Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim: 'I was a real nerd'

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Writed by - Andy Gocker
  Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim:"Ich war eine richtige Streberin"
Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim presents her new show: 'MAITHINK X - The Show'. © ZDF / Ben Knabe, SpotOn

'MAITHINK X - Die Show'

dr Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim (35) is back with her TV show 'MAITHINK X'. The six new episodes of the precisely researched and at the same time very humorous science program deal with the emotionally charged topics of nuclear power, animal experiments, football, cryptocurrencies, cosmetics and homeopathy. The latter is the focus of the opening episode, which will be broadcast on September 18 at 10:15 p.m. on ZDFneo. Scientists have been campaigning against homeopathic medicines for years, but they are still sold as over-the-counter medicines. The doctor of chemistry and science journalist now asks the question: 'What if homeopathy really works?'

In an interview with the news agency spot on news, she explains how Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim (35) came to her science program in the first place, what role the former US President played in it and what viewers can expect when it comes to cosmetics. She also revealed which little small talk challenge she particularly enjoyed at parties and what became of her commitment against hate comments.

You have a doctorate in chemistry and are a science journalist. When did you realize that research wasn't the way to go?

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim: I didn't realize that until very late. Most chemists do their PhD. This is comparable to the medical profession. And while I was doing my PhD, I started a YouTube channel as a hobby where I talked about science. This is how the online radio service from ARD and ZDF caught my attention. Its launch in September 2016 happened to coincide with the end of my PhD, so I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a science YouTube channel for Funk. I was quickly convinced by this idea, which was totally weird and funny at the time, by the public broadcasters to also want to appeal to a younger audience.

Was that the professional alternative for you right away?

Nguyen-Kim: I imagined it more as a sabbatical, a year away from research, doing crazy things in the media and then coming back. But I didn't do that and the fun became more and more serious. That's a good thing because I really enjoy talking about science and sharing my passion with others. At the latest through Trump and his 'alternative facts' it became clear to me how important it is to convey scientific facts and so I very consciously did not go back into research.

When did your interest in chemistry and science start? Already at school?

Nguyen-Kim: Yes, I always enjoyed science, physics, chemistry, math and I was good at it. I was generally extremely curious, I've always liked to learn and was a real nerd. That's not a negative thing for me at all. I have a chemist dad, without whom I would probably have studied physics, but I probably would have ended up in natural sciences in any case.

And how can you imagine that when you go on holiday or relax? Do you then read a normal novel or thriller? Or is it more about science?

Nguyen-Kim: Ever since I became a mother, I hardly have time to read fiction. If I was bored, I would read a novel. But in general I really like reading non-fiction books. And the nice thing is that I can live out this passion to the fullest professionally.

And when it comes to small talk at parties, does everyone always want to hear something scientific from you?

Nguyen-Kim: Now people expect that from me, yes. But before I was in the public eye, it was kind of a discipline or a little challenge for me to be able to have a good conversation about science at parties without putting people off. I had a lot of fun doing that.

It's similar with your show 'MAITHINK X - The Show'. The viewers are also picked up on scientific topics in a very uncomplicated way. Is that the goal?

Nguyen Kim: Absolutely. The sad thing about science is that if you don't study it, you don't have anything to do with it after school. But it shouldn't be an academic exclusive club because it contains so many beautiful things. And I'm really happy that through my work I'm contributing to the fact that you don't have to study it to have anything to do with it.

After the first season, a few episodes of the second season followed in the spring and now it continues with new episodes. How is the feedback on the programs? And what surprised you about it?

Nguyen-Kim: As you might expect, there has been criticism on issues such as abortion. I was used to a lot from YouTube, but what was said in the letters to ZDF surprised me. Because it was amazingly constructive. I rather had the feeling that discussions were started with the show. That was cool and kind of like when a lively discussion develops after a lecture.

But it was different on social media. About a year ago you uploaded a video to maiLab in which you talked transparently about your community management and suggested how the community could deal with hate comments. What has changed since then?

Nguyen-Kim: The video and the episodes from it were incredibly beautiful for me and my small team. We've always been very tolerant of the comments because we're all adults. In addition, I can very well separate science and language from me as a person. In this respect, I don't feel personally hurt when someone insults me. Instead, I feel more alien shame. But at some point things got a bit out of hand and the majority of the community, who just wanted to have sensible and objective discussions, were no longer able to exchange ideas because there was too much bullying. We then changed our community rules.

In what way?

Nguyen-Kim: We made it clear that if I don't like something, there are only two sensible options. Either a comment really violates guidelines or is criminally relevant, then it should and must be reported. But if you just don't like him, you should ignore him. Because without attention you have no influence. And when I then also mentioned that I know that most of them are silent viewers who usually don't write anything, we received a flood of positive comments in which exactly these people spoke up for the first time. That really moved me.

Who chooses the topics for the programs of 'MAITHINK X - The Show'? There really is everything there...

Nguyen-Kim: Since it's my show, I basically have a certain authority in the editorial office and in making these decisions. But so far we have agreed on everything. We're always looking for topics that generate a lot of questions and discussion. 'Querbeet' is definitely one of our goals. But that's not all that difficult, because science plays a role in every imaginable area of ​​our lives.

One of the new season's shows will be about the cosmetics industry. What can viewers expect?

Nguyen-Kim: We will show that many of the advertising promises are nothing but 'science washing'. Science washing is the equivalent of green washing. Similar to how some companies try to adorn themselves with green and sustainable fig leaves, cosmetics companies like to fake scientific work or scientific quality control. In the meantime, advertising is often no longer just about the product, for example that the shampoo makes hair shiny. But when it says that the shampoo “makes hair 62 percent shinier according to the study”, alarm bells go off: What did this study look like? Where does this specific number come from? And then we just asked about things like that. We examined a total of 19 products with specific scientific claims. That was very exciting.

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