Brown Bag Seminar

The Methodological Unit organizes a weekly Brown Bag Seminar to highlight novel methodological approaches in humanities and social sciences. The idea of the meetings is to introduce methodological innovations and cutting-edge research in various disciplines in an easily accessible manner and have an interdisciplinary discussion in an easy-going atmosphere over lunch. Bring your own lunch, we bring fresh methodological topics!

Every Tuesday at 12.15.

HSSH Brown Bag Seminar

The Idea 

There will be a 20-minute introduction to the methodological theme, followed by an open discussion of 40 minutes. The seminars are open to everybody. We expect a multidisciplinary and methodologically curious audience from different faculties and units of the central campus. The language of the meetings can be Finnish or English.

The most important prerequisite for participation is not methodological expertise, but an open mind towards new methodological innovations and discussion across methodological and disciplinary boundaries.

Until otherwise informed the meetings will be online on Zoom. 

Zoom link


Quantifying the importance of images in free knowledge

Wikipedia is the largest online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It contains more than 50 million articles across 300 language editions. However, more than half of these articles are unillustrated. But why is it so important to have images on Wikipedia and, more broadly, in free knowledge ecosystems? Anecdotal evidence tells us that images should be a very important part of encyclopedic knowledge.  If we could have an image for every entry in the encyclopedia, the amount of free visual knowledge, of pictures that people can use to understand, share and create knowledge, would be immense. But what is science telling us about the importance of images, and how can we quantify the value of images for knowledge understanding, taking into account the diversity of readers around the world? In this session, we will see some early results on our research on how readers engage with images on Wikipedia, and talk about challenges and opportunities of using computational methods to learn about the role of images in knowledge spaces.

Miriam Redi is a Research Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation and Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London. Formerly, she worked as a Research Scientist at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona and Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge. She received her PhD from EURECOM, Sophia Antipolis. She conducts research in social multimedia computing,  working on fair, interpretable, multimodal machine learning solutions to improve knowledge equity.

Brown Bag Seminar with Miram Redi on Zoom 31.5. at 12:15

LexComics – comics in building working methods and communicating research in law and technology studies

How to transform abstract knowledge into imagines, and to embed art in the work of an interdisciplinary research group working at the intersection of law, human computer interaction and social studies? University of Helsinki Legal Tech Lab works together with a comic artist Annukka Mäkijärvi to produce research based comics and experiment with novel ways of co-producing content in legal and social sciences, LexComics.

Generally LexComics has two goals: to communicate Lab’s research ways that are more open to those not familiar with legal or scientific language and use visual approaches of communication, and to develop ways to open up law for arts as a way to play, renew methodology and interact with scholars from different disciplines. LexComics experiment builds on research performed by existing research groups under the auspices of Legal Teach Lab and is composed of two parts, a workshops and co-creative artwork. The experiment has been running since 2020 and has resulted in both concrete art works and practical and methodological experience for the members of the project.

In the Brown Bag Seminar -presentation two members of the LexComics project group, doctoral researchers Hanne Hirvonen and Sofia Söderholm, explain more closely what, why and how Legal Tech Lab does in LexComics.

The University of Helsinki Legal Tech Lab is an interdisciplinary and international research hub located at the Faculty of Law. We examine the intersections of law, technology, and society. We believe that these areas of life develop hand-in-hand and co-produce each other. We study law and digitalisation broadly, examining technology as object of research, but also as tools of analysis. We believe that challenges raised by technological development (computational turn, increase of algorithmic governance) require new knowledge and new ways of doing things, especially interdisciplinary research collaboration and research methodology.

Legal Tech Lab belongs to the global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers, other members of which include Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. In addition to in-depth academic research, we value societal awareness raising and knowledge mobilisation. Hence, we also aim to combine our expertise and efforts with relevant stakeholders so that our understanding on law, society and technology contributes to a better society.

