Vilhjálmur Árnason: The Role of Human Scientists in Public Discussion
In this paper, I ponder the question whether academics have an obligation to take part in public discussion. My answer is positive and I argue that it is one of the perconditions of thriving academic work that it is carried out in a liberal democratic environment which fosters informed public opinion. In a small society where the media is weak, the contribution of academics can be of particular importance. Often, academics alone have the knowledge which is necessary to analyze the issues, place them in a sensible context and reveal distorting statements. This I relate to the vision of the university, to critical thinking, and to the requirment of value-freedom which implies that academics must be vigilant about how scientific knowledge is used in society. In that regard, academics must particularly be alert about the commercialization of education, accompanied by subtle power which undermine the academic ethos. I discuss the dangers of a performance appraisal system which restricts research motivation to ISI publications and may reduce civic awareness and increase social alienation of academics. Finally, I argue that the contribution of human scientists to public discussion is unique in the sense that it is more than other sciences directly related to spiritual life of the nation in the broad sense. Since the Icelandic nation primarily faces a spiritural predicament, the contribution of the human sciences can be crucial. This means that, contrary to recent tendencies, the humanities must recognize their role as normatively grounded moral sciences.
Keywords: critical thinking, public awareness, public debate, vision of the university, value-freedom