Public communication about science faces a set of novel challenges, including the increasing complexity of research areas and changing information environment. Although scientists have traditionally been reluctant to engage in public communication at the expense of focusing on academic productivity, many scholars have argued that scientists have the obligation to communicate their research findings with the public and the science culture is giving renewed attention to scientists’ role in communicating science outside the “ivory tower.” Discussion about the factual impact of the media outreach thus far has been however limited. Our study provides one of the first comprehensive empirical examinations on the impact of various media outreach on scientists’ academic career that combines survey data with data on social media (e.g., Twitter) usage. In this study, we surveyed the most highly cited and active U.S. scientists in the fields associated with nanotechnology research and explored the effects of scientists’ various active public communication behaviors on their scientific impact as measured by the h-index. After controlling respondents’ gender, professional status and disciplinary field, our analysis provides evidence that active public engagement, such as interaction with reporters and being mentioned on Twitter, can be rewarding for one’s career by promoting his or her scientific impact. Most prominently, online buzz (e.g., being mentioned on Twitter) amplifies the impact of interaction with journalists and other nonscientists on a scholar’s h-index. The following contributions of the study are noteworthy. First, we provide empirical evidence that building buzz and having open conversations with lay audiences via “old” and “new” media outlets are indeed beneficial for scholars’ academic careers. Second, our study refines our understanding of the significant role of online social media in amplifying the impact that traditional media can have in communicating science in modern media landscapes. This further highlights the important role of social media in closing science-public gaps and—at the same time—as important components of scholarly productivity. This may eventually force academics to think more carefully about defining academic impact in a world of sites, such as Google Scholar and ResearchGate.com, which combine social media metrics with indicators of scholarly productivity to measure the broader impact of academic work.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Building buzz
(Scientists) Communicating science in the new media environments

Xuan Liang   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Leona Yi-Fan Su   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sara Yeo   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dietram Scheufele   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dominique Brossard   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Michael Xenos – University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States Paul Nealey - The University of Chicago

Public communication about science faces a set of novel challenges, including the increasing complexity of research areas and changing information environment. Although scientists have traditionally been reluctant to engage in public communication at the expense of focusing on academic productivity, many scholars have argued that scientists have the obligation to communicate their research findings with the public and the science culture is giving renewed attention to scientists’ role in communicating science outside the “ivory tower.” Discussion about the factual impact of the media outreach thus far has been however limited. Our study provides one of the first comprehensive empirical examinations on the impact of various media outreach on scientists’ academic career that combines survey data with data on social media (e.g., Twitter) usage. In this study, we surveyed the most highly cited and active U.S. scientists in the fields associated with nanotechnology research and explored the effects of scientists’ various active public communication behaviors on their scientific impact as measured by the h-index. After controlling respondents’ gender, professional status and disciplinary field, our analysis provides evidence that active public engagement, such as interaction with reporters and being mentioned on Twitter, can be rewarding for one’s career by promoting his or her scientific impact. Most prominently, online buzz (e.g., being mentioned on Twitter) amplifies the impact of interaction with journalists and other nonscientists on a scholar’s h-index. The following contributions of the study are noteworthy. First, we provide empirical evidence that building buzz and having open conversations with lay audiences via “old” and “new” media outlets are indeed beneficial for scholars’ academic careers. Second, our study refines our understanding of the significant role of online social media in amplifying the impact that traditional media can have in communicating science in modern media landscapes. This further highlights the important role of social media in closing science-public gaps and—at the same time—as important components of scholarly productivity. This may eventually force academics to think more carefully about defining academic impact in a world of sites, such as Google Scholar and ResearchGate.com, which combine social media metrics with indicators of scholarly productivity to measure the broader impact of academic work.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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