How Scientists Engage the Public


15 Nov

American scientists believe they face a challenging environment and the vast majority of them support the idea that participation in policy debates and engagement with citizens and journalists is necessary to further their work and careers.

A survey of 3,748 American-based scientists connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) finds that 87% agree with the statement “Scientists should take an active role in public policy debates about issues related to science and technology.”Just 13% of these scientists back the opposite statement: “Scientists should focus on establishing sound scientific facts and stay out of public policy debates.”

This widely held view among scientists about active engagement combines with scientists’ perspectives on the relationship between science and society today in several ways:

These findings come at a time when science topics are increasingly part of the public debate. Pew Research findings from this survey reported last month showed an overall drop among AAAS scientists in how they rate the state of science in general and their particular scientific field. Scientists also express concerns about the precarious state of research funding, some of the influences on how funding is allocated, and difficulties they feel hinder the capacity of science disciplines to attract the best talent to the field.

How scientists are engaging: Half talk to reporters and 47% use social media.

Nearly all the AAAS scientists (98%) say they have some level of interaction with citizens at least from time to time, and 51% have at least some contact with reporters about research findings.

In addition, nearly half of AAAS scientists – 47% – use social media to talk about science or read about scientific developments at least some of the time. Some 24% of these AAAS scientists blog about science and research.

The scientists who are most likely to be involved in public activities show distinct patterns by age, by the level of public debate and public interest they perceive in their specialty, and by discipline. Virtually all scientists engage with citizens. Mid-career and older scientists are especially likely to speak to reporters. Younger scientists are more likely to use social media. And blogging is something that equally spans the generations under age 65.

There is also evidence in the survey that the most engaged often use multiple methods and platforms to connect with the public. In other words, those who want to engage tend to do so in multiple ways.

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