Standing Committee Working Groups

Current Working Groups (under the responsibility of the Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities)

Communication between Science, the Public and the Media: Relevance, Opportunities and Risks of Social Media

Communication between Science, the Public and the Media (Kopie 2)

Science and journalism are among the key elements of a democratic society. They provide information to policy makers and society, enhance a populace’s education and knowledge and stimulate democratic discourse. But how does the exchange of ideas between science, journalism and society function? In a two-year project entitled „Zum Verhältnis zwischen Wissenschaft, Öffentlichkeit und Medien“ (The Relationship between Science, the Public and the Media), a panel of experts developed proposals “for shaping the process of information transfer between science, the public and the media”. In the project’s second phase the focus now turns to the world of social media.

The central concern of the project is to determine how the formulation and communication of scientific content is affected by the special attributes of social media.

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Doctorate Process in Transition

Doctorate Process in Transition

The process of attaining a doctorate is undergoing changes. This is evident in the most recent developments in higher education and the discussions going on in Germany about the right of technical colleges to award doctorates or the establishment of EU wide standards. Questions regarding the status of the doctoral dissertation and the title itself, and about assurances of quality and institutional framework conditions, have not been adequately answered.

What provisions should be continued to assure a doctorate’s quality, which should be reformed and which should be newly formulated? The working group is developing recommendations for ways that a doctorate in Germany can best engage with the future.

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Security and insecurity. Global security policy perspectives for 2035

Security and insecurity. Global security policy perspectives for 2035

Uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of human existence. In politics, economics and civil society, decisions constantly have to be made that are based not on certainty, but on sound assumptions. This is why a large number of risk analysts, futurologists, strategy and planning departments, think tanks, etc. dedicate themselves to the task of rationalising decisions for the future and analysing contexts, actors and perspectives. In the field of security policy, where the key task of the state is to guarantee the safety of its citizens both internally and externally, the planning horizon is nevertheless often determined by the demands of everyday politics and a fixation on election cycles. Meanwhile, long-term developments and trends as well as the state’s dependency on developments in other parts of the world are side-lined.

The working group takes a systematic approach to investigating the opportunities and limitations involved in analysing future developments in security policy.

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Further Current Working Groups

Additive / Generative Manufacturing

Additive / Generative Manufacturing

Additive or Generative Manufacturing describes a process in which objects are being produced from digital 3D models using laser-sinter machines.

This technology could lead to improved customisation and rapid prototyping, while saving resources. Challenges still remain such as improving product quality and general productivity. Standardisation across national boarders and proprietary systems is another important task.

The project analyses these trends, opportunities, and challenges from an economic, technological and social perspective and will carry out recommendations for research, policy, and business.

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Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing – Perspectives of a new Technology

Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing – Perspectives of a new Technology

The new additive manufacturing processes enable complex geometries to be produced without casting moulds and other tools. Thus in 3D printing a component can be built up layer-by-layer from a starting material like plastic, ceramic or metal. Many previous limitations on construction no longer apply and components with practically any complex geometry can be produced with micrometer precision. Potential areas of application for this technology range from industry to medicine through to food production. The expectations regarding the further development of “3D printing” are correspondingly high.

The goal of the working group is an interdisciplinary analysis and predictive assessment of the possibilities and eventual risks of this new manufacturing technology.

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Artificial photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis

The scientific and technological issues associated with the use of solar energy are just as great as the potential this energy represents. New biomimetic and carbon-based approaches are currently being pursued for application in both photovoltaics and artificial photosynthesis.

The aim of the project is to provide an early overview of the various research trends in this field and to establish the concrete demand for research in Germany with an eye to technical usability, for the period up to 2050.

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Big Data – Data protection– Privacy

Big Data – Data protection– Privacy

The process of digitisation affects almost all areas of our lives, and the volume of personal data that is being generated, stored and analysed in a variety of contexts is increasing at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, technology that enables the machine evaluation of data – so-called “big data” technology – is continuously developing and becoming ever more efficient.

The working group aims to develop a new code of conduct that will help trigger a major overhaul at both the national and international level in how large volumes of data are handled.

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Future Energy Systems (stage 2)

Future Energy Systems (stage 2)

Sustainability, financial viability, security of supply and social acceptance: the “Energy Systems of the Future” initiative conducted under the leadership of acatech (The National Academy of Science and Engineering), the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities serves to keep these goals at the forefront of Germany´s energy transition.

The initiative brings together more than 50 top level experts from the technological, natural, economic and social sciences in order to analyse the complex challenges of the energy transition and to formulate policy options for a future energy system. A steering committee oversees eight scientific working groups, which each address one of the following topics: the current state of affairs, implementation options, scenarios, resources, technologies, jurisprudence, society, and economics.

