Teaches an action or science

Science and politics
Max Weber is also up to date in the Corona crisis

"An empirical science cannot teach anyone what he should, but only what he can and - under certain circumstances - what he wants." Max Weber

In order to make rational decisions, it is necessary to have reliable information about the expected consequences. Politicians therefore use - if available - scientific studies to justify legislative measures. Consultants are called in who act on the basis of their scientific expertise. This is known as evidence-based policy. In the "Corona crisis", the specialist knowledge of medical and epidemiological experts, but also increasingly of economic and social science experts, is required to answer "what needs to be done". The currently unprecedented discourse on scientific studies that is currently taking place under high pressure of expectation and conveyed via the media harbors dangers for scientists and politicians, for example overemphasis on the results of individual studies or partial analyzes, personalization instead of factual arguments. The fundamental considerations of the economist and sociologist Max Weber, whose death will be one hundred years in June 2020, are still useful guidelines on the relationship between science and politics today.

From an epistemological point of view, the following basic questions arise:

  1. How reliable do scientific statements have to be so that they can serve as the basis for an evidence-based or at least evidence-informed policy?
  2. What kind of statements can experts make based on their scientific expertise?
  3. How can scientific statements from politics be used to solve practical problems for action?

Scientists are obliged to seek truth; their task is the production of as empirically substantial and true knowledge as possible. The search for truth - not only from the point of view of usefulness, but also for its own sake - is called the highest internal scientific value. The reputation of science as an institution is fundamentally based on this. Science presents the current state of research, but knowledge is often incomplete and fundamentally fallible. Findings in empirical sciences are always only provisionally valid and are therefore subject to review and can be specified or refuted in scientific discourse. Only reproducible results belong to the canon of provisionally proven knowledge. In the current pandemic situation, many studies are being presented under considerable time pressure that have not yet passed through this time-consuming process of critical testing and replication. For an evidence-informed policy, it is also necessary to identify the causal mechanisms, for example the effects of school closings or openings on the infection rate, otherwise scientifically based recommendations for action on the expected effects of individual measures are not possible.

Scientists act without a value judgment

Weber postulated the so-called freedom of value judgments in the empirical sciences. A value judgment is defined as the classification of decisions that can be influenced by action as "reprehensible or worthy of approval" (Weber, 1913, p. 445). According to Weber, science can produce factual statements that show what can be done. From a scientific point of view, however, no statement can be made about what should be done.

Weber provides the following example in his essay "Science as a Profession": Medical and scientific knowledge can express what a person can do to maintain a life (fact). Whether life should be preserved in individual cases, however, cannot be answered scientifically (evaluation). Therefore, the question of whether the end heals the necessary means cannot receive any scientific answer. How can the search for truth and the formulation of factual statements - beyond the search for ultimate purposes - lead to controversies in the scientific knowledge process?

In order to make differences transparent, it is first necessary to differentiate between different phases of the research process. In the philosophy of science, a distinction is made between the context of discovery, the context of justification and the context of exploitation. The demand for freedom from value judgments cited by Weber relates solely to the phase of the justification context in which hypotheses are formulated on the basis of models and theories and checked with the help of suitable data. While individual, social and political values ​​and interests necessarily play a role in the decision as to which specific question should be investigated (discovery context) or how the knowledge gained can be used for practical purposes (exploitation context), the presentation of the empirical relationships should be free of values ​​and interests external to science (context of justification); only values ​​inherent in science, which set standards of good scientific practice, are permissible.

In summary, different scientific findings can result on the one hand from different, plausible assumptions and methods within the standards of good scientific practice. On the other hand, inadmissible non-academic values ​​within the context of the justification can lead to a distortion of the true results. The review of preliminary findings is therefore the task of scientific discourse, the result of which it can be that explanatory approaches are either specified or rejected.

How politicians should use scientific knowledge

"You can say that three qualities are primarily decisive for the politician: passion - sense of responsibility - sense of proportion." Max Weber

It is the task of science to provide reliable information about intended and unintended consequences of measures. Political decisions can be made together with an assessment of the consequences and also the necessary measures based on values ​​and interests outside of science.

If the action or the complex of measures A is carried out together with supporting factors UF, then consequence Y follows, but with the known (unintended) side effects 1, 2 and 3: A ∩ UF → Y ∩ 1,2,3

Alternatively, action or complex of measures B could be carried out together with the supporting factors UF ‘with the consequence Z and the known (unintended) side effects 2, 4, 5: B ∩ UF‘ → Z ∩ 2,4,5