#WhySciComm -- Why I #SciComm
A current hashtag on Twitter, #WhySciComm, echoes a lot of sentiments I've heard about science outreach, use of social media and education and whether there is value in spending so much time away from "real science".
"Real science" being anything you're doing working towards a publication, and essentially tenure or any sort of promotion.
As opposed to the "unreal" or "fake science," which includes outreach and communication of science I suppose.
Researchers inform new insights of knowledge through science. Okay, we got that.
Who informs the public? Who cares outside of you and the handful of people who read your paper? Here's a not-so-recent paper on citation statistics by Adler, Ewing and Taylor. The graph below represents a handful of different fields and the average number of citations.
For my fields (social science or neuroscience), assuming there are around 3 authors on a paper on average, 3 - 12 people will read something I publish. 3 to 12. My NSF GRFP alone had 12 people helping edit.
In retrospect, here's some stats from my blog over the last week.
41 unique visitors. I don't even have a popular blog. And I haven't published anything yet. ANYTHING.
Versus 12 people.
Fake science, huh?
A comment from @HayleyEversKing discussed the implications of outreach metrics:
— Hayley Evers-King (@HayleyEversKing) November 12, 2013
And although metrics like site stats or event attendees weren't so important in previous years, they are becoming more important now. A section from my NSF GRFP personal statement/broader impacts was titled "My commitment to outreach" and discussed in detail starting up a Nerd Night in Logan off of the USU campus, implementing a neuroscience literature review club in my lab and metrics from this site. The comments I've received have been all glowing -- mostly because there is a good mix of purpose and quantifiable statistics.
Science communication has a large flavor of "journalism" and from an outsider prospective, journalism is not science. More specifically, journalism wasn't what we were hired to do. That flavor is incorrect though. Science communication is evolving into its own flavor.
You are your best advocate. Why have someone else speak to what you've found (no disrespect to science journalists)? Your work should be represented correctly and accurately and you are the best person to do that. Furthermore, you want to be known for your work. So be known. Promote your work the way your work deserves to be promoted.
Lastly, science has been thought of as very institutional-based. Lectures. Labs. UG class drop out rates of 50% (o chem, am I right?). But that's not necessarily all of science. We communicate science differently at times because it's needed. When will the comic book nerd ever happen into a PLoS article on exponential population growth and decay models? However, frame a talk on the same study using a zombie population and you suddenly get that comic book nerd interested in statistical analyses. Science is for everyone. Getting it to everyone is just as much our responsibility as publishing the findings. That's why I engage.