Turku Collegium for Science, Medicine and Technology (TCSMT) and Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) Blogs site. All blog posts represent the personal views of their authors and not that of TCSMT and TIAS.
Mikel Calle Navarro, PhD TSCMT Post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Geography
In 2022 I received funding from the TCSMT to perform a fieldwork campaign in the northernmost part of Finnish and Norwegian Lapland, the Tana River watershed1 (or Tenojoki in Finnish). This river works as a natural border between Finland and Norway for more than 150 km and its waters flow northeast to finally end up in the Arctic Ocean (Figure 1).
The goal of the field trip: to validate the river diversity model that we created in the computer. This basically means to compare whether the model is providing accurate prediction of the real diversity of river landscapes. Why? The idea behind is that the greater number of different river landscapes, the more biodiversity they potentially support. Besides, quantification of river ecosystems diversity, FLUVIODIVERSITY, also help us to estimate the capacity of each river type to resist the climatic changes that we are observing in the Arctic Region. But this needs an intensive monitoring of the river changes at multiple scales and combining computer models and fieldwork campaigns like this one.
Thus, in late August, after planning the potential study sites, I packed my gear and I hit the road to the north. I decided to start from the headwaters2. After crossing the border to Norway in direction to Kautokeino, I was almost ready to start the fieldwork campaign. The Figure 1 shows the route I followed to cover the most part of the river watershed. Since this area is quite big, I had to dedicate more than two weeks to reach all the selected points. Some days were long and especially tough when the rain was intermittently stopping the work. Nevertheless, I could visit some very astonishing and diverse river environments that made me evolve my current research and also my next project that I want to carry out in the area. Follow me in this campaign to discover more scientific aspects of these amazing river landscapes!
Figure 1: Route followed for the field campaign in late summer 2022.
1. HEADWATERS (Norway)
The first stop, the Norwegian high plains. In this area the road goes parallel to the river and crosses it many times. The calm waters flow intercepting meadows and lakes with very sporadic rapids. The river is here composed mostly by big sediment particles, around 20 to 30 cm in diameter. The river cuts the remnants from the past glacial activity, very smooth hills elongated towards the north, the direction of the ice (from right to left in Figure 2)
Following the Karasjok river to Karigasniemi, we observe a wide valley where the Karasjohka waters shaped a meandering pattern. The beautiful consecutive semi-circular bends (from the middle of the picture to the upper right corner) are built on sandy banks and slightly coarser river bottom. The meanders bends are so large (almost 1km radius) that are better seen on a map (click the coordinates to locate this point). The spring flood totally covers the exposed sediments of the picture and may even spill over the areas partly occupied by houses and fields. Some measures, such as erosion protection rock piles, can be found in these meanders.
It was a very windy day. The strength of the wind was so that it created an effect on the water that looked like it was flowing upwards (in the picture the water flows from down to up). In this area, the river enters a valley carved by glacial action, with steeper slopes but rounded tops, the fjelds. In this section, the river follows almost an orthogonal pattern, the river turns between 120 and 90 degrees. This can be seen in Figure 4 where the river is following a straight line then it turns to the right. This is caused by the intersection of rock fractures in the area. In this case the fracture, that the river is following first, continues to the valley in front. But the river turns into another one that follows a parallel direction to the hill tops to the right. The geology of the area, is another important factor to determine the present river diversity.
In front of Dálvadas town, the valley suddenly narrows confined by two lateral tributaries coming from Norwegian and Finnish sides. Right after, the valley expands forming this estrange form made of gravel size sediment. On top of it, one can notice striations caused by ice blocks drag by the river during the spring flood. During this period the water covers the bare sediment surface of Figure 5 and sometimes even some areas of the cultivated island in the centre.
Calm, crystal-clear waters in summer but powerful in spring. You can feel the power of the Spring flood on the sides and river banks, where broken trees and bushes shows evidence of the energy of the water and the hits of the ice blocks once the river ice cover breaks. The sediment size is large, from cobbles to boulders, showing also the high energy of the water that move them. These trybutaries are characterized by steep slopes. Many of these tributaries are spawning locations for salmon.
From Dálvadas to Polmak the river valley can be almost considered as a gorge. But before reaching Nuorgam town, we find the narrowest section of all, Alaköngäs. It is also the steepest part of the main channel. It drops 10 meters in just 1.5 km. Imagine the water forced to flow through this narrow, with floating ice blocks and moving rocks. Must be quite impressive… Also interesting is the origin of this narrowing. It is caused by the sediments deposited by the river thousands of years ago (on the right side in Figure 7), little after the glacial retreat. The effects of past glacial interactions with the landscape also influences the present river forms and diversity.
From Polmak to Tana Bru the valley starts to expand giving more space for the channel to form lateral sediment deposits (river bars). Tana Bru is the last narrow section of the river, constrained by the presence of thick accumulation of glacio-fluvial deposits, similar to the Alaköngäs case. From there toward downstream we observe a fjord-like valley completely filled with sediments (Figure 8). During the Spring snow melt the water covers 1.5 km in width. In the very end of the Tana River, the waters meet the Sea forming a delta, which is a natural reserve. This shows the large volume of sediments that this river has transported, and still transports today, towards the Arctic Ocean. Rivers draining to the Artic are the ones in charge to supply nutrients, carbon, and heat that control the biological productivity of the organisms living in it. We expect that changes in the rivers will not only affect the rivers itself but also the Arctic marine ecosystem.
This was the end of my trip from a scientific point of view. It was time to drive south,process the data and prepare for the winter to come, withrenewed confidence in the importance of our understanding of the impacts of Climate Change in these remote but sensitive ecosystems.
