Democracy needs science
As a private individual, Kurt A. Körber was aware of the significance of the past. But as an entrepreneur, he believed that a focus on the future was essential. He realized that science is a key factor of this approach and that innovations are not only an engine of prosperity but also a precondition for the success of democracy. During his lifetime, the prize was awarded in fields such as the generation of extreme cryogenic temperatures and the prediction of changes in the climate. In 2018 the prize went to Svante Pääbo, a founder of the science of paleogenetics.
“This illustrates our criterion: The scientists to whom we award this prize must have the potential to one day win the Nobel Prize as well,” says Matthias Mayer, Head of the Science Department of the Körber Foundation. Six of the recipients of the Körber European Science Prize have already successfully done just that. Mayer also believes that the award itself and the increased prize money are a powerful expression of resistance to anti-science attitudes. “We feel concern as we observe the tendency to regard scientific findings and the knowledge based on them as only one opinion among many,” he says. “If the importance of science for our lives does not remain anchored in our society and our political institutions, that is poison for a democracy.”
Last but not least, the prize also expresses the foundation’s commitment to Europe as a center of science — because by accepting this honor the recipients commit themselves to continuing their research activities in Europe. This is especially relevant during an era in which science needs to go on the offensive to clearly assert the social relevance of its findings. As Dittmer explains, “Science is closely linked with ethical issues and decisions and ultimately leads to changes in all of our lives.”