When it comes to science communication I (and I assume many of the bloggers I am aware of though I’d rather not put words in their mouths) do so because of a perceived lack in the mainstream media (MSM). Along with this is a frustration with the amount of unscientific thinking among the general public, though this is perhaps a matter of perspective. You might say that I have been subjected to the motivational “stick” as it were, my actions are a response to a negative stimulus.
Well an article published earlier this month in the Journal of Translational Medicine attempts to apply the motivational “carrot” to get scientists to become more involved in science communication especially through the MSM and journalists. The article “Bridging the divide between science and journalism” starts out by reminding scientists of the MSM’s short format and the wide variety tasks and high workload expected of current journalists.
These two points are expanded upon later in the article along with tips on how to compensate for them. First though the authors whet scientists’ appetite for why they should be expending this effort:
“The answer is simple. Clear communication and greater awareness of your work can equal
additional funding, enhanced career advancement and further scientific breakthroughs. According to
plainlanguage.gov, a recent study showed that medical articles reported in The New England Journal of
Medicine and then reported in The New York Times receive about 73 percent more citations in medical
reports than articles not reported in The New York Times. “
Now these might seem like cynical self serving motives for scientists to popularise their work, and maybe they are, but the trickle down effect has got to be good for everyone. Scientists clearly explaining their research to journalists in a format that is easily disseminated and digested will surely benefit the public as well as the funding bottom line.
The article authors also note that cultivating clear and concise language will help with receiving funding directly:
“If a scientist can pitch his or her grant proposal in three minutes or less, it has a better chance at being funded.”
If all that is too too superficial to be deeply motivating then the last point covers a more altruistic outlook. Research that is covered in MSM effectively reaches a wide audience, as such it has the possibility of promoting “cross-fertilization” between disciplines and perhaps leading to better science.
The article finishes up with a number of “Tips for Working with the Media” which cover simple concepts that must be kept in mind when dealing with journalists like:
“…it is vital that you can quickly explain the results of your research and put it into context about its relevance. You must always be able to explain why the information is new and exciting, and compelling enough for a journalist to want to share that information with hundreds of thousands of people.”
“Also, be sure to get to know key reporters covering your field in the local and national media. Often times these people can be found attending major conferences and meetings. Introduce yourself. Briefly explain what you are working on and why it is important. Ask what the reporter is working on and see if you can be a resource to him or her.”
These are just small extracts of well thought-out and helpful advice, I recommend interested parties read the full article. I would add to this advice that there is no substitute for practice and that starting a personal Blog about your area of research and interest can help hone your style and develop the skills required to communicate effectively. It is also a good way to expose yourself to the variety of voices in current media, most Bloggers also tend to be avid blog readers, this is no coincidence.
I should finally point out that the authors of the article do run a communications consulting firm. Despite this, and even in the current climate of suspicion about sources and conflicts of interest, I think that good advice is still good advice whatever it’s source.
Van Eperen, L., Marincola, F., & Strohm, J. (2010). Bridging the divide between science and journalism Journal of Translational Medicine, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1479-5876-8-25
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