The catchment or watershed is the area draining towards the same point, in this case to the Barents Sea.
This term is used to indicate the uppermost part of the river, the area where a river is born.
It is a common critique from both Peterson and his fans that people do not listen to him enough and rely on their preconceptions of him, rather than on what he actually says. So, what does he actually say in his tours? Having attended the event, I can say the answer is: both a lot and very little. For a man who has listed “Be precise in your speech” as one of the key rules for life in his books, his lectures seem to leave a lot to the implications. In fact, listening to Peterson reminded me of a popular scene in the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where the most horrible of horrible people, Dennis Reynolds, talks about “the implications” as a way of coercing women:
While Peterson is not quite so nefarious in his speech, the scene feels like a good summary of what it feels to grapple with Jordan Peterson. “Because of the implications.” Therefore, in this blogpost I will examine Peterson’s status as a right-winger through this one event, by focusing on what he says and what he implies. And following one of Peterson’s more agreeable suggestions in the lecture, I will do so with at least a slight tone of humor.
How Peterson Speaks
Jordan Peterson is not a Trumpian demagogue nor a Steven Bannon-like iconoclast. He is deeply professorial in his output and demeanor, often talking in obscure stories and long-winded tangents. Before him taking the stage, the ice hockey stadium was filled with ambient classical music and the event included a performance by a classical guitarist before the main lecture. Peterson walked on wearing a fairly stylish custom-made suit, apparently by a Finnish tailor, who had made one suit for each of the 12 rules in Peterson’s original self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Penguin Books, 2018). The suit was two-sided, making him look a little like the Batman villain Two-Face. The fabric in the inside of the coat was bright red on one side and sky blue on the other, supposedly to symbolize heaven and hell. Symbolism and implications, all around.
For much of his 45-minute lecture, Peterson largely seemed to be constructing the talk as he went, relying on mental associations to move from one story to the next. This was my initial impression as a listener and he confirmed as much during the Q&A. Apparently, he never knows what he is going to stay on stage ahead of time. It as not a pre-rehearsed, polished performance, but rather a talk given by someone with a backlog of stories and recurring themes he would pull up on the spot, sometimes searching, sometimes stumbling. At least, that was the impression: a professor thinking on stage, live, even if the actual things he discussed were familiar to any who had followed Peterson’s output prior.
The rambling, tangent-prone, free association style lecturing felt quite at odds with the rest of the presentation of the event. After the classical music died down, Peterson’s wife, Tammy, took the stage to introduce the speaker. However, first she took a moment to advertise some other “Peterson family” products the audience might be interested in. These included an essay writing app developed by their son and “Peterson Academy” spearheaded by their daughter. The latter was advertised as an institution aiming to provide accredited education to a bachelor’s degree (as of yet, the organization is not accredited) for a tuition fee of $4,000. The price-point was advertised as a bargain to an audience consisting of Finns from a country of free university-level education.
The focus on advertising persisted to parts of Peterson’s lecture and even the Q&A. Although the tour was advertised as being based on Peterson’s second self-help book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life (Penguin Books 2021), the book or its contents were not mentioned even once during his lecture that I could tell. Instead, he based his speech on the themes of his upcoming book, titled, apparently, We Who Wrestle with God, as well as his 16-part podcast series on the Book of Exodus from the Bible, which has since come out on the Daily Wire Plus, a subscription service for the ring-wing media site The Daily Wire.
The first question of the Q&A (which was conducted via an app from which Tammy Peterson picked out submitted questions to ask on stage) appeared likewise readily tailored for further advertisement, as it asked about Peterson’s plans for turning the Daily Wire Plus into a “real source of news.” However, Peterson’s answer did not appear rehearsed or prepared, so who knows. Was it a genuine question of someone who had fully drank the Kool-Aid? Was it a plant unbeknownst by Jordan Peterson? Is he just really good at playing the somewhat befuddled and struggling thinker moving mountains with his mind? We may never know.
What Peterson Says
So, what does Jordan Peterson actually say? Well, he speaks a lot about religion, which is interesting considering how much his early rise to fame was buoyed by online atheist communities who found enjoyment in Peterson’s clashes with feminism. For much of the talk I attended, Peterson explored various biblical stories, from Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel to the Tower of Babel. However, he bypasses the need for open religiosity on the part of his listeners by framing these as enduring stories of wisdom, rather than divine manifestations. They are presented as transcendent truths, but not necessarily divine. The difference is miniscule, but it is what allows the more non-religious Peterson fans to justify the value in the stories he tells.
Throughout his talk, Peterson continuously fenced with imaginary opponents, by suggesting thoughts the audience might have. To paraphrase, he would continuously go down rabbit holes like, “Well, you might say you don’t believe that these things really happened, to which I say, ‘you need to define what you mean by ‘you,’ ‘believe,’ ‘really,’ and ‘happened.’’” This is something Peterson does with some regularity these days, often shirking from giving out answers in favor of simply asking more definition-based questions.
Big part, I believe, of Peterson’s allure is the way he makes affairs of daily life appear a grandiose struggle against forces of chaos. Waking up in the morning and deciding to make breakfast is creating “habitable order out of potential chaos.” All human beings are “visionaries who grapple with chaos,” i.e. they have the mental capacity to instill meaning to their surroundings.
In much the same way, Peterson sweeps aside the reality behind questions like, “Did Noah’s Ark truly take place,” to allude to a more hyperreal explanation of Noah’s Ark as a story of wisdom and preparedness, which therefore “happens” every time these themes become relevant in daily life. Ultimately, both Baudrillard and Peterson end up at the question of, “what do you mean by ‘taking place’?”
