Finns still believe in science and education. Only organisations responsible for the internal and external security of our society are trusted more than universities and colleges. The Finnish Science Barometer 2016 – a study of the attitudes and opinions of Finns towards scientific and technological progress – proves this without a doubt. How come is this outcome so clear in times of post-factual populism, alternative facts and doctrines? Obviously, it has something to do with our previous experiences of how science and education have influenced our lives. This trust grows from our country’s fast development from a poor agricultural society to a modern innovation system with a working welfare economy. It is widely accepted that this success story is largely based on research and education. In a similar manner, the value of education has been experienced by citizens at an individual level. It pays off to have a higher education.

Today, citizen trust in science is being tested in many levels. Some of the megatrends reshaping and shaking the reliability of information in general are the new media and growth of populism, among others. The information flow is no longer one-way traffic, it is interactive allowing creative participation, but unfortunately also manipulation. Sometimes it feels like the loudest voices and biggest mouths represent the biggest truth in social media. And what a shame it is to see that some of the world’s political leaders ignore the value of science and turn into proponents of alternative facts. How to maintain trust in the power of science in such world?

One-way reporting of scientific achievements through TV news, newspapers and the like is old-fashioned and too boring for young people. Social media should be taken as an opportunity to articulate science in an interactive way. This should create mutual interests among scientists and the surrounding world. This could even develop into citizen science – one of the cornerstones behind open science and open innovation thinking. Similarly, education programmes should be open to interactive learning and, again, with young minds. The developments in the knowledge environment, however, do not define trust alone. Finally, trust will be based on how well science and education can fuel our intellectual and material resources towards a better future.

Jaakko Puhakka
Academic Rector

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