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Key Concerns for a Law on Reproductive Medicine

In Germany, the regulations covering reproductive medicine are found in diverse legal texts. At the same time, physicians have long been pointing to the fact that continued medical and technological progess in the field of reproductive medicine has made revision of the current legal framework a dire necessity if the treatment of patients within Germany is to be of the highest standard. This interdisciplinary working group seeks to explore the possibilities of conflating and expanding the regulations concerning reproductive medicine from an ethical, legal and medical perspective.

The interdisciplinary working group explores the possibilities of conflating and expanding the regulations concerning reproductive medicine from an ethical, legal and specialized medical perspective.

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Medical technology and individualised medicine

Medical technology and individualised medicine

Modern medical technology has enabled the development of personalised diagnosis and treatment. Such personalised approaches are already being applied in the manufacturing of implants, in improved laboratory analytics through modern analysis techniques, and in the use of patient data. The focus of the working group’s statement will therefore be on current developments in medical technology – in contrast to the statement published in December 2014, which focused on molecular aspects of personalised medicine.

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Work and Mental Illnesses: A Societal Challenge

Work and Mental Illnesses: A Societal Challenge

Occupational activity has a positive effect on most people: It promotes well-being, self-development, self-realization and skills development. Work provides life structures and enables social identification, the experience of efficiency and approbation and social interactions. Work, however, can also be the cause of illnesses.

The modern working environment is characterized by economic globalization and by digitalization and rationalization. Employees feel more and more overburdened by their work. Work is consolidated and accelerated; appointments and pressure to perform predominate, the boundaries between work and leisure time are blurred and the number of inadequate employment contracts is growing. This all increases the danger of the so-called occupational burnout. Burnout is thereby not understood as an illness diagnosis but rather as a risk factor. If left untreated it can lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders or dependence on medicinal drugs. Other physical illnesses including cardiovascular diseases can also result.
The goal of the working group is a comprehensive analysis of this issue. The interaction between work and mental illness, or alternatively, mental health, will be examined from different perspectives. From this analysis the working group will determine concrete courses of action for decision makers in the political and social arenas.

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Past Working Groups

Animal Testing in Research

Basic medical research and studies conducted to confirm the effectiveness and safety of treatment methods rely heavily on animal testing. In order to establish legally binding ethical standards for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes throughout the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Council issued Directive 2010/63/EU, to be implemented into German law by 10 Nov. 2012.

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Antibiotics Research

Since the introduction of penicillin in the 1940s, antibiotics have become one of the cornerstones of modern medicine. They are the foundation for the treatment of bacterial infections in humans as well as animals. However, two developments are making it increasingly difficult to treat bacterial infections successfully. On the one hand there has been an increasing number of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in recent years, both in human medicine and veterinary medicine. On the other hand, the number of new antibiotics developed since the 1970s has steadily decreased. The Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina initiated a joint working group to prepare a statement on this subject. This statement was publically released on January 28, 2013 in Hamburg.


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Clinical Trials of Medicinal Products on Humans

In July 2012 the European Commission submitted a proposal entitled “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on clinical trials on medicinal products for human use, and repealing Directive 2001/20/EC”. The goal of the Regulation was to harmonise the clinical trials of medicinal products on humans in Europe and to reduce the complications involved in conducting them. According to frequently expressed criticisms, however, the proposal fell short of the safeguarding provisions that had hitherto been in effect in Germany; also regarding established procedural standards. An ad hoc statement jointly drafted by Leopoldina, the Union of German Academies and the Germany Academy of Science and Engineering acatech examined some of the central ethical problems of the proposed Regulation.

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Evidence-Based Medicine for the Elderly

The elderly and aged often suffer from the co-occurrence of several medical conditions at once, a phenomenon known as “multimorbidity” that requires suitable diagnostic and treatment methods. The number of multimorbid patients will continue to rise over the coming years, and yet the current methods, structures and guidelines in place to address these patients’ needs are insufficient. The Working Group on Evidence-Based Medicine for the Elderly is thus looking into the current state of medical care for the elderly in Germany, identifying the problem areas and where further research needs to be undertaken.

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Future Energy Systems (stage 1)

Future Energy Systems (stage 1)

Global climate protection is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. A key objective of both the German energy transition and the European energy and climate policy is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the energy sector is responsible for most of these emissions, a low-carbon energy generation plays a central role. Underlining its claim that Europe takes the lead in global climate protection efforts, the European Union has set ambitious climate protection objectives for the year 2030.

How exactly these goals are to be achieved is subject to intense political, public, and scientific debate. With the initiative “Energy Systems of the Future”, acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities provide expertise for an evidence-based discussion on energy transition. Eight interdisciplinary working groups pool expert knowledge and identify relevant issues. They develop policy options for the implementation of a secure, affordable, and sustainable energy system. The results help to objectify the debate on the challenges and opportunities of the transformation process.  It also identifies new research topics.

