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Academics must work at building public trust in their expertise

Rick Sarre writes in The Conversation (15.12.16) arguing that academic analysis is often ignored in political discourse and the formation of public policy – and this is an indictment not of readers, but of academics.

‘Just last week, Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin, the chair of the Nobel Foundation, delivered the opening address for the Nobel Prize award ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall. In his remarks he offered the following:

‘”Leading politicians − both in Europe and the United States − are winning votes by denying knowledge and scientific truths. Populism is widespread and is reaping major political successes. The grim truth is that we can no longer take it for granted that people believe in science, facts and knowledge”.

‘Can this be true? Surely not! Academics, such as myself, take care with our work, ensuring that we are well-theorised and, if our research has had an empirical component, that all proper protocols have been met. Surely one should be able safely to assume that, at some stage, our findings will make their way into public policy realms, if not the hearts and minds of voters.

‘If this assumption were ever true, it was heavily dented this year. Last month’s US election delivered a bigoted narcissist to the position of US president-elect. The rise of One Nation in the Australian election in July and the Brexit vote in the UK in June were both surprise outcomes. Voters are displaying their contempt for contemporary politics and received wisdom. They are angry about being locked out of the opportunities that “elites” appear to have at their fingertips.’

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