Korkeakouluvisiota etsimässä

Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö on työstänyt kuluneen vuoden aikana visiota korkeakoulujen kehittämissuunnasta. Vision on tarkoitus ulottua vuoteen 2030, ja visiota varten on pidetty seminaareja ja työpajoja, sekä järjestetty kaksi avointa aivoriihtä verkossa. Tänään oli vuorossa lähinnä sidosryhmille tarkoitettu seminaari, jossa esiteltiin jo loppusuoralle kääntyvää visiotyötä ja osin hahmoteltiin jo vision toteuttamisen ensimmäisiä askeleita. Osallistuin seminaariin saatuani kutsun uuden Nuorten tiedeakatemian jäsenenä (tästä lisää myöhemmin…). Tässä muutamia hajanaisia huomioita.

Taustaksi, vision päälinjoista voi lukea lisää täältä.

  1. OKM ja ministeri Grahn-Laasonen ansaitsevat kiitoksen visiotyön avoimuudesta. Vaikka oletettavasti suurin osa korkeakoulujen henkilökunnasta ei ole visioprosessista kuullutkaan, on kaikilla kuitenkin ollut periaatteessa mahdollisuus siihen vaikuttaa. Tämä ei ole tyypillistä valtionhallinnossa, mutta toivottavasti esimerkki rohkaisee vastaavaan jatkossakin, ja toivottavasti jatkossa yhä isompi joukko näihin osallistuu. Avoin konsultaatio on tietysti välttämättömyys siksikin, että syntyvä visio rakentuu vahvasti ajatukselle verkostoista, yhteistyöstä ja entistä joustavammasta toiminnasta. Visiota ei siten voi tehdä, saati toteuttaa vain lainsäädäntöä, hallinnollisia rakenteita ja rahoitusmalleja viilaamalla, vaan se vaatii tutkijoiden, opettajien, opiskelijoiden ja muiden korkeakoulujen parissa toimivien tahojen toimintaa.
  2. Päivän, ja koko visiotyön iskulause tuntuu olevan “mahdollistava lainsäädäntö”. Käytännössä syksyllä aletaan valmistella uutta lakia, joka kattaisi sekä yliopistot että AMK:t, mutta ilmeisesti normitalkoohenkisesti säätelisi toimintaa vähemmän/joustavammin. Tähän kaivattiin konkretiaa, ja itsekin olen pettynyt, jos tämän yhteisen vision sijaan seuraavat pari vuotta korkeakoulusektorin kehittämispanos suuntautuu vääntöön siitä, luetellaanko uudessa laissa sekä kaikki yliopistot että ammattikorkeakoulut vaiko ei kumpiakaan, jne.
  3. Mukana päivässä oli yllättävän paljon samoja henkilöitä kuin 2000-luvun alussa kun viimeksi osallistuin OKM:n seminaareihin aktiivisesti, silloin SYL:n tai JY:n pinssi rinnassa. Tämä kertoo, että ainakaan jatkuvuuden puute ei korkeakoulusektorin kehittämisessä ole ongelma… Monien sidosryhmien puheenvuorotkin kuulostivat varsin tutuilta… Kuten kansliapäällikkö Anita Lehikoinenkin totesi, hyvä, että opiskelijat ovat aktiivisina prosessissa mukana, tulee ainakin jostain tuoreita ajatuksia. Visiotyössä on ilahduttavasti kuultu innoittajina myös ulkomaisia asiantuntijoita, niin tänäänkin.
  4. Tutkimuksesta ei puhuttu ollenkaan (innovaatioista ja teknologiasta vähän). Keskustelun fokus oli, ehkä keskustelijoiden taustojen vuoksi (tämä oli sidosryhmille, henkilöstöjärjestöille jne. suunnattu seminaari), lainsäädännössä, rakenteissa ja ylipäänsä ylätasolla. Onneksi verkkoaivoriihissä oli niitä fasilitoineen Fountain Parkin tj Janne Jauhiaisen esityksen perusteella kuultu myös puheenvuoroja ns. kentältä. Edelleen kuitenkin valitettavasti korkeakoulupolitiikka on ensisijaisesti koulutuspolitiikkaa, ja tiedepolitiikka ei tässäkään visiotyössä ole näyttänyt saaneen tarvitsemaansa huomiota. Tässä on Nuorten tiedeakatemialle vaikuttamistyön paikka.
  5. Vision päälinjoista (lisää osaajia, uutta osaamista, verkostoja ja yhteistyötä) ollaan kentällä pitkälti samaa mieltä. Keinot ja prosessit vision saavuttamiseksi kuitenkin mietityttävät; devil’s in the details.
  6. Kun tavoitteita tarkastelee tutkijan näkökulmasta, ihmetyttää, miten huippututkimuksen, laadukkaan opetuksen, taitavasti räätälöidyn täydennyskoulutuksen, innovaatiotoiminnan tai verkostoitumisen tavoitteita edistäisi parhaiten lain uudistaminen, rakenteelliset uudistukset tai muu poliittisen ohjauksen viilaus. Mikään näistä ei käsittääkseni ole nytkään suoranaisesti toiminnan kehittämisen esteenä. Kehityksen esteenä sen sijaan on, jos yliopistoissa tutkijoilla ei ole aikaa rakentaa yhteistyöverkostoja esim. yritysmaailman kanssa, tai jos toiminta luutuu paikoilleen esim. siksi, että nuorten tutkijoiden urapolut tukkeutuvat, professorikunta vanhenee, ja henkilökunnan aika palaa laitosfuusioissa ja muussa näyttävässä näennäistyössä.
  7. Japanin Yhteiskunta 5.0 on kiinnostava visio. Olisipa Suomellakin sellainen, edes korkeakouluilla.

