As physicists, many of us recognize the need for outreach activities and enjoy interacting with the public about science. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that such activities undermine our academic work. We often fear that our colleagues will look down upon us for engaging the public, and therefore, we regard such activities as an impediment to academic success.
As popular science blogger PZ Myers puts it, “People who do outreach are regarded as second-class citizens in the science world” . However, this statement lies in stark contrast to a recent research study of European scientists. It states: “Scientists who are active in dissemination [outreach activities] are also more active academically” .
The study, by Jensen et al., presents key findings regarding the benefits of scientific outreach on scientists’ careers.
Among the findings:
- Scientists connected with society are more active academically than average.
- Outreach activity increases as a function of position.
- There is a significant correlation between academic record (an increase in the Hirsch index) and industrial collaborations.
- Across most disciplines, outreach and popularizations of science are weakly but positively correlated with promotions.
While there is certainly room for interpretation of these results, this study should be cited to dispel the many myths surrounding spending time on outreach and advocacy. In fact, the next step suggested by the study is to “invent new ways of evaluating and rewarding the active scientists.” Truly, reward and recognition for the civil duty of scientists is long overdue.
- Otto, S. 2011. Macmillan. Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.
- Jensen, P, Rouquier, JB, Kreimer, P, Croissant, Y. 2008. 35. 7. Science and Public Policy. Scientists who engage with society perform better academically.