Brown Bag Seminar with Legal Tech Lab on Zoom 24.5. at 12:15

Deepfaking myself as a digital ethnographic method

In China, deepfakes are commonly known as huanlian, which literally means “changing faces.” Huanlian content, including face-swapped images and video reenactments, has been circulating in China since at least 2018, at first through amateur users experimenting with machine learning models and then through the popularization of audiovisual synthesis technologies offered by digital platforms. This talk presents the design, process and results of a research project seeking to understand how a new genre of synthetic media becomes part of popular culture through the domestication of machine learning and computational tools. Informed by a wealth of interdisciplinary research on media manipulation, I historicize, contextualize, and disaggregate huanlian through a digital ethnographic approach that goes beyond observation and experiments with ways of participating in the creation and circulation of synthetic media. The methodological possibilities offered by ‘messing around’ with technologies of media synthesis, I argue, point to a new and promising domain of ethnographic inquiry into artificial intelligence and machine learning at large.

Gabriele de Seta is, technically, a sociologist. He holds a Ph.D. from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Ethnology in Taipei. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bergen as part of the ERC-funded project Machine Vision in Everyday Life. His research work, grounded on ethnographic engagement across multiple sites, focuses on digital media practices and vernacular creativity in China. He is also interested in experimental music, internet art, and collaborative intersections between anthropology and art practice.

Brown Bag Seminar with Gabriele de Seta on Zoom 17.5. at 12:15

Is the world different depending on whose AI is looking at it? Comparing image recognition services for social science research

Images and visual material have become an increasingly important source of data for researchers interested in new media environments. However, due to the scale of material, visual content analysis with traditional qualitative approaches are limited. One may use automated image recognition services to conduct content analysis, however, this opens up new methodological challenges. We examine the reliability of automatic image recognition services by conducting a cross-comparison across three popular image recognition services: Google Vision AI, Microsoft Azure Computer Vision and AWS Rekognition. We use eight image datasets to examine if the image production quality or thematic coherence impacts the outcomes of the process, and how such outcomes impact social science analysis. Our results show that there can be a lot of variation between services, and that computer vision does not always detect the context of images in an optimal way. We therefore suggest that researchers using image data should pay particular attention to the methods and services they use to avoid potentially biased results.

Matti Nelimarkka leads the Helsinki Social Computing Group, an interdisciplinary group examining both computers and society. They explore digital democracy and politics in the digital era as well as computational techniques in social sciences, especially workflows and connections between social science theories and code. He is affiliated with the Faculty of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Department of Computer Science, Aalto University and Futurice, a Finnish software consultancy.

Anton Berg is a doctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Helsinki.

Transgres­si­ve re­per­toi­res in the mic­ro­po­li­tics of Stormfront’s fascist vir­tual com­mu­ni­ty

Right-wing extremists have long used digital communication to produce virtual communities where users can safely transgress normative injunctions against hate, racism, and white supremacy. Using word and document embedding on the widely-studied white supremacist forum, this paper studies on the role of transgression on the site’s various subforums. The paper observes how Stormfront users express their identities through the lens of an embedding space based on a dataset covering the years 2000-2015 and approximately 1.7 million posts. Through this distant reading of transgressive practices on the forum, this paper argues that its virtual community reproduces not only fascism as an ideology, but also as a libidinal economy. Through their expressions on the forum, members of Stormfront’s white supremacist community find themselves a unique site to find ‘freedom’ from their lives, stifled by ‘political correctness’ and ‘Jewish power’. Looking back at this decade and a half of Stormfront activity that precedes the ‘mainstreaming’ of white supremacist, reactionary, and racist ideas in the networked publics that cut across social media platforms, this paper illustrates a set of transgressive repertoires that sustain and reproduce white supremacist virtual communities and remain crucial as white supremacist digital cultures migrate to ‘alt-tech’ platforms.

Bharath Ganesh is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Groningen. His research explores technology, governance, and dignity, and currently focuses on the intersections between platforms and racism, hate speech, and extremism. He studies how extremist networks of users exploit social media platforms as well as how platform companies have responded to this challenge. His recent publications explore the cultures of far right publics online, political communication, disinformation, and platform governance. His recent work can be found in Cultural Studies and Journal of European Integration.