What Peterson Implies
Where Peterson perhaps differs is in the implications. The view of humanity he offers is highly normative. The purpose of “embodying the father” is not just to find meaning and guidance to one’s life, but to find the correct meaning. For instance, at the lecture he suggested that if one does not want children, they have perhaps wrestled with the issue of “embodying their fathers” in the wrong way. It is taken as granted that the correct desire is to have children, and lack of such want is therefore an abnormality caused by a form of failure. Therefore, while Peterson speaks about escaping presuppositions and “embracing chaotic possibility,” all his questions come with pre-existing answers. Grappling with the “spirit of one’s father” or “wrestling with God,” is all meant to lead to a preset destination.
Peterson speaks of a call to adventure to escape the shackles of preconception and the slavery of tyranny. In a weird and possibly the most explicitly political aside of his entire lecture, he compared the European Union to the Tower of Babel, which was built so high that it would threaten God. After the tower collapses in the biblical story, people lose their ability to speak with one another. From this, Peterson leaps to talk about totalitarianism, which he defines as a state in which people cannot speak truth. Totalitarianism, according to Peterson, threatens to “replace the transcendent,” which is a concept he often returns to as the ultimate source of meaning behind everything. It is a complicated concept favored by both Peterson and U.S. conservative intellectuals in the past, but briefly and roughly it means that things receive meaning via an external source outside human interaction: God, or similar entity.
The parable of the Tower of Babel is about encroaching government becoming too big, on the brink of collapse. The true forces of tyranny are alluded to in quick asides, which often garnered the biggest applause from the audience that night. Throughout the lecture and the Q&A, Peterson takes quick jabs at “Political Correctness” and “Wokeness” which both he sees as stifling the ability to speak truths.
But it is not enough to simply escape tyranny. Peterson warns against fleeing tyranny into the desert, versus into paradise. Into chaos, versus into order. His offered definition of freedom is a game akin to chess rather than chaos. Freedom is therefore order. A way that things configure against one another.
Peterson’s call to adventure and liberation is therefore ultimately normative. It is the journey of men (and sure, women can come along too) to become fathers and feel empowered to speak their minds, whatever they might contain, with little worry of others. It is not the story of, for instance, trans people who might escape tyranny of their assigned-at-birth gender and find freedom in expressing their desired pronouns. Indeed, Peterson has continued to stay true to his anti-trans roots, getting temporarily expelled from pre-Muskian Twitter for insisting on dead-naming Elliot Page and pushing the (discredited) idea that being trans is a form of social contagion similar to the Satanic panic of the 1980s (there might be similarities between people freaking out about trans people today and satanic cults in the 1980s in that the reasons for panic are made up, but Peterson is not on the side of the equation he thinks he is).
What Peterson Ultimately Is
In speaking against “tyranny,” Jordan Peterson conjures the image of a singular prophet, one who dares the shed their shackles of preconception and speak out. The implication of the speech is for each member in the audience to imagine themselves as this lone prophet next time they say something out of turn, or, as is likely the case, bigoted and face social consequences. Yet one cannot help wondering how much this also constitutes Peterson’s own self-image as a prophet to his followers.
All throughout his time in the spotlight, Peterson has denied any association of himself as a right-winger or conservative. However, he rose to fame out of resisting societal change and specifically attacking one of the more vulnerable populations much akin to rhetorical tactics used by right-wing movements in the recent years. Even in his self-help books, generally simple life-lessons continuously lead toward more ideologically leaning implications. For instance, the lesson to have more confidence is offered with the prepackaged notion that hierarchies of domination are hard-wired into nature and therefore inescapable. In the book, he speaks against the “revolutionaries of the Sixties” and emphasizes personal responsibility in the face of societal obstacles. These are all recurring facets of conservatism in the U.S. in particular, but elsewhere as well. His general bugbears are the recurring enemies of the right: postmodernism, “Political Correctness,” and “wokeness.”
Thus, I’d say f it quacks like a duck, attends largely duck-favored pools of water, and runs multiple podcasts and lecture series involving other ducks and duck-related subjects, it just might be a duck.
Christiaan De Beukelaer University of Melbourne & Durham University
On Friday the 18th of November 2022, I attended a seminar on the research legacies of Ash Amin, at the University of Durham. Amin, who recently retired from the University of Cambridge, was the founding director of Durham’s own Institute of Advanced Study, where I am currently a fellow.
The event reminded me of an unfulfilled promise I made to Martin Cloonan – who is currently the director of the Turku Institute of Advanced Study. Earlier this year, when joining the Beyond Advanced Studies conference on finding and articulating what might constitute a “Nordic Approach” to interdisciplinary research in general and to institutes of advanced study in particular, I promised Martin to write a reflection on the conference from the perspective of a (non-Nordic) outsider with an interest in both interdisciplinary academic work and the function and role of IAS’s in nurturing and supporting it.
I have put off writing this ever since making that promise. Not because I did not want to, but simply because I did not quite sure what to write. The oral Festschrift celebrating and reflection on Ash Amin’s rich career helped me to come back to my promise by tackling the seemingly easy, but ultimately challenging, question: what purpose does an Institute of Advanced Study serve?
Bearing in mind the labour disputes over pay, pensions, and workload in the 21st century academy, the answer to that question may seem self-evident: an IAS provides unfragmented time to work on research, a commodity that is increasingly hard to come by in universities today. On reflection, however, this answer is far too simplistic and mundane. I believe it misconstrues the problem of time in academia today: time is indeed of the essence, but we don’t simply need more of it, we need to be able to alter our relationship with it.
