Wageningen University & Research launched the new academic year on Monday with a quest for ways of reducing resistance to innovation.
Photo: Jonne Seijdel
‘In some ways the world has turned upside down,’ said Louise Fresco, president of Wageningen University & Research, on Monday in Orion. In countries once considered backward by their colonial rulers, new technology is being eagerly embraced. Memories of poverty are only one generation away, and technology seems the best solution. Meanwhile among middle-class westerners there is growing distrust and a yearning for everything that is ‘natural’, ‘GMO-free’ and ‘artisanal’.
This resistance is a recurring theme in Fresco’s lectures. On Monday she mixed her ideas with those of Harvard professor Calestous Juma. The invited keynote speaker, author of Innovation and its enemies, had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons.
If you want to make innovations acceptable, you need to be aware of their social aspects, says Fresco. For example, people will never accept something which positions them outside their group. They may also have been raised with belief systems which stand in the way of acceptance. ‘People don’t believe facts, they believe other people.’
Yet Fresco notes that there is still a widely shared realization that science can provide answers. This means scientists can do a lot to increase acceptance of their work. They should not ‘oversell’ their work but should talk in terms of ‘plausible benefits’. Fresco also thinks there is a lot to be said for a new kind of incubator: a safe (possibly online) space where people can think about new technologies. But her main appeal was to all charismatic scientists with the ability to tell a story with passion. They should use that talent, she said.