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Blog: They know not what they do

Last year, Jussi Valtonen wrote the Finlandia prize-winning novel He eivät tiedä mitä he tekevät ("They Know Not What They Do"). The novel is an incisively intelligent and impressive depiction of topical issues both large and small. Through intricate plotting, it depicts the life of a professor of neuroscience in the scientific communities and societies of both Finland and the USA. I became completely immersed in the novel, which was an entertaining experience alongside the "oven building and red nose days" of recent years.

Great changes have taken place in the real world of Finnish scientific endeavour. For example, two new funding instruments have been introduced in the funding system now that the funding instrument of strategically directed research is being applied for the first time alongside the funding instrument for research and survey activities supporting governmental decision-making. Applications for the former funding instrument will open soon. As it is, seeking funding for research institutes and universities is an essential part of work related to research. During the past winter, there has been a great deal of talk about the aforementioned funding instruments in meetings of various scientific communities. All in all, the public funds allocated to research have been redistributed and the overall sum has decreased. In this way, research too is feeling the effects of the dire economic straits.

Social and scientific impact of research

What impact does research then have? I have listened to the debate on the subject, and measuring the social impact of research in particular seems difficult at times. Another concept that keeps popping up in the debate is the scientific impact of research, which is a different issue from its social impact. The internal impact of science refers to the ability to promote science – often studies in your own field. The use of research outcomes, theories and operating methods outside scientific institutions is considered its social impact.

Last year, approximately 1,600 doctoral students completed their studies. Some of them will continue in research roles, and some will move on to expert positions to meet the demands of industry, services and administration. The new National Land Survey of Finland employs dozens individuals with doctoral degrees, the majority of whom conduct research at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI) – some even in the Centre of Excellence. Some of the holders of doctoral degrees work as experts. A bridge must be built between research and everyday production to allow research outcomes to be put smoothly in practice. Here in Finland, our resources in land surveying and geospatial information are reasonably small from the perspective of transferring research results into production. Therefore, it is important we cooperate in this with both the public and private sectors. Consequently, it is crucial and necessary to know "what they do". Both ways.

Arvo Kokkonen

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