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EARLY HISTORY

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References

The Finnish Alcohol Research Society was founded in 1960. Its aim was to become a common forum for researchers close to the state alcohol monopoly and those belonging to the temperance organizations. These institutions represented sharply opposing views, and in 1969 the controversy culminated in the process of liberalizing legislation on alcohol [1].

National alcohol policy was in the hands of the state alcohol monopoly. It had to deal with the so-called national problem of Finnish alcohol culture: even though alcohol intake in Finland was low by international standards, the negative effects caused by alcohol abuse were significant. Strong beverages were preferred and heavy intoxication was common. The aim of the monopoly was to train people to adopt moderate drinking habits. The policies used relied on scientific research, as the monopoly had a large research unit. However, the temperance movement had an even longer tradition of research on the negative effects of alcohol. The temperance circles considered any alcohol policy unnecessary and insisted upon a return to Prohibition [1].

One-third of the founders of the Finnish Alcohol Research Society came from the alcohol monopoly, one-third were temperance activists and the rest represented other professional fields, such as medicine. The Society was inspired by the example of similar foreign scientific societies concentrating on alcohol-related issues. The aim of the Society was to provide researchers with a forum to discuss and to disseminate research results. However, the Society neither did nor does provide any funding.

The idea of a Society originated in 1959 in the academic temperance circles. The Academic Temperance Society already had a forum for scientific discussion. However, it accepted only totally abstinent members, which quickly became a problem. There was a need for a common forum ‘for both the abstinent and the non-abstinent in so far as they were sincere alcohol researchers’, to quote a founding activist [1,2].

Within temperance circles there had been attempts to found a scientific society even earlier. As early as in 1948 several scientists were invited to discuss the need for a society. However, in that gathering, academics of various disciplines concentrated instead on arguing about the best way to solve ‘the alcohol question’. Some argued that the problem should be dealt with by means of forensic medicine, others preferred social hygiene. In such a controversial context the time was clearly not ripe for a multi-disciplinary arena [3].

In contrast, in the 1960s the newly founded society was clearly a multi-disciplinary one. The idea was to resolve social problems with the help of scientific research and cooperation between different disciplines. As an example of creative multi-disciplinary action, an anecdote of a presentation at the annual meeting of 1962 is worth mentioning: a professor of surgery and a PhD in musicology presented their joint research. Their idea was to test a common Finnish belief that the performance of a musician improves if he is served alcohol. The researchers served alcohol to three piano tuners and then tested their analytical musical skills both before and after alcohol intake. In light of this preliminary research on the neurophysiological effects of alcohol, the traditional belief was proved incorrect: contrary to this traditional belief, alcohol intake certainly did not improve the performance of the piano tuners [1].

The multi-disciplinary role of the Society has been strong throughout its history. Medico-physiological sciences, social sciences and the arts have been represented in its Board at all times. The role of the temperance movement has declined, as in society in general. At the same time, problem-orientated approach—discussing current social problems in the light of scientific research—has attracted various professionals interested in drugs to join the society. Consequently, in 2001 the Society's name was changed from the Finnish Alcohol Research Society to the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society.

MEMBERSHIP

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References

According to the founding statutes of the Finnish Alcohol Research Society, its mission is to promote scientific alcohol research. Any person with a scientific record in alcohol research can become a member.

In 1990 Jarmo Heinonen [4] classified the Society's members according to their professional expertise. He divided the members into five groups: researchers, professionals of treatment and care, public officials, members of the temperance movement and media representatives. During the Society's first two decades of existence (1960–80), most of its members were researchers. During that time, the Society followed its original scientific function strictly.

In the 1980s the share of professionals of treatment and care among the members increased sharply. The trend continued, and at present most members areresearchers (approx. 40%) or professionals of treatment and care (approx. 40%). The remaining 20% represent various other professional categories (Member Registers of the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society 2006).

The number of members has varied between 50 and 400. It increased steadily from 1960 onwards and reached its peak at the beginning of the 1990s, after which it began to decrease ([4]; Member Registers of the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society 2006). The main reason for the downward trend was the reorganization of alcohol research in Finland, which led to an uncertain role for the Society. The Society no longer had a clear complementary role within the scientific field and, consequently, had to redefine its role and mission between the end of 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium [interviews (both 18 December 2006) with C. Tigerstedt, Chair of the Finnish Alcohol Research Society, 1998–99; and P. Rosenqvist, Chair of the Finnish Alcohol Research Society, 1995–96]. The number of members dropped to less than 200, but increased again at the beginning of the 21st century. At present, the Society has 224 members and the trend has been clearly positive in recent years. The main factors behind this increase have been the Society's proactive and open role and its efficient use of new media channels and new information needs. As late as the 1990s the Society's main function was to organize seminars, whereas currently it has succeeded in re-establishing its complementary role of supporting research and treatment. In its redefined role the Society is scientifically independent, which enables it to function as a discussion and communication forum for research results, publications and other intoxicant-related information [C. Tigerstedt and P. Rosenqvist (idem.) and interview with P. Hakkarainen (18 December 2006), Head of the Alcohol and Drug Research Group, Stakes (National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health)].

