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UP FRONT

EXPERTS AND FACTS:
THE FIGHTBACK STARTS HERE

President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur says that it is up to the whole UCL community to fight for facts, expertise and evidence.

Avisionfor2034

These last 18 months have produced a whole series of remarkable double-take moments, and one that stands out is the assertion by the now ex-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that “even Hitler didn’t sink to using chemical weapons”. You hardly know where to start responding to such a statement, and it quickly became one of those moments that define a growing trend – in this case, an attitude to public discourse that prizes narrative and spin over facts and evidence.

From fake news to ‘people have had enough of experts’ (notoriously said by a British politician during the Brexit campaign), it’s a funny old time for universities, for whom knowledge is our raw material and the fuel that drives us.

That’s not to say, of course, that academia gets everything right. In fact, you could argue that being willing to be proved wrong is fundamental to being a good academic. As the great physicist Richard Feynman once said: “It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

Universities are home to opposing opinions and passionate debates – but those debates are evidence-driven, not based on what feels right or what I want to be true. We are open about what we don’t know and we provide evidence that can be assessed, tested and independently verified to back up what we say we do.

So all of us who are a product of this system could be forgiven for feeling downhearted and even powerless in the face of the damage being done to the idea of fact itself. We shouldn’t. Over my time at UCL I have found that there is no better cure for pessimism than attending a graduation ceremony or alumni event. Seeing so much talent, intellectual curiosity and passion to make a difference together in one room never fails to be exhilarating. There are more than 220,000 UCL alumni around the world, making you all a powerful alliance to advocate for evidence, challenge baseless assumption, and call out the questionable, the unsupported and the just plain wrong.

There are more than 220,000 of you around the world – a powerful alliance that can advocate for evidence, and call out the questionable, the unsupported and the just plain wrong

We’re delighted that so many of those alumni around the world have been a part of our It’s All Academic Campaign to raise £600m for UCL’s research, students and major capital projects. Many of you have attended launch events, joined us for the festival or taken part through live streams or social media.

You will have got the message, I hope, that this is not just about fundraising but also about community building: maintaining and growing a strong relationship with our global community of alumni, and offering multiple ways to stay involved with UCL and to support our current students and your fellow alumni through mentoring, volunteering and networking.

Please visit the UCL alumni page at www.ucl.ac.uk/alumni to sign up for the new Alumni Online Community, check for upcoming events in your area, and find out how you can volunteer for UCL from anywhere in the world.

Thank you for everything you do for UCL, and everything you all do to make the world a better, brighter and brilliant place. I hope to see you at one of our events in London or elsewhere in the world over the coming year.

Professor Michael Arthur
UCL President and Provost.

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Portico Issue 4. 2017/18
UP FRONT
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