10 Euros for a German science academy

The way Detlev Ganten, head of Berlin's Charite University Medical Center, tells the story, he was enjoying dinner in early March at the British Embassy in Berlin with a small group of scientists, when the topic of conversation turned to Germany's lack of a National Academy of Sciences.

Mar 28, 2005
Ned Stafford

The way Detlev Ganten, head of Berlin's Charite University Medical Center, tells the story, he was enjoying dinner in early March at the British Embassy in Berlin with a small group of scientists, when the topic of conversation turned to Germany's lack of a National Academy of Sciences. Germany still does not have an Academy despite the strong urging last year by the National Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) that the regional science academies combine in a national academy. Ganten told the group that he believes Germany's more than half-dozen regional science academies in cities such as Berlin, Heidelberg, Göttingen, and Munich will agree to combine into one national academy before Germany's next national elections in autumn of 2006.

No way, voiced most of the others at the table, including Robert May, president of the Royal Society, the UK's lone national science academy. The naysayers maintained that despite increasing pleas from top German scientists such as Ganten, from numerous politicians, and from the big institutes like the Max Planck Society, the regional academies would never give up their turf to a national academy.

In the face of skepticism around the dinner table, Ganten stood firm, saying: "I bet it will happen."

May, also a Lord and a professor at University of Oxford and Imperial College London, wondered whether Ganten would be willing to put his money where his mouth is. Indeed, replied Ganten, to the tune of 10 Euros, roughly 7 British Pounds. May agreed, and the bet was on. The two men agreed to meet shortly before the national elections for the payoff.

Ganten says he's confident of pocketing a 10-Euro note from May. He acknowledges that reaching a unification agreement will not be easy, but nonetheless notes that "a lot of discussion" is going on. "Science in Germany has to be able to speak with one voice," Ganten says. "I think there is some strong pressure now to get it done. I think people will get together on this issue."

And if Ganten is right, May won't be unhappy either. The British scientist told Die Welt newspaper: "Normally, I never bet. But in this case I gladly made an exception and I would be very pleased if I lose this bet."