Public Dissemination of Science - why is it so important?
As researchers, we are judged on our ability to publish high quality research in peer reviewed academic journals. For the researcher, publication is a valuable commodity, and the more we publish in high impact journals the greater our job prospects. However, although this is important the work we publish in these journals is usually only read by our peers, and unless published open access, can remain blocked behind journal subscription fees making it hard for the public to access and understand.
As researchers, we have a social responsibility to disseminate our research findings to the public. Indeed, we owe this to the people who fund our research. Now public dissemination sometimes gets a bad rep. Often, findings become exaggerated or misinterpreted in the press. We’ve all seen the news articles claiming, “new evidence suggests eating bacon is as bad as smoking” or “diet soft drinks increase cancer risk”. Titles like this are misleading and can stir up public discussion and concern. But these headings are written by journalist whose main goal is to get as many clicks or views as possible.
To combat this misinformation more researchers are now taking to social media, and reputable websites to disseminate their research in a straight forward way for the public to understand through anything from traditional blogposts to Twitter or Facebook posts. You just have to follow some of the experts in their fields on Twitter to see how much excellent information is out there. These experts are also usually more than happy to answer questions sent their way and enter into discussions regarding their findings.
The media is not the only area where we can disseminate our research. Recently I ran an educational class with school kids, and tried to explained my research. I explained to them what cancer is, what treatments we receive and how these can negatively impact our physical function. I followed this with a demonstration of the electrical stimulation technology we are using as an alternative rehabilitation tool. Personally, for me, this is the best form of dissemination, through public engagement, as you have the chance to explain your research in the most basic way and for me provide demonstrations of the methods we are using. And in children you can possibly inspire future scientist to engage in research. Also, children always ask you questions which completely catch you off guard, so they keep you on your toes. Added to this, I’m lucky enough to have been selected to give an upcoming Ted talk here at UCD. During this event, I will discuss my research on the use of electrical stimulation for cancer rehabilitation and why it is so important. Platforms such as Ted allow me to reach a wider audience, outside those with a key interest in my area and from varied backgrounds.
So, public dissemination, not just academic publications are key to today’s researchers. We have the ability to inform the public on key aspects of our research and make them independent thinkers on key aspects which may affect their lives. We are in the privileged position to inspire the public to be critical of information and we have the knowledge to stem the flow of misinformation which is far too often raising its head in today’s media outlets.
For more information on my upcoming TedxUCD talk titled “How can neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) help accelerate cancer rehabilitation?" go to: http://www.ucd.ie/innovation/newsevents/tedxucd/