As always the good fellows (ahem and lady) at Southern Friend Science are tackling complex issues and generating discussion. The latest from Why Sharks Matter “If you want something done right, do it yourself” address the role of scientists in advocacy. Science Online 2010 did much to bring this to the foreground for me as I begin to shape my research program for the next five years. DSN and public outreach continue to be integral to my overall science program. The days of scientists not engaging the public are long over. I commented at Science Online in Miriam’s SEAPLEX session that to get NSF funding you not only had to do outreach, but do it well.
I do disagree with WhySharksMatter though.
I keep hearing of this mythical scientist/purist who believes that outreach and advocacy are unimportant. Frankly, I just don’t see this. I am surrounded by scientists who continuously convey passion about science to the public. Sure there are the naysayers among the ranks who down play this component but for everyone of them there are two who do not. No longer can our default comment or excuse be that scientists do not want to or cannot effectively engage the public. The magnitude of scientists on the web, at ScienceCafes, on Twitter, in your newspapers, writing books, and giving lectures is without precedent. Public engagement has become vital to our research programs. We enjoy doing it and we do it often.
I am also frustrated by those who’s 40+ hour a week job is to communicate science to the public criticizing scientists for not spending even more time on this. Meanwhile scientists are balancing the demands of teaching, administration, research, and of course outreach. Please support instead of disenfranchising us.
I want to finish on another thought about the post over at Southern Fried Science. We should be careful to discuss outreach and advocacy individually. Each presents unique issues and engage the public differently. Advocacy is the “active support of an idea or cause etc.; especially the act of pleading or arguing for something”. On the other hand, outreach or public engagement is “is an effort by individuals to connect ideas or practices to groups, specific audiences or the general public.” Advocacy comes with an agenda and you become a stakeholder in that process with a bias. Outreach should be to convey information but free from other agendas. All scientists should engage in outreach, advocacy should be considered carefully.
The comments section is always open…so go at it.