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LESERINNLEGG

A call for promoting critical thinking for interdisciplinarity in NMBU LETTER IN SUPPORT OF PHI300/404: Interdisciplinarity and Expert Disagreement in Sustainability Research By the PHI300/404 students

Dear Solve Sæbø and Ole Jørgen Torp - and everyone else it might concern This letter is written on behalf of students that have recently enrolled in the Expert Disagreement in Sustainability Science course (PHI 300/404). It has come to our attention that the course might be a oneoff, as it potentially lacks financial backing next year. We write to you with a call for recognising the importance of courses like PHI 300. Furthermore, we wish to emphasise the crucial need for such courses in enhancing and developing critical interdisciplinary thinking at NMBU. As students, we have enrolled in a university whose advertised mission is to “contribute to the well-being of the planet.” through “interdisciplinary research and study programmes (that) generate innovations in food, health, environmental protection, climate and sustainable use of natural resources”. Further, the university holds interdisciplinarity as one of four main prioritised areas in the NMBU Strategy 2019-2023. Many students that chose NMBU as their alma mater, take these commitments very seriously. Therefore, it is no surprise that so many enrolled in the unique course PHI300, whose content and teaching were precisely in line with the values that NMBU is bringing forward. Interdisciplinarity and critical thinking go hand in hand as it has been stated in everything from the festive speeches by the university principals to the top levels of the United Nations, OECD and the World Economic Forum. As both the Intergovernmental Panels on Climate Change (IPCC) and Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES) state: We need a transformation of society if we are to 42 Utgåve 06 Årgang 75

face our challenges - and to do so we need synchronised effort from multiple fields and experts. The skills to communicate the implicit, and thus invisible, philosophical biases within our own respective disciplines is essential to advance that ‘synchronised effort’ of interdisciplinarity. The PHI300/404 course gathered a wide range of students, from first year bachelor pedagogics to PhD scholars in biology, in engaged and fruitful dialogues and discussions on sustainability issues. We learned to recognize our own biases and communicate them explicitly to students that are coming from other disciplines. This transforms disagreements into a constructive dialog and creates potential for scientific collaboration. For all of us, it has demonstrated the massive need for awareness and transparency around the different philosophical basic implicit assumptions that underlie scientific thinking. Only when investigating the fundamentals of our scientific traditions, we can see past generic jargon and methods to understand how different disciplines reach fundamentally different scientific conclusions and results from the same set of evidence. We, the young and aspiring generations, see the future as fundamentally uncertain, and view the complexity of our societal challenges with great concern. For many, that was the main reason for choosing to study in NMBU. We are happy that NMBU has chosen interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary studies as solutions to our imminent sustainability challenges. Now we believe it is the university’s responsibility to develop a culture for transparency and critical discussion on

conceptual premises and meta-empirical issues that facilitates interdisciplinarity. We ask that a course on expert disagreement and philosophical biases has to become a fundamental part of all bachelor and master programs to create awareness about discipline specific biases. In addition, there should be more specific (elective) courses to experience, train and practise key interdisciplinary communication skills based in critical thinking. But first and foremost, we deeply regret that the PHI300 is not planned to continue this and following study semesters. A great first step in a transdisciplinary direction is to allow new groups of students the opportunity to be enlightened by Rani Anjum and Elena Roccas proficient and engaging teaching of critical thinking about philosophical bias. The void is clear to us, 24 signatories who were lucky to get that unique training in PHI300: This is the education we want and need to be able to face our imminent challenges.