UH got the majority of new Academy Professors in Finland

The Board of the Academy of Finland has selected eight new Academy Professors for the years 2013–2017. Seven of them are working at the University of Helsinki.

Uskali Mäki

There are millions of researchers in the world, but there is always something that has not yet been studied. Much of this kind of under-cultivated room for study is found in the spaces between various scientific disciplines. Encounters between two or more disciplines often provide also the freshest and most significant innovations. The future of sciences is partly formed by exactly these kinds of encounters.

However, encounters are not always unproblematic, says research director, Professor Uskali Mäki. He is also one of the eight new Academy Professors.

Two disciplines may give one phenomenon two seemingly competing explanations or appeal to research data that is difficult to reconcile, and their respective research methods and quality criteria may vary greatly. Some researchers have attempted to build bridges between disciplines, while others want to keep them strictly apart.

– Specialisation has been taken to such extremes that genuine expertise may suffer. Areas of expertise are not integrated and there are spaces between them, which means that the overall worldview may remain somewhat incomplete, says Mäki.

The Centre of Excellence in Philosophy of the Social Sciences led by Mäki aims to clarify these kinds of situations. Mäki speaks precisely about clarification, since according to him interdisciplinarity is a much-used rhetorical slogan that is insufficiently understood.

One of the research subjects of the Centre of Excellence is the transfer of scientific models from one discipline to another. A perfect example is the transfer of economic models to other social sciences and even natural sciences. For example, some biologists have started using the concept ‘market’ when researching animal behaviour.

They claim that exchanging grooming for sex or holding infants in baboon communities is an instance of market demand and supply. The flow also goes the other way, for example, when results from neurosciences or evolutionary biology are utilised in social sciences.

Transfer of concepts and models is often riddled with friction and controversy, since they may change on their way or mould the receiving discipline in a more extensive manner.

In addition to helping social scientists, the Centre of Excellence aims to create tools for thinking for the needs of science policy, such as for recognition and the evaluation of promising trends and allocation of resources.

Interdisciplinarity is an important criterion to major research funders, such as the Academy of Finland. Therefore, interdisciplinarity is also referred to in funding applications.

– It is not always easy to assess whether the talk is well-founded or merely rhetorical. In this, our centre has a lot to offer, says Mäki.

Mäki is both a philosopher and an economist. He intends to establish an interdisciplinary philosophy, which is also on the agenda of the research plan he has drafted for his Academy Professorship.

The new Academy Professors from the University of Helsinki are Professors Lauri Aaltonen, Yrjö Helariutta, Jaakko Kaprio, Antti Kupiainen Juha Merilä and Adjunct Professor Elina Vuola.

Aka.fi: Eight new Academy Professors »»

Research Dtabase TUHAT: Uskali Mäki »»

Text: Tuomo Tamminen
Photo: Wilma Hurskainen
Translation: AAC Global
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