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Questioning is the best defence

Can this be right? Is this reasonable? Where did this come from?
These are a few of the questions that can be very important to ask when in our daily work as scientists,researchers and students, we are inundated with half-truths and outright fabrications in the form of pseudoscience and fake news.

Perceptive and purposeful questioning is the best defence against deceit. That goes for  academia – as institutions of knowledge – and, by extension, even democracy itself.

Understanding movements, political or social, in different countries is difficult if you are not an expert. In some parts of the world, democracy is young and fragile; while in others, democratic systems have been maintained for a long time.  Even so, current events have provoked discussion about the risks of taking democracy for granted. Some say that’s a dangerous thing to do; while at the same time saying so could be merely an attempt to exploit discord for certain political gains.

I personally have to acknowledge that I feel secure in the stability we have in our societal institutions today. Nevertheless, I am well aware that these have not been placed under greater pressure to date. Familiarity with Sweden’s  constitution, laws and pending legislation is a good basis for  understanding our national government’s basic values .

Knowledge and those who spread it are among the first targets of attack when democracies are dismantled. So it’s reassuring that each year about 400,000 students in Sweden learn about critical thinking and the art of perception and questioning things.

Evaluating sources of information has perhaps developed into a reflex action when when claims of truth are made. That our researchers engage in the debate is another important defence .

But if the debate becomes increasingly black and white and simplified, there is a risk of diminishing the strength of research – which specifically involves positing theories, situations and tests, against each other taking into account different variables.  “On the one hand this but on the other hand that” is neither easy to chew on nor quickly digested.

Continuing to question require courage, stubbornness and not losing one’s way in the academic hierarchy. Just because someone is a professor in a specific subject does not mean they know everything about everything.

Never before has it been as important to understand our fundamental rights and avoidingall too simple solutions to complex problems. This is something we have seen not least during the current pandemic.

It feels reassuring to be head of a university where essential engineering knowledge,  has problem-solving in its DNA. This in itself, always also begins with questioning to identify the problem and in so doing, start on the path to a solution.