Post-truth world poses an uncomfortable challenge for universities

In a ‘post-truth’ world of divisive debate, are we facing a crisis of confidence in knowledge and expertise? It’s one of the questions to be addressed at UNSOMNIA: What keeps me up at night? at UNSW this Thursday.


In a ‘post-truth’ world of populist rhetoric and divisive debate, are we facing a crisis of confidence in knowledge and expertise?

It’s one of the questions to be addressed at the launch event for UNSW’s Grand Challenges program this Thursday, December 1.

UNSOMNIA*: What keeps me up at night? brings together 12 of Australia’s leading thinkers to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing humanity including climate change and refugees, fragile democracies, income inequality, artificial intelligence, disaster recovery and risk reduction, and therapies for mental illness.

Grand Challenges Academic Lead, Professor Rob Brooks, says recent political events worldwide suggest “people have had enough of experts”.

“Brexit, the US Elections and the bereft state of public leadership in Australia are not anomalies,” he says.

“They represent a dire crisis of public confidence in expertise, knowledge and evidence. And they present an uncomfortable challenge for universities and civil societies.”

Brooks, a Scientia Professor of Evolutionary Biology, will discuss how to refocus public debate to circumvent the insults, slogans and false claims that have characterised recent political campaigns and heightened social tensions.

The Grand Challenges program will be officially launched by UNSW Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs, who will discuss the 21st Century university.

Speakers at the event: Rob Brooks, Bingquin Li, Toni Erskine, Rosalind Dixon, Richard Buckland, Matthew England, Toby Walsh, Alison Ritter, David Sanderson, Richard Holden, Jane McAdam and Helen Christensen.

“Our Grand Challenges initiative aims to define and lead open, informed public debate about the biggest challenges of our time – and the potential solutions,” says Brooks, who is working with academics at UNSW as well as other Australian and international experts to curate a year-round program of activities. Grand Challenges on Climate Change, and Refugees and Migrants, are already underway and a new theme, Inequality, has recently been announced.

Event details

What: Program launch of UNSW’s Grand Challenges        
When: Thursday, 1 December 2016
Session 1: 3.30–5pm; Grand Challenges Lab: 5–6pm, Session 2: 6–7.30pm
Where: Leighton Hall, Scientia, UNSW, see map

More information: The full line-up and speaker bios are available at the UNSOMNIA website.
Watch: Video teasers are also available.

*UNSW + Omnia (latin: all, everything) = UNSOMNIA. A sleeplessness that combines a concern for the future and a compulsion to work hard to create a better future.