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No freedom without responsibility

The media have been full of reports and opinion pieces about the coronavirus crisis in the last few weeks. Many researchers are involved and working together to find answers and solutions. This demonstrates the research community’s ability both to play their part and to change track.

Academic freedom means researchers have the right to formulate their research question and to freely publish this.  However, this is also accompanied by the at least as important academic responsibility – a responsibility that entails many things. These include:

  • Caution when performing the research
  • Validate and ensure the results stand up
  • Openness to critically discuss the results

As a researcher you must have done all this before submitting material for publication. An inherent requirement of research on natural sciences and engineering is that the experimental part should be so clear that other people should be able to repeat the experiments and get the same results. In other words, this is a rigorous craft that ensures high quality research findings reach the research community and that are of benefit for social development.

In the rush to reach out and pursue a certain line, it is unfortunately the case that sometimes testing hypotheses and reviewing the results get skipped over. Are we in some kind of competition? Naturally, there is an enormous need for new knowledge in everything from models to predict the spread of infection to eventually developing a vaccine against covid-19. What is most challenging in what we are facing right now is the fact that there are so few answers to the many questions we all have. The urge and determination to find answers are perhaps greater than ensuring the quality of the research. This is serious.

In so doing, the credibility of the research and trust in universities and colleges can be at stake.

High quality research requires caution in all its parts and leads to research that will be of benefit to society. Research of high quality is part and parcel of the academic environment of a leading university. This makes for an attractive environment that attracts new talents.
Without responsibility there is no freedom either.