In his response to the intellectually engaging reflections on his career, Ash Amin flagged how “the world has become hideously opaque and difficult to grasp.” This reflects the unease many of us feel when trying to address the combined and conflating challenges – or poly-crises – such as climate, finance, truth, and justice have shaken the foundations of societies the world over.
A critical function of an IAS is indeed to provide unencumbered time. But that is neither easy to provide nor to embrace.
First, getting away from email and the perpetual call of Zoom meetings and seminars makes it all but impossible to get away from ongoing commitments. It makes the ideal of an IAS fellowship increasingly hard to attain.
Second, academia has grown in numbers, complexity, and diversity (albeit not enough), which is a boon for humanity. Though the inevitable downside of the enormous scale of academia today is precisely that there is so much of it. This makes it both difficult to navigate and keep up. With speaking and writing comes the assumption that others will listen and read. So, our productivity is in fact as much a struggle to articulate our thoughts as to grab others’ attention. Indeed, we may need to spend more time reading and listening, rather than writing and speaking. Particularly if we want to engage in genuine exchange, we ought to limit how much we speak, to ensure we have time to listen, too.
Third, the expansion of academia has fuelled specialisation. It makes speaking across epistemic registers difficult. Overcoming that challenge requires aimless wandering, getting lost, embracing misunderstanding, and letting each other speak. Simply increasing one’s productivity by being disciplined rarely helps. If anything, it could render the challenging task of speaking across neat disciplinary conventions more difficult. It is, rather, by wandering and aimlessly probing each other’s ideas and arguments, that it becomes possible to think about the complex puzzles we face across the straitjacket of academic silos.
The first two points affect all academics. This doesn’t make them any less important, but it does make them difficult to address through short or longer IAS stays. The third point is, I believe, the crucial one in the context of Institutes of Advanced Study, which meant to hold up a mirror, challenge us when we’re not pushing or questioning our assumptions hard enough. An IAS is meant to help us learn and re-learn to reframe and reclaim time from our own discipline in every sense of the word.
The world has indeed become hideously opaque and confronting. The wicked problems we collectively face requires both courage and critical friends with whom to wander – both intellectually and by getting our actual boots muddy.
Elie Gaget, TCSMT Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Photo by M. Silveri
Climate warming is one of the biggest challenges of this century, leading to an unprecedented shift in the dominant conservation paradigm of protecting ecosystems. Conservation measures typically lack climate-related assessments, because they have been historically established to fight against anthropogenic pressures such as land-use change or over-exploitation but not directly climate change.
Species can cope with climate warming by shifting their distributions or persist in local micro-refuges, but these responses have been found insufficient so far to ensure long-term biodiversity conservation. Two key reasons are, first, the fast pace of climate warming and second, the additional cocktail of anthropogenic pressures. Conservations measures, by reducing such pressures, might be useful to improve species responses to climate warming. For instance, protected areas are disproportionally colonized by species extending their distribution to the poles. However, recent studies show that these encouraging effects are not consistent across protected areas and species, making it impossible to conceive effective climate warming adaptation strategies.
In my project, I investigate the effect of conservation measures on bird responses to climate warming. I look into the past to see which conservation measures already facilitated bird distribution shifts or persistence. Based on such conservation evidence, I explore how species responses to climate warming can be improved depending on conservation and climate scenarios in Europe. The European Union (EU) represent an interesting experimental area, with hundreds of bird species being impacted by temperature increase and having the largest protected area network, namely the Natura 2000 protected area network (18% of the EU’s land area). Climate oriented conservation strategies are relatively new in national and international conservation strategies. Considering the increasing threats of climate change on biodiversity, this project is aligns with the establishment of conservations policies based on the so-called “climate warming adaptation” to mitigate the negative impacts on climate change on biodiversity.
Simon Frith Visiting professor, TIAS
Emeritus Professor of Music at University of Edinburgh
When an old cricketer leaves the crease
Well you never know whether he’s gone. (Roy Harper 1975)
Martin Cloonan sent me a link this morning to a clip on YouTube of the Liverpool band Scaffold performing their biggest hit, ‘Lily the Pink’, at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool at the end of October.
‘Lily the Pink’ reached number 1 in the UK sale charts in 1968, the year it was originally released. The three members of Scaffold are now aged 86 (John Gorman), 85 (Roger McGough) and 78 (Mike McGear). Martin said he found their performance “rather heart-warming (if only for the fact that they are all still with us!)”. I know what he meant but maybe because I’m somewhat older than him the question this clip raised for me was different: what kind of pleasure is involved in watching old men re-enacting (somewhat shakily) their youth?
A couple of months earlier Martin had told me about going to see one of the Rolling Stones’ Stockholm shows. The Rolling Stones formed in 1962. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are now 78, Ronnie Wood is 75. The YouTube clip from this show shows Richards concentrating on his fingers much harder than he used to and while Jagger’s pitch control and physical energy are astounding for his age there’s also no doubt that these qualities are enhanced technologically, by how they are amplified and lit.
I’ve long been fascinated by musicians’ careers and how they end: they don’t so much stop work as ease down, and ‘easing down’ works differently in different music worlds. A voice changing pitch and losing power is more problematic for an opera than a country or folk singer; fingers stiffening and concentration slipping is more of an issue for a concert than a pub pianist. And even the most technologically pampered rock stars can’t stop the ageing process, can’t avoid reaching a point (often quite early in their careers) when their performances mean looking back rather than looking forward, celebrating achievements rather than potential. To grow old in rock is to repeat oneself; as musicians’ powers of invention decline well established routines become easier to manage. The most interesting old performers in rock are those who fight obdurately against this—Bob Dylan, most obviously. For the rest easing down, for performer and audience alike, involves virtuoso feats of nostalgia, making at the this moment the remembered past much more significant than the any imagined future.
