Medical ethicist Alena Buyx: “That doesn’t mean we stop laughing”

ALena Buyx arrives at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt on her bike, Airpods in her ear. Avoid local public transport, the smartphone as a portable office – the laws of the pandemic also shape their everyday lives. Born in 1977, she studied medicine and philosophy, her academic career led from Münster to London to Harvard. She has been Professor of Medical Ethics at the Technical University of Munich since 2018. In May 2020, in the middle of the Corona period, she was elected chairman of the German Ethics Council. We sit down in a meeting room of the committee. The positions expressed in the interview are your own, not those of the Ethics Council.

WORLD: The mathematically calculable consequences of the pandemic have priority over the social and psychological risks. Isn’t that a problem?

Buyx: There have been calculations of the economic consequences that are also taken into account. The mental health effects of the population are difficult to calculate. But there are at least the first indications that we are amazingly resilient.

WORLD: In the first lockdown, the dying were isolated from their loved ones. Something like that cannot be compensated for by resilience.


Munich: Discussion on higher education law at TU and LMU – Munich

Information often trickles into the home office slowly. Even if it is as important as the upcoming reform of the Bavarian Higher Education Act. Not all professors and lecturers at the two Munich universities of excellence seem to be aware of the status of developments. You and the administrative staff have been busy for weeks preparing for the winter semester including online teaching. Lectures at the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) and the Technical University (TU) begin in November.

Meanwhile, they were not inactive elsewhere: on Wednesday last week there was an expert hearing in the Bavarian state parliament on the planned reform of university law. According to inquiries from various faculties, one hears about it only from the media. This may also be due to the fact that the hygiene rules at universities barely allow an exchange about it, for example at a coffee machine. Those who can avoid contact. Key issues papers are not passed on either.

Such a paper on reform was mentioned again and again at the hearing. Even of the invited experts, only a few knew its content. It can now be found on the website of the Ministry of Science. It is 21 pages long and very detailed. The new law should be a “signal for a new departure” with the “model of the greatest possible freedom”, can be read there, for example, often also the word “personal responsibility” for example with regard to self-determination and development. To finance this, the universities should be given a “comprehensive fee collection option”, for example for non-EU foreigners, and thus an incentive to “fundraise” and start up companies.

I thought it was at most a three-page paper, admits a research associate at LMU who does not want to admit his statements by name. He is rather critical of President Bernd Huber. “I think they want the big hit,” he says. That means, among other things, much more power for the university management, which restricted the increased say in the various bodies. “I find benevolent contradiction important – from the professor to the student.”

“I don’t think everyone is aware of what’s coming,” says Margit Weber, canon lawyer and LMU women’s representative for 14 years. In this role, Weber sat as an expert at the hearing in the state parliament. A week later, she is dismayed that the paper only “insufficiently addresses” equality. It must be felt in all areas, she says, not just an appeal is enough. “In Bavaria we have had around 50 percent female students for 30 years, and at LMU even 60 percent.” Overall, there are only 20 percent women professors, one president and only a few vice-presidents. She has long advocated equal appointments in praesidia. Equality must be clearly specified in the new higher education law as an overriding task and as a guiding principle, because that’s the only way something can move, she says. “That would make Munich and Bavaria much more attractive.” For companies, success has long depended on whether they have mixed teams. “How do we want to attract top women from all over the world?”

A professor from her house, whose name should also not appear here, fears a further dismantling of “collegial leadership” at the universities. He also thinks of company structures. “University presidents are made as powerful today as they were at VW under Martin Winterkorn, which led to the emissions scandal at the time.” Today, however, power is more likely to be shared in successful companies. He feels growing frustration among his colleagues because changes have always been in the same direction so far.

No scientist today can have a sufficient overview of research in his field alone. The best are therefore the humble ones who rely on the opinion of their colleagues. Unfortunately, the office of the president all too often attracts people who have a thirst for recognition and are not among the best scientists. In more than 20 years as a professor, he himself was never asked by the management or administration of the university or the ministry about what could improve his research and teaching.

It is unclear whether LMU President Bernd Huber was asked for advice. Among other things, he says that the LMU is very open to university reform in Bavaria and is very interested in being constructively involved in the process. Important guiding principles are more autonomy, more dynamism and more differentiation so that the different universities can develop their full potential. There are of course still many unanswered questions to be discussed in the concrete form of the reform.

Thomas Hofmann, who has been President of the Technical University of Munich for a year, would be happy to contribute his expertise, he says in a telephone conversation. But he has not yet been asked. Even his predecessor Wolfgang Herrmann, who gave verbose answers at the state parliament hearing, had no creative role in the context, says Hofmann. One of the things that is important to him is to speed up the appointment process. Today’s practice, which often takes a year, is completely inefficient, he says. His focus is on lifelong learning, which also includes adult students, and the support of spin-offs, as the TU is already doing.