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Future with Children

The Working Group on "Future with Children" investigated the reasons behind sinking birth rates and their effect on the shaping of policy, society and the individual. The academy group analysed the main factors impacting fertility including the need to combine work and family, new forms and organisation of lifestyles, processes of individualisation, decision-making dynamics in partnerships, medical and biological aspects of fertility and the direction family policy is taking. The book and an abbreviated version containing the recommendations were presented to the public on 15 October 2012.

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National Debt in Democracies

This interdisciplinary working group engages with the topic “National Debt in Democracies: Causes, Effects and Limits”, formed of members of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy (lead academy), the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the German Academy of Sciences and Engineering acatech, and the Young Academy.

The arguments and positions on national debt adopted in the media, by policymakers and also by scientific researchers are not just extremely controversial; they also commonly rest on dogma, economic interests, false analogies and insufficient knowledge of processes and interrelationships in the national economy and politics. It is thus of utmost necessity that this topic is objectified, and that answers are found to keys questions surrounding national debt.

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Neurobiological and Psychological Factors in Socialisation

Individuals can only live up to their full intellectual and social potential if they have access to optimal learning environments throughout the entire course of their development, from birth to death. This working group focussed on developing evidence-based measures to provide effective early support to children – especially those with immigrant backgrounds or from socio-economically disadvantaged families – in developing their skills and potential. The goal of such early intervention is to facilitate integration and enable society to harness the full potential of all its members.

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Palliative Medicine

Palliative medicine is concerned with providing holistic care to patients whose illness does not respond to curative treatment. It aims to achieve the best possible quality of life for these patients and their families. The patient’s priorities and needs are paramount in determining which course of treatment to take. Managing pain and alleviating other symptoms such as dry mouth and breathing difficulties, and supporting patients in dealing with psychological, social and spiritual issues are among the chief goals of this field of medicine. The Working Group on Personalised Medicine is reviewing the situation in Germany as a basis for setting an agenda for research on palliative medicine.

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Personalised Medicine

The Working Group on Personalised Medicine is examining this new field from a comprehensive perspective. Based on the results of a status workshop held in November 2011, it is currently preparing a statement that outlines various aspects of the field including the technological foundations, the applicability of personalisation strategies in clinical practice, the structural preconditions and the likely impact on compensation systems, as well as the many ethical, legal, and economic implications.

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Predictive Genetic Diagnostics as an Instrument of Disease Prevention

The key prerequisite of effective disease prevention is early detection. Science is aware of a growing number of genetic variants tied to our predisposition to disease. Prevention or early detection is a possibility for some. Genetic diagnostics is constantly improving while costs are sinking. At the same time, the number of questionable tests that are sold over the Internet is rising. They are directed at the consumer, however often they are not accompanied by qualified genetic advice. A working group established by the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina together with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities and the German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech presented an expert report on the opportunities and limits of predictive genetic diagnostics in healthy people in autumn 2010.

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Preimplantation Genetic Diagnostics

In light of the German Federal Court of Justice’s ruling on the Embryo Protection Act of 2010, the Leopoldina, in its capacity as the National Academy of Sciences, saw it as its task to discuss the legal regulation and possible restriction of the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis from a scientific perspective and issue a statement on this controversial issue. A working group comprised of experts from the relevant fields was established in November 2010 and released a statement in January 2011.

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Public Health in Germany

The Working Group on Public Health in Germany explores how Germany could invest to better effect, for example in health promotion and disease prevention, in infectious disease outbreak management, and in ensuring consistent health standards throughout the country. More generally, the scientists explore how to develop an evidence-based public health policy to tackle present and future opportunities and challenges.

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Quantum Technology

The 21st century will be the century of quantum technology. For most people this is just a term used in science fiction. Therefore it is necessary to present the factual connection and, based on this, to present recommendations for the subsequent development of this field of research.

The Working Group on Quantam Technology shows the potential that quantum technology has to offer. It analyses the basic principles and the possible implications concerning, for example, data protection.

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The Relationship between Science, the Public and the Media

Explaining complex scientific findings to the media, society and policymakers poses a multitude of challenges. In particular, the publication of findings that indicate potentially problematic developments or dictate an urgent need for action does not always generate an objective debate based on actual facts.

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The Scientific and Socio-political Significance of Longitudinal Population Studies

Developments in demographics, socio-economics, and science and technology change our society. Longitudinal population studies of people, households and businesses track these changes over long periods of time. They are a scientific instrument used to observe and understand the long-term effects of societal change on both the individual and collective levels. They also constitute a foundation for processes of political planning, management and regulation, for example in health, education, employment and social policy. This working group discusses the requirements for successful longitudinal studies in reference to infrastructure, organisation and methods.

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© Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften 2014