Merits of getting help with your public sci-comm
Opinion article by Tyler Berrigan
Most universities and companies have a media department to take care of related matters, and they can do a good job. The problem with the latter is, the skill set required for public sci-comm is a little different and it is often better carried out by someone with experience in the area. Furthermore, if a representative does all of your public sci-comm, no one will get to know you, or your science, on an intimate level.
Some scientists, recruit the help of a sci-comm consultant or specialist to help them with the dissemination and outreach efforts. There is a lot of merit in approaching these types of organisations.
For one thing, they have the required time and know-how that they can invest into communicating your science. They have already laid a solid foundation and have both the social media presence and professional contacts to increase the impact of your outreach efforts. Some have the publishing infrastructure to get your work into print expeditiously, which you can then use personally as a dissemination tool at community events, workshops or conferences. And most importantly, they have an experienced set of writers, editors and designers, who know the public sci-comm ropes and can transform your science into something palatable and engaging for the public.
From a professional point of view, many groups are actively being encouraged by their university or funding agency to engage and showcase their work beyond their own niche communities, certainly when it comes to tax payer funded research. If you think about it, the tax payer has already funded the research, and is then expected to pay again to subscribe and read a journal article they are unlikely to understand. That’s really quite unfair. So, it’s vital to transform the work carried out by scientists into something enjoyable, understandable and impactful that everyone can understand.
But aren’t ‘vanity publishers’ the devil, you ask?
Some refer to sci-comm consultants and publishers as ‘vanity publishers’. A vanity publisher is a publishing company to which authors pay money to have their books published. As such, vanity publishing, which is somewhat of a dirty word, is often associated with profiteering and bullying tactics. But not all vanity publishers are the devil. In fact, it’s really quite a stretch to accuse sci-comm specialists of being vanity publishers in the first place. There are some key differences:
• While scientists do pay for the dissemination, they are also having someone transform their work into a form appropriate for the public. It’s not the scientist’s own original, creative work they are disseminating, nor is it their research papers.
• Most sci-comm consultancy companies are standalone publishers with no foundation support, or institutional funding, so they strive to keep the work they publish completely free and open for anyone to read. So, profits do not drive decision making.
• Many sci-comm consultancy firms, and their publications are free of advertising. They are focused on the science, so the content produced is not biased for financial gain.
• Good sci-comm consultancy services will be in constant contact with the scientists to achieve the desired result. They don’t just take your papers and never speak to you again. They want your feedback.
But aren’t publications that haven’t been peer reviewed the devil, you ask?
You have to remember that public sci-comm specialists set out to achieve very different goals and the work they do should not be compared to traditional publishing. It’s more about the ‘outreach’ or broader communication element of science publishing. They want to speak in a new, easy-to-understand language to help researchers communicate their work to the broader scientific community and beyond. They do this with the dual aims of establishing future research collaborations and funding and developing direct stakeholder participation. Moreover, they tend not to focus on specific scientific data, methodologies and results, but rather the goals and objectives, of the research.
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