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Deirdre McCloskey

On Tuesday, May 23, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel will award honorary doctorates to five prominent personalities. In anticipation of the ceremony we presented Deirdre N. McCloskey, Paul Ginsparg, Willem van Mechelen, Gary T. Marx and Jan Terlouw five questions about the “break down the walls” theme. Every day, we bring you the answers of one of the prospective honorary doctors. In the autumn, Italian politicians and activists Emma Bonino and the residents of Lampedusa Island also receive an honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Below are the answers of Deirdre N. McCloskey, professor economy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).


Want to attend the award ceremony coming Tuesday? Register here!


Scientists today, are they too focused on themselves and their own domains, or is the opposite true?
I don’t think there is much change in attitudes from earlier times, but it is true that as science gets bigger it gets split into specialties.


How can scientists offer an anti-dote to various forms of fake news in the so-called post-truth era?
By telling the truth as they see it, especially in the popular press, but not adding to the sneering in such phrases as “climate change denier.”


How can scientists increase their impact on society?
By listening to colleagues–I am always irritated by the ignorant declarations on economics that my colleagues in biology or history make.  And by writing from a humane and broad-minded perspective.  I think of the great physicist at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, Freeman Dyson.


What should be the role of universities in today’s world?
The advance and transmission of knowledge.  Not solving social problems—leave that to the community.

The role of the university should not be solving social problems
Deirdre McCloskey

There are many developments that can be construed as threatening: climate change, job destruction by automatisation, loss of privacy through big data enterprises… Which current developments pose the greatest threat in your opinion?
None of the ones you mention trouble me much.  As an economist, for example, I have no worries about automation.  It has happened in the past, and will continue, but does not cause job loss. Jobs are not scarce, unless we have bad policies on employment such as restrictions on the employment contract.  My main fear is the gradual, slow socialism of both the left and the right.