Professoriblogissa otetaan kantaa yliopistojen ja tutkimuslaitosten ajankohtaisiin asioihin.16.3.2016
Finland’s Future of Dreams
Our TV series, Suomen Tulevaisuus, which launched on MTV3 this spring [see links below], styles itself as the biggest science documentary project ever undertaken in Finland. The aim is to bring into public view both the opportunities and challenges that science creates, for developing future prosperity. Finland is of course the main ‘subject’, but the topic has a general relevance for all societies struggling to come to terms with the ‘post-industrial’ present, and searching for a path to a sunnier future.
As scientists, we obviously have a huge self-interest in making those who ultimately pay our salaries and fund our research aware of what we do, why it is important, how the process of discovery works, and what steps are needed to turn blue-skies science into practical technologies that can improve everyday life, as well as create jobs and wealth. There is always a danger of talking up the rate and range of discovery, thus raising expectations to unrealistic levels. On the other hand, if we stress too much the pitfalls and uncertainties, we risk arousing the opposite kind of cynicism. Suomen Tulevaisuus tries to steer a kind of middle course, emphasizing the amazing potential of ideas and inventions that have arisen from within the Finnish scientific community, whilst charting how much still has to be done to turn some of them into tangible products and services that impact the real world.
The first series, of eight episodes, covers four interlinked areas where Finland is already strong, both in terms of basic science and its applications. These are the ‘bioeconomy’, digitalization, the push towards replacing fossil fuels with renewables, and the deployment of novel biotechnologies in the fight against cancer. Our aim is to demonstrate what 3 decades of concerted investment – both public and private – in these areas of science, has actually produced; which is another way of saying how important it is that this investment stream be maintained, despite the current financial difficulties that the nation is facing.
Although I have been a member of Finland’s research community for two decades, I still occupy a slightly detached and rather special niche, which allows me to be an observer as much as a participant. Given that Finns are sometimes reluctant to crow about their successes, whether individual or societal, my role as presenter in the series is to overcome some of that self-inhibition by stating baldly that some of the things that have been initiated here really do have immense promise and potentially global impact. We shouldn’t be shy about them. Rather, we need to promote them better, but without sacrificing all semblance of critical objectivity. Since the series is aimed as much at the domestic as (eventually) the international audience, I have tried to inject as positive a spin as I possibly can, given the context of the present rather bleak times. Finns need to be proud of what they have achieved, have confidence that they are on the right track to future achievements, and not get too distracted from the task by the short-term challenges of the present.
It’s vitally important to understand that this isn’t just a one-person show made by a commercial production company. The truth is that it is a collective effort at every level. The content is the actual science being done in universities, research institutes and companies up and down the country. The contributors are drawn from the whole scientific community in Finland, plus their many collaborators abroad. And the funding comes from Finnish companies that see the importance, to themselves and the nation, of getting the message across. Thus, I would invite all readers of this column to put forward their own ideas of what we should cover, who can best tell the story, and who might be prepared to put up the funding to sponsor an episode or part of an episode on subjects that remain to be addressed.
Professor of Molecular Biology, Tampere University
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