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Science and Society

Whether it is a discussion about data protection or artificial intelligence, scientifically sound arguments can support societal discourse as well as political and entrepreneurial decisions. In our knowledge society, knowledge transfer is a central concern for open science. It entails much more than the general notion of ‘transfer’ – it's a productive exchange.

Why is science important for society?

We live in a knowledge society. Knowledge – in addition to mineral resources, capital and physical activity – is an increasingly important resource. It contributes to the functioning of democracies and innovation and helps countries to be competitive on a global scale. But science which contributes significantly to knowledge production, is confronted with new challenges. 

The role of science in an increasingly fragmented and digital society, as well as its significance for politics and civil society, will be redefined. Science can never offer a universal truth or an objective representation of the world. It can, however, offer methodologically verifiable interpretations and can question certainties and trigger reflections. Science has an important social role and at the same time bears great responsibility precisely when the situation is not clear. How can science communicate existing uncertainties and disputes clearly and still avoid the impression of arbitrariness?

What our directors say about science and society:


What is knowledge transfer?

The interaction between science and society ensures that knowledge is exchanged, tested and reflected between the various interest groups. This interaction is often referred to as knowledge transfer. For example, one speaks of knowledge transfer when medical research is applied in practice or when certain technologies are based on prior research. 

Why does the HIIG speak of science communication?

Contrary to the widespread idea that there is a unidirectional transfer from science to society, the HIIG speaks regularly of the comprehensive term ‘science communication’. Knowledge is changeable and arises out of dialogue when it is shared. An important aspect of knowledge production is the constant exchange between different actors and institutions. Therefore, one should not speak of a one-sided transfer, but of a productive dialogue between scientific and social actors. Science bears the responsibility to keep the door open for communication and to constantly examine and reflect on the knowledge it has gained. 

We are committed to responsible, transparent and problem-oriented science communication (as a conceptual extension of knowledge transfer). That is why we strive for a dialogue on an equal level and for empathy for different stakeholder groups and pursue the approach of accepting uncertainties in science and making them transparent.

FAQs about science and society

Does science need society?

Knowledge is an increasingly important resource in our society. Science contributes significantly to the production of knowledge and thus contributes to the functioning of democracies, drives innovation and helps countries to be competitive in the global economy. 

Science can never offer a universal truth or an objective representation of the world. However, it can question the conditions of validity and trigger reflection. Science thus has an important social role to play.

What is impact of science on society?

The social effects of science communication – i.e. the consequences of a communicative relationship between science and society – are called Impact of Science. A distinction is made between internal, i.e. within academia, and external impact. Internal impact is often measured in the form of publication metrics. Impact of Science is complex and cannot be broken down to quantitative numbers. 

At HIIG, Impact of Science is one of the research topics of the "Knowledge and Society" research programme, in which the effects of science on society are analysed.

Read more: In a commentary in the FAZ, HIIG researchers Benedikt Fecher, Sascha Friesike and Gert G. Wagner explain why today's methods for measuring scientific relevance prevent the perception and development of significant research.

Is it possible to measure the impact of science?

Measuring the impact of science is complex and has significant limitations. What is important here is a mix of methods that uses both qualitative and quantitative evaluation procedures to measure the social relevance of scientific research. The IMPAQT research project investigates possible measurement indicators both theoretically and empirically.

What is the altmetric score?

Altmetrics are tools to measure the attention a scientific publication receives on the net. The company Altmetric, which offers the software, is part of the Digital Science Group and is an example of possible altmetrics. With Altmetric, it offers a tool that visually shows how much attention a scientific paper receives in various online media.

The Altmetric score is regarded by many as a measure of social relevance and thus an indicator of impact. Yet, the Altmetric score does not provide a serious indication of the social relevance of a particular research. 

Altmetrics are only able to measure the Impact of Science for research within a limited context, because they contribute to a scenario where researchers become more concerned with maximizing the number of likes, among other things. They do not automatically increase social relevance.

What are the problems in measuring impact of science?

Impact of Science is diffuse and difficult to attribute. It takes a long time for it to set in and the perspective of the measurement indicators and measurability can change significantly during this period. 


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Our blog articles on the topic of science and society

Myth: AI will kill us all!

AI is used in various military applications – supporting new concepts of command and control and enabling autonomous targeting functions. This accelerates warfare and erodes human control, causing legal & ethical challenges.

Opening match: the battle for inclusion in algorithmic systems

How can the increasing automation of infrastructures be made more inclusive and sustainable and be brought into accordance with human rights?

European AI and IoT – First roundtable in cooperation with the Represenation of the European Commission in Germany

The first Roundtable of HIIG’s AI & Society Lab hosted in cooperation with the Representation of the European Commission in Germany was our kick-off for an exchange on European AI…

5 Questions for the AI & Society Lab

Artificial intelligence has become a huge part of our daily lives – and its relevance will continue to grow and pose new questions to our societies. In this light, the HIIG…

Excerpt from research impact canvas

Research Impact Canvas: New tool for impactful science communication

With the help of the newly developed science communication tool Research Impact Canvas, HIIG trains PhD students and postdocs in knowledge transfer during its three day long international Impact School….

alexander von humboldt

Discovering the digital cosmos with Humboldt

He was not only a star who filled lecture halls with reports of his travels and discoveries. Alexander von Humboldt is known today as both the last polymath and a…

Science and society: our videos

Digitaler Salon (in German)

Hacking the Elfenbeinturm

THERESA VÖLKER at Long night of the sciences

What are the problems in science?

Meet Benedikt Fecher

Science, learning, innovation

Our projects and research programmes on the topic of science and society

Impaqt | HIIG

IMPaQT – Indicators, Measurement and Performance of Quality Assurance: Third-Mission-Activities in the Social Sciences

  The research project “IMPaQT” is about making knowledge transfer from research to society measurable through quality criteria and indicators. We  plan to analyze communication activities between academia and society...
Learning Knowledge

Knowledge & Society: Shifts in knowledge production, organisation and transfer

“Knowledge is always preceded by intuition.” As Humboldt’s principle outlines, we see knowledge itself – its derivation, organisation and communication – undergoing a fundamental transformation. The trend towards interconnected research,...
Gemeinsam digital

Gemeinsam Digital

_Gemeinsam digital, the Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Berlin, is a central contact point for all companies in Berlin and nationwide that have questions about digitization. Our work is practical, user-oriented and cross-industry....