Background

Since 1997, when the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) established new Merit Review Criteria, calling for all proposals for NSF funding to demonstrate their ‘broader impact’ on society, there has been no current evaluation of its success. Little is known about the status of scientists’ attitudes toward public engagement of science, or institutional barriers preventing such engagement since NSF’s implementation of “criterion II”.

Objectives/Method

To assess whether U.S. scientists consider public engagement a top priority, we implemented a survey (modeled on previous work by the Royal Society of London), to lay the groundwork for a national survey

*to determine the relative importance of science communication to university scientists and engineers

*to reveal what factors facilitate or impede communication of science to the non‐specialist public on communicating their research

*to provide evidence to substantiate where resources should be targeted and to help develop programming for innovative and effective public engagement

Results

350 life scientists at Cornell University responded to the survey (a 38% response rate). Of those responding, 80% believe their research has implications for society. Seventy percent of faculty believe they are very well or fairly well equipped to engage with the non‐specialist public about their research but 75% have had no formal training in communicating science to the non‐specialist public. When asked how often in the last 12 months they had actually engaged with the public, 91% reported having taken part in at least one science communication or public engagement activity in the past 12 months. Overwhelmingly, time constraints are the biggest reason faculty gave for why they do not engage even more (90%).

Conclusions
This research challenges the perceived notion that scientists are disinterested in (and even hostile to) public engagement. In fact, this preliminary survey of 350 Cornell faculty suggests that university‐based science researchers are both supportive of others and eager to engage themselves in outreach. Although this information is positive, many of the same barriers emerged as previous surveys have shown. The project team is currently expanding this survey to include a larger sample of U.S. scientists in academia with plans to discuss the results at a conference with university administrators. This project hopes to expand our knowledge about the motivators and barriers to public engagement of science, as well as make recommendations to improve outreach activities in the academic setting for university administrators.

 

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 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

How university scientists view science communication to the public

Susi Sturzenegger‐Varvayanis   Cornell University

Gina Eosco   Cornell University

Sara Ball   Cornell University

Kelvin Lee   University of Delaware

Megan Halpern   Cornell University

Bruce Lewenstein – Cornell University

Background

Since 1997, when the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) established new Merit Review Criteria, calling for all proposals for NSF funding to demonstrate their ‘broader impact’ on society, there has been no current evaluation of its success. Little is known about the status of scientists’ attitudes toward public engagement of science, or institutional barriers preventing such engagement since NSF’s implementation of “criterion II”.

Objectives/Method

To assess whether U.S. scientists consider public engagement a top priority, we implemented a survey (modeled on previous work by the Royal Society of London), to lay the groundwork for a national survey

*to determine the relative importance of science communication to university scientists and engineers

*to reveal what factors facilitate or impede communication of science to the non‐specialist public on communicating their research

*to provide evidence to substantiate where resources should be targeted and to help develop programming for innovative and effective public engagement

Results

350 life scientists at Cornell University responded to the survey (a 38% response rate). Of those responding, 80% believe their research has implications for society. Seventy percent of faculty believe they are very well or fairly well equipped to engage with the non‐specialist public about their research but 75% have had no formal training in communicating science to the non‐specialist public. When asked how often in the last 12 months they had actually engaged with the public, 91% reported having taken part in at least one science communication or public engagement activity in the past 12 months. Overwhelmingly, time constraints are the biggest reason faculty gave for why they do not engage even more (90%).

Conclusions
This research challenges the perceived notion that scientists are disinterested in (and even hostile to) public engagement. In fact, this preliminary survey of 350 Cornell faculty suggests that university‐based science researchers are both supportive of others and eager to engage themselves in outreach. Although this information is positive, many of the same barriers emerged as previous surveys have shown. The project team is currently expanding this survey to include a larger sample of U.S. scientists in academia with plans to discuss the results at a conference with university administrators. This project hopes to expand our knowledge about the motivators and barriers to public engagement of science, as well as make recommendations to improve outreach activities in the academic setting for university administrators.

 

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

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