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MU’s Alena Kluknavská awarded by Czech Science Foundation

The project, which deals with the relativisation of truth in political communication, when facts give way to opinions, impressed the jury and Alena Kluknavská from the Faculty of Economics and Administration is this year’s sole winner of the prestigious Czech Science Foundation President’s Award.

Alena Kluknavská.

The President’s Award of the Czech Science Foundation has been awarded regularly for the past twenty years. Laureates are selected on the recommendation of several hundred researchers who evaluate projects funded by the Czech Science Foundation. A total of four Masaryk University scientists were nominated in the individual categories.

Alena Kluknavská is the winner in the Social Sciences and Humanities category. Her project called “Public Discourse on Migration in Central Europe in the Post-Factual Era” aims to explore public and political discourses on polarising issues such as migration in the context of the increased relativisation of truth in the post-factual era, which is characterised by a lack of emphasis on truth and verifiable claims, the prevalence of emotion over evidence, and the creation of 'alternative' facts.

“We have defined and shown empirically how the relativisation of the truthfulness of political actors can manifest itself in post-factual communication. We have also traced the ways in which post-factual communication becomes visible in public space and public debate. It is the strategic use of post-factual discourse that has remained an under-researched area in recent years, and this research needs to be strengthened by research on political communication,” said Kluknavská, who also works at the Faculty of Social Studies.

According to Kluknavská, it is not only important to know whether and how certain political statements represent or distort reality, i.e. whether they are actually true or not, but also to understand how political statements challenge the truthfulness of other political and public actors involved in the public debate. “At the same time, we wanted to understand the factors that may influence this post-factual communication. We describe these factors as circumstances in the broader political and cultural context that facilitate or hinder the production, dissemination or reception of the content of political messages by different actors. These include, for example, prevailing public attitudes towards migration, the discourse of political parties on certain important and hot issues, media coverage, and external circumstances such as political crises. This context is important for understanding the appeal of post-factual communication and for answering the question of under what conditions political actors are more likely to use this type of communication to win the support of their supporters and voters,” added Kluknavská.

For her personally, the award is first and foremost an encouragement for her efforts and commitment to the field. “This award is a recognition of my contribution to the field of political communication, which I am very interested in, and also a kind of reward for my efforts to contribute to the development of science and society. At the same time, it motivates and inspires me to continue my research and pursuit of excellence and to strive to be an inspiration to future generations of women in science. Last but not least, I see the award as a recognition of social science research and its contribution to a better understanding of complex social and political phenomena,” said Kluknavská, who is also involved in the work of the SYRI National Institute, which, among other things, studies the polarisation of society.

At SYRI, she will now build on the Czech Grant Agency project, as the initial research has given her and her colleagues new perspectives. “In the SYRI project, we have the opportunity to fill in some of the gaps and advance our knowledge in the field. In SYRI, I am mainly interested in the populist and polarising communication of political leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am focusing on the divisive nature of populist and anti-populist discourse, the crisis communication of political leaders during the pandemic, and the use of populist messages and vulgarity in political speeches and their impact on emotions, intolerance and disrespect for the rules of polite discourse by social media users,” said the young researcher.

Since 2003, the Czech Science Foundation President’s Award has been awarded on a regular basis in recognition of outstanding results in the evaluation of grant projects completed in the previous year. The laureates are selected on the recommendation of several hundred scientists who evaluate projects funded by the CSF. Each laureate receives a financial award of CZK 100,000. Prizes are awarded in five areas of basic research: technical sciences, life sciences, medical and biological sciences, social sciences and humanities, and agricultural and bio-environmental sciences. This year's winning projects will contribute to the understanding of black holes, the functioning of the vertebrate brain, the effectiveness of cancer treatments and improved lubrication of joint cartilage.

KKluknavská is the only MU laureate this year. Among the nominees, however, were three other scientists from MU – Štěpánka Vaňáčová from CEITEC MU with the topic of characterisation of molecular mechanisms of human adenosine demethylases, Martina Dvořáčková from CEITEC MU for her project on chromatin environment induced by genotoxic substances, and Michal Hájek from the Faculty of Science, who dealt with the current and future diversity of European peatlands in a changing world.

“I am pleased to see that even seemingly ‘useless’ research can be positively evaluated by other scientists. Peatlands are not an economically important habitat, they will not help economic growth or medicine, and they are not the most important player in global climate change – although they do play a role. Our research highlights the importance of peatlands for biodiversity conservation; they are one of the most threatened habitats in Europe. We have been a little heavy-handed in emphasising their importance for biodiversity; many studies have focused very specifically on their role in the context of global change. We are therefore delighted that our results have been published in leading interdisciplinary journals, at the intersection of Earth sciences and biology,” said Michal Hájek, the Head of the Mire Ecology Group at the MU Faculty of Science. 

Michal Hájek also praised the work of PhD students Patrícia Singh and Radovan Coufal on the project, the latter being awarded by the Dean of the Faculty of Science. The Brno scientists are collaborating with colleagues from other European countries, in particular from the universities of Oviedo in Spain and Joensuu in Finland. “Thanks to this network, we have managed to compile a unique data set, which we are still improving and will use for further analyses. I believe that we have not yet said the last word on the subject of European peatlands and how they are changing in the face of ongoing global change, and I am pleased that we are succeeding in bringing this biotope more to the forefront of the minds of naturalists and the public”.