Skip to content

Whatever happened to critical thinking?

Sometimes I wonder whether scientific research’s all-consuming, cathartic drive for results and quality should also be applied to other sectors. At least to some degree. Or can you claim just about anything?

In answer to this rhetorical question – yes, of course, though sweeping, unsubstantiated statements, not to mention blatantly fake news, do concern me. To discredit someone who is neither in a position to speak out nor to defend themselves is not only unfortunate, but dishonorable. I never cease to be amazed, despite my nigh-on 40 years in the sector, by how surprisingly often untruths – possibly owing to envy of others’ positions or titles – risk destroying the internal culture.

Simply hitting each other over the head with our h-index is an all too brusque measure of academic achievement, something I write about in a debate article (in Swedish). Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but I’ve seen it happen enough times to see an unhappy pattern emerge where talented people begin doubting themselves, start feeling discouraged and choose to refrain from accepting various challenges.

With academic freedom and the free academy also comes a certain responsibility. A responsibility to find out what the facts are and to put critical thinking into practice, something that we proudly tell our students to apply themselves to. Otherwise, there’s a real risk that some will forgo taking the next step in their career rather than risk being the subject of academic spats and envy. If untruths and threats are allowed to remain unchallenged, then the university and higher education world is at risk of being quieter and more afraid.

Scientific research results are meant to be verified, repeated, and to rest on a statistically reliable basis, and finally to be scrutinized by an expert. Perhaps similar steps might be used in other contexts to benefit a more nuanced and honest description of real life. And if we want to broaden recruitment both to and within colleges and universities, I think it is important to protect all kinds of talent.