How about academic careers? How do they end? How do scholars retire? My working career started at the University of Warwick fifty years ago, in 1972. It finished at the University of Edinburgh in 2017. What finished? Marking, administering, evaluating, meetings—duties that had long been chores. When I gave in my notice I did feel liberated—not from an academic life but from having to worry about my department’s future. My research career didn’t end there. This very day, at the age of 76, I delivered to the publisher the final manuscript of Made in Scotland, a book I co-edited and wrote with Martin Cloonan and John Williamson. I’m still thinking, I’m glad to say, and I still get bored by my old ideas. What I no longer do, week in and week out, is perform—in lecture theatres, classrooms, conferences and seminars.
Universities changed greatly during my working life; in essence they were professionalised—for better and worse. But they didn’t define or confine my working environment. This was always a much broader community of scholars, past, present and future. The only thing I miss about my job is the weekly postgraduate seminar that I started at Strathclyde University in the 1990s and took with me to first Stirling and then Edinburgh. The seminar was open to anyone—students, staff, from other departments, other universities, other countries even; the participants were ever changing. We agreed on topics; I usually introduced them. Discussions were essentially interdisciplinary, serendipitous, surprising and revealing. Every meeting made me think about things I hadn’t thought about before, gave me the first inkling of the arguments in everything I wrote.
I was, then, very grateful to Martin Cloonan for inviting me to TIAS to run five seminars on the model of my old weekly sessions: a different topic each day for which I had to think through introductory comments; a multidisciplinary and subtly changing gathering of smart researchers; conversations flowing in odd directions. There were moments when I wondered ‘can I still do this?’, ‘have I got anything to say’, ‘am I too old?’ But I quickly realised these were the wrong questions. What I found (what I had missed) was not a cleverness competition but the ever-inspiring experience of scholarly community. Every research topic every Fellow addressed was fascinating; every answer meant more questions. The quality old scholars have is wisdom, which just means a lifetime of reading, talking, observing and listening as widely and idiosyncratically as possible. Wisdom is the effect of scholarly sociability, of the kind of curiosity that drives all good research.
It was good to discover that I am still curious and even better to realise that there are so many new researchers who think differently and better than me. In the final seminar one of the issues we discussed was progress. Scholars, like musicians, start out with the determination to do something new, but that means, eventually, handing the future over to another generation. I understand the rock concert pleasures of reliving a sense of the future, as it were, of being absorbed by memories that something new once happened. But I prefer the sense of being past it. A sense of the future necessarily belongs to younger people than me. Nostalgia for the way we used to do things, the way we used to think, is not a becoming academic emotion. In the academy there’s no fun in continuing to be right; what one always wants is to be shown to be wrong.
FT Erkki Kankare Kollegiumtutkija, TCSMT Fysiikan ja tähtitieteen laitos
Kuluneen syksyn aikana olin järjestelyvastuussa kansallisesta tähtitieteen kurssista, jossa opiskelijat käyttävät etänä yhteispohjoismaista NOT (Nordic Optical Telescope) teleskooppia. NOT on 2.56 metrin pääpeilillä varustettu, optiikalta ja muilta ominaisuuksiltaan erinomainen teleskooppi, jota lukuisat kansainväliset tutkimusryhmät käyttävät korkeatasoiseen tähtitieteen tutkimukseen. Kyseinen teleskooppi sijaitsee 2.4 kilometrin korkeudella merenpinnan tasosta Roque de los Muchachos -nimisellä observatorioalueella La Palmalla, Kanariansaarilla, Espanjassa. NOT-teleskooppi siirtyi muutamia vuosia sitten Turun yliopiston ja tanskalaisen Aarhusin yliopiston yhteisomistukseen.
Tutkimuksen lisäksi NOT-teleskoopin rooli uusien tähtitieteilijöiden koulutuksessa on myös oleellinen. Tästä erinomaisina esimerkkeinä ovat havaintokurssit, joissa lähinnä maisteriopintovaiheessa olevat tähtitieteen opiskelijat pääsevät itse käyttämään NOT-teleskooppia kurssityöhavaintojen tekoon. Samankaltaisia NOT-kursseja on järjestetty Suomen lisäksi mm. myös Tanskassa, Ruotsissa ja Norjassa. Toisena esimerkkinä NOT-teleskoopin koulutuskäytöstä on Student Support Astronomer -ohjelma, jossa tähtitieteen maisteri- tai tohtoriopintoja suorittavia opiskelijoita toimii harjoittelijoina teleskoopilla tyypillisesti yhdestä puoleentoista vuoden pituisen jakson ajan hoitaen teleskoopin vakinaisen henkilökunnan tapaan osan havaintoöistä täysin itsenäisesti. Toimin itsekin vuosien 2009-2010 aikana tässä tehtävässä ja tällä hetkellä puolestaan toinen ohjaamistani väitöskirjaopiskelijoista on harjoittelijana NOT:lla.
Kansallinen NOT-kurssi järjestetään normaalisti vuosittain ja kyseessä on ns. etähavaintokurssi. Opiskelijat kerääntyivät lokakuun lopussa viikon ajaksi Avaruuspuisto Väisälän tiloihin (ent. Tuorlan observatorio) Kaarinan Piikkiöön suorittamaan etänä havaintoja käyttäen reaaliajassa tuhansien kilometrien etäisyydellä olevaa NOT-teleskooppia. Etähavaintojärjestelmän käyttö vastaa kuitenkin hyvin samankaltaisesti tilannetta verrattuna siihen, että havaintoja olisi suorittamassa paikan päällä NOT:lla. Tänäkin vuonna kurssille osallistui opiskelijoita suomalaisista yliopistoista, joissa tehdään tähtitieteen tutkimusta, eli Turun, Helsingin ja Oulun yliopistoista sekä Aalto-yliopistosta. Tyypillisesti kurssille osallistuu vajaat 20 opiskelijaa, mutta vuonna 2020 kurssi jäi väliin Covid-19-pandemian takia ja tätä seuraavina vuosina tulijoiden määrä onkin ollut poikkeuksellisen suuri. Tänä vuonna osallistujia oli ennätysmäärä, lähes 30 opiskelijaa.