Acoustics of Sacred Sites 

The Acoustics of Sacred Sites project explores the acoustic properties of prehistoric rock art sites in the Boreal forest zone, drawing conclusions about sound rituals associated with these sites. The approach is to conduct a series of acoustic measurements at select painted rocks in Finland, Russia and Canada, to process the material using spectrum analysis, auralization and digital VR reconstructions, and to interpret the results with ethnographic accounts of hunter-gatherer ritual practices. The work is carried out in collaboration with archaeologists, ethnomusicologists, cognitive scientists and artists.

Riitta Rainio is a musicologist specializing in archaeoacoustics and sound archaeology. She is currently working at the University of Helsinki as a principal investigator of the project “Acoustics and Auditory Culture at Hunter-Gatherer Rock Art Sites in Northern Europe, Siberia and North America” funded by the Academy of Finland (2018 - 2023).

The Historically Informed Audiovisual Synthesis Project

The Historically Informed Audiovisual Synthesis project explores vintage electronic instruments from the 1960s and 1970s used in Sweden at the Royal College of Music (KMH), Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), Swedish national radio (SR) and television (SVT), and in the private studios of composers such as Ralph Lundsten and Leo Nilsson. Specific examples of these technological artifacts have been archived by the Swedish Performing Arts Agency (Statens Musikverket) and the Performing Arts Museum (Scenkonstmuseet). A number of these instruments are unique specimens which represent visionary, idiosyncratic, and often commercially unsuccessful attempts to reinvent production methods of creative media according to specific visions of the future. Their uniqueness as heritage objects under conservation has also restricted public access to many of them.

We propose that, if the original instruments no longer exist or cannot be maintained in usable conditions for artists and designers to work with, then contemporary re-enactments of these instruments can be produced. Through an iterative design process involving artists and designers, we aim to create instruments which renew historical creative visions and transcend the technical obsolescence into which many of them fell.

Derek Holzer (USA 1972) is an audiovisual artist, researcher, lecturer, and electronic instrument creator based in Stockholm. He has performed live, taught workshops and created scores of unique instruments and installations since 2002 across Europe, North and South America, and New Zealand. He is currently a PhD researcher in Media & Interaction Design at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, focusing on historically informed audiovisual synthesis.

The so-called “gender-equality paradox ” as a cautionary example for avoiding ambiguity and misinterpretations in predicting difference scores

Predicting an algebraic difference between two variables is a common malpractice in psychology and related fields. Although a difference score prediction is merely a test of continuous by binary interaction, this fundamental feature is ignored in the studies using this approach. Instead, researchers seem to wish to predict something otherwise unmeasurable content in an algebraic difference or this approach is used as a questionable research practice to find “favorable” results. Either way, because it only provides ambiguous tests of hypotheses, it is uninformative regarding the studied phenomena.

As an exemplary research line in which predicting differences is extremely prevalent, my presentation focuses on studies on the “gender-equality paradox”. Using direct difference score predictions, many studies have shown that differences between men and women (or boys and girls) are larger, not smaller, in more gender equal countries. This finding has been interpreted so that higher gender equality allows for more freedom in gender-specific ambitions and desires and therefore leads to larger differences. With a formal reanalysis of three large-scale cross-cultural datasets (50-87 countries and 80.000-850.000 individuals in each dataset), I find no support for this interpretation. I propose a new set of analytical functions in R environment (multid package) that focus on the difference score components to avoid misinterpretations following direct predictions of difference scores.

Ville Ilmarinen works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki. He is interested in individual differences in psychological characteristics and statistical methods.

Movie Making Finland: Finnish fiction films as audiovisual big data, 1907–2017 (MoMaF)

The presentation introduces the project Movie Making Finland (MoMaF), a consortium of researchers from Aalto University and the University of Turku. It concentrates on Finnish fiction films, which comprise 1,300 titles, released in a movie theatre in Finland from 1907 onwards. Some of the films have not been preserved, but the majority of the material is available and digitised by the National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI). The project is interested in the ways, through which cinema imagined and interpreted Finnish modernisation and its discontents. Methodologically, the project explores how speech recognition, image analysis and natural language processing can be combined in developing a toolbox for the study of historical change in audiovisual cultural heritage, in this case Finnish fiction films, and how these findings can be incorporated into a film historical and cultural historical content analysis. The project applies, adapts, and further develops state-of-the-art methods for speech recognition and video content analysis.

