Sciences thrives on the work of courageous researchers who leave the beaten path to blaze new trails regardless of the risk of failure. For this personal dedication, Katrin Schmelz was awarded the "Landespreis für mutige Wissenschaft" (state prize for courageous science) in a ceremony in Stuttgart on 27 October 2022. There, Petra Olschowski, Baden-Württemberg's Minister of Science, Research and the Arts, recognized the work of the behavioural economist and psychologist from the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau Institute of Economics (TWI) who, even at the start of the pandemic, examined controversial matters of coronavirus policy, in particular the issue of mandating vaccination. Katrin Schmelz is a member of the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz. Along with Katrin Schmelz, paleoanthropologist Sireen El Zaatari from the University of Tübingen also received the award. The two laureates share the prize worth 30,000 euros.
About 300 international media appearances
"With her contributions to the Washington Post, the German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, the daily public newscast Tagesthemen and other media, Katrin Schmelz worked to promote the visibility of scientific findings and foster informed debate. In her many media appearances, she did not shy away from using her scientific findings in controversial discussions and defending them against criticism. This is the essence of courageous science!" the Minister of Science stated in her laudatory speech. In about 300 international media appearances, Katrin Schmelz entered the heated debate, adding her findings on the acceptance of voluntary versus mandatory covid policies. Challenging the basic assumptions of her discipline, Katrin Schmelz has shown that external incentives and mandatory policies can sometimes be counterproductive because people have social motivations that may be undermined by incentives and pressure to engage in certain behaviours.
Her research brings insights from psychology and unconventional questions into the field of economics. Her work contributes to creating a new behavioural model for policymaking. All the while, her aim is to enable science-based policy decisions and improve their acceptance by the public. Her empirical results drew fire from both supporters and opponents of covid regulations alike.
Communicating even uncomfortable truths
Katrin Schmelz: "People wanted me to take sides. My research, however, showed both the pros and cons of the key policies, especially mandating vaccination. I am a scientist, not a politician. Policy makers and citizens need sound science to know the implications of the policies under debate, not just during the pandemic, but also for addressing climate change and other societal challenges. This requires that we ask the crucial questions and communicate the truths that our research uncovers – even if they're sometimes uncomfortable."
About the award
With the "Preis für mutige Wissenschaft", the state of Baden-Württemberg recognizes researchers who show courage in thought and action, pursue unconventional approaches or have completed outstanding research despite obstacles. The prize worth € 30,000 aims to signal how much innovative science thrives on researchers facing the risk of failure and being willing to take risks.
- Dr Katrin Schmelz, behavioural economist and psychologist at the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau Institute of Economics (TWI), awarded the "Landespreis für mutige Wissenschaft" (state prize for courageous science).
- For her courage in approaching controversial matters of covid policies, in particular the issue of mandating vaccination, and then communicating her findings to the public.
- Award presented by Minister of Science, Research and the Arts Petra Olschowski.
- Katrin Schmelz and Sireen El Zaatari share prize worth 30,000 euros.
- Katrin Schmelz is a member of the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz.