Communicating science to the public is a valuable way to keep society informed of potentially life-changing research. However, as discussed in an article by Dr Esther Ngumbi in Scientific American, scientists often only disclose their work to fellow scientists, through academic papers and conferences. Dr Ngumbi explains that the sharing of scientific research with a wider audience, through non-traditional media platforms, is frequently not valued by academic institutions when it comes to selecting candidates for tenured positions and promotions. Instead, universities rate an employee’s impact based on aspects such as the number of peer-reviewed articles they have authored, the number of presentations they have given at scientific conferences and whether they have successfully secured grant funding. Consequently, academics may invest their time and efforts on these university-valued tasks, at the expense of communicating their research to the public.
Dr Ngumbi suggests that universities expand the criteria that are currently used to evaluate employee performance to include a wider range of activities related to science communication. These could include writing an opinion piece or generating other non-traditional media coverage. In addition, Dr Ngumbi believes that organisations should award prizes to scientists who consistently and actively engage in science communication, in the same way that they reward those who excel in conducting research within a given field.
The benefits of sharing scientific research with a wide audience are clear. However, changes are needed to provide scientists with the incentive to invest their limited time in communicating their work through non-traditional channels, to reach an audience that extends beyond their academic peers.