Monday, July 21, 2008

A Thaw in Relations

Those of us in the business of telling the wider world what's going on in the labs and ivory towers have sort of sensed this trend, but now there's proof, in the form of a July 11 Science magazine report from France, Germany, Japan, England and University of Wisconsin researchers who surveyed more than 1,300 scientists in five countries.

Get this: A growing number of working scientists have tried talking to "the media" and more than half have found that hey, it's not so bad! In fact, it might have helped their careers!

(graphic, lifted from Science, Vol. 321. no. 5886, pp. 204 - 205: Was media contact good or bad for your career?)

"Scientists actually see rewards in this process, not just pitfalls," says Sharon Dunwoody, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of journalism and a co-author of the new report in a U-W press release.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of scientists living off taxpayer money -- far too many -- who still won't deign to talk to the press or public, but things are changing. Sure, that money should come with some moral obligation to share with the public, but it's also just a smart thing to do: an informed public (or legislative body) can only help when it comes time to take a hard look at research budgets. Papers that receive popular press are also more likely to be cited in professional papers. And tomorrow's super-talented grad students don't start out reading professional journals, they start out watching TV or surfing the web.

Like anything else important and worthwhile, talking with the media requires a little bit of thought and maybe even some training (freely available from your university news office), but it's time well spent. ...And did I mention it's good for a scientist's career?

Thank you Sharon and colleagues, for putting some numbers on the anecdotal evidence.