21.07.2022, Berlin: Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), Bundesforschungsministerin, spricht bei einer Pressekonferenz zur Vorstellung des Wasserstoffatlas Deutschland. Foto: Christophe Gateau/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

After many open letters and protest notes on social media, Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) has now announced the extent to which social science and humanities projects on key social issues will be cut.

“The funding guideline on the ‘Social Effects of the Corona Pandemic’ is financed by 50 percent, so that funding can begin on February 1, 2023 (around ten million euros),” the BMBF said in a press release on Tuesday afternoon.

A commitment would be given to 18 out of 32 projects “on the basis of the results of the science-led assessment”. According to the BMBF, the projects that have now been approved each receive 90 percent of the funding requested.

What is known, however, is that the projects that have not yet been approved received approval months ago after a previous positive assessment – in the case of corona research, a selection was made from around 400 applications – and then promised new hires and job extensions. Some of these are ongoing research projects that were due for an extension after an initial funding period.

“Half of the funding for the social effects of the corona pandemic that was promised in January will be canceled,” said Jule Specht, psychology professor at Humboldt University, on Twitter on Tuesday. “For the remaining projects, the start of the project will be delayed by seven months.” This is also evident from an email that the applicants received on Tuesday night.

The official message from Stark-Watzinger sounds very different: “Funding of projects in the social sciences and humanities ensured,” it says. The BMBF makes the financing possible “despite the difficult budgetary situation”. The minister explains that “no ongoing research projects need to be discontinued”. She regrets the delays in the official announcement, but also emphasizes that there had been “no formal funding commitments” beforehand.

The actual cuts are now mainly affecting the corona-related projects, especially since they could not start in July as planned, but will only be financed from February next year.

Things are looking better for the projects in the BMBF programs “Current and historical dynamics of right-wing extremism and racism” and “Young-star groups in the context of right-wing extremism and racism research”, for which, as reported, large-scale cuts in funding were also feared.

According to the BMBF, you can start on January 1, 2023 and will receive around 27 million euros, 95 percent of the requested funding. Accordingly, 19 projects and five out of six junior research groups were accepted.

Projects to research the GDR, which according to the BMBF report have not yet received an extension, will continue to be funded. In the event of “pandemic-related delays in the project process”, they could receive extensions and, if necessary, increases of four months, it says. 1.3 million euros would be made available for this.

Despite the cuts that have now been confirmed, the researchers involved also see a success of the public protests in recent weeks in the specification. Paula-Irene Villa Braslavsky, a sociologist at the University of Munich, told Jan-Martin Wiarda’s blog: “We have not allowed our already positively reviewed research projects to be silently cut away. We discussed how the BMBF left us out in the rain and we showed how important our research is.”

However, it remains wrong to cut a whopping 50 percent of the funding for such a central and little-researched topic as the social dimension of the corona pandemic. This undoubtedly also applies to the joint project requested by Jule Specht, which “belongs to the sad half”, as the HU professor told the Tagesspiegel on request.

She wanted to do research together with Swen Hutter from the Berlin Science Center and Christian von Scheve (Freie Universität) on “Solidarity and polarization in post-pandemic civil society”. It should be about spontaneous willingness to help in initiatives such as nebenan.de and the protests of the “lateral thinkers”.

The joint project questions, “how strongly and sustainably the pandemic has changed the structure of civil society in Germany, which forces of community formation and exclusion arise from these changed forms of engagement, and which individual characteristics are characteristic of volunteers in such informal and polarized contexts”, is called it in the originally positively evaluated application of the team.

However, Jule Specht also sees damage to the scientific landscape: “What the BMBF causes in terms of frustration and breach of trust in science: the damage is much greater than the financial benefit.”