Actualia · Botanik-Tagung

Spitzenreiter trotz mangelnder Anerkennung

Professor Karl-Josef Dietz rief dazu auf, an der Reputation der Pflanzenwissenschaften zu arbeiten. Foto: Lea Zentgraf
Amount of scientific articles in plant research cited by other scientists in the years from 2005 to 2011 as revealed by Kathleen Gransalke, Labtimes 4/2013 [1]. Values are expanded by a personal assessment by the author.

Zum Auftakt der diesjährigen Botanikertagung begrüßte der Präsident der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft, Professor Dr. Karl-Josef Dietz, die Teilnehmenden. Er demonstrierte welchem Spagat viele Pflanzenwissenschaftlerinnen und Pflanzenwissenschaftler derzeit ausgesetzt sind: zwischen den besten Zitations-Rankings und einer wachsenden Nachfrage nach Lösungen aus den Pflanzenwissenschaften auf der einen und der mangelnden öffentlichen Reputation auf der anderen Seite. Dietz schilderte auch, welchen Weg etwa die amerikanische Schwestergesellschaft (ASBP) inzwischen beschreitet und rief dazu auf, dass jeder einzelne zu einem Stimmungswandel beitragen kann.
Grußworte (engl.) von Karl-Josef Dietz vom 29. September 2013

Dear Vice Rector for Research Professor Müther, dear Professor Harter, President of this Meeting, dear colleagues and friends!

On behalf of the German Botanical Society I cordially welcome you to its Research Congress. Every second year the international “Botanikertagung” marks an important opportunity for early and advanced carrier researchers to present and discuss own data as oral or paper presentation, to maintain, refresh or start personal relationships, to get updates in scientific approaches, concepts and technologies and to initiate research cooperation.

The two main missions of the German Botanical Society (Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft, DBG) with its close to 900 members concern the advancement of plant science and the support of early career research scientists, in particular by financial support of meetings with the clear assignment of the funding to early career researchers, and travel allowances to join this meeting.
Botany which also includes e.g. phycology and mycology addresses the fundamental and applied understanding of the basis of our daily life. As you all know botany has advanced to a hard core and multifaceted field of science.

From a global point of view, Europe is highly competitive in plant research as recently demonstrated by publication and citation analyses.

But there are dark clouds at the sky for declining conditions for botanical research in various European countries. Why may conditions worsen despite the importance of plant science? On the one hand side we observe decreased funding in several countries as a consequence of economic constraints. Even at rather constant funding level, the increasing number of applications lowers funding rates. In addition many projects get more expensive due to the necessary incorporation of high end technologies. The amount of data required for a very good publication has increased as indicated by the comparison of a Plant Physiology paper in 1988 encompassing an average of 5 pages with a paper nowadays encompassing 10 pages and sometime unlimited amounts  of supplementary materials.

But it is not only funding what worries me, it is also the biased public appreciation. Botany is “Sciencia amabile” but it also explores the basis of our life, and ways to improve it. Thus I appreciate the activities of the American Society of Plant Biology (ASPB) to foster outreach and to increase public awareness, e.g. by designing a children’s coloring book which will appear these days in German (“Mein Leben als Pflanze”, ASPB). The appreciation also relates to other levels, the attractiveness for young and advanced students to enroll in plant science courses, to decide for a thesis work and to start a scientific career in plant science. We have to critically argue for better acceptance of plant science in all its ecologically and economically important facets and applications and more convincingly carve its intriguing future. Why is Botany necessary part of a great future?

This poster is redrawn from an about 40 year old advertisement for Plant Science that I recently saw in the Science Centre of the elite Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It lists with what green plants are supplying us with (food, oxygen, fibers, shelter, oils, medicine, bird and animal habitats, erosion control, weather conditions, generating and maintaining soils, influencing mixture of atmospheric gases) and asks readers to consider man‘s dependence on the plant world for survival. This message concerning the significance of plants is close to up to date despite its age. But additional points should be added: The advent and rapid incorporation of new technologies and the availability of large data sets help to realize the great opportunity to now efficiently reach beyond Arabidopsis and to investigate important crop species, but also advanced systems ecology and other botanical disciplines.

These developments urge us to ask the question whether plant science receives appropriate and adequate attention beyond the hot topics of biomass and bioenergy? This question must be raised despite the success of great programs in 2012 such as the establishment of the German Centre of Integrative Biodiversity Research – iDiv in Halle/Leipzig/Jena or the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Science (CEPLAS) in Düsseldorf/Köln and Jülich. Congratulations! And I also hope for many other successful research initiatives. Good luck.

I probably get little opposition if I say, funding of basic and applied plant sciences needs improvement. Decreasing funding rates are highly unsatisfactory for applicants and referees. The transition from centering our research on few model species to more difficult crop species and interorganismic systems should be accelerated, offers a bright future, but also depends on adequate funding.

Plant Science seems to be getting stuck inbetween two opposing trends: on one hand the rise of its significance to solve urgent human problems, increasing competence  of a well-trained research community and uncovering more and more approaches and technologies to do so and on the other hand a trend of declining appreciation, acceptance and funding.

This meeting will show the significance of our research in basic understanding of Botany and in applied fields. We will hear from novel approaches and technologies that speed up our advancement. This meeting will show our joint competence. But  – as outlined above  – we encounter decelerating forces in addition to the funding problem: We should not lose sight of our responsibility to fight for appreciation and acceptance of Plant Science as an essential discipline needed to structure the future of mankind, and this on all levels of society up to the political level. Each of you is invited to join in this effort.

My thanks go to the local organizing committee: The commitment of you, Professor Klaus Harter, and your team has made it possible to meet in Tübingen. You have accepted to allocate a lot of time to this meeting. We are grateful to all helpers who contributed in organizing the meeting up to now, but who will also help us throughout the meeting and in wrapping it up at the end. Thank you again!

I am convinced that this meeting will be another successful Botanikertagung. Thanks to all of you for your efforts to come here and your engagement in plant research. Take your chance and breathe the spirit of great science into the meeting. I wish you a successful meeting. Have fun and a stimulating time.

October 2013, Professor Karl-Josef Dietz, University of Bielefeld


[1]: View all ranking tables at LabTimes, see also accompanying acrticle in LabTimes. Short before that date the Germany motherpaper published the rankings of plant scientist accross Europe in Laborjournal