 

 

 

Response from BBC

Local people

Local People, (c) BBC

Last week, I protested the decision made by BBC Eastern to axe the Naked Scientists radio show. Today, I got a reply from the BBC to my email.

Dear Mr Himberg

Reference *removed*

Thank you for your contact to the Head of Regional and Local Programmes for the East region, who has forwarded your concerns to Audience Services to respond to about the future of the ‘Naked Scientists’ programme.

The show is a specialist science programme that succeeds in communicating challenging and difficult scientific ideas in an accessible and engaging way. This is a key commitment the BBC needs to continue to maintain. But no single show can be the sole way to measure whether that commitment is discharged. The BBC is very committed to providing high quality science content on all platforms. This content reaches more than 40 million people in the UK a year. The BBC works with the world’s most influential scientists to produce high quality science series that engage the audience while tackling everything from thermodynamics to information theory, artificial intelligence and the origins of life.

Over the past few weeks BBC Four has dedicated an entire season of programmes to some of the most complicated science subjects on television with Seven Ages of Starlight, the Science of Chance, and Order and Disorder with Jim Al-Khalili. The BBC has long-standing science strands like Horizon on TV and radio programmes like the Infinite Monkey Cage. And the BBC now has a Science Editor for the first time to try to ensure the most important developments in science are reported across BBC news and factual programmes.

So why has the east region chosen to end the Naked Scientists programme? The decision is editorial; the show doesn’t fit the local radio brief. Local radio’s editorial role is to report local stories, local events and reflect local communities. The Naked Scientists, while excellent in reporting science, isn’t really a local radio programme at all as it doesn’t fit that core local editorial function. That’s not to say local radio shouldn’t report science-it should but its primary responsibility is to report local science. Our aim is to ensure that we do even better in reporting science in our mainstream output especially on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with its obvious connections to science at the University, research institutes and scientific industries. We’re speaking to the Naked Scientists team about how they can help us in this ambition. We’re also speaking to other parts of the BBC to explore how the Naked Scientists team can have a role in creating science content.

We will be developing and strengthening our science reporting capacity across our mainstream output to reflect the significance of science in the area. Listeners will hear more science stories in the parts of the schedule with the biggest audiences.

We’re sorry you’re losing a show you value highly but we hope you find other parts of the BBC’s extensive science output just as valuable.

I’d also like to assure you I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff. This includes all station controllers and commissioning executives, along with our senior management. It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Philip Boyce

BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

Again, the strange notion of “local”. Yes, they do interview researchers also from other universities but Cambridge. How about the recent episode on vitamin D? Yeah, not local as such, they interviewed Elina Hyppönen from UCL (a Finn, yay!) and other experts, all from outside the region, but given that approximately 90% of Brits have a deficiency of vitamin D, and that the deficiency might have dire consequences (e.g. diabetes and MS are linked to low levels of vitamin D), I’d think that this would have been necessary and relevant information for people in the Eastern UK? This is just one example, but this whole case demonstrates how the actual problem is either the brief or the people who decide to interpret in this inane way. Too bad that the world does not unproblematically fit BBC’s box diagram of briefs and responsibilities. I sure hope they will also enforce this with the same rigor in their other programming, including the music they play. There’s a lot of great music coming from the Eastern region, it is great that they now have a radio channel that is committed to exclusively policing that they will not let music from outside the region to pollute their airwaves. (Yeah right.)

Save the Naked Scientists

Naked Scientists Logo

I’ve just heard that my favourite science podcast, The Naked Scientists is being axed from their radio slot at BBC East. I’m no longer a resident of that region and not a BBC fee payer, so my views might not count as much, but I wrote to BBC Radio 4 Feedback anyway. Below is my letter.