Regarding the concern of Verdi regional department head Christiane Glas-Kinateder that fixed-term employment contracts would increase due to the conversion of the universities into corporations, as the key issues paper provides, Hofmann replies: “It takes brain circulation.” But you have to be careful that there are not too many temporary relationships. Overall, Hofmann is calling for the universities to have significantly more room for maneuver.

“The perspective of the university management is not necessarily the perspective of all university members,” says Maximilian Frank, TU student and active spokesman for the Bavarian State ASten Conference. It should not be decided only from above. A legal framework must be given to greater personal responsibility. We see ourselves as a corrective, he says. In principle, committees are not a design obstacle.


How countries are doing in the fight against the pandemic

Dhe Covid 19 pandemic appears to have accelerated world events. For weeks, the news flow has hardly given us a break to take a deep breath. This is not only due to the rapid spread of the disease worldwide, it is also due to the enormous speed with which our understanding of the new type of corona virus and its effects is growing. At least from a scientific perspective, there is also something good about the international nature of the current crisis: “Government strategies in response to the Covid 19 pandemic are the largest natural experiment of recent times,” write scientists around Cindy Cheng and Luca Messerschmidt from the University of Applied Sciences for Politics at the TU Munich in a current working paper.

What they mean: Because countries around the world face the same challenge and influence the spread of Covid-19 in their own population with very different political strategies, valuable data is generated in real time. These can be used to better understand the dynamics of the pandemic. While it was initially only possible to speculate which measures would do something, questions about relationships and effects can now be followed using statistical analysis of empirical data: How does the development of the pandemic depend on the speed of political reactions? Do drastic measures really pay off? Are school closures more important than containment restrictions for containment?


Munich: Criticism after incident with radioactive C-14 – Munich

After a breakdown with the radioactive C-14, the Greens and the German federal government for nature conservation are calling for the Munich II research reactor to be shut down.

After an uncontrolled leak of radioactive C-14 at the research reactor in Munich II (FRM II), the Greens and environmentalists are calling for a halt to operation and further consequences. The new breakdown shows that the operators do not have the reactor under control, said Ludwig Hartmann, spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group. “This is unacceptable with a nuclear reactor,” he said. The SPD also calls for consequences: citizens should know how the incident came about, explains environmental expert Florian von Brunn.

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) explained that there was never any danger to people or the environment. It was a reportable event that ranked at level 0 according to the international rating scale, which means that it is of very low safety significance. The emissions took place from March 20 to 26 and April 2 to 7. The approved annual value for C-14 emissions was exceeded by 15 percent, said spokeswoman Andrea Voit.

The Greens and the SPD cannot be reassured by this. Hartmann claimed that the reactor should not be started again this year. “We now have to have a fundamental debate about the research reactor,” he told the dpa. The chairman of the federal nature conservation in Bavaria, Richard Mergner, expressed “very concern” and again called for closure. Already in 2012, radioactive C-14 had leaked in smaller quantities. “Consequences must follow because every leak of radioactive materials is one too many,” said von Brunn.

The incident occurred during maintenance work on cleaning the heavy water in the reactor pool. The nuclide is bound in ion exchange resins and then dried to reduce the volume. The separating unit, in which the C-14 should get stuck, was however not properly connected due to an “individual” operating error, said spokeswoman Voit. This allowed more radioactive C-14 to escape through the chimney than allowed. If a human had been on the research reactor site at the time, he would have been exposed to less than three microsieverts. There were five microsieverts during X-rays in the dental practice, explains Voit.

The incident was not noticed until two weeks after the derivation. The values ​​are routinely measured quarterly by the reactor and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. When the results were available, the drying process was stopped immediately. In the future, monthly measurements will be taken, said the spokeswoman.

Last year, the Greens and other opponents of the research reactor presented an opinion that the operation of the FRM II was illegal because it was still working with high-enriched uranium, but the permit stipulated that it would be converted to lower-enriched uranium. Claudia Köhler and Markus Büchler, members of the Green State Parliament from the Munich district, speak of “botching and sloppiness”. The incident confirms “our doubts about the reliability of the Technical University of Munich as the operator of the nuclear reactor”, Büchler wrote in a statement.

The research reactor has been idle since March 17th. The work was stopped because of the corona pandemic, because many foreign scientists who were doing their experiments at the reactor were no longer allowed to travel. When the institute resumes operations no longer depends solely on the virus. The nuclear regulatory authority, the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment, has to decide.


These eight top economists say what Germany must do now

The peak of the corona epidemic may be behind us, but the economic damage to the land is enormous. In a large WELT survey, eight leading economists describe what is now on the agenda. .