Tamás Grósz received a PhD degree in speech recognition from the University of Szeged, in 2018. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Signal Processing and Acoustics, Aalto University. His current research focuses on automatic speech recognition, deep learning, and computational paralinguistics.

Harri Kiiskinen (PhD 2013, cultural history, University of Turku) is a research data management specialist focusing on digital humanities. He has worked for several research project within and outside Academia. He specializes in semantic data and research data process automation.

Mikko Kurimo (Dr. Tech. 1997 Helsinki University of Technology) is professor in speech and language processing and the head of the automatic speech recognition group at Aalto University. His research interests include machine learning and deep neural networks in speech and language processing and technology. His work is internationally best known for the pioneering work in computational modeling of morphologically rich languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Arabic.

Jorma Laaksonen (Dr. Tech. 1997 Helsinki University of Technology) is a Senior University lecturer at the Department of Computer Science at Aalto University, Espoo, Finland, specializing in machine learning, neural networks, computer vision and multimodal media analysis, description and indexing. Dr. Laaksonen is a former Associate Editor of Pattern Recognition Letters, IEEE senior member, and a founding member of the SOM and LVQ Programming Teams and the PicSOM Development Group.

Hannu Salmi is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Turku. His research interests focus on the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, media history and the digital humanities. He has been the responsible leader of several research projects on digital history, including "Movie Making Finland: Finnish fiction films as audiovisual big data, 1907–2017” (MoMaF).

Mixed methods research in practice: Experiences from research project management and publishing

Mixed method approaches combine qualitative and quantitative research methods and data. In an ideal situation, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods and data allows one to take advantage of the best of both approaches. Quantitative approaches give us a statistical picture of the phenomenon, while qualitative approaches can provide rich details about people's experiences that survey data cannot fully express. Mixed methods is often used in multidisciplinary settings and seen as especially useful in addressing sensitive and complex issues. The objective of my presentation is to open the discussion on how to conduct mixed methods research in practice. I present examples of different types of mixed methods research design and discuss advantages and disadvantages of combining several data sources and methods in a research project or an article. I hope to spur discussion about mixed method research designs, the possibilities of integrating qualitative and quantitative approaches, and how to create a genuine dialogue between different types of data.

Laura Kemppainen currently works as a University researcher in the Centre of Excellence in Ageing and Care and in the DigiIN consortium. She is also a Principal Investigator in the TransHealth project (UH Three Year Research Grants). Her research interests include mixed methods approaches to migration, ageing and transnationalism studies, social and digital inequalities and Russian studies.

Exploring patterns of self-identification in the LGBTQ+ Reddit Corpus

Computer-mediated communication has played a significant role in shaping the current discourses on gender and sexuality by bringing together often dispersed minorities and providing an anonymous space to consider questions related to identities. To explore the link between these recent social developments and language practices, we investigate linguistic constructions of self-identification among sexual and gender minorities on the discussion forum Reddit.

Through analysis of lexico-grammatical patterns, we investigate in what ways and to what extent linguistic constructions of self-identification such as identify as X, be X and as a X are employed in online discourse. Our preliminary findings suggest that such constructions are productive as rhetorical means for claiming a specific identity and positioning oneself in discourse (e.g., I identify as non-binary most days). At the same time, these constructions are often used for labelling others, together with meta-discussion on the appropriate demarcation of these categories.

Utilizing the Pushshift repository, we have compiled The Reddit LGBTQ+ Corpus (c. 44 million words), which includes texts from various LGBTQ+ subforums on Reddit (e.g., r/lgbt, r/nonbinary). The corpus covers the period from 2010 to 2021, containing approximately 600 submissions per month with subsequent comments. In the presentation, we describe the corpus and its compilation, and present our preliminary analysis, discussing and contextualizing online self-identification practices within the broader discourse on gender and sexuality.

