Christopher Reddy on science-speak

"Unlike lawyers in court, physicians in hospitals, or baseball players on the field, scientists speak an insular language that is unknowable and intimidating to the uninitiated."

-Christopher Reddy, writing in Science

In a recent issue, Reddy calls for more scientists to effectively communicate to the public what it is that they do, calling it a not "unreasonable price" for receiving public research funding. Such communication, he says, would have many benefits, including combating ignorance, guiding better science policy, bolstering the support needed to keep funding in place, and inspiring the next generation of scientists. But there is, he concludes, not enough of it going on.

According to Reddy, the fault lies not only with the time-poor scientists themselves; blame must also be apportioned to the institutes that house them, for failing to value or recognize public service when it comes time to grant tenure or promotions. The same institutions that claim that public outreach is important may really only take publications and teaching into account. In fact, often there are no good ways to measure such public service even if the universities wanted to reward such behavior. Without targets and incentives, scientists might continue to see the requirement of talking to the public as "annoying and vague" instead of as an opportunity.

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