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The benefits and costs for scientists of communicating with the public

twitter_bird_sketch_Shawn_CampbellToday’s researchers are under immense pressure to produce scientific results in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles—and do it on tighter and tighter budgets. And although there’s a myth that scientists don’t like talking to the media or interacting with non-scientists, many researchers consider it part of their jobs to explain their research to the general public, either through interviews with reporters or social media.

But does this “science-splaining” take valuable time away from research that results in journal articles? A new study highlighted by science writer Matt Shipman at his blog Communication Breakdown suggests that, in fact, it might help by boosting the number of times a paper is cited by other researchers. The findings were published in the most recent issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. Shipman writes:

This is only the latest article to link news coverage of research to scientific impact (I’ve written about related research here and here), but the new paper does a few things I haven’t seen before. First, it looks at a number of public communications approaches (including working with reporters, blogging and talking to nonscientists) and whether social media mentions affect their impact. Second, the researchers used Jorge Hirsch’s h-index as their metric for measuring scientific impact in the context of public outreach efforts.

Study results showed that that researchers who talked to reporters were more likely to have a higher h-index, though science bloggers and those that talked to nonscientists did not see a similar boost. Being mentioned on Twitter appears to act as an amplifier of that effect for both scientists who talked to reporters and for scientists who talked to nonscientists, but not for science bloggers.

So although science outreach might seem like a distraction from producing research results, it could turn out to be one more brick that builds a researcher’s legacy.

Previously: Scientists preferentially cite successful studies, new research shows, John Ioannidis discusses the popularity of his paper examining the reliability of scientific research, Listening to elephants, communicating science, and inspiring the next generation of researchers, Hawkeye Pierce (i.e. Alan Alda) teaches scientists how to better communicate about their work, and Chris Mooney: Use science to identify effective science communicators
Image by Shawn Campbell

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