Mika Launikari


Science communication for increasing public outreach and engagement

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The word science makes people often feel a certain unease as they find scientific ideas and research-based evidence difficult to understand. For this reason, there is a great demand for well-targeted science communication that addresses the general audience in a language and style they are well familiar with and through channels they are convenient at using. The more research findings are shared with people, the better informed they are for taking well-argued decisions on important policy questions that may affect their lives directly or indirectly in the future.

These days the science community is frequently bombarded with challenges to increase public outreach and engagement with research as well as to make science better accessible to the large audience. Communicating science is not only about popularization, but ensuring that knowledge from the academic research community is timely brought to those, such as policy and decision makers, who need that information. Science communication can be regarded as a principal instrument for passing on the accumulated knowhow, experience and expertise gained through science and research to the entire society.

These days academics need to strengthen their professional ability to communicate about their ideas and discoveries as to secure their research funding and to justify the societal relevance and economic impact of their scientific findings. Moreover, effective science communication fosters collaboration and innovation across disciplines and allows applying cross-fertilization of research-based ideas to real-life challenges to a larger degree. Indeed from earlier one-way information provision, science communication is now evolving to a multi-professional, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary dialogue between the research community, society, economy, state and third sector.

Science does not exist in a vacuum

Science and its results do not exist in a vacuum or in siloes, but they always need to be well contextualized and put into a perspective when communicated in the media. The benefits and exploits of science are to be explained and the scientific conclusions and/or recommendations explicitly justified to the public. Further, when presenting any research results and having a related debate, it is crucial to avoid creating a false balance where one party’s view weighs too heavily over the other party’s (Murcott and Willimas, 2013). 

As Murcott and Williams (2013) point out, scientific results are often presented as univocal truths, which may give an exaggeratingly one-sided view on them. The authors also argue that science journalists, who create visibility for research, should not only know about the final results, but as intellectual critics also understand the process that generated them. Further, as the use of online media grows, the working practices of journalists are changing and they are expected to produce an increased level of output for a fixed level of input. Working on squeezed resources does not necessarily allow a scientific journalist to become well enough acquainted with the research process itself these days anymore. 

Dialogue between journalists and scientists

These days science journalists are increasingly becoming public relations experts working at a fast speed instead of having sufficiently time for properly investigating any given scientific phenomenon they are supposed to be reporting about. Murcott (2009) describes this as “reproducing press releases”. He suggests that high-quality professional scientific journalism cannot only be based on such pre-selected information provided by the scientific community, but that science reporters should have good conditions for thorough analysis of any given research and its background before anything gets published in the media.

The journalists are assisting scientists to be better and more widely heard in the society. While reporting on any research, the scientific journalists aim at translating scientific and field-specific academic jargon into written stories that non-specialists can easily engage with (Rensberger, 2009). However, scientists may sometimes be objecting to the way journalists simplify and popularize their highly complex scientific evidence, although this normally only creates good visibility for their professional achievements.

Further, scientists may overestimate their own ability to communicate well with the general audience. This may, occasionally, be even more detrimental to their reputation and their chances of getting their message across than would be to allow the slightly streamlined and mainstreamed presentation of their academic work by a professional science journalist. In an ideal case, there is a respectful two-way dialogue on an equal ground between the journalist and the scientist. This is beneficial for both parties involved in promoting science and communicating its value to the general public.       

Bibliographic sources

Murcott, T. & Williams, A. (2013). The challenges for science journalism in the UK. Progress in Physical Geography

Murcott, T. (2009). Science journalism: Toppling the priesthood. Nature 459.

Rensberger, B. Science journalism: Too close for comfort. Nature 459.

Photo: theweek.com  

Cultural adaptability - Thessaloniki airport and overweight luggage

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I was living and working for five years (2007-12) in Thessaloniki, a city founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon and located in Northern Greece. Thessaloniki’s history spans some 2300 years: the city was an important metropolis by the Roman period as well as the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. The White Tower is the landmark and symbol of Thessaloniki.

