taking new, courageous paths and addressing their target groups in suitable and effective ways. They must also recognise the societal dimension of their research and contribute their knowledge to public debate, opinion-forming and decision-making processes. The prize money supports the recipient’s public engagement activities and enables them to implement new projects.
The jury selected the latest winners in a multi-stage selection process from 35 applications and nominations. The 2021 Communicator Award will be presented by DFG President Professor Katja Becker and former Stifterverband President and Honorary Member Professor Andreas Barner at the DFG’s Annual General Meeting on 27 June 2022.