Dear BBC Feedback,

Please do not axe the Naked Scientists radio programme from BBC East. As a Cambridge University alumnus and a researcher, I have been a fan of the programme for a few years now, and would personally be very sad to see the programme go. However, I wanted to write to you as I see that much more than my personal education and entertainment is at stake here.

First, more and more of science is done in multidisciplinary groups, and it is getting vital to understand not only one’s own field deeply, but also have a good overall understanding of what is going on in other fields of science. To this end, I find the high quality science programming of the Naked Scientists extraordinarily suitable. I have just recently shifted to a new path in my own scientific career, and without access to such resources, I do not think this would be possible.

Second, popularising science is something that the scientific community needs to do more, and I think the public broadcasters should help in this effort, given how vital it is to inform the public about scientific advances. However, not many of us researchers are good in talking or writing about our own research, and we do not have the audiences to make these efforts worth while. Thus, we are not only in a dire need of people like the Naked Scientists who are actually good in both science and communication, but also in need of broadcasters that share the mission of serving the public not just for short term profit but for a better future.

Naked Scientist have managed to painstakingly build their own audience and the capabilities to serve as a bridge between scientists and the general public. It would be sad to see all that fall apart. Most of the academic research done in the universities is paid for by the tax payers, and a there is a lot of pressure to give back to the society. This is one of the key arguments for making scientific publications open access. Unfortunately, scientific papers need to be technical and complicated, as we write them for other scientists. Without high quality scientific journalism there is no way even educated non-specialists can find, let alone understand what the current trends and developments in science are, and how they might affect their lives. Science journalism in most news outlets suffers from lack of expertise in the actual scientific content, making the outlets and their audiences vulnerable to the biases in press releases and abstracts, and the resulting skewed and shallow view of research. None of this has ever been a problem for the Naked Scientists, and I think they serve as a model that should be adopted elsewhere, as well.

As I want to become a better communicator of my own research, I listen to a lot of science programming and read a lot of popular science books from around the world. So far nothing compares to the Naked Scientists. I use their programmes in teaching and am constantly impressed by their approach, which makes extremely difficult and cutting edge scientific questions understandable and relevant. You can hear and admire the large amount of work they put into their programmes, and their love for science as well as their enthusiasm is contagious.

I’ve heard that one of the arguments why the show would be axed is that it is not local enough for the regional manager Mick Rawsthorne. I find this argument weak, as the content of the show is produced by people in the “local” university, the University of Cambridge. Of course, science is global, and Cambridge is a global leader in science, but shouldn’t that just strengthen the case for broadcasting that global insight for the people in the region? Either Mr Rawsthorne has a very “League of Gentlemen” -like concept of what “local” means, or he is not disclosing the real reasons behind his decision. Whichever the case, I truly hope that this exceptional and exemplary programme could live on to enlighten locally, regionally, and globally.

Best regards,

Tommi Himberg

soon-hopefully-PhD-from the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge

Researcher

Brain Research Unit | O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory | Aalto University

 

 

Wasn’t social media supposed to be social?

Last weekend a citizens’ web activist Ray Beckerman wrote about the recent changes Twitter made on their main website, reflecting the strategies they have adopted for future development of the micro-blogging platform. According to him, these changes mean that Twitter is turning its back on facilitating social interaction and is trying to become a hub for news, entertainment etc., in other words, a place where people passively consume information.

Earlier, in August, another well-known web persona Leo LaPorte shared his moment of reckoning, after being cut off from Google Buzz for almost a month and not noticing it. Neither did any of his 17 000+ followers notice. From his eye-opening story a question arises: would he have noticed that the communication channel was broken, if he had actually used it for communication rather than broadcasting?

Continue reading

Why digging up primary sources is important?

When writing a thesis, a chore that always takes more time than predicted is building the bibliography. Even with good software to manage your citations and references (EndNote, RefWorks, JabRef etc.), peppering your text with references and engaging in discussion with your sources takes time. (I often wonder how it was even possible to do research before ScienceDirect, BibTex and Google Scholar).

A researcher is a part of a network and a link in a chain. We build on other researchers’ work and provide a service of collating information from numerous sources, making interpretations and value-based judgments on the way. Some papers wind up being generally accepted as “canonical” in the field, these are the ones read by every journal club and quoted in every paper and thesis on the topic. Others are forgotten or live on as curiosities, mentioned for entertainment value or as “sign of the times past”.

Continue reading

Opiskelijavalinta uusiksi?

Opetusministeriön koulutukseen siirtymistä ja tutkinnon suorittamista pohtineen työryhmän muistio julkaistiin tänään.