NOT-etähavaintojärjestelmä valmiina käyttöön.
Kurssin kokonaisohjelmaan kuuluu pohjustavia luentoja, havaintojen suunnittelua, varsinaisten havaintojen suorittamista, havaitun datan prosessointia ja analysointia, ryhmäesitelmän valmistelu ja pitäminen, sekä loppuprojektin kirjoittaminen. Itse valmistelin ja pidin kolme kurssin luentoa aiheista NOT-kurssin havainnot, optinen kuvaaminen sekä lähi-infrapuna-alueen kuvaaminen, jotka muodostivat suurimman osan kurssin pääluennoista. Kurssin opiskelijat jaettiin n. viiden hengen ryhmiin ja joka ryhmällä on kurssiprojektin ohjaajana yksi tai useampi tähtitieteilijä, jotka toimivat tutkijoina samoissa yliopistoissa, joista opiskelijatkin tulevat. Kurssiohjaajat suunnittelevat omaan tutkimukseensa liittyvän projektin, joten eri aiheiden kirjo on kurssilla aina laaja. Tällä kertaa esimerkiksi kahden Turun yliopiston opiskelijaryhmän tutkimusprojektit liittyivät tähtien elinkaaren päättäviin supernovaräjähdyksiin, jota myös oma tutkimukseni käsittelee. Havaintoöiden aikana opiskelijoita on avustamassa aina ryhmänohjaaja sekä kansallisen kurssimme erikoisuutena myös entinen NOT-harjoittelija, joista lukuisia työskentelee Suomessa. Itse olin paikalla havaintoöiden alussa aina pikkutunneille asti varmistamassa, että havainnot lähtevät hyvin käyntiin. Lisäksi Zoom-yhteyden päässä teleskoopilla oli luonnollisesti aina NOT:n henkilökunnan jäsen. Kurssin aikana opiskelijat suorittivat sekä optisen että lähi-infrapuna-alueen havaintoja. Käsittääkseni tämä kansallinen NOT-havaintokurssimme on ainoa, joka hyödyntää myös lähi-infrapuna-aluetta, muissa pohjoismaissa järjestettävien NOT-kurssien keskittyessä vain optisiin havaintoihin. Kurssin järjestelyihin meni huomattavasti aikaa, alkaen jo viime keväänä, kun valmistelin havaintoaikahakemuksen teleskoopille. Seuraavaksi opiskelijat pitävät ryhmäesitelmänsä parin viikon päästä. Lopuksi opiskelijoilla on aikaa valmistella kurssityön päättäviä kirjallisia raportteja vielä tammikuun puoleen väliin asti, jolloin on aika arvostella ne.
Nykyisin yhä enemmässä määrin tutkijoiden tähtitieteellisiä havaintoja suorittaa teleskooppien henkilökunta tutkijoiden valmistelemien ohjeiden perusteella ilman, että tähtitieteilijät matkustavat itse paikan päälle käytettävälle teleskoopille. Vaikka tämä joidenkin tutkimusprojektien kannalta on järkevää, vaaditaan tutkijoilta silti syvällinen ymmärrys havaintojen valmisteluun ja suorittamiseen liittyen. Sanotaan, että esimerkiksi ohjelmoimaan oppii vain tekemällä – sama päteekin myös tähtitieteellisten havaintojen tekoon.
Marjo Kolehmainen TIAS postdoctoral fellow, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies & Media Studies, University of Turku; Docent in Gender Studies, University of Tampere
The Covid-19 pandemic elevated digital screens to the core of everyday life. Screens can be found everywhere, including museums and galleries, stock exchanges, train stations, aeroplane seats, banks, food courts, record stores, gas stations, office desks and in the palm of one’s hand (Wasson, 2007). While screens are examples of everyday digital materialities (Sumartojo & Graves, 2021), the Covid-19 pandemic foregrounded in particular the significance of live video calls in sustaining everyday lives. During the pandemic, screen technology supported various societal infrastructures and cultural practices, such as distance learning, white-collar remote work, online health care consultations and remote dance and music lessons. The health measures of physical distancing, in particular, have shifted many activities online. I have also personally experienced it, including work-related Zoom meetings, children’s dental care via Microsoft Teams and attending a celebration via live stream on YouTube.
My interest in screens was initially sparked when conducting a study on how psychotherapists, psychologists, family counsellors and other therapy and counselling professionals experienced technology in their work during the pandemic. I originally collected interview data as part of a research consortium, Intimacy in Data-driven Culture (IDA), funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland. Several of my interviewees reflected upon the change in setting and venue, and the themes of visibility and invisibility recurred. For instance, they described how screen view limits the amount of visual information they receive, from seeing the body as a whole to a variety of gestures (Kolehmainen, 2022). The screens were repeatedly experienced as barriers, either in physical, affective or mental ways. Similar descriptions, of course, have been voiced by many professionals regarding screen usage in other contexts, such as university lecturers on teaching in higher education.