Today Thessaloniki is Greece’s second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre after Athens, and a major transportation hub for the rest of Southeastern Europe. The city is well-known for its festivals, events and vibrant cultural life, and is considered to be Greece’s cultural capital.

Thessaloniki is a popular tourist destination in Greece, located only some 100 km away from the Halkidiki peninsula, where you have access to beautiful beaches and lovely local villages. During the years I spent in Greece, I had several family members and friends visiting me there.

Ohlalalaa, my mother’s luggage!

Also my mother was a frequent visitor at my place in Thessaloniki. On one of her trips, she had spent a substantial amount of money in the summer sales in Thessaloniki. Her shopping bags contained clothes, shoes, leather bags, food items, and an oriental carpet.

On the day of her departure from Thessaloniki I then lifted her suitcase and instantly realized that she definitely had there more than 20 kg (the amount allowed in the economy class those days), at least some 25 kg. I advised her to take some of the stuff out of the luggage. My mother, stubborn as she is, refused to start unpacking and rearranging her luggage. I was somewhat annoyed because of her attitude, and told her that then we would with great certainty have problems at the airport when her luggage is being weighed.

In the check-in line

Finally, we arrived at the airport and went into the check-in line. As it was high season (August), the small airport of Thessaloniki was packed with people and the check-in clerks did not have much patience with any of the passengers.

While standing in the line, I told my mother that whatever happens at the check-in counter, she should not say anything, not a single word. She should let me handle the situation and let me eventually explain the overweight issue would that become a hot topic there. Then our turn came to hand in the luggage.

The following conversation took place at the check-in counter between me, my mother and the Greek check-in lady:

Mika to the check-in lady: Good afternoon [I lifted my mother’s luggage on the chain … the scale showed 28,9kg!]

My mother to check-in lady: Hello! [She gave her passport and flight ticket to the check-in clerk.]

My mother to me in Finnish: Mika, it cannot be true that the luggage weighs so much … there must be something wrong with their scale.

Mika sarcastically: Indeed, mother!

The Greek check-in lady looking my mother into her eyes: Madam, you are travelling in the economy class. Is this correct?

My mother: Yes, that’s the case! 

Check-in lady: Hmm … Madam, you have serious overweight with your luggage … we cannot tolerate such a heavy luggage for this type of a ticket that you have. You have to pay for the extra weight!

My mother: ???

Mika to the check-in lady: May I say something here? My mother has been in Greece on holidays for two weeks now and during her stay here we have been visiting our Greek friends in several locations. We have truly enjoyed their friendliness, hospitality and generosity. Now what has happened is that as our Greek friends so much like my mother, they have given her all kinds of presents and souvenirs. And guess where all those items are now! They are in my mother’s luggage. So, it is the genuine Greek hospitality that weighs so heavily in her luggage … and sincerely I don’t think you possibly can charge anybody for the Greek generosity, can you?

Check-in lady: Hmmm … [Turns to talk to her colleague at the neighbouring check-in counter. Their discussion is in Greek. I cannot properly hear what they say!]   

Mika to his mother: Let’s stay totally cool now. Avoid looking nervous at all.

My mother to me: This is going to get really expensive if they make us pay.

Our check-in lady after consulting her colleague: Madam, here is your boarding card with the luggage tag and your passport. The security control is on your right hand side. Have a safe trip! Goodbye!

Mika to the check-in lady: Sas euxaristoume para, para poli! Thank you so much for your great understanding and generosity! Have a nice afternoon!

Mika smiling and saying to his mother: Smile, don’t say a word! Now let’s get out of here at once before they start regretting and change their minds.

My mother to me once we were far enough from the check-in counter: What did you tell them? I did not quite follow everything you said to the lady.

Mika to his mother:  I had to lie to the poor lady that you had presents from our Greek friends in your luggage, and the Greek generosity was weighing there so heavily. You must know that I am not overly pleased with what just happened, and never ever put me into such a bloody situation anymore. [My mother started laughing out loud!]

