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A tribute to the light of wisdom

Minister for Higher Education and Science Søren Pind's speech at the EliteForsk conference in Copenhagen 23 February 2017.

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HRH Crown Princess Mary
Dear award recipients,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to EliteForsk 2017.

I would also like to welcome Professor Johannes Vogel from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. We are honoured and delighted that you have agreed to be today’s speaker.

Research transforms the world. It pushes our knowledge to new limits and takes us to uncharted new territories. For this reason, we must give the best researchers the best opportunities to pursue and apply their talents. This is the government’s ambition. And it is my ambition. It is vital that we pay tribute to research. And that is what we are doing today.

As Minister, I am proud to be here today to honour your efforts and contributions to science.  The awards, stipends and grants to be presented serve both as recognition of your work as researchers and as an investment in the future.

Apollo and the light of wisdom

The statues surrounding us here in the Glyptotek banquet hall represent the elite of antiquity.

The most cherished god of the Greeks, Apollo – he with the lyre at the end of the hall to the left -was a true master of breaking down the boundaries between different fields.

He was the god of music and poetry, of medicine, prophecy and archery! This is certainly an example of interdisciplinary expertise on a divine plane.

But Apollo was also the god of light. He represented the sun and showed the way with his wisdom and knowledge.   

Dear award recipients, we need your information in a world darkened by propaganda and false news.

The pollution of truth is washing over Denmark like a giant, rancid wave.

We are seeing foreign powers bombard us with “fake news” and alternative facts.

The respect for knowledge and facts can sometimes seem distant and scarce. Truth has become a malleable concept.

In this world, facts and science are of great importance. Perhaps of greater importance than ever before. This world needs researchers like you to separate the true from the false. Right from wrong. Propaganda from objective information.

No border control here, please

Today is a day of tribute to wisdom. With EliteForsk, we find the top research talents and create excellent conditions for you to share your wisdom, inspiring and enlightening the world.  

The EliteForsk travel grants and Sapere Aude grants are also important building blocks for supporting research in Denmark.

When we send off Denmark’s most outstanding research students to international research environments, we are not only creating opportunities for the individual student.

We are also building a good brand for Denmark in the international knowledge economy, further strengthening our ability to attract talented researchers beyond our borders.

I am delighted that today’s theme is “Research that breaks boundaries”.

By its very nature, good research crosses boundaries. It breaks down the boundaries between nations and academic fields, while expanding the limits of established knowledge.

When I think of elite research, I think of Niels Bohr.

There was no border control in the mind of Denmark’s greatest physicist.

Bohr never ruled out a new idea as preposterous. No classic doctrine was exempt from scrutiny – as long as curiosity was the driving force.

On the theories of physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr once said: 

“We all agree that your theory is crazy. The question is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”

Research is not about walking in the footsteps of others – but rather about charting one’s own course. Even though it may sometimes may take you out on a limb.  

Long list of ground-breakers

Looking at the list of award recipients, I see many examples of pioneering ground-breakers.

Take mathematics professor Søren Galatius, for example. Søren solved a mathematical problem that had stood unsolved for 50 years!

I will not feign to comprehend Søren’s research. It involves such words as topology, free groups and deformations.

But his work has given rise to a new school of thought in the field.

And that is remarkable.

Another ground-breaker is law professor Michael Rask Madsen.

Michael is truly multitalented, or – drawing on a term of the 1700s – a polyhistor. His research breaks down boundaries between fields of study to an extent that would make Apollo himself green with envy.

By combining legal, social and political science studies, his research is more than just ground-breaking; it has also garnered broad political interest.

For example, Michael has established that international courts do not automatically have legal authority. Their force depends on the applicable situation and their conduct.   

Many of today’s recipients of EliteForsk travel grants are also breaking down boundaries.

Many of you are international students. You have come to Denmark from other countries to pursue your research dreams. We are appreciative and proud that you have made this choice. 

A research system in balance

Research gives us new opportunities and expands the bounds of knowledge. 

Therefore, the government wants to give you the best opportunities to pursue and apply your talents.

This requires a research system in balance.

We need primary research, which holds the potential to transform our world  view and create new knowledge.

We must have independent research, driven by researchers’ own ideas, to deliver the knowledge we did not yet know we needed.

And we need strategic research, with targeted investments to find solutions to today’s great challenges and the needs of society. 

These investments aim to ensure that research creates value in society – in the form of new knowledge, skilled graduates, new products and solutions to benefit the public. 

These prerequisites exist today. They form the foundation of Denmark’s strong scientific community, enabling high quality research with significant international impact.

But there is no reason to rest on our laurels. We must continue to ask questions about the ways we support research. 

Are we good enough at recognising and identifying talent?
Are we good enough at challenging those with extraordinary potential?
Can we be sure to notice Apollo’s luminous wisdom back in the seventh row of the classroom?

In my view, we must become even better at building a culture where the most talented students are given the opportunity to realise their potential.

We must hold students in higher education to high standards. Earning a higher education degree should be a difficult endeavour.

Research must build bridges to society

Being elite brings with it responsibility. 

Danes must benefit from the scientific knowledge generated by researchers.

Your research must not be confined behind the thick walls of the ivory tower. It must be disseminated so that Danes can benefit from your insights and results. 

Soon you will hear Johannes Vogel and Jacob  Sherson talk about open science and citizen science. I hope you will listen closely.

They are employing new scientific methods that are opening up research. Methods where the public – citizens – are part of the experiment itself.

So let us pay tribute to Apollo and his wisdom. Let us pay tribute to the learned and the wise. Let us pay tribute to all of you receiving an award today.

I hope that you will help me to bridge the gap between the public and the scientific community.

And that you will help to restore respect for science and research in Denmark.

As the saying goes these days: Let’s make science and knowledge great again! 

Thank you all for the opportunity to speak here today.


last modified Jun 14, 2017