Science under mounting pressure to communicate?

Dear scientists (and science communicators),

As I will be hosting a workshop (here’s the program of the workshop – in German – but please note that it is fully booked) under the assumption that there is a growing pressure on scientists to talk to the public (I’ll refer to this kind of communication as „science-to-lay“ communication, S2L), I’d like to gather evidence and opinions about this assumption. I am distinguishing S2L communication from „science-to-science“ communication, S2S, the latter being an integral part of the scientific process.

So, dear scientists and communication experts, please leave a reply here at this blog post or email me at josef.zens and add gmx.de. Ich freue mich auch über Antworten auf Deutsch! Englisch habe ich gewählt, weil ich gerne möglichst viele Wissenschaftlerinnen (Männer mitgemeint) erreichen will.

My questions are:

Do you, as scientists or communicators, share the impression that there is a mounting pressure on scientists to do S2L communication?

Has there always been some pressure? Is it mounting?

If so, could you please specify how exactly this pressure manifests itself. Is , for instance, anyone approaching you and asking you to communicate more or to blog and tweet?

Who excerts this pressure: the communications departments and press offices? Or the directors / heads of the institutes or universities? Or some other stakeholders such as funding bodies, ministries etc.?

How do you personally react to this pressure?

If you don’t feel any pressure and still have read this far, please also reply: Do you follow this debate about a growing necessity for S2L communication?

And to all of you: Feel free to add your thoughts on this topic.

Thank you so much.

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7 Kommentare zu “Science under mounting pressure to communicate?”

  1. Maybe social media create the mounting pressure to communicate science to laypeople. But this is an external pressure and can be ignored if one chooses to do so. Very few scientists feel an intrinsic motivation to communicate their science to others.
    I can’t tell if there has always been an external pressure to communicate science, but I’m sure this depends on the field. Communication of environmental research, for example, is now on the rise due to economical impacts of all the fuckups we created since the industrialisation era (climate change, biodiversity loss, etc).
    Again, this is only external pressure that we can choose to ignore. During my time as a scientist, I have very rarely been approached to blog about a certain topic. This was almost always driven by my own motivation. In fact, social media have been banned at my former institute (specifically: scientists are asked not to use Facebook and Twitter professionally — namely, as means to communicate science).
    There was no pressure whatsoever from my employer to communicate science to the public, but there is increasing pressure from funding bodies – I’m not aware of a single EU call that does not require science communication.
    How I personally react to science communication pressure: I quit my job as a scientist and happily communicate science in fiction now 🙂

    1. Thanks! What you are saying about funding bodies is quite important. The Federal Minister of Research, Johanna Wanka, publicly announced that her ministry wants BMBF-funded scientists to communicate (as a mandatory rule). Here’s the quote in German: „Wir wollen bei den von uns geförderten Forschungsprojekten verpflichtend machen, dass die Geförderten zusammen mit den Fachpublikationen auch in der Breite verständlichere Informationen liefern. Da hat jeder Wissenschaftler auch eine Verpflichtung gegenüber den Steuerzahlern.“

  2. Very good article. I like the phrase „S2L – Science to Lay.“ We’re currently in the process of developing a certificate program for engineering students in our department at Southern Illinois University. This was at the request of the College of Engineering. FYI–I teach in the Department of Communication.

    1. Hi Craig, Thank you for your answer. I am not sure that I got it right so let me ask you: You as part of the communication team are developing a program for engineering students, presumably to enable them to communicate better? This is developed at the request of the College of engineering so that one could say there is a kind of pressure (request) by the head of College to communicate more?

  3. Hi everyone! I just began my PhD in the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), but I am employed there as early stage researcher (ESR) by the European Union, taking part in the Biorapid project (http://www.bio-rapid.eu). It consists in developing a process for the diabetes treatment, employing 15 ESR’s distributed in both, companies and universities, among the UK, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. I only wanted to say that we (ESR’s) have been told by the European Union to disseminate our work, results, ideas to everyone: experts, laypeople and even young students. In order to address this, we have created a facebook (https://www.facebook.com/biorapid.scientists), twitter (https://twitter.com/BioRapidSci) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=8385666) account and we are supposed to give some presentations in schools, so as to explain what we do to 14-17 year old students. I personally think that, for us, it is easier to explain what we do to experts in our field, but it is important and intersting to make an effort in order to inform to people that have different backgrounds, because as you said, it will finally serve us to get more support. In fact, we have also to quantify the success of each dissemination strategy that we propose. So it is a challenge for us, but we are still on the very beginning of the project. Thanks for your attention! Nice article!
    Best regards.

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