A moral dilemma and an ethical concern

By the time of this incident I had been living in Greece for two years. So, I had already discovered various aspects of the Greek culture and I had become pretty well familiar with the mentality of the locals. Without this cultural literacy I would never ever have been able to perform the way I did at the check-in counter. I knew which string to pull, although at the same time I was fully aware that I was taking a huge risk, and that it might all end really badly.

But luckily things worked out amazingly well for us that time. Even if I back then was troubled by the fact that I was telling lies to the check-in lady, I also knew that Greek people sometimes tell stories that are not always exactly truthful. All in all, I was capitalizing on my cultural knowledge of Greece, yet simultaneously being morally challenged by the Finnish cultural framework, where one should not be telling such lies. Maybe this experience at the airport proved that I had established an ability to be culturally adaptable at least in the given context!

Photo: www.escapegreece.com




Benefits of international labour mobility?

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For my PhD research on international mobility capital I conducted individual thematic interviews with experts at three European Union agencies (Cedefop, European Training Foundation & Eurofound) in 2015. Further, as part of the PhD data collection I also arranged three focus groups with staff members of these institutions.


Campaign to promote labour mobility

The assignment given to the focus groups was to create an imaginary campaign to promote the benefits that international labour mobility can generate on an individual level. All three groups were to follow the instructions below:

“Imagine that you together with the other group members work for an international advertising agency. Today you have the first brainstorming session about a client project that you are designing for a globally operating television channel.

The aim is to launch a large-scale high-visibility campaign for raising awareness of international career opportunities and global labour mobility among the general audience (i.e. TV spectators). The campaign ads will be shown on the TV during prime-time family viewing programmes.

Now you as a team should come up with and agree on at least three benefits that international career mobility can generate to an individual. Further, you should create a catchy slogan or an attractive title for your advertising campaign. Your output should be a slogan that highlights the essence of what it means to be working in an international and multicultural context.”

Any smart slogans?

The small groups had only 30 minutes for accomplishing the task above. Once the groups were ready to deliver their results, they reported them to the Director of the television channel (=being me). The assignment proved to be quite a challenge actually … almost a mission impossible as it turned out, but still many valid aspects came out from the brainstorming sessions.

The group 1 was the only one to propose a short slogan “MOVE – Don’t stay home!”. The two other groups were struggling more with the slogan and were not able to formulate their key messages that neatly. “Tired of your local cuisine? Take a grand tour! Moving is learning! Leave your footprints! Stop dreaming: LIVE IT!” was the multi-faceted proposal made by the group 2.

The group 3 was not quite able to reach a consensus on the slogan and thus they created several: “World is a wonderful and diversified place – Experience it through working abroad!”. Another one was “Go everywhere!” which did not specifically grasp the issue at hand as the phrasing was overly general. “Working abroad – The best way to boost your career!” or alternatively “Your preferred rocket towards your success!” were listed by the group 3 as well.

Any concrete benefits?

For all the three groups it was evident that multiple benefits can be derived from international labour mobility. In summary, the views of the groups can be categorized as follows:

  • Broaden your horizons – working abroad means that you will (have to) open up your mind and discover yourself from a fresh angle. As you meet new people, you are often exposed to different worldviews and opinions, which may make you run a reality check every now and then, for example “What do I actually think of this? How do I relate to this myself?”. All in all, when you broaden your perspectives, you usually create new opportunities for yourself and others alike.   

  • Improve the quality of your life –  often there are material level benefits when you work abroad. You can be better paid than back home and have much richer employment opportunities around you in the international labour market.  Depending on your country of origin, moving abroad may also mean that you can have an easier access to better services in terms of schooling, child- and healthcare.

  • Develop yourself professionally – One of the groups formulated career development abroad as “export, develop and import your skills”. This slogan applies well to people, who work abroad for some years and then with newly acquired skills return to their own countries again. At the same time, though, there are well-educated individuals who emigrate for better pay or living conditions and stay abroad on a permanent basis and maybe never ever go back to their places of origin anymore (brain drain).  

Photo: www.expat-advisors.com

See also Top expat destinations of 2015 (atlasandboots.com)