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Seducing Scientists into Science Communication Darcy Cowan Mar 25

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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.”

and:

“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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Filed under: Sciblogs, Science Tagged: Blogging, Communication, Journalism, Mainstream media, Mass media, media, Science and Society, Science Communication

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