Ladies and Gentlemen,
We all know why we are here today: we will soon be sharpening, and officially calling our own, something that is more than a mere object to put in a place of honour in a cabinet. It will be far more than that. It will be a powerful symbol of the search for and the defence of the truth.
Ideally, the search for the truth and defending it should last a lifetime. For brand new doctoral graduates, this is an almost sacred duty and, at the same time, a lifelong honour. You have laid the groundwork for this yourselves during your many years of hard work. With this solid foundation, you are now capable of using the sword of truth effectively. Once you have received your sword, I would like to ask you never to stop in your search for the truth, something you have been devoted to and driven by at your alma mater for so long, and to continue your dedicated search for the long term. The world and our society desperately need it.
In recent times, the need for truth has been alarmingly prevalent in almost every context and situation. Not only in presidential election campaigns in leading Western nations that suddenly produced something as scandalous as “alternative facts”. Not only on social media, where everyone has an opinion, but few really understand what they are talking about. Even in our often overworked and understaffed leading media, well-educated and informed people find more and more examples that impress, not so much by their informative content, as by their irritating distance from the factual truth.
Let us look at two examples from the last two years: the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine invasion. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the significance of scientific evaluations has increased dramatically, even in the eyes of people with no scientific background. However, an enormous number of people have questioned or denied these scientific evaluations, even to the point of denying the existence and dangers of the virus. Despite all the criticism, scepticism and orchestrated attacks in antisocial media, many scientists have kept on raising their voices, issuing scientifically sound statements, thus preventing some of the more extreme damage intended by such apostles of half-truths. The greater the danger, the more we need the truth. And that does not only apply to the scientists who happen to be virologists. The need for truth is interdisciplinary. One could even say that truth knows only one discipline: the truth itself.
A second and even more recent example of the necessity to search for and defend the truth, is the war of aggression against the Ukraine. It shows us every day, every hour anew, how truth is created, manipulated, twisted and denied. Anyone who listens to the news or surfs the internet has to find out the real truth for themselves, single-handedly and every day. Few of us, if any I suspect, have studied military warfare and strategy. However, as highly educated scientists we have the best interdisciplinary methods and instruments at hand to discover the smallest kernel of truth under the last unturned stone. What is the truth?
In the scientific pursuit of advancing knowledge, we often don’t know – but we can find out. Using the methods and approaches we have mastered. Day by day, topic by topic. And then we need to communicate the truth we have discovered to the world around us. That is what using the sword of truth means. The consequences can hardly be overestimated. Or can you imagine a future without truth? Or a future with limited truth? A future based on the clay feet of half-truth cannot prevail, as history has shown us repeatedly since ancient times.
Unfortunately, we still live in the age of alternative facts. We have to put an end to this! We need a second enlightenment, hence the sword. It separates the real truth from the alternative truth, as Alexander the Great did when he cut the Gordian Knot. That you, with your new doctorates, often make use of this noble sword is your responsibility, your duty, your burden and honour, all at the same time. And not forgetting: your pleasure. As Thornton Wilder has Caesar say in The Ides of March: “There are few pleasures equal to that of imparting to a voracious learner the knowledge that one has grown old and weary in acquiring.”
All the greater should be our joy in this noble pursuit, since our “voracious learner” is nothing less than the whole world – at least that part of humanity which, like us, seeks, values, and defends the truth. The world, at least this truth-loving part of the world, in our truth-deprived times of biased social media and alternative facts, is positively gasping for the real, undisguised, original truth made by science. We can and must accept this task – who else is going to do it? The social media? Politics? Insta stars? Influencers? Talk show experts?
No, only academia can do this in a scientifically sound, verifiable, transparent, and reliable way. With this in mind: do not only treasure the sword of truth, but above all use it proactively! In return, it will reward you with all that any real expert can hope for from a well-honed instrument: honour, respect, recognition, and the feeling of standing up for the right cause. No cause is more worthy in this context. Or do you know of anything more important in the long run than the pure undisguised truth?
The sword is an intellectual weapon in the search for and defence of the truth. For the truth is worth defending. By you, and by all of us.
On that note, I would like to thank you for your attention and wish you, and all of us, the very best while sharpening our swords.
This is the speech Prof. Dr. Michael Henke gave in the LUT University's seventh Ceremonial Conferment of Doctoral Degrees, which took place at the Lahti Sibelius Hall on 28 May 2022. Henke is Director of Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund, Germany and holds the Chair in Enterprise Logistics. Henke is a long-term collaborator with the LUT School of Business and Management and now an Honorary Doctor of Economics and Business Administration.