’Knowledge Is Beautiful’ – University of Copenhagen

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24 February 2017

’Knowledge Is Beautiful’

Research profile

It was not on the cards that EliteForsk prize-winner Klaus Høyer would become a researcher – on the contrary, in fact. But as he grew older, he developed a fascination for knowledge and a need to ask questions about the way we structure society.

Photo: Ditte Valente

As a professor and researcher at the Section for Health Services Research Klaus Høyer belongs to the cross-disciplinary humanistic and social science branch of the research conducted at SUND. He holds an MA in Anthropology and a PhD degree in Medical Ethics, and he is studying the way clinical research and practice are organised.

What are the implications hereof for health professionals, for patients and for the way we structure the healthcare system and run society? How do our actions within the healthcare system affect the way we are citizens of society? These are some of the questions Klaus Høyer’s research is trying to answer.

Why did you become a researcher?

‘If you look at my background it was actually highly unlikely that I would end up where I am now. I come from a non-academic family, and enrolling in a university was not even on my radar. When I was 14 I met a great, retired upper secondary school teacher, who became a good friend. He made me think that knowledge is beautiful, and he gave me a basic respect for curiosity. Like love, knowledge is one of few things which are not simply a means to a something else.

Before I enrolled in university I worked on development projects in Africa, and when I needed a bit more stimulation I studied African studies before I went back to Africa to work. But I started feeling that I did too many “stupid” things, when all I wanted was to be helpful. I tried to implement policy which in my opinion did not make sense, but I was constantly bound by a lot of demands. At that point I started to ask why we do things that do not necessarily work. And then I returned to university to find a place for independent thought and to give people an opportunity to rethink their own practice. There is a strong environment at SUND for humanistic-social science research. We have a unique research culture with room for differences, and where we share a basic sense of curiosity. And, of course, in my view, health is one of the main issues’.

What are you working on?

’I am mainly interested in the things that everyone seems to agree on, but which nevertheless end up causing problems when the idea is translated into practice. For example, we all agree that we want an ethical healthcare system, but as soon as we begin to translate ethics into a set of rules, we run into problems.

Right now I am working on an ERC-funded project studying data intensification. Everyone wants more high-quality data covering more people. But we disagree on their use. This project looks at what propels the process of data intensification, and how it affects the way we structure the healthcare system, the rights and obligations of patients and health professionals and the way we organise society.

One of the things that we are able to see across fields is that data intensification has made it possible to create a gap between management and operations. Such management at a distance can give rise to unexpected sources of error, because we lose touch with how the data was created. So based on the collected data a series of initiatives are launched to solve some problems which are not necessary consistent with the reality in which they are implemented. This creates a mismatch between practical problems facing clinical practice and the data-based solutions.

What basic science research can do is reopen the problem, making it thinkable again. How do we focus on what is important instead of implementing something that does not work? A basic principle in basic science is to remember not just to produce facts that are meant to travel into the real world as answers, but that basic science is about asking better questions’.

Why is your research important to society?

‘We need institutions in society which are not meant to deliver ready-made solutions, but which create room for independent thought. Therefore, it is also important that I am not made responsible for implementation. This would make the parameters I would take into account far too limited. My research is basically about creating ways of thinking, which in the end increases our intelligence and ability to understand. Therefore, basic science research is vital to teaching. We use it to develop the students’ ability to think for themselves and to be innovative. Our output is the creativity of the next generation’.

You have just received the DKK 1.2 million EliteForsk Prize. What does that mean to you?

‘It is great, both that the management at SUND has chosen to recommend a social scientist, and that out social science-oriented environment here at SUND receives recognition at national level. We should constantly strive to deliver the best possible product, and it makes you happy knowing that someone thinks you have managed to deliver a high-quality product. And I am very happy to have received the prize! I do not consider the large grants highlights of my own career, but rather as a help to create a framework where people are allowed to grow’.

What is the best thing about your job?

‘That has to be academic freedom and committed students. I love doing research, but I could not imagine doing only that, because it is wonderful to watch people grown and develop’.

What do you do in your free time?

‘I do not make a hard distinction between work and free time. I am also curious by nature in my free time, just as I am doing research. My husband and I enjoy travelling the world. And then I love meeting new people who can tell me stories that I did not even know I would be interested to hear’.