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Veni's for VU Amsterdam

11 April 2022
Eight promising young VU scientists will receive a Veni grant of up to 280,000 euros from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

These are researchers from the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) and Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) domains, who will be able to further develop their own research ideas over the next three years. They will receive their funding from the 2021 Veni round, just like the previously awarded researchers from the science domains Exact and Natural Sciences (ENW) and Health Research and Care Innovation (ZonMw).

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam proudly congratulates the following laureates, in alphabetical order:

Assistant professor for natural language processing Lisa Beinborn receives the Veni for her research: How can computational models reflect multilingual language understanding?
When we communicate in a foreign language, we often use cues from our mother tongue to facilitate comprehension. Computational models ignore the differences between languages but still perform well in cross-lingual understanding. Beinborn examines if multilingual models can reflect transfer effects and aims at developing cognitively plausible models to support language learning.

Communication scientist Andreu Casas Salleras receives the Veni for his research: Free Speech and Censorship in the Digital Society: A computational study of the determinants and effects of political speech regulation by social media companies
Private social media companies increasingly play a role in regulating (political) speech online, posing a clear threat to democratic accountability. Due to a lack of transparency and independent research, we do not clearly know the conditions under which platforms regulate speech, nor the effects (and effectiveness) of their policies. Challenges related to analyzing big SM data have made it difficult for research on this pressing topic to flourish. Casas Salleras ramp-up this research by leveraging innovative computational methods to disentangle the nature of this new speech regulation paradigm, as well as its effects on the politically relevant behavior of users.

Cognitive neuroscientist Maartje de Jong receives the Veni for her research: I spy with my little eye… How the brain generates visual experiences
Your eyes capture light like a camera, but to see you need your brain. How does your brain integrate visual with subjective information? Neural signals travelling in the opposite, ‘feedback’, direction through a hierarchy of brain regions may play a key role. De Jong will determine how feedback signals contribute to visual experiences of objects. While human participants view images of real and illusory objects, she will measure feedback signals using advanced neuroimaging techniques and manipulate them with pharmacology. Her research will help solve the enigma around feedback signals and, thereby, will help us understand how brain regions work together.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy and Governance Johanna Koehler of the Institute for Environmental Studies receives the Veni for her research: Risk-pooling and institutional innovation for sustainable water service transitions (RISKPOOL)
In the face of global challenges such as climate change, innovation in water services is urgently needed. Institutional innovation is happening on a large scale, in which hybrid institutions emerge, which share risks between private, public and community actors. Advancing institutional theory of risk, the range of choices these risk-pooling actors make are exposed. The global set-up of Koehler’s project, the attention for the urgent transition to a more sustainable society and the focus on joint learning will make sure the project results in new insights in the design of the water utilities of the future. Read more here.

Assistant Professor for Persuasive Communication Philipp Masur receives the Veni for his research: Bad influence through social media: How online behavioral contagion propagates problematic behaviors and what we can do against it
Social media facilitate the adoption of problematic behaviors (e.g., incivility) or risky practices (e.g., disclosing too much). But the exact psychological mechanisms and ways to protect against negative consequences of such behavioral contagion effects are unknown. Masur combines experimental, tracking, and simulation methods to study online behavioral contagion and its boundary conditions. He further analyzes whether media literacy protects against irrational adoption of problematic behaviors and tests whether subtle nudges embedded into the social media design can buffer against negative influence on social media.

Elanie Rodermond receives the Veni for her research: Jihadi-brides and neo-Nazi wives? Women’s pathways into and out of extremism
Women play a key, but understudied role in (violent) extremist groups, and their involvement generates significant societal risks, for example through the intergenerational transmission of violent extremist ideologies. Yet, they are still often depicted as ‘naïve brides’, ‘the partner of’ or ‘victims’, hampering in-depth investigation of their extremist engagement and disengagement processes. Rodermond combines insights from life-course criminological research on male extremists and general female offenders with the use of unique primary data to study why and when women engage in and disengage from terrorism and violent extremism. Results will contribute to tailored programmes to prevent women’s extremist involvement.

Social and Cultural Anthropologist Eva van Roekel receives the Veni for her research: Emergency Ethics: Crisis, Nature, and Wealth in Venezuela
Due to the protracted humanitarian crisis, many Venezuelans currently sustain their livelihoods at the expense of others and nature through resource extraction, smuggling, money transfers, and trading cryptocurrencies. These emergency practices are linked to global supply chains and international organized crime, wherein individuals and companies make astronomical profits from sustaining the crisis. Van Roekel will ethnographically investigate how Venezuelans in rural and urban areas justify these actions. Herewith she will provide new insights about ethical behavior during crisis and determine how prolonged crisis affects the moral relations between social and environmental justice.

Assistant Professor of Migration Law Janna Wessels receives the Veni for her research: Speaking Human Rights. Translating Migration Control Measures into Human Rights Language
Imagine the situation in refugee camps at the borders of Europe, the de facto detention of asylum seekers, or push backs at the Mediterranean Sea. From the outset it seems that human rights norms forbid such practices. However, States often successfully litigate before the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that their migration control practices are not unlawful under human rights law. How do States do this? The research of Wessels is the first to provide a comprehensive analysis of the legal techniques that governments strategically deploy to use human rights litigation in their favour.

Custom schedule
The Veni is awarded annually by NWO. These awards relate to the second and final part of the Veni round 2021. In recent years, NWO has had to shift the planning of the Veni rounds, forced by corona and a hack. Last spring, this led to a split in the planning between the various scientific domains. For the domains Science (no pre-proposal phase yet) and ZonMw (not affected by the hack), NWO used the original planning prior to the hack; the awards were already announced in December 2021.

Talent programme
Together with Vidi and Vici, Veni is part of the NWO Talent Programme. Veni is aimed at researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. Within the Talent Programme, researchers are free to submit their own subject for funding. In this way, NWO stimulates curiosity-driven and innovative research. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative nature of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and possibilities for knowledge utilization.

Read more on the NWO website