Yet my research also shows that screens should not be viewed solely as limiting human-to-human interaction and as reducing communication to ‘talking heads’. Concerns over remote encounters echo the negative attributes with which technology is often associated. Especially in care work, technology is often seen as ‘cold’, impersonal and instrumental in contrast to human care and warmth (Pols, 2012). In debates concerning digitalised psychotherapy, for instance, this takes the form of framing remote treatment as a ‘substitute’ or otherwise starting with a dichotomous opposition of in-person and technologically mediated consultations. Posthuman theory enables us to recognize how screens, with their own affordances and qualities, come to matter in various ways. As humans, we expand both expression and perception through screens. My interviewees recalled several instances in which they made novel observations. These observations were both enabled by the chance to see the client in a new setting and by the purposeful exhibition of one’s home, artwork or pets.
Image source: Pexels
As suggested earlier, screens also have their own affordances and qualities. One example is how they make the materiality of time and temporality tangible. The interviewees recounted how the possibility of switching the camera off for a while might make it easier for clients to talk about painful memories or feelings. One of my interviewees pondered about frozen screens, being concerned that they might influence a session. A frozen screen might leave their faces in an unintended and uncontrollable position, thus threatening the goal of having a neutral, professional face. Another one recalled the difficulties of having real-time eye contact with a client via a screen view, since there was always a tiny delay that made eye contact impossible. These varied experiences all speak to the importance of recognizing screens as ‘vibrant matter’ (Bennett, 2010), as the screens—assemblages themselves—influence the therapy sessions.
Screens also expand and exceed themselves in several ways. Whereas we might take for granted the (Western) assumption of one device, one person (Pinch et al., 2022), a deeper look at remote therapy and counselling reveals the multi-layered inter-dependencies as well as structural inequalities that materialize through screens. For instance, many clients use devices owned by their employers, meaning that discussing sensitive issues remotely is considered risky. Or perhaps the email invitations to online therapy sessions cannot be sent to one’s work email address for fear of them popping up on a colleague’s screen. Further, where and when people access their screens makes visible several aspects of social privilege and disadvantage. The wealthy ones, for instance, might own an in-house-sauna, summer cottage or a car, and thus can access their mobile screens from a variety of locations. In this way, they can ensure privacy. However, not everyone can access these types of venues, and their experiences with digital screens might differ drastically. In this way, screens also provide a view of inequalities and asymmetries concerning pandemic experiences.
Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.
Pinch, A., Birnholtz, J., Rawat, S., Bhatter, A., Baruah, D., & Dange, A. (2022). Someone else is behind the screen: Visibility, privacy, and trust on geosocial networking apps in India. Social Media + Society, 8(3). https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051221126076
Pols, J. (2012). Care at a Distance: On the Closeness of Technology. Amsterdam University Press.
Sumartojo, S., & Graves, M. (2021). Feeling through the screen: Memory sites, affective entanglements, and digital materialities. Social & Cultural Geography, 22(2), 231–249. DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2018.1563711
Wasson, H. (2007). The networked screen: Moving images, materiality, and the aesthetics of size. In J. Marchessault, & S. Lord (Eds.), Fluid screens, expanded cinema (pp. 74–95). University of Toronto Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442684355.7.
I always find population study, a study that is conducted in representative samples from the population, to be fascinating. Especially due to its potential to process various information toward beneficial policies and actions. So, when I first learned about bioinformatics data analysis, I kept looking for the possibility of applying it in population level data, particularly to answer health-related research questions. Seeing how big data transform into beneficial interpretations for wider use, intrigues me to get involved in this research area.
When I moved to Finland to follow my husband, I felt lucky because Finland is one of the countries that have comprehensive population data ranging from Cancer Registry that has been established since 1953 to the most recently added Register of Primary Health Care Visits in 2011. The records are originally meant to develop new ways to model the complex relationships between health and risk factors using high-resolution longitudinal data. The findings are then used to develop preventive and personalized health care for general citizens. For example, The National FINRISK Study, which was initiated in 1972, was highly successful in presenting preventable measures to tackle the high incidence of cardiovascular diseases, marked by decline of risk factor levels and coronary heart disease morbidity and mortality in the province of North Karelia, Eastern Finland at the time1. In 1976, the study was then expanded to the entire nation to target more broadly on major non-communicable diseases. When I joined the Turku Data Science Research group in 2021, I got the opportunity to take part in analyzing this cohort, particularly those collected in 2002 (FINRISK 2002), aiming to explore how microbiome, collections of microbes that live with us, influence long-term health status2.
High-quality data is indeed a foundation of a successful health and care system. It could serve as a system enabler for integrative data information towards better healthcare policy. For example, it helps in deciding on the best care, researching and improving treatments, addressing health inequalities, managing contagious diseases, improving efficiency, and planning services for now and future. When COVID-19 pandemic occurs, insight from population data is critical to help public health and humanitarian leaders to respond more effectively to the pandemic, particularly by analyzing preventive actions, the spread of the disease, population mobility, and systems or people’s resilience to cope with the virus. An effective response is always needed with every crisis, and here is why the collective effort for population data could play an essential role.
Although leveraging the population’s data for better healthcare has been implemented by many countries, several parts of population are still understudied. As an example, in genomic study, the vast majority (86%) of the population data only cover individuals of European descent3. This could result in missed scientific opportunities that could exacerbate health disparities. One famous example is the difficulty in generalizing the use of polygenic risk score, an estimate of genetic risk, in different populations. Despite its increased power to predict certain diseases such as breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases in European-descent populations, the prediction’s accuracy decreases when applied to populations with increasing genetic distance from the study cohort. This example shows that the lack of diversity in population data may result in inaccurate assessment of risk and lack of interventions, especially in under-studied populations. Hence, comparing a diverse set of populations unravels the possibility of gaining valuable information for greater insight in understanding the complexity of certain health conditions.
