It is time for a new Enlightenment, argued Louise Fresco, President of Wageningen UR, at the opening of the academic year 2014/2015. "We must find a new way of engaging society in the development of knowledge", she said.
Technology makes it possible to have unmanned machines do farm work: ploughing, harvesting and milking cows while monitoring the animal's health. These developments improve food production and working conditions, but is this what society wants, Fresco asked. She argued that it is not always clear what people want. The idea that 'the consumer is always right' is a fallacy, she said. On the one hand, people want cheap food, but on the other hand they want to have it produced on small farms where all the work is done by hand and where animals play in flowering meadows.
Reactions of students and employees
An assistant professor, a student, a PhD candidate and a researcher of one of Wageningen UR's research institutes reflected on Fresco's speech, after a musical interlude by the Wageningen UR big band Sound of Science.
Laura Bouwman of the chair group Health and Society disagreed that 'people distrust science' and she also opposed the popular idea that 'people don't want to listen to scientists.' Bouwman said: "We have to understand that people have a lot of things to worry about other than food and health. We shouldn't tell them what they should and shouldn't do. We should listen."
Bastiaan Meerburg of Wageningen UR Livestock Research spoke about the opposition against large scale pig farming in the south of the Netherlands (Province of Brabant). The pig production will then move to other places, he said. He questioned whether people realised that. "There's no free lunch", Meerburg emphasized.
Student Jelske de Kraker stipulated that scientists should listen to people with other points of view and other interests. This is the only way to understand why they come to other conlcusions than you do. "From there, you can try to convince them, or perhaps, they will convince you."
PhD candidate Padraic Flood said that scientists should "motivate society to safe the world." Scientists tend to use reason and logic to communicate their results, "but that is not what motivates us", he said. "Feelings and emotions do."
Wageningen UR strategy
Rector Magnificus Martin Kropff, who oficially opened the academic year, invited staff and students interactively design a new strategic plan for Wageningen UR. Later this year there will be debates - online and offline - where everyone can share their ideas about the future of Wageningen UR.