Science blog royalty SciCurious recently had a post up about whether it was okay for science bloggers to blog about their own work. Travis brought it up on his Science of Blogging site as well, and I started thinking about it.
One of the big issues we struggle with as researchers is getting our research out there, and having people understand not only what we did, but why we did it. While Sci and Travis talked about it in terms of blogging, this isn’t a new issue: Georg Franck wrote about it back in 1999 in terms of promoting your research with the media.
We want the public to know that not only is research important, but that it has practical implications, even if those aren’t apparent immediately. The last thing we want is a repeat of the “Squirrel Sex Research” story that came out in 2006. While publishing in reputable scientific journals is rewarded and encouraged, the lag time between submission and publication can range from 3 months to 2 years. So it makes sense to talk about your work so that the public can understand what you’re doing.
Sci makes an interesting comment in her piece, differentiating between “good” self-promotion and the “bad” self-promotion. The former being what we are trained to do (network at conferences, talk to seminar speakers etc), and the latter being what we are trained to despise (seeking out the press, promoting your findings outside of conferences etc). As Sci says (emphasis mine):
This means you have to do a lot of self-promotion within academia. We call this “networking”, “presenting at conferences”, “chatting up the seminar speaker at lunch”, and in extreme cases “brown nosing”. This is the “good” kind of self-promotion, the kind that we get a lot of lectures about.
Unfortunately, there’s also the “bad” self-promotion. This is the kind that we are taught to loathe in academia. The kind that involves seeking out the press, trumping up your findings, and becoming Dr. Oz. We are taught from the beginnings of grad school and even before to mistrust people who do this.
Incidentally, Travis highlighted the same paragraph when he blogged about it. Personally, I think you have to be very careful when discussing your own findings, and promoting your own work, even with the disclaimer of “this is my paper.” There’s always the temptation to be too soft on your own work, or even the flip side, where you’re too harsh on it. While some people will oversell their findings, others will undersell them – both of which are dangerous for very different reasons.
What I prefer is to talk about my work in a holistic sense, and provide a link to people who want to know more. I use the blog as an avenue to discuss the larger health issues I find interesting – obesity, immigrant health and violence in youth. If I publish something in that area, I’ll link to it and clearly say that this is my work to avoid conflicts of interest. I think as long as you summarize the paper accurately and don’t blow it out of proportion, this is exactly why you should blog. And if a reporter finds it and wants to chat with you about it, then you should seize the opportunity to connect with the public who play a huge role in making research happen.
What do you think dear readers?
Franck, G. (1999). ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY:Scientific Communication–A Vanity Fair? Science, 286 (5437), 53-55 DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5437.53
June 4, 2012 at 10:14 am
I agree with your position – “What I prefer is to talk about my work in a holistic sense, and provide a link to people who want to know more.”
Don’t go down the Dr. Oz route – he’s so obnoxious!
June 5, 2012 at 9:27 am
Agreed! Plus, he’s also inconsistent and scientifically … questionable 😛
Thanks for the comment Sam! 🙂
June 4, 2012 at 10:29 am
Reblogged this on ToxQuest.
June 5, 2012 at 9:28 am
Thanks for the reblog!
June 4, 2012 at 11:16 am
I find this a really weird concern. For me blogging and writing academic papers are all part of the same thing: communicating science. My academic papers aren’t so accessible to people without a science background, and so I’ll use my blog to write something that is. I don’t only blog about my work – in fact most of my posts are about other things. But when I have found out something that I think people will be interested in, I enjoy having my blog as a forum where I can write about it in a much more informal way.
You wouldn’t hold back from writing an academic paper because of concerns about ‘ self promotion’ so why do so in a blog? Funny thing is I’m British and like most Brits, I am usually very concerned not to be seen to be pushy. But c’mon. People can choose to read your blog or not if they are interested. Blogging is hardly ramming it down their throats.
Maybe I feel differently because I work in an area (neurodevelopmental disorders) where there’s a lot of public interest, and I know that people appreciate it if you attempt to explain things in straightforward language. The more I look at what’s on the internet, the more I feel that there’s a desperate need for a mode of communication that is neither academic articles, nor some kind of biased account by quacks, snake-oil salemen, or conspiracy theorists! So I’d encourage any scientist to go out there and use a blog to explain your work. It’s also terrifically useful when you get comments, because it can help you improve your communications when you find out what does and does not work.
June 5, 2012 at 9:29 am
I think the difference raised by Sci in her piece was that we are encouraged to publish academic papers, while blogging and talking to the media is viewed with disdain. I think you’re right though – they compliment each other. Manuscripts can reach an academic audience, while blogs can reach a non-scientific audience.
June 4, 2012 at 11:21 am
I think Blogs are to share ideas, or thoughts, and science magazine are the space to report research with a different language. The language of both are different, the public is different, the meaning is different. I believe science must be shared with public, with a easy language, share ideas, but blogs can’t have the same meaning that science magazines.
June 5, 2012 at 9:30 am
Thanks for the comment! I agree – the audience and thus tone/language will be difference between the two.
June 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm
Great post! I think that if a scientist discusses his own work on a blog is just to communicate what hi is doing. I think that is not only (not mainly) self promotion but the use of the blog to explain what he is doing facing aspects that you can not discuss in a paper in a scientific journal… of course you can not discuss only your work!
June 5, 2012 at 9:31 am
Thanks for the comment and reblogging the post! I think it’s interesting to see the range of opinions here, and I think that balance between saying what you’re doing and overselling it is important to hit.
June 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm
I reblogged your post in The aphid room!
March 10, 2014 at 5:24 pm
A major issue in the world of public health is failure of future leaders to be good communicators and to take all of the publicly-funded research out from behind the firewall and make it accessible to the public (the so-called “cost of knowledge debate: http://iwonderandwander.rudyfoto.com/2012/06/10/research-paid-by-public-money-is-often-inaccessible-to-the-public/). In the United States, MPH/PhD programs for public health professionals traditionally do not reward anyone who tries to publish outside of peer-reviewed journals, when in fact the next generation of leaders needs to be engaging larger audiences and audience segments by blogs, tweets, videos, TED talks, and more. I have advocated at my former university, University of Washington School of Public Health, for training for anyone leaving that school to be versed in using these platforms. I believe there is a dearth of expertise, and it’s one reason why public health, in the United States, remains underfunded, underappreciated, and misunderstood. Keep blogging, Mr. Epidemiology.