Those damn populists

Tom Boland, former CEO of the HEA, wrote this in the Irish Times the other day:

Academics you can be sure are in the crosshairs of the populists. The undermining of public trust in higher education and in its mission to promote knowledge is a clear tactic of populism which feeds on prejudice and evidence-free assertion.”

He then goes on to suggest that academics of all kinds need to get out there and “engage” in order to cut the populists off at the pass.

This made me think of Ben Goldacre’s famous quip “you can’t reason someone out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into”. Those who have battled anti-vaxxers, quack nutritionists, climate change deniers and even Brexiteers will understand where Goldacre is coming from. Going out to battle is unlikely to change minds.

The way to avoid becoming a target of “populists” is to run our institutions in an open and transparent way, to be humble, to avoid spin and to ensure that everything we do brings some tangible benefit to society.

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