Communication: A responsibility of all scientists

The scientific community should commit to communication as an integral part of a researcher's professional role. This editorial is reprinted with permission from David Dickson, Director, SciDev.Net.


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In his editorial [read full text], David Dickson draws attention to a potentially influential draft set of guidelines drawn up by the Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science, of the International Council for Science (ICSU). He explains that the ICSU's advisory note emphasises the need for better public understanding of how science is carried out, including the importance of the peer review process. And it calls for training in communications to be made a key component of science education.

Below is an excerpt from the editorial:

Embracing the responsibility to communicate scientific research does not mean that every scientist is required to become a skilled media commentator. Communication techniques come more easily to some than to others, and that difference should be recognised.

But it does need both personal and institutional commitments to ensure that communication works in the interests of both sides. As the ICSU statement puts it, "the science community has an obligation to assist the media, whilst recognising the independence of both parties".

For scientists, this can involve overcoming negative feelings about interacting with journalists — even where these are legitimately based on bad experiences. It also means taking the necessary steps to make this interaction work, such as learning to use jargon-free language.

Just as importantly, scientific institutions must make the financial and policy commitments required to enable effective communication. These can range from employing professional communications staff to facilitate the relationship between researchers and the media, to providing career incentives to encourage scientists to communicate.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

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Permission to reprint was obtained by CEC e-newsletter editor, Susan Guthridge-Gould, as a contribution to the ongoing dialogue about communications issues captured, for example, in Randy Olson's Don't Be Such a Scientist.

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