ACTIVITIES

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References

One of the main activities of the Society has been and is still the organization of scientific seminars. On average it has organized four seminars per year, and in some years as many as seven. Until the beginning of the 21st century the seminars were focused upon alcoholism, alcohol policy, studies on consumption and the negative effects of alcohol and health-related themes. Up to 1984 the seminars were open only to the members of the Society and to researchers, but they subsequently became open to all participants. At the beginning of this century, when the Society also enlarged its scope to include drugs, the seminars began to focus upon all intoxicants. The Board members of the Society are responsible for organizing the seminars, the contents of which are varied and multi-disciplinary. Since the recent reorganization the seminars have been able to attract more participants. Nowadays they attract some 30–50 participants on average, and also media attention. It can be concluded that the seminars have become an established part of Finnish intoxicant research.

In 2001 the Society began to publish a yearbook of alcohol and drug research, which can be seen as a major milestone. The yearbook contains topical articles on intoxicant-related issues; its aim is to provide the actors within the intoxicant field with the latest scientific knowledge in an easy-to-read form. Thus far, the yearbook has been published annually, with 1000–1500 copies distributed free of charge to all relevant actors in the field. A bibliography of relevant scientific publications published during that year is attached to the yearbook; the 2006 edition will focus upon youth and alcohol. The yearbook has been funded by different sources over the years: the first four were funded by Alko Inc. (the state-owned alcohol retail company, formerly the alcohol monopoly); in 2005 the yearbook was funded by the alcohol programme of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and in 2006 by the Ministry of Education. The future of the publication depends upon outside funding, as the Society has no regular source of funding. The 2006 yearbook will be published in collaboration with the Finnish Youth Research Network. Other activities worth noting include the 10-page electronic newsletter published four times a year. The Society's internet site offers up-to-date information on coming events.

In a new information era, the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society has developed into a responsive and dynamic organization. It follows its original mission—to promote scientific alcohol and drug research—taking into account the requirements of an evolving society.

MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References

The main organizational responsibility lies with the Society's board. Until now, the Society has had 24 Presidents, 13 of whom have represented the social sciences and 11 the natural sciences. Several Presidents and Vice-Presidents have had internationally recognized research careers, such as Presidents Mikko Salaspuro (1969–70), Juhana Idänpään-Heikkilä (1972–73), Jussi Simpura (1978–79), Kalervo Kiianmaa (1983–84) and Marja Holmila (1993–94), and Vice-Presidents Kettil Bruun (1966–67), Salme Ahlström (1973) and Lasse Murto (1979–80) [4]. The current President, since 2005, is Mikko Salasuo.

The main institutions of Finnish intoxicant research have always been represented by the Board. Treatment professionals as well as social welfare services have also been represented. A broadly based and multi-disciplinary Board has clearly contributed to the multi-disciplinary expertise of the Society. The number of Board members has varied. At present it has seven members and the President, and meets five times a year. The Board's Secretary has a key role, as he is responsible for the operational management. The activity of the Society depends upon the voluntary contribution of the President, the Secretary and other Board members, as the Society does not pay fees to its President or Board members.

Cooperation with other relevant interests is an integral part of the Society's activities. Currently, the most important partner is the alcohol and drug research unit of Stakes (National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health). In recent years this partnership has gained in importance, as the Society no longer receives funding from Alko Inc. The seminars and Board meetings of the Society are organized mainly at Stakes' premises and the relevant experts of Stakes participate actively in the Society's seminars. Other major partners include the A-Clinic Foundation, the University of Helsinki, the National Health Institute of Finland, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Finnish Centre for Health Promotion.

VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References

An agora acted as a market-place and a discussion forum in ancient Greece. It functioned as a meeting-place for philosophers and teachers of wisdom and as a forum for direct democracy and for citizens' contributions. In the 21st century, the social identity of the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society could be described as an agora for intoxicant research. This constantly changing field has to balance between the differing views of politics, public administration, the scientific community, media and commercial actors and, at the same time, take into account the rights of individuals. In this setting, the Society provides a discussion forum for the different actors. The aims of the Society are based on the research field, but its activities contribute more widely to society. One of its aims is to encourage discussion between various participants in the seminars. In this way, participants can learn from divergent views and interpretations. In addition to researchers, public officials, grass-roots-level players, representatives from the alcohol and drug industry, representatives from the non-governmental organizations and other relevant players are also invited to the seminars.

It remains to be seen how the Finnish Alcohol and Drug Research Society can develop into an agora of intoxicant research, and whether or not it can preserve its neutral identity. The aim is to encourage the Society to react proactively and flexibly in a constantly evolving society.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. EARLY HISTORY
  3. MEMBERSHIP
  4. ACTIVITIES
  5. MULTIDISCIPLINARY AND FLEXIBLE MANAGEMENT
  6. VISION: TO BECOME AN AGORA FOR THE INTOXICANT RESEARCH FIELD
  7. References
  • 1
    Kuusi H. Viinistä Vapautta. Alkoholi, Hallinta Ja Identiteetti 1960-Luvun Suomessa [Wine for Freedom. Alcohol, Governmentality and Identity in Finland in the 1960s]. Helsinki: SKS; 2004 [Dissertation].
  • 2
    Immonen E. J. Viisi vuotta Alkoholitutkijain seuran toimintaa [Five years of the Alcohol Research Society]. Alkoholikysymys 1964; 4: 16170.
  • 3
    Kuusi P. Alkoholitutkimuksemme organisatorisesta kehityksestä[Organized development of the alcohol question]. Alkoholikysymys 1963; 2: 143.
  • 4
    Heinonen J. 30 vuotta Alkoholitutkijain seuraa [30 years of the Alcohol Research Society]. Alkoholipolitiikka 1990; 2: 558.