There are a few things that I have on my secret bucket list, most of them minuscule. One of those was to take a look inside the Leopoldina, ie. the German National Academy of Sciences. I had been to Halle, the city in which the Academy is based, a few times and looked at its marvelous building.
Finally, in last few days I was able to attend a conference hosted by the Leopoldina, concerning the “Wissenschaftsreflexion,” which roughly translates as reflection of science. It’s a concept in active development by researchers of the Leibniz Center for Science and Society, and to me it seems to integrate topics so far mostly worked on by the philosophy of science. The new angle of the “reflection” might be to focus more on aspects of science communication or the transfer of the reflections’ results to general publics. I’m not quite sure of this new angle should merit a whole new terminology — a point of discussion throughout the two days of the conference.
The experience was noteworthy for its understatement: The Leopoldina is a huge, representative white building in top of a small hill, with a rather grim fence around it. The gate in this fence usually seems to be closed, and when I approached this time, I also thought it closed. Yet, standing almost in front of it, I noticed that the double gate leading to the driveway indeed was closed, but the small entrance just to its right wasn’t. So I drove my conf bike through it. Approaching the huge front door, I realised that bike racks are provided in the building’s back, so I circled around and noticed that just next to the Academy there’s a kindergarden, with groups of youngsters playing on its lawn. When I had locked my bike and went back to the front, these children cheerily greeted me. A very non-representative way to enter a National Academy of Science.
Inside, this feeling of understatement continued. The marble steps and the huge windows, the chandeliers and the high walls all looked their part of ‘castle on the hill’, but the conference’s organisers had simply put all name cards on one table, so anyone could just grab one and enter. No security, no concierge, no questions asked. I acutally quite liked the relaxed athmosphere, which countered the first impression of a closed-up shop.
Apart from getting a first glimpse into current developments of science studies / science communications, I was able to tick off the item “get into the German National Academy of Science” off of my bucket list. A next step would be to get into it as an actual member, but I’m not quite sure if that is ever going to happen.