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