Työryhmä ehdottaa mm. yliopistojen opiskelijavalintojen radikaalia uudistamista. Ehdotuksista kauaskantoisin on luopua pääsykokeista ja valita opiskelijat sen sijaan lähinnä ylioppilastutkinnon perusteella. Tämä ehdotus tulee herättämään närää mutta toivottavasti myös analyyttistä keskustelua yliopistojen piirissä, vähintään yhtä paljon kuin esitys lukukausimaksuista olisi herättänyt opiskelijoiden keskuudessa.
Continue reading

Return of the Mozart Effect

In the early 90’s, American researchers caused a stir when they reported a study where they’d showed that listening to Mozart boosts your performance in a subsequent IQ test (eg. Rauscher, Shaw & Ky 1995). The term “Mozart effect” was coined, then trademarked and rapidly monetised by a musician called Dan Campbell, and peddling “brain cd’s” for students, children and even preborn babies has been a growth industry ever since. Clearly this study ticked all the boxes: intelligence, music by a mystery genious, providing an easy fix and a shortcut for a competitive edge for your children. Too bad the study also ticked many of the boxes of inadequate experimental study, including small N, badly chosen controls and some very liberal interpretation of the results (although the authors themselves didn’t claim that Mozart increased intelligence, they only went so far as to say it improved performance in a spatio-temporal task).

Follow-up studies that were done by people with better knowledge of how music works (a number of studies by Glenn Schellenberg, for example) first of all pointed out that comparing music with silence (the control group in the original study spent an equivalent time sitting in silence, when the experimental group listened to music by Mozart) isn’t actually fair. Also, the proposed explanation of the mechanism behind this effect is somewhat dubious. Many of the replications of this study have also failed to reproduce the finding.

There is an effect, however, but it is much less mysterious. According to the explanation that makes most sense (as the mechanism is well-known, robust and well-documented) listening to music adjusts your state of arousal, and valence. In other words, music can affect your feelings and mood. The piano sonata K448 by Mozart (the one used in the original study) is a happy, uptempo piece that is likely to set you up for an IQ test better than sitting in dull silence. Later, this effect has been produced with user-selected music, and dubbed humorously as “Blur Effect”. There is a bit more to it than that, as the performance increase was specific to the spatio-temporal tasks, but given that music unfolds temporally and that melodies and rhythms are often described as having spatial characteristics (starting from “low” and “high” notes”, melodies being described as (virtual) movement, rhythmic patterns being similar than sounds of locomotion etc.) it is possible that music primes the participant (probably activating the relevant parts of brain) for those kinds of tasks. However, these effects are general for music, not something that would be specifically encoded in the music by Mozart the Mystery Man.

Now that the scientific community has dealt with this sensational study (and of course learned a lot in the process, received attention, funding and general interest that it wouldn’t have if Rauscher and others had been less eager to promote their findings), the second wave of Mozart Effect is on our doorstep. An Israeli study claims that Mozart helps babies to gain weight.

The researchers are specialists of pediatrics, but clearly not of music. They found that 30 minutes of Mozart makes the babies expend less energy afterwards and this helps them gain weight – an important thing especially for prematurely born babies. While being experts on fat content of mothers’ milk, they admit not knowing anything on music cognition, as they say that the mechanism of the music’s effect is unknown. I don’t understand why they didn’t ask someone who knows anything about how music affects the body – any music therapist or music psychologist would have been able to tell them about this. It’s not a mystery, a world beyond our reach, or a treacherous, uncharted sea where be dragons. Google Scholar search for keywords “music” and “physiology” gives 64 000 hits. Reading any of those links would have helped. Would it be possible that music calms the babies down? We all know music has this effect, this is why lullabies are used in all cultures.

The most shocking point of that press release (I’m taking this with a pinch of salt as it is a document written by a press office, not the original paper, which I haven’t found yet) is that while the study only compared Mozart with silence, the authors still speculate on why Mozart is special, and how for example Beethoven wouldn’t work. How do they know without even testing it?

They guess it is the repetitiveness, and someone has therefore ventured a guess that hip hop would work well, too. All I’m hoping is that they’d contact a music researcher (they’d find some in their own university, even someone specialised in music cognition) to give them a hand in really figuring out what this effect is about, before we find another wave of Mozart CD salesmen on our doorsteps.

(I edited this post somewhat to correct the error that Mozart Effect was trademarked by the authors of the original study – it was done by Dan Campbell who has no connection to the authors. Also, the original paper says nothing about increased intelligence, that was a shortcut taken by the press (and people like Campbell), as “improving performance in a spatio-temporal task” was too complicated a term. TH 11.1.2010)