Minna Palander-Collin (PI) is Professor of English Language and currently Vice-Dean for Academic Affairs at the Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki. Since 2009,  she has been PI of several funded research projects focusing on changing language practices and societal change in the history of English. Her most recent project deals with Democratization, Mediatization and Language Practices (DEMLANG). Her main research interests include historical sociolinguistics, historical pragmatics, language change, corpus linguistics, and she is one of the compilers of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence. She is a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters.

Turo Hiltunen, PhD, Docent, is University Lecturer at the Department of Languages, University of Helsinki, where he teaches corpus linguistics and other digital approaches to the study of English. His main interests are corpus linguistics, grammar, phraseology and register analysis. Hiltunen has extensive experience of corpus development and has worked in such corpus projects as Early and Late Modern English Medical Writing (Benjamins 2011, 2019). He has (co-)authored over 30 studies, and edited research volumes and special issues, most recently for John Benjamins Publishing Company and the journals Language Sciences and Journal of English Linguistics. 

Laura Hekanaho, PhD, is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä. Her PhD dissertation Generic and Non-binary Pronouns (University of Helsinki, 2020), which was accepted with distinction, investigated attitudes towards generic and nonbinary 3rd person singular pronouns, including an exploration of how nonbinary pronouns are employed in identity building. She received a PhD award for feminist research. Her main research interests include language and gender research, identity and language, mixed methods research, statistical modelling, corpus linguistics and qualitative analysis.

Helmiina Hotti has a BA in Linguistics (Language Technology) from the University of Helsinki. She is currently working on her MA thesis on Language Technology in the MA programme in Linguistic Diversity and Digital Humanities, University of Helsinki.

Using virtual reality simulations and psychophysiology in social psychological interaction research

Immersive virtual reality enables social scientists to create controllable experimental scenarios without compromising ecological validity. People can be immersed in emotionally engaging social situations to investigate social information processing, decision-making, and emotional responses in real-world scenarios. We can learn how social psychological processes unfold moment-by-moment in nonverbal behaviors, verbal utterances, and nervous system activity. In the presentation, I will use my experimental research work on nonverbal communication and empathy-related processes to demonstrate the power of combining virtual reality simulations and electrophysiological measures in social psychological research. I will outline novel approaches using immersive media experiences to study basic processes of social information processing as well as more complex societal phenome such as intergroup relations and prejudice. 

Dr. Ville Harjunen is a technology-oriented social neuroscientist working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki. Harjunen's research is related to the psychophysiology of non-verbal communication of emotions, social cognition, and decision-making. His methodological expertise includes EEG, MEG, autonomic nervous system measures, and virtual reality (VR) simulations. The majority of his research focuses on interpersonal touch and nonverbal communication of emotions in VR-based interactions.

A so­li­da­ri­ty pa­ra­dox – wel­fa­re sta­te data in glo­bal health data eco­no­my

Nordic countries have well institutionalised practises of gathering health data from their citizens. The establishment of population registers coincided with the building of welfare state institutions and relied on a social contract of solidarity. During the last decade, health databases have become sources of economic value. Recent policies expect registers and biobanks to attract international investments, making Nordic countries world-leaders in the global health data economy. In this presentation, we question the conditions and boundaries of solidarity in the emerging data-driven health economy. We argue that the logics of welfare state and data-driven economy create a paradox – the data economy is not possible without the welfare state data regime, but the logic of data-driven health economy contradicts the value bases of the welfare state and therefore the justifications for data gathering and use become questionable.

Heta Tarkkala is a sociologist and does research in the field of science & technology studies. She has worked on topics such as biobanks, health data and biomedical research populations. Currently she works at Data Literacy for Responsible Decision Making (DataLit) project asking how public authorities could use data in socially sustainable ways.

Karoliina Snell is university lecturer in sociology and interaction coordinator of DataLit where she busts data myths. Her research interests are related to different uses, ethics and legitimation of health data and genomic information. She is particularly interested in the question – what the heck is meant with human centric data economy?

