In August 2021, a journalist in Finland criticized the value of certain research projects on Twitter. Others joined in a more hostile tone. Sami Syrjämäki, head of publication of the Finnish Federation of Learned Societies in Helsinki, which includes 282 associations and 4 academies of arts and sciences, tells what happened next.
What was the background of the campaign?
A journalist at one of Finland’s major media broadcasters made critical comments about some of the research projects, saying, ‘This is not science, it is ridiculous that such projects are financed with public money’.
Some scholars responded, hoping that others would read their answers and perhaps learn more about the research. But then more journalists joined Twitter and blogs, and his tone was not very pleasant. I participated in these Twitter exchanges. We tried to explain how these projects were evaluated. The discussion went on for a week or two.
What happened then?
On September 5, Tapio Määttä, academic rector of the University of Eastern Finland, tweeted that it might be a good idea for individual researchers to write a very simple tweet explaining that they’re researching in just 140 characters. Some researchers from his home university, which has campuses in Joensuu and Kuopio, have done this, but not many.
How did it climb?
I knew about Määttä from Twitter. We’ve never met, but on social media, we’re talking about researchers, science, universities, etc. We had many arguments defending it. I felt like I knew him. So I tweeted and said, “This is a great idea, but you need a hashtag to make tweets easier to find and follow.” we found # doing research (Translated as ‘#Searching’).
After that, the project took off – basically Twitter exploded. The University of Oulu, one of Finland’s largest academic institutions, encouraged its researchers to join, and I then tweeted seven more universities to suggest they do the same.
Describe the impact of the campaign.
For four days from September 6 to September 9, # doing research Became the most popular Twitter hashtag in Finland #threats (the hashtag of the national football team playing against France) and #BigBrotherFinland (For the reality-television show starting Sept. 5). If you compare this contention to the usual hot topics on Twitter, it was insane. The audience seemed to love him. A researcher examining the effect Nearly 4,000 tweets with hashtags within 4 days. In general, the hashtag was used more than 10,000 times – that’s incredible in a country of 5.5 million people. Other researchers used #WeResearch and #ITeach.
People simply explained what they were researching without any aggression, and the quality of the discussion got much better. Also, researchers connected and reconnected with each other. As a result, some made fake collaborations. Mainstream media welcomed the issue and there were three or four articles about the movement. the big one Helsingin sanomat newspaperFinland’s largest national daily newspaper, headquartered in Helskinki.
On 13 August, the Finnish government announced a proposal for a €40 million (US$46 million) reduction in research funding in its draft budget for 2022. But on the fifth day of the campaign (September 10), this was stopped. Member of Parliament Matias Mäkynen, who chairs the parliamentary working group on innovation and research, thanked the campaign and said these cuts have been withdrawn, at least for this year. The minister of science and culture spoke positively of the campaign and thanked us for it. It might have been a coincidence, but I think the campaign has a role in this decision.
What can other researchers learn from your campaign?
Its success was due to the fact that it was not owned by anyone. It is not managed by a university or organization. For many researchers, it was an easy way to safely engage in discussions: Whenever someone tried to troll or mock a researcher, their tweets were overwhelmed by thousands of positive tweets. Such a campaign could easily be reproduced in any country where similar things have happened.
How did the journalist who made the initial criticisms respond?
I didn’t see a single comment!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.