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Trust has to be maintained

Trust in researchers and research is still high in Sweden. That’s clear from the results of the yearly public survey of research, the VA Barometer; even if the result is somewhat affected by the Macchiarini scandal.

That gives us hope, and is comforting in times when there is resistance to facts and even a denial of facts. Sweden has a tradition of social structure and development that is based on trust in knowledge; and that knowledge has been behind Sweden’s journey from a poor to a rich country. If an error is made within research it will affect this trust and it is important to remember that trust, just like physical exercise, is something you have to work on to maintain.

In the long run you cannot offer broad research that is based on only old merits. It is in the interaction between research, reflection and critical thinking that the results should be scrutinised in order to eventually do some good for society. But nothing can be taken for granted here without help from the researchers to maintain trust at several levels. We must keep arguing that research is about proposing problems and balancing one side against the other, and that there are very rarely simple solutions to complicated problems. As researchers here, an important part of our assignment is the task of making research accessible, visible and comprehensible by making our findings available and, when needed, helping with the analysis of the research. In this way, we have a foundation for continued research and we can help to allay suspicions that things are being hidden or are unclear.

One of the many questions that were asked in the VA Barometer survey was to what extent politicians consider relevant research when it comes to their decision-making. Of the 1000 people that were asked (in a statistically-reliable selection), 46 percent thought politicians did so too seldom. The question this begs is whether we should be worried that politicians are isolating themselves and are choosing the path of populism instead?

Probably not. Maybe the politicians need to be clearer about invoking the particular research that informed their decision. Perhaps policies that try to be like research and consider one side and then the other could be viewed as poor decision-making. Of course, one way for researchers at KTH to be visible is to pursue teaching. Dealing with students that are eager to learn and argue in their reasoning helps researchers become clearer. The combination of combining teaching and research is especially crucial at a university whose mission is both to educate and to research.

The autumn semester is coming to an end, and, after only six weeks as President of KTH, I want to thank for your trust and your hard work.

I am looking forward to 2017, to the possibility of KTH’s successful research making a contribution to the development of society, and to us making that research as widely known as possible.