Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seminar on the impact of science

University of Helsinki (Prof. Markku Löytönen, Department of Geography), Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (Prof. Arto Mustajoki, chair of board) and Academy of Finland (Director Pirjo Hiidenmaa, Culture and Society Research Unit) organized a seminar on the impact of science.

Docent Allan Tiitta provided a view on the history of Finnish science and discussed among things the intended impact of the Royal Academy of Turku when it was founded in 1640 by Queen Christina of Sweden. Dr. Tarmo Lemola (Advansis) described in detail different ways of measuring the impact. He referred to, for instance, OECD's list of different kinds of impact including impact in science, technology, economy, culture, society, policy, organization, health, environment and training as well as symbolic impact.

Prof. Markku Löytönen emphasized the need to see the big picture and the long time scales when the impact of basic science is considered. He gave some examples including the influence that Fourier had on GSM technology. Kjell Forsén, the CEO of Vaisala Inc. described Vaisala's scientific origins that date back to the 1930s when Professor Vilho Väisälä, Vaisala's founder and long-time managing director, invented some of the operating principles of a radiosonde. Forsen also gave a view on how important active research and international collaboration with research institutions is still nowadays important for the company.

Prof. Jarkko Hautamäki provided a overview on the PISA research and how it has influenced the visibility of Finnish educational system. The Finnish educational system has approved to be the best in the world in the PISA results. It is an egalitarian Nordic system with no tuition fees and free meals. Attendance is compulsory for nine years starting at the age of seven. Prof. Mari Vaattovaara described an interesting case in which a university course and researchers' attention to the situation of a suburb had also led into significant public and political attention.

Director Pirjo Hiidenmaa emphasized the idea that the impact of science needs to be considered as a process that has two directions. She reminded that also lay persons have contextual knowledge that can be important in many cases. Our group has recently published a related research report named Modeling communities of experts – conceptual grounding of expertise. This publications considers different kinds of expertise as well as modeling its explicit and implicit forms at individual and social levels.

Prof. Arto Mustajoki provided a big picture on the impact of science. He stressed that some kinds of impacts of basic research are such that their value is immense and not measurable. Some scientific results influence profoundly how individuals and organization act through changed understanding of the world and through adoption of new kinds of methodologies. This impact should be understood as clearly as possible by politicians and policy makers to underline the need to continuously invest on basic research, not only expecting short term results of applied research.

In their concluding talks, Prof. Markku Mattila, the president of the Academy of Finland, and Director Leena Vestala, Department for Education and Science Policy, Ministry of Education also emphasized the importance of considering the impact of research. Prof. Mattila also announced that Academician Leena Peltonen-Palotie had passed away and a moment of silence was spent to honor her memory.

After the presentations, there was a lively discussion during which Dr. Jouni Tuomisto from the National Institute for Health and Welfare told about interesting developments related to Science 2.0. He has initiated Opasnet which is a wiki-based website for helping decisions about human health, and environmental factors affecting it. Opasnet is also open for anyone who wants to promote science-based decision-making in any field.

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