Mike and David Dobbs both have great posts up discussing “whither rewards for scientists who communicate to the public?” This ended up being one of the themes of my recent SciencePub talk in Columbus–what are the incentives–and disincentives–to scientists for bringing their work to the public at large, rather than simply publishing in journals?
David notes that there has been much discussion about scientific papers being over-valued. As an untenured professor, certainly I realize just how much papers matter for my career, and how little blogging/outreach does (or, how much it may even hurt my chances of gaining tenure). So while I agree with David’s assessment that outreach is critical, especially in this age of increasing science denial and devaluation, it’s unclear how scientists are to be rewarded for this, when there’s already so much to be done when it comes to research, teaching, and other forms of service. Mike suggests the potential for a “carrot” approach, bringing in outreach to grant completion, and in in the comments the potential for set-asides/novel awards to promote communication.
I think something like this is more likely to work, especially if they are, as DM suggests, somewhat of a prestigious award. It’s still so embedded in the culture of academia that presentations at scientific conferences and other venues with a focus on other scientists are the only communication that “counts,” that anything short of additional funding to carry out public outreach isn’t likely to succeed in the short run. Long-term, perhaps a culture shift will occur as the generations that have grown up with this type of communication become leaders, but this type of change will be slow to come.