Horizons 2022 - Panel Discussion


Horizons 2021 - Panel Discussion

TOPIC: Growing Rift Between Science And Society

DATE: 15.09.2021

PANELISTS: Maria Levchenko, Erwin Neher, Mary Osborn, Viola Priesemann, Thomas Richter


The utility of science in today’s society is clearly ever more pervasive: from satellites and sub-oceanic networks, we built to communicate across our planet; to medicines and machines in the hospitals, we depend on to sustain our bodies. On the other hand, the pursuit of science depends on significant financial, technological and human resource investment from society. This means that the scientists ought to understand the social priorities and expectations from science; and the findings of science ought to be communicated back to the society. Proper communication between science and society appears especially appropriate against the backdrop of misinformation and pseudoscience, which has become especially evident during the COVID pandemic. As science becomes increasingly more complex and abstract, and misinformation becomes increasingly more pervasive, the communication rift between science and society seems to be widening.

How attainable and essential is it to communicate science to non-scientists? Is science communication in its present state adequate and effective? How should we – together as scientists and non-scientists – approach misinformation and pseudoscience? We will discuss these and more questions focusing on science communication, misinformation and pseudoscience with our diverse panel, and we hope to gain insight into their personal and professional experiences to understand how science can be communicated effectively.

Maria Levchenko


Dr. Maria Levchenko is a Community Manager for Europe PMC, an open science resource that enables access to a worldwide collection of life science publications and preprints from trusted sources around the globe. Europe PMC is developed by the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), and is a partner of PubMed Central and a repository of choice for many international science funders. In her role, Maria is responsible for building relationships with various Europe PMC stakeholders, including researchers, funders, publishers, librarians, curators, developers and text-miners. Before joining Europe PMC, Maria obtained a PhD in Biochemistry from Goettingen University and has worked with the European Research Council Executive Agency. Maria is passionate about innovative solutions in scholarly communications that help the research community to advance the scientific knowledge.

Erwin Neher


Erwin Neher received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Institute of Technology in Munich. His research interests are focused on ion channels and Ca++ signals in the nervous system as well as mechanisms of synaptic short-term plasticity. His development of the patch clamp  technique for recording single ion channel currents  was recognized in 1991 by the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (together with Bert Sakmann). He spent sabbaticals at Yale University (1975/76) and at the California Institute of Technology (1989). Between 1983 and 2005 he was director of the Membrane Biophysics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. Presently, as an emeritus, he is director of research labs in Shenzhen, China and Macau

Mary Osborn


Mary Osborn received her BA in Physics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Biophysics from Pennsylvania State University. She was a post-doc in Jim Watson’s lab at Harvard University and a staff scientist in Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick’s division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K. She then joined the staff at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In 1975, she moved to the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and in 1989 was appointed an honorary professor at the University of Göttingen.

Her research has focused on different areas in the life sciences. Her 1964 paper with Klaus Weber, on the use of SDS gels to determine molecular weight, is a citation classic. Her work on the use of antibodies in immunofluorescence microscopy allowed the definition of the arrangements of microfilaments, microtubules and intermediate filaments in cells and tissues. The 1978 demonstration of a 1:1 correspondence between microtubules viewed in immunofluorescence and electron microscopy in the same cell was a major breakthrough; as was the work showing that antibodies specific for the different types of intermediate filament proteins are powerful reagents in human tumour diagnosis.

She was the trustee of the Swedish Foundation on the Environment, MISTRA, and has chaired the Scientific Advisory Boards of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Pette Institute in Hamburg. She also chaired the Cell Biology Section of Academia Europaea. She was a member of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) Group. She has participated in several juries concerned with awarding substantial grants to young scientists including the BioFuture program and the Helmholtz Young Investigator Program, and was a member of the Helmholtz Senate. She was President of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 2003 to 2006. She chaired the ETAN expert working group appointed by the European Commission that produced an influential report on Women in Science published in 2000.

She has been an EMBO member since 1978 and she holds an honorary doctorate from the Pomerian Medical Academy in Sczeczin, Poland. 

She has been awarded the Meyenburg Prize and the L’Oreal/UNESCO Prize for her work on the cytoskeleton and the use of antibodies in tumor diagnosis. Her research and her efforts for Women in Science were honored by the award of the Bundesverdienstkreuz (1st class) in 2014.

Viola Priesemann


Dr. Viola Priesemann is a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and teaches at the Georg-August University Göttingen. She studies spreading processes, self-organization and information processing in living and artificial networks. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, she has been studying the spread of SARS-CoV-2, quantified the effectiveness of interventions, and developed containment strategies. Viola Priesemann is initiator and author of several position papers (e.g. of the National Academy Leopoldina or The Lancet), and member of "Die Junge Akademie" and of the Cluster of Excellence “Multiscale Bioimaging” at the Campus Göttingen. For her public outreach, she received the Communitas Award of the Max Planck Society, and the "Medaille für naturwissenschaftliche Publizistik" of the German Physics Society.

Thomas Richter


Thomas Richter works as Director of Communications for the University of Göttingen. In this role he is responsible for internal and external communication, science communication, branding as well as outreach activities, and organizes politcal communication and alumni relations. Thomas studied German, English and American literature and culture at Leipzig University. He worked for the American Studies Department and Rectorate in Leipzig and has been in charge of marketing an communications for Leipzig University and Humboldt University Berlin, before coming to Göttingen in 2012 where he leads a team of 30 to assist scientists in their communication, marketing and event organization activities.

The panel discussion has been organized annually as part of Horizons since 2014. It provides a channel for lively interactions between students and senior researchers in a less formal setting. Typically, guest speakers from diverse disciplines join the panel and take questions from moderators and the audience. The idea is to illuminate different aspects of the topic under discussion from various perspectives. Horizons strives to have a diverse range of speakers to guide us with their unique experiences.