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  • Petri Koikkalainen
    Chair, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

    Leader

    Science, in a Broad and a Narrow Sense

    What is science? At least it means universities, researchers, findings, publications, inventions, and Nobel prizes. On the other hand, it is something much more broad-ranging, something that relates to culture and general courses of action.

    When it is understood in a broad sense, scientific culture can mean believing in the idea that diverse and well-justified points of view would generally prevail over first impressions and preconceptions. That shades of grey contain more than black and white. That it is possible to discover and rectify even tenacious errors. That it is worth listening longer to people who see many sides to things than to people who only look at things from one angle.

    Science, broadly understood, maintains public discussions at a high level and ensures that policy making and, for instance, product development are based on the best available knowledge.

    Science, however, is easier to measure narrowly than broadly. National and international indicators emphasize those “products” of science that can be calculated as units and evaluate universities as institutions that produce them.

    Both individual researchers and universities need courage and insightfulness so as not to accept the order that is given between the lines: create only things that, in the short run, produce the most money or visibility that also has monetary value.

    Science in a broad sense does not have too many proponents, and words that are associated with it, like “discipline” in some of its senses may even sound old-fashioned. On the other hand, science in its broad sense may be taken for granted. “Rising educational levels”, with all their consequences related to economic success and to the quality of policy making, have been a part of every recent government programme.

    At the latest during the recent years, however, it has become evident that the continuous rise of the quality of societal discussion or the quality of policy making certainly does not happen automatically.

    In the practice of science making, the broad senses of science are still understood quite well. An individual group of specialists or top researchers cannot create an entire culture based on knowledge. It requires a variety of competences, even students. Science policy controversies — the big against the small, or researcher-teachers against the “other staff” — are frequently absent when people who are seen to belong to these groups really meet.

    But science always has at least a communicational problem. Those who work with it, from all walks of science, feel that they are lacking in prospects and that their competence is not acknowledged. Politicians and economic life complain that the resources allocated for science do not produce the results they had hoped for. It becomes increasingly difficult to defend science not just as a producer of individual products but also in its broader senses.

    University people are not simply concerned about the government cuts on education and research because of their own jobs. When an entire generation seems to be at risk to be blocked on its way to becoming professionals of scientific culture due to lack of money, there is serious cause for concern that belief in science in a broad sense is now officially gone.

    We can, however, do more than just wish it were not so. The unions that publish this journal can advocate science across the boundaries of individual occupational groups, schools of thought, disciplines or universities. This issue of Acatiimi presents the Researcher of the Year 2015. Since 1997, the Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland has given this prize to people who advance and promote science in a broad sense.

    Petri Koikkalainen
    Chair, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

    • Painetussa lehdessä sivu 38