Science communication is virtuous. It’s the process of taking inaccessible research results from the locked vaults of the ivory tower and sharing them with the masses. It’s the obligation of every scientist to make sure that their research can be accessed by as many people as possible and to dedicate time and resources to scientific outreach.
Say this to a research scientist the day after they just received a big grant and they’ll probably agree with you, but how about at other times during the year? How about telling this to the young supervisor who just lost the last person in their group or to a postdoc with two months left on their contract and no sign of an extension.
The moral arguments for communicating science ignore the fact that whenever we use them on a group of scientists, a large proportion of these scientists could be fighting for survival. The best-case scenario for communicators is that our message falls on deaf ears. Nobody hears us and nobody cares. However, what is likely to happen is that we build up resentment by making people feel selfish for not engaging in scicomm when their research group will disintegrate if they don’t get their next grant.
The moral case for scicomm is obvious and in times of plenty, scientists will engage. What we need to work on is explaining how scicomm can be used as a powerful tool for professional development of modern scientists. We need to explain how scicomm can be used to help researchers flourish and succeed. Here are a few of the ways that engaging in scicomm can strengthen an academic profile.
Being able to add scicomm acheivements to your CV adds an extra dimension and shows funders and employers that you understand the importance of communicating with peers and with the taxpayer.
It can be hard to get noticed when it comes to submitting abstracts for conferences or getting citations for your paper. There are many scicomm methods and platforms that can help promote academic work.
Understanding your science better
Learning to take complex scientific ideas and explain them simply can help to understand the research field, as well as societal context for it.
If you are making an effort to explain your science and promote it using social media, maybe your potential collaborators are too.
Gaining credibility and influence is increasingly being done via scicomm. Publicising and promoting your work using social media can help research to quickly enagage with peers, politicians, journals and funders.
Improving your research seminars
Scicomm projects normally produce a bounty of material that can be used to enrich academic presentations from talks to graphical abstracts.
Building your network
Travel is expensive and money is tight. How about using scicomm and social media to connect with researchers, journalists and funding bodies around the world from the comfort of your couch. Yes please!
If you think I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments. I’ve also painted a very positive picture of scicomm here but what about the downsides? Again, please let me know what you Think.