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LTH against fact-resistance

2016-12-01

Today we see, hear and read a lot about fact-resistance, that is, the approach of not letting yourself be affected by information that goes against your own opinion. The clearest examples of this today are the campaigns before Brexit and the US presidential election. Regardless of our views on the issues, we can probably agree on the frequent occurrence of this phenomenon. Being found guilty of a lie, or at least an ambiguous approach to the truth, did not appear to be a problem. How did we get here?

Today we see that traditional media have less impact than they used to, and that more and more people receive their news and facts via social media and other channels with doctored “truths”. The information we receive is consistent with our views and opinions. I find this to be a frightening development as our views and values need to be challenged in order for us to develop.

So why am I writing about this? Because the resistance to facts also affects us as a university when our lecturers and researchers are questioned because of “facts” from obscure sources online. How do we argue against these “truths”? One of our most important instruments in research is source criticism and general critical thinking. These are the fundamental things we need to teach our students.

However, it is also important that we become more vocal in the debate. Universities are often ranked very high in surveys investigating public confidence. But do we use this position towards achieving Lund University’s vision of understanding, explaining and improving our world?

I think we can become much better at reaching out with what we know and are capable of. We can become better at showing why we do the things we do, and how we contribute to societal development. We can become better at explaining why we are needed.

We at LTH are therefore in the process of drawing up a new communications strategy that connects to the strategic plans that Lund University and LTH are currently working on. How can we show our contribution to help solve major societal challenges? The challenges are defined in different ways by different actors, but the challenges are always there, regardless of which group of societal issues we choose: climate, energy, water, digitisation, urban development, food, health, aging populations…I could go on for a while. We want to demonstrate that we are relevant in solving these problems, while coming from a place of profound scientific knowledge. These are not only personal opinions but views based on facts and experience.

Obviously, we support freedom of research, open debates and critical thinking. LTH is to be a bulwark against the resistance to facts.
 
Viktor Öwall
Dean of LTH

PS. As someone who wants to read real books and who loves having a printed newspaper over breakfast, I appreciate what columnist Per T. Ohlsson wrote to the former vice-chancellor of Lund University, Nils Stjernquist, in Sydsvenskan on 20 November 2016: “A paperless society is as desirable as a paperless toilet.”


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Viktor Öwall
Dean of the Faculty of Engineering LTH

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