On the optimistic side, several initiatives have been started recently for understudied populations. In genomic fields, several flourishing studies have targeted low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America also indigenous populations study in Australia. There are several factors that contribute to their success such as: (1) international project funding that promotes inclusion; (2) large-scale training for the local community to contribute to the project; (3) strategic collaborations with an established institute to support both infrastructures and knowledge experts; and importantly, (4) clear ethical guidelines to build trust between community and researcher.3 I am quite hopeful as well, as Biomedical and Genome Science Initiative (BGSi) also started recently this year in my country, Indonesia. This could have a major impact, as Indonesia is the 4th most populated country (based on population number), and home to 1,340 recognised ethnic groups.
Despite a massive increase in data collection, there has been relatively little progress in data analysis and application4. A joint effort of a large number of scientists with a diverse sets of skills could be part of the solutions. One of example is a collaborative scientific competition, known as Challenges could provide a unique way of engaging researchers to collectively solve a complex problem, and provide a framework for robust methodologies for data analysis, including for health data setting. Recently, our research group has been taking part in organizing an Open Challenge that adopts the data and problems from the FINRISK cohort, where we invite everyone to provide novel insight in predicting heart failure using information on conventional risk factors and microbiome compositions.
To summarize, population data has opened opportunities to substantially improve health outcomes. Ensuring the inclusion of diverse populations could accelerate progress. To warrant such practice, many aspects need to be accessed, and successful projects could serve as an excellent example. Importantly, an appropriate governance framework must be developed and enforced to protect individuals and ensure that healthcare delivery is tailored to the characteristics and values of the target communities. Finally, collective effort could help to accelerate the translation of data toward improving health outcomes that could benefit everyone.
Borodulin K, Tolonen H, Jousilahti P, et al. Cohort Profile: The National FINRISK Study. Int J Epidemiol. 2018;47(3):696-696i. doi:10.1093/ije/dyx239
Ruuskanen MO, Erawijantari PP, Havulinna AS, et al. Gut Microbiome Composition Is Predictive of Incident Type 2 Diabetes in a Population Cohort of 5,572 Finnish Adults. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(4):811-818. doi:10.2337/dc21-2358
Fatumo S, Chikowore T, Choudhury A, Ayub M, Martin AR, Kuchenbaecker K. A roadmap to increase diversity in genomic studies. Nat Med. 2022;28(2):243-250. doi:10.1038/s41591-021-01672-4
Wyber R, Vaillancourt S, Perry W, Mannava P, Folaranmi T, Celi LA. Big data in global health: improving health in low- and middle-income countries. Bull World Health Organ. 2015;93(3):203-208. doi:10.2471/BLT.14.139022
Collegium Researcher Sophie Reichert, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Adjunct Professor, Department of Biology
The idea to write about project-based funding schemes for this blog piece originated from the recent French elections (yes there’s actually a link there). With these elections came a new government, with a new Minister of State for Higher Education and Universities. Not long after her appointment, the new minister stated that (French) public research should be an economically profitable investment and that project-based funding schemes should be generalised. Which led me to wonder whether such a funding scheme was actually adequate and “profitable” for research. Over the past of decades, European public research became increasingly concerned with performance objectives and relevance. More and more, the requirement of relevance for public research is becoming synonymous with its direct contribution to economic competitiveness and innovation. In response to this requirement for economic relevance, many Western governments have introduced specific policies to stimulate “scientific excellence”; and the funding of public research in the form of project-based grants and contracts gradually developed in many countries. The rise in project funding shifted control of research funds towards funding agencies that distribute these funds across individuals/groups; as opposed to a steady yearly research fund allocation (as it used to be the case). These funding schemes are grounded in the belief that differentiating resource allocations will produce better performance of the science system; but they generate financial capacity for a select number of individuals and research groups at the receiving end and increase the unequal distribution of funding in the science system. Governments hope that increasing concentration among researchers that perform ‘best’ will increase effectiveness, decrease low-quality research, and yield more and better outcomes for the science system. Continue reading →
Tharun Kumar Kotammagari TCSMT Postdoctoral Research Fellow Bioorganic group Department of Chemistry University of Turku
For our body to function, we need to supply it with a variety of nutrients that we get from our diet. However, our bodies can not use the food as it is when it enters our digestive system. The process of chemical digestion uses different proteins and enzymes to break down large molecules into usable nutrients that our cells absorb. Where are the instructions to manufacture these and all types of proteins we need to stay alive? The instructions to make proteins are contained within our DNA.
DNA is a biopolymer that stores the genetic information in the sequence of four nucleic acid bases – adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). These bases are strung along with the ribbons of a deoxyribose sugar-phosphate backbone and form a double-helical structure with the help of hydrogen bonding. The above-mentioned proteins and Watson-Crick base pairing properties are well established in the literature. Metal ions such as K+, Na+, and Mg2+ are also responsible for catalyzing the reactions of metabolism and the correct folding of biopolymers (nucleic acids). Generally, the sugar-phosphate backbone carries a negative charge and these charges are partially neutralized by the aforementioned alkali and alkaline earth metals. These metal ions also play a key role in the central dogma of biology (replication, transcription, and translation). However, less attention is given to the inorganic components of a biological cell, which are required for a biopolymer to function.
Metal mediated base pairs form by replacing the hydrogen bonds between complementary nucleobases in DNA with coordinate bonds formed by the metals, especially transition metals. Coordinate bonds have more strength than the H-bonds and transition metals readily form coordinate bonds with nucleobases. Due to this DNA duplexes possessing metal-mediated base pairs show higher thermal stability than the natural H-bonded DNAs. Continue reading →