This year’s recipient, Academy of Finland Research Fellow Timo Miettinen, has become familiar to many as an explainer and interpreter of European and EU affairs. Miettinen is among the best-known commentators of the EU and European politics in Finland. In the past decade, he has explained in plain terms many European trends and events, from the eurozone crisis to Brexit and from managing the coronavirus pandemic to the war in Ukraine.
At the height of the Brexit process, Miettinen spent his days at the Pasila studios, popularising and describing the current events and their repercussions to the public via television and radio. In fact, he considers this stint one of his finest hours in science communication.
“It’s been interesting to see how I was able to manage my life while sort of living in a second home. I’ve made it through all the challenges thrown my way,” Miettinen says.
In fact, the University’s award justifications state that everyone following topical programming recognises Miettinen, whose clear, structured and concise expression makes understandable a conclave as complex as the European Union. Particularly flattering for the researcher is the University stating that he has elevated the standard of discourse on Europe: “It is difficult to name anyone with a public impact as diverse as Timo Miettinen’s.”
Rapid responses to the media bring broad visibility
With more than 100 hits per year, Miettinen’s media exposure can be considered exceptional in Finnish terms. He is a familiar guest particularly on the current affairs programmes of the Finnish public broadcaster Yle. It seems that Miettinen is always available without hesitation. According to the award justifications, he is also able to provide quick and accurate answers under pressure.
In addition to media outlets, Miettinen actively employs social media for popularising research, especially Twitter where he has more than 11,000 followers. He is familiar with podcasts as well.
“For me, societal impact has always been a motivating factor. I’ve found it interesting. Popularising research has felt natural to me,” Miettinen muses.
As a researcher specialised in European philosophy, intellectual history and politics, Miettinen believes that scholarship also has a societal role.
“I think public engagement is about not only the results of research, but also representing academic virtues, such as critical thinking, in public discourse.”
Recently, Miettinen’s motivation for the popularisation of science grew to such an extent that two years ago he published an award-winning non-fiction book entitled Eurooppa, poliittisen yhteisön historia (‘Europe – the history of a political community’). It explained the central ideas and turning points in the history of Europe to the general public. It was named the best history book of the year in 2021 by the Society of the Friends of History, also receiving the Kalevi Sorsa Award in the same year.
“I thought the book advanced Finnish discussion on Europe, which at times lacks a historical perspective. The light in which the achievements of European integration are displayed varies, depending on whether they are viewed from a perspective of 20 or 2,000 years.”
Other than that, Miettinen, in a discussion controlled by EU critics or individual interest groups, has highlighted research-based premises that could serve as the basis for reasonable disagreement. Miettinen has particularly emphasised the role and diversity of historical narratives in assessing European politics.
Direct contacts with policymakers
Miettinen is also in close contact with political decision-makers; he is a sought-after speaker in both parliamentary committees and government ministries. He has good contacts with European embassies in particular, which utilise Miettinen’s expertise, for example, in connection with policymakers’ visits.
Since Miettinen is consulted by committees 10 to 15 times a year, this constitutes another channel through which he is able to popularise science and the virtues of research.
“Influencing individual government bills at the committee stage is often difficult. Often, it’s more important to try and explain the broader trends and narratives underlying the bills. This is why the effects are more often seen in the long term.”
Miettinen acknowledges that science communication takes time away from writing research articles and drawing up funding applications.
“I don’t have a permanent employment relationship with the University, which may be one of the reasons I’ve ended up doing a little bit of this and that.”
Focus on economic history in Florence
Miettinen now has a brief respite from, for example, his visits to Pasila, as he began in the beginning of March a period as a visiting scholar at the European University Institute in Florence. He plans to stay there until the beginning of June, after which he will return to the University of Helsinki’s Centre for European Studies.
In Italy, Miettinen is advancing his project conducted under his Academy fellowship, which focuses on the historical roots of German economic thinking. At the same time, he is familiarising himself with his new environment.
“My unit at the EUI, the School of Transnational Governance, lies at the intersection of research and society. I believe I will gain new ideas from this visit on how to promote the impact of research, including in Finland.”
The University of Helsinki presents the annual J. V. Snellman Public Information Award to a member of the University community for outstanding efforts to disseminate scholarly knowledge. In the selection, special emphasis is given to activities that have significantly contributed to raising public awareness of the scholarly work conducted at the University as well as of the objectives of strategic importance for the University. The award sum is €6,000. This year’s award will be presented during the anniversary week of the University of Helsinki on 27 March.