On our minds – the state of the world, and free research

Last changed: 13 July 2023

Over time, stability has been the norm at SLU and in the world of higher education. Now, the world has suddenly become more unpredictable.

Göran Ericsson, Dean

As you read this, the situation won’t be the same as it was on 14 March when I wrote this text. The last time we experienced this kind of turbulence close to us was in 1989 and the following years as the former Eastern Bloc collapsed. The current situation means that SLU’s issues are clearly in focus. How can we ensure our energy supply? Can we make Sweden more self-sufficient? What goods and services can forests provide? How will this affect our goals in other areas such as sustainability, biodiversity and climate?

The strength of SLU, and our higher education system, is that our research is characterised by breadth, and so is how we interpret what knowledge may mean and what it can contribute. We need to make better use of this, internally and externally. Especially in the current situation. A former vice-chancellor replied something like this when asked why SLU researchers don’t always agree on critical issues: ”But why not look at it the other way, isn’t it a weakness (in a democracy) if all researchers agree?”.

It’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly share. Disagreeing, and drawing different conclusions, is the backbone of free academic conversation. It sharpens our arguments. It means that sometimes, we have to return to the starting point and understand the conditions that may affect our conclusions. So, in the uncertain world we now live in, we need to disagree to move forward. It will help us answer questions on energy, self-sufficiency, biodiversity and climate – as well as a host of other questions

My challenge to you, therefore, is to not be afraid to get in touch with colleagues, at SLU or elsewhere, even if you don’t agree. Talk to each other. Invite your critics or someone you’ve criticised yourself to a scientific dialogue. Dare to listen and keep an open mind. Convincing each other is not what matters. Instead, we need to encourage each other to keep up the free research that will, in turn, enable us to meet the challenges currently facing Sweden and the world. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and I wish you all the best of luck in this endeavour.

See you on campus!

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