Popular science/public outreach, what are is it good for?


It is time to register your publications in BADA for 2013 if you haven’t done that yet. I often receive questions about what should be registered in BADA. There are some that are of the opinion that only research publications should be registered, not e.g. popular science pieces or chronicles. I think that all publications should be registered (third objective!), even blog posts and tweets. How these types are registered is another and quite complicated questions, which I do not have answers to. For example, Blase Croning means that blog posts and tweets are a new way to publish research, micro publishing.

A researcher has a third objective, public outreach, in addition to his/her two main objectives; research and teaching. It is stated in the Higer Education Law in Sweden that universities and research institutions have the task of spreading knowledge and research outside of academia. Research as a whole is not that often interesting for the public, it is a small detail which can become of interest. An example is a biologist studying larvae in a body of water. There is an environmental accident of some sort and the larvae becomes an indicator of environmental contamination.
One should not use technical language to spread knowledge but one should adjust the language to the target group just like when writing a scientific publication so that the public is to be able to take part of research results. To write in such manner may be a difficult task and a special competence in its own right.

Public outreach can be good for your research career. Liselotte Englund is working at the Karlstad University as a lecturer with media research. She was interviewed in Universitetsläraren (17/2013), the trade union journal for university teaching/research staff, where she said that although public outreach publications are not counted or used for e.g. qualifying for a docent or professor promotion they are important. A researcher publishing public outreach pieces becomes a name that one will remember and one should not forget or underestimate the effect of it. She has also approaching the idea that writing popular science is its own competence and requires training. The stucture of a science publication is different compared to the popular science publications. Among other things, the first one presents the results at the end of the publication whereas popular science present the results first.

There are some tips given when in contact with a journalist, such as

  • if you are contacted and there is a crisis and you are being questioned, don’t lie. It is better not to comment.
  • If you cannot answer right away, aske if you can return with a comment later. When you have said you will return, do it!
  • don’t say anything “off the record”.
  • prepare some sort and to the point answers containing the most important points and arguments.

Pieta Eklund