Close link between science and politics raises doubt

University of Helsinki's Chancellor Emeritus Kari Raivio has been appointed to assess ways in which research data could be used more effectively in decision making. Mr Raivio's proposal, which reflects international practices, is for the Prime Minister's office to employ a science adviser to aid politicians in the preparation of research priorities. The adviser would be independent party in direct contact with Finland's political leadership.

Mr Raivio's report is part of the government's decision to allocate 70 million euros from Finland's annual research budget for research that will serve society's needs, and then a further 12.5 million euro's to cover the Prime Minister's Office's "urgent research needs."

What then are the projects that public administration will invest nearly one hundred million euros in annually? Who will determine the focal areas for research and select research projects? According to the proposal, these decisions will be made a research committee under the Academy of Finland, which will thus become a science policy politburo. This raises doubts.

Present day problems can only be solved through multidisciplinary means

For years, the science world has been puzzled as to why politicians are so eager to control scientific research. There are, no doubt, sensible reasons for the venture. Decision makers really do need research data in order to resolve complicated problems.

The big question is; will the new arrangement produce the type of information that politicians can utilise in decision making? The relationship between science and political decision making has always been a problematic one, and the problems currently inundating society are not helping matters.

Research in just one or two fields of science will not cut in when we are trying to find ways to adjust to issues such as climate change, economic crises and society's structural change. These will require a multidisciplinary approach and endless resources.

Additionally, the project is overshadowed by the scandal surrounding Pekka Himanen's research project, which proved just how sensitive the media and general public are in reacting to research projects decided on by a small number of insiders. Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen ordered a 700,000 euro report from Philosopher Pekka Himanen without a public invitation for tenders, and when the general public learned of this a scandal ensued. It would seem that, if the prime minister is allocated his/her own research budget, he/she could freely finance whatever projects he/she sees fit. The current system is too susceptible to corruption.

Science community will be divided into two camps

On one hand, the science world's own internal dynamic has shifted the focus of research too far from the real world's problems. Science fields have splintered, and the data produced in them is isolated. There has been talk of a cross-disciplinary approach for years, but the actual results have been abysmal. Researchers do not understand one another, and no one dares to seriously tread on another's territory.

Specialisation of science has caused the gap between science and society to further expand. Researchers working on building their careers and wrestling with financing are not interested in solving society's problems, but in building their CVs and compiling international research articles. In turn, the language and presentation style of a peer reviewed research article is gibberish to politicians; completely impossible to understand.

I fervently hope that this venture will not see the light of day. As the decision has already been made, in coming years, tax revenue will be used for various research projects. However, I dare to question whether anyone will have the knowhow, desire or ability to use the information produced in these projects to solve social problems.

I also fear that the science community will be divided into two camps. One camp will want to or have to focus on research commissioned by politicians, while the other will persevere in basic research. We will not be able to recruit our best resources for strategic research, because projects and results will all be predetermined.

Further information:

Professor Karl-Erik Michelsen, LUT School of Business, tel. +358 40 512 0527