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Research that earns confidence

Sometimes, I hear people say in passing: Yes, but there is some research that proves that.
Far too often this seems to be a way of reinforcing their own opinions and elevating this into some kind of truth or at least a half truth rebuttal. This is both provocative and disconcerting.

It is obvious to anyone who has worked with research at all levels, that half-truths or small studies with minimal data, that cannot be repeated, or reviewed by other researchers, are not worth the bother. Such research neither resolves societal problems nor takes technological development forwards. This is beyond all reasonable doubt if I may say so myself.

We have been talking about the debate about and the dangers of fake news and fake science for a number of years now and I have written about this in previous blog posts. Unfortunately, this does not make it any less relevant and it has become extremely clear during the pandemic where there has been an especially big need for answers and solutions. A sharply polarised debate can easy obscure the point at issue.

To my mind, the best protection is still what I call the art of posing another question, i.e. to actively initiate a sense of questioning when references to different studies come thick and fast. As I see it, it is a case of always trying to call the cards and ask questions.

That confidence is high at the moment can be seen in the latest VA (Public & Science) Barometer , for example. The survey published in December shows that confidence is even higher than before.

Almost nine out of ten of the 1,000 people interviewed have pretty high or very high confidence in researchers at universities and colleges. Of these, the proportion that have very high confidence has increased sharply compared to surveys in previous years. Medicine is the subject area that tops the list of which research is of the greatest interest. Science and technology came in second and third place respectively.

Being both willing and brave enough to contribute to the societal debate from your own area of expertise is important for us researchers. However, it is also a big responsibility as authoritarian beliefs combined with the occasional uncritical use of “experts” by media, cause confusion, muddy the waters and erode confidence in research. A confidence that researchers and universities as knowledge institutions must both earn and protect.