The big question

Contact asks four UQ researchers: Is society becoming freer or more oppressed?

Professor Elizabeth Eakin

Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Medicine
Director, Cancer Prevention Research Centre

“From a medical research perspective, the freedom to collaborate – across disciplines and geographic boundaries – is essential. It’s key to solving the world’s big health problems: cancer, infectious disease (antibiotic resistance), obesity and climate change, to name just a few. This includes collaboration that extends outside the University and includes our industry, health services and community partners. So, are we becoming freer? Absolutely. We have to in order to thrive.”

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Dr Nicholas Carah

Senior Lecturer, School of Communication and Arts

“The past decade seems significant because of the opening up of technologies that enable free public expression. Now we are finding ourselves having to reckon with the new kinds of oppression this brings. Disinformation thrives online. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the sites of the greatest commercialisation of free expression in history. We find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with the unleashing of hateful and harmful expression spilling into the public domain. And so, we find ourselves once again dealing with the complicated relationship between freedom and control.”

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Associate Professor Jacinta O’Hagan

Director, Graduate Centre in Governance and International Affairs
School of Political Science and International Studies

“As a white, educated woman living in Australia, I enjoy political, economic and social freedoms that would have been inconceivable to my grandmother. But it would be different if I were a Rohingya or Yazidi woman, or even an academic or journalist in Turkey today. Liberties can be won, but also lost or surrendered, particularly in the face of fear. Fear presents liberal societies with a dilemma: what liberties are we prepared to trade in our quest to protect our own sense of freedom?”

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Dr Michael Bromley

Senior Lecturer, School of Mathematics and Physics

“Society faces challenges on various socio-economic-techno-environmental fronts. The freedoms of internet-connected individuals are fuelling the fire of opinion over fact, leading to a lack of evidence-based policy making. Experts, like judges and climate scientists, are being challenged by ignorance, meaningless sound bites, and clickbait that manipulates and oppresses. Next-generation experts should be encouraged to study across borders and disciplines – not by increased fees or funding cuts. Only then will wise discussions and nuanced points of view determine our future.”

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