What does a cor­re­la­tion say about me? A tu­to­rial on trans­la­ting cor­re­la­tio­nal re­search fin­dings to their implica­tions for in­di­vi­dual people

I propose a simple tool for translating correlations to their implications for individual people by trisecting and cross-tabulating (TACT) variables. This makes correlations intuitively interpretable even without background knowledge. For example, knowing an individual's conscientiousness (lowest, medium or highest third among other people) improves the accuracy of predicting their health by 1.4 percentage points, their child's conscientiousness by 4.2 percentage points, and their job performance by 7.2 percentage points, compared to the random-guess accuracy of 33.3 %. Moreover, there is about 50 % probability that their partner rates their conscientiousness similarly and a 65 % probability that they will score similarly in six years. As a rule of thumb for typical correlations, around 40 % of individuals with a low or high value in one variable have a similar value in the other variable, so statements like "someone high in x is likely to be high in y" are usually incorrect and best avoided.

René Mõttus is an individual differences researcher, working at the Department of Psychology of the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in general patterns in the measurement, development and life-course consequences of personality traits. He also serves as the Editor of the European Journal of Personality and a co-host of the Personality Psychology Podcast.

Ana­ly­sing spa­tial in­te­rac­tions between people and between people and their en­vi­ron­ment using Mo­bi­le Big Data

Our dynamic society is shaped by interactions between people, and between people and their surrounding environment. The mobility of people is a key proxy for indicating socio-spatial and people-nature interactions. Novel data sources, complemented with traditional data, facilitate the analysis of these interactions and how these change in time. Data collected by mobile phones reveal the population level mobility flows of people at different temporal and spatial scales. Content rich social media data may provide more knowledge on the nature of these interactions, and appreciations and preferences of people. In my presentation, I will examine the possibilities of Mobile Big Data to study the mobility of people and their interactions with each other and their environment, drawing from the ongoing research at the Digital Geography Lab.

Tuuli Toivonen is geographer and professor of geoinformatics at the Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki. She leads the transdisciplinary research group Digital Geography Lab. The lab hosts some 15 researchers working together with spatial big data analytics on a human scale for fair and sustainable societies. Her research focuses on understanding dynamics of people and places, in both urban and natural areas, mostly using open/big data, spatial analytics and machine learning approaches. Much of the work examines the mobility and accessibility of people from different perspectives and in different environments, using user-generated data (social media, mobile phone, sports apps, etc.) combined with traditional data sources. Her contributes to urban and human geography, land use and transport planning, sustainability science and conservation geography.

New com­pa­ra­ti­ve met­ho­do­lo­gy for re­searc­hing lan­gua­ge chan­ge in con­tact eco­lo­gies

Multilingualism is no new development in human history, but it is and has been a prevalent characteristic of the world's language communities. It is well-known that multilingualism leads to linguistic changes, most notably to borrowed vocabulary but also to grammatical changes, such as changes in word order. Research on language contact has become increasingly popular in the language sciences, but it has been mostly focused on the end results of contact on linguistic structure. Less attention has been given to the social ecology of multilingualism; a state-of-affairs that has also been increasingly noted.

In this talk, I present a new comparative approach to researching language contact that factors in the social ecology of multilingualism. I present the main parts of our research design and show how its different parts (e.g., sampling, variable design, data sources, approach to comparison) have been tailored to fit to each other. My hope is to inspire fresh thoughts on how complex research questions may be approached in an interdisciplinary way.

Kaius Sinnemäki is Associate Professor in Quantitative and Comparative Linguistics at the University of Helsinki and the director of the ERC-funded project "Linguistic Adaptation". He is working mostly on language comparison, language variation and universals, and language complexity by using data from tens or hundreds of languages at the same time. His current research focuses on how the sociolinguistic ecology in which languages are learned and used may affect the way languages change over time. In addition, he has researched the interaction of nationalism, language, and religion, and the theoretical and methodological foundations of language comparison.

The session is a joint event with the Aalto HELDIG DH Pizza.

