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Berlin to Form Academy

WEST BERLIN—A new Academy of Science to be created here has sharpened debate about the best way to improve the quality of research carried out in the city. On March 12 the city's parliament is expected to pass a bill introduced by the governing Christian Democrats to establish such an academy, the sixth in West Germany and the second in this divided city. (The academy in East Berlin is the legal successor of the Prussian Academy of Science, founded in 1700). There has been talk for many ye

By | March 9, 1987

WEST BERLIN—A new Academy of Science to be created here has sharpened debate about the best way to improve the quality of research carried out in the city.

On March 12 the city's parliament is expected to pass a bill introduced by the governing Christian Democrats to establish such an academy, the sixth in West Germany and the second in this divided city. (The academy in East Berlin is the legal successor of the Prussian Academy of Science, founded in 1700).

There has been talk for many years about the need to raise standards within the city's two universities and numerous research institutions, which together serve 90,000 students and 13,000 faculty. But not everybody sees the planned Academy, which will undertake research projects more actively than traditional U.S. academies, as the right solution to the problem.

Edgar Uherek, president of the city's Institute for Higher Education in Economics, said at a hearing last year that he fears the new institution will become another monolithic center of power and will fail to promote the type of pluralistic scientific inquiry that is needed. Klaus Kunkel, vice president of the city's Technical University, is worried that the Academy will siphon off money from other institutions rather than stimulate new funds for science.

The city spends approximately $1.1 billion—about 9 percent of its annual budget—on science and research. The new Academy is expected to have an operating budget of about $4.7 million, and the city plans to spend $27 million to house it in the former Italian Embassy.

A committee led by Klaus Pinkau, scientific director of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Munich, last year proposed the creation of the Academy as "an innovative form of organization" that would make possible "applied interdisciplinary work with scientific methods." Based on an estimated budget that has since been cut almost in half, the committee envisioned a staff of 30 scientists (10 members and 20 assistants) working on as many as six projects at one time.

The Academy is expected to tackle such issues as the effects of automation on society, the possibilities and limitations of human genetic engineering, an analysis of long-term energy supplies, and the economic consequences of public health services. Critics have argued that such projects could be handled by the federal government's new Office of Technology Assessment in Bonn.

One unresolved issue is whether members, who will be given lifetime appointments, must be permanent residents of Berlin. Wolf Lepenies, head of Berlin's Institute for Advanced Study, believes that interdisciplinary work requires spontaneous communication and interaction and, thus, permanent residence. Meinolf Dierkes, president of the city's Science Center, argues that outstanding scientists will agree to come only if they can maintain facilities at their home institution. These and other questions, such as the criteria and method for selection of members, will not be decided until after the Academy is formally established.

Sietmann is a freelance writer in West Berlin specializing in science policy.

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