Yet in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, even her detractors ended up appreciating a politician who is on safer ground to explain the importance of decimals than to project grand visions of the future.
Merkel’s explanation of the science behind her government’s locking out strategy, a clip of which has been shared thousands of times on social media, had all the calm confidence expected of a former science researcher. a doctorate in quantum chemistry who once co-wrote an article on “the influence of spatial correlations on the speed of chemical reactions”.
Explaining why her optimism about a flattened infection rate should be cautious and breaking out of the lock required caution, the 65-year-old woman performed a model calculation.
Figures show that the virus in Germany has a reproduction number of one (R1), which means that on average one person infects another person.
Without measures to slow the spread of the virus, such as physical distance, scientists believe that Covid-19 has a reproduction number of two to three.
If the number of reproductions of one increases by a single decimal to 1.1, Merkel said, the German healthcare system could be submerged by October. If it were to increase by two decimal places, hospitals could reach a crisis point in July, and if it increased by three, the crisis point would arrive in June.
Merkel’s calculation, which arrived at the end of the press conference on Wednesday evening, has received more attention abroad than in Germany, where the public is used to the strengths and weaknesses of its scientific training.
Lothar de Maiziére, the last prime minister of East Germany who recommended Merkel for her first role in politics, said that her scientific knowledge made her a stranger in a political arena dominated by male law graduates, but also allowed it to rise.
“She knows that for each effect, there must be a cause and perhaps also ideal conditions,” he told Merkel biographer Evelyn Roll. “She knows the laws of formal logic and is therefore able to build logical chains with speed and determination. “
When asked why she decided to study physics as a young woman, Merkel said it had helped her keep an independent mind in an overtly ideological system: “Basic math and the laws of nature cannot be suspended even in the GDR [East Germany]. Two and two are four, even under [the former East German leader Erich] Honecker. “
Was there anything politicians could learn from scientists, a German journalist once asked him. “Gravity,” replied Merkel. “Without mass, without depth. “