President’s editorial: “Rapid action in a time of uncertainty”

We live in uncertain times with the pandemic hitting us hard. When many people are afraid and uncertain, it is more important than ever to provide reassurance by spreading science-based information and advice. Many are expressing ideas and opinions but not all of them can be taken seriously. Fake news and alternative truth are still circulating in this time of crisis and messages are being conveyed with apparent authority despite a lack of scientific evidence and experience.

Source criticism is even more important right now. People are looking for hope and comfort and it is easy to become a victim of bad advice. By nature, researchers and scientists are cautious about establishing facts before they have evidence to back them up. Scientific data is collected and verified in a systematic process. Now we have been hit by a previously unknown virus and we need to build the boat at the same time as we’re sailing it.

Researchers throughout the world are putting all their energy into understanding and fighting the pandemic. In Sweden SciLifeLab has built up its capacity with the help of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and has managed to redirect its focus to help the healthcare system with COVID-19 testing. Scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) are developing an effective method to test individuals who have had the disease. At Karolinska Institutet an initiative in under way to increase knowledge about diagnostics and possible treatments.

Mathematics professor Tom Britton at Stockholm University is working on models to calculate how fast the coronavirus spreads to facilitate planning for future action. These are, of course, just a few examples of the efforts initiated by researchers in Sweden.

Accelerated education programmes have been put in place at several universities. Lund University, for example, has a fast-track course to train nurses in advanced care and furloughed SAS cabin crew are being retrained to join teams of nursing staff. Companies are converting their production operations to make hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), and the automotive industry around the world has started manufacturing respirators. Society is showing an incredible capacity for fast transformation.

One consequence of the pandemic is that we are increasing our digital expertise. IVA invested in the latest digital conferencing technology ahead of our 100th anniversary last year. Now we can help other organisations to hold virtual meetings. Our own activities have been reorganised. The final seminar in the IVA project Resource Effectiveness and the Circular Economy was in the form of a webinar. Almost 200 individuals participated remotely with only a dozen people present in the Wallenberg Auditorium – keeping a safe distance from each other. We need and want to meet in person, but we have technology that can help reduce unnecessary travel in this time of the coronavirus. 

We welcome continued efforts by the Ministry for Education and Research toward the next research and innovation bill that will be presented in the autumn. A strong vision from policy makers concerning the future knowledge economy is needed now to secure Sweden’s post-pandemic competitiveness. IVA is now working in the “corona mode” while at the same time building up activities that will help with the recovery of the economy when the pandemic eases up.