Re­searc­hing the circu­la­tion of cons­pi­racy theo­ries in Fin­land

Conspiracy theories and their global circulation is not a new phenomenon, neither is the fact that the need for explanations and meaning at the time of crisis increases religiosity as well as interest in conspiratorial narratives. It is then not surprising that during the Covid-19 pandemic different types of conspiracy theories have circulated in the global media environment. During the first year of the pandemic conspiracy theories become topical also in Finland and circulating narratives were localized in different ways into our national contexts and sub-cultures.

This talk describes a collaborative sub-study of the research project Politics of Conspiracy Theories (SAPO) which focused on the political utilization of conspiracy theories and the consequences this for media and political life. In the sub-study the Finnish networks and imaginaries of conspiracy theories were studied with a multi-method approach combining virtual ethnography and computational methods (network analysis). Data was collected on Twitter, Telegram and two conservative Christian fringe media outlets. The talk explains the core findings while also exploring some of the methodologic complexities at play in the study.

Associate Professor Katja Valaskivi is one of the research programme directors at HSSH and also heads the new interfaculty Helsinki Research Hub on Religion, Media and Social Change (Heremes). Her research focuses on the circulation of belief systems, worldviews and ideologies from the perspectives of media research and sociology of religion. She is currently the PI in research projects on mediatized religious populism, politics of conspiracy theories as well as the circulation of extremism in the dark web and beyond. Her recent co-authored articles deal with the circulation of hate speech in 4chan after terror attacks (First Monday 2021), the news desk as an attention apparatus in terrorism news coverage (Journalism Practice 2020), the epistemic modes of terrorism news reporting (Journalism 2021) and the countermedia as an integral part of the hybrid media environment (New Media and Society, 2021). coming soon.

Causal Decomposition of Population Health Differences Using the G-Formula 

One key objective of the population health sciences is to understand why one social group has different levels of health and well-being compared with another. Several methods exist to answer these type of questions, but only recently a method has anchored decompositions within causal inference theory. In this paper, we demonstrate how to implement the causal decomposition using Monte Carlo integration and the parametric g-formula.

Causal decomposition can help to identify the sources of differences across populations and provide researchers with a way to move beyond estimating inequalities to explaining them and determining what can be done to reduce health disparities. Our implementation approach can easily and flexibly be applied for different types of outcome and explanatory variables without having to derive decomposition equations. Ultimately, we outline how to implement a very general decomposition algorithm that is grounded in counterfactual theory but still easy to apply to a wide range of situations.

Maarten J. Bijlsma is assistant professor of precision drug therapy and real world evidence at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy, University of Groningen (the Netherlands), and former deputy head at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany). Maarten is an applied statistician and epidemiologist with a strong interest in the counterfactual causal inference framework, with a focus on the g-formula to study processes that are interdependent over time.

Social study of microbes – collaboration, interdisciplinarity and limits of methods

In the past decade, scientific and public understandings of microbes have undergone considerable changes. Microbes, hitherto predominantly considered as harmful and largely ignored by social scientists, are abundant and now seen to have vital, life sustaining functions within various ecological niches in and outside the body. Simultaneously, increasing antibiotic drug resistance means that common infections and everyday surgical operations are much harder to treat. The changes in microbiological thinking and practices present social sciences opportunities to explore microbiological paradigm shifts and how new futures with microbes can be built.

Studying microbes, however, is not merely about magpie-ing trendy case studies or mapping the zeitgeist.  The enquiry brings to light and is confronted by profound limitations in social theory and methodology to address what is at stake.  This talk explores the limitations and describes how the Centre of the Social Study of Microbes makes attempts to overcome these with interdisciplinarity, collaboration and experiments in methodology.

Salla Sariola is the Director of the Centre for the Social Study of Microbes at University of Helsinki and a Finnish Academy Research Fellow in sociology. Her current research on the social study of microbes includes exploring changing scientific practices on environmental microbes and antimicrobial resistance as well as developing fermentation as an experimental research method. She is the author of 4 books and her fieldwork has taken her to feminist, queer and HIV activist movements in India and Kenya, hospitals of Sri Lanka, and rural laboratories in Benin and Burkina Faso, as well as fermentation enthusiasts in Finland the Northeast of India.