I don’t like the scientific community. I love it!* I love its methodological approaches, I love its thoughtful and measured reactions and I love the fact that, by and large, it is working to make the world a better place. Moreover, I love scientists. Without question, they are amongst the most interesting people on Earth. Finally, I love my job because it involves conversing with the most interesting people on Earth on a daily basis.
Not all members of the scientific community do a moonlight flit when the time comes to publicise their findings. Most are more than happy to discuss their work and are keen to convey the value of scientific endeavour to a wider audience. Still, there exists a minority who simply become phantoms of the laboratory.
That said, I simultaneously revile the scientific community, abhor scientists and hate my job. Why? Because certain scientists** are guilty of disappearing just when the particles hit the fan. They conduct bone-shaking, groundbreaking, life-changing research and immediately book a month’s holiday. Please stop doing this.
I am genuinely interested in your work. It is the lifeblood of ScienceOmega.com
. However, I really need to speak to you about it. I want to know what inspired you, I want to hear about the challenges that you faced and I want to find out about the potential applications of your research. Press releases are great. They provide background information upon which articles can be structured. However, the flavour of the piece comes from you
, the scientist.
With this in mind, please try to imagine my frustration when the following situation arises. I notice an interestingly titled press release. I read through the press release and become convinced that it will provide the basis for a good article. I sketch the bones of the piece and put together a few questions to ask the study’s author. I then try to contact the study’s author, only to find that he or she has booked an inordinate number of days off work. Why? Why book your annual leave at exactly the time when members of the media will be calling to ask questions?
Maybe I am coming across as self-important. After all, scientists conduct research for the advancement of science; not to have it completely misunderstood by some jumped-up little word-jockey. Even so, I have heard many a researcher chastise members of the media for failing to take the time to study the science behind a story. This has
to be a two-way street.
I am by no means suggesting that we deny scientists their holidays. Everybody should have time to recuperate in between bouts of saving the planet, and a cranky scientist is a dangerous scientist.*** However, do these holidays really
have to coincide with the release of research press releases? This might well be coincidence but the cynic inside me believes otherwise. I suspect that it might be another one of those uniquely human traits that I regularly bemoan and applaud in this blog – the propensity to shy away from the unpleasant aspects of one’s job.
I can well understand the temptation – once the study has been completed and the findings have been compiled – to leave the lab and return only once the furore has died away. However, both researchers and policymakers have long since been calling for a greater public understanding of science. Making oneself available to talk to members of the media, therefore, is a necessary facet of being a scientist. Whilst it might be tedious to explain your work over and over again, it at least serves a purpose.
Of course, not all members of the scientific community do a moonlight flit when the time comes to publicise their findings. Most are more than happy to discuss their work and are keen to convey the value of scientific endeavour to a wider audience. Still, there exists a minority who simply become phantoms of the laboratory.
Then again, perhaps it is just me. I’m the person who seems to encounter this problem most regularly. Researchers seem more than willing to speak to Katy when she calls. She even gets invited to far-flung places to look at and talk about exciting new science. Meanwhile, I am confined to the office listening to recorded echoes on academic answering machines. This was never about dodging the tedious aspects of your work, was it? It was simply an elaborate ploy to avoid the arduous task of speaking to me.
* Incidentally, I’m not much for cricket
** You know who you are
*** Just ask Austin Powers