#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.

Completely bogus.

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.

avgcites

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.

truebrainstats

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:

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.

4 thoughts on “#WhySciComm -- Why I #SciComm”

  1. Jessie Haynes says:

    Interesting ideas on #whyscicomm. Haven't written my entrant to this hashtag yet, but will. I like the data you used on citations. If we want to get seen, there is some obvious potential, even in an unpopular blog such as yours 😉

    1. Nick Wan says:

      Thanks Jessie. Sadly, there isn't a great metric on times articles are downloaded/read. That'd obviously be a better comparison. Maybe I should have used links coming in to my site as opposed to total unique views? Who knows.

  2. Matt Shipman (@ShipLives) says:

    Hi Nick,
    I like your post. There are a lot of reasons to engage in scicomm, including some selfish ones, from a researcher's perspective. For example, raising the public profile of your work makes you more likely to get citations. So, if citations are a metric that matters to you, scicomm is not a waste of time. I write a blog that focuses exclusively on science communication (I'd love your feedback on it, if you're interested), and wrote a series of posts about the importance of scicomm. So, rather than re-hash all of the arguments I've already made, I'll include a link to them: http://www.scilogs.com/communication_breakdown/tag/importance-of-scicomm/

    I look forward to following your work on this blog.

    Cheers,
    -Ship

    1. Nick Wan says:

      To be a devil's advocate, cites and blog metrics aren't mutually exclusive (even "more likely" is sort of a reach). At the very least, it shows you're doing research and promoting yourself. Rather, the more traffic you bring to yourself is more of an indication of how much you value you. And valuing yourself and your work (whether it's blogging or using a blog to supplement other things you've done) is definitely exclusive.

      Science communication is important for those on the outside looking in to academia because it's that "service" point on the tenure checklist. It can serve as either internal to your institution or external to the institution.

      To a point on another blog, I also see the current state of the community as louder voices than I see actions. I do enjoy some of the voiced opinions -- relating to ethics of writing and promotion of diversity -- but a lot of it (including this post) is more about ego-stroking. And I'm fine with that, because I have 41 ego-strokes a week says this post. That's really nothing. That's the equivalent of a poke on a back, as opposed to some of the other blogs where a single post attracts some thousands of readers.

      Turning our language into actions is really what I'm focused on. I don't think I'll write another #scicomm post like this any time soon (if ever) because it's less of me doing and more of me saying. I'm a do-er. And that's what I hope the science outreach community can turn in to -- do-ers rather than say-ers.

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