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Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

 Федеральный исследовательский центр «Красноярский научный центр Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук»

Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

What do Krasnoyarsk scientists think about popularizing science?

20 May 2019 г. FRC KSC SB RAS

Что думают красноярские ученые о популяризации науки?
More than one hundred scientists of the FRC «Krasnoyarsk Science Center SB RAS» have expressed their attitude to popularizing science and scientific communication in an anonymous survey carried out by the Group of Scientific communication of the Center.  The results have shown that most of the scientists do not support the idea of including popularizing science into the government assignment of the institutes. However, more than a half of the respondents think that communication with mass media is one of professional duties of a scientist. The survey has also revealed age peculiarities in the attitude of the scientists to various tools of scientific communication. Here, we present the results of this survey which, with minor changes, have been published on the site "Science in Siberia".

In recent years the well-known from the Soviet time term «popularizing science» has been replaced by the term «scientific communication».  It can be thought that we just follow fashion but the term has quickly moved into the professional sphere. Some years ago the first in Russia Master’s program on this speciality was created (in Europe and in the USA there are tens of them). Special groups and centers appear in universities and scientific organizations. A scientific communicator is, a sort of, professional popularizer of science, a person who combines the skills of a PR specialist, journalist and mediator of relationships between different people. Moreover, this work is not always done by a scientist.

Several years ago a group of scientific communication was created in the Krasnoyarsk Science Center. The duties of its employees are traditional: publishing news about the results of the work of the Krasnoyarsk scientists, organizing scientific-popular events, uploading the information about the Center to social media. However, even these specially trained people will not work efficiently if real scientists don’t  go into contact with them.

«In order to better understand what the scientists of the Center think about our work we have decided to carry out an anonymous survey. I think, the results will be interesting for many people. In the long run, a scientist is the main “fighting unit” of scientific communication. In the case of plans connected with increasing activity in this sphere it is necessary to know the opinion of the scientific community», says Egor Zadereev, the leader of the Group of Scientific communication   of KSC SB RAS, a member of the RAS  commission for Popularizing science, Candidate of Biological Sciences.
Attitude to scientific communication.
The main aim of the survey is to reveal the attitude of scientists to popularizing science, to what extent they are already involved into this process, and whether there any perspectives for the development of scientific communication in the Science Center.

A half of the respondents agree that popularizing science and communication with mass media is one of the professional duties of a scientist. This point of view predetermined the answers to many other questions.

In estimating the level of credibility of the scientists to mass media and social networks the results have shown that approximately a third of the respondents do not use mass media and about a half – social networks as sources of scientific information. The remaining group can find there something useful but it is far from their scientific interests.  Moreover, the people who consider popularizing science as one of their duties, have more trust in mass media and social networks.

The survey shows that the scientists who consider scientific communication to be one of their duties are more often involved into the sphere of scientific communication. About a third of the respondents regularly use at least one of the tools of scientific communication in their activity. Only 8 % of the respondents have never been involved into popularizing science. The extent of being involved into this activity is not influenced by the age, position or number of publications of the scientists.
The researchers have remarked that out of different communication formats the scientists most often communicate with journalists personally. More than a half of the respondents have this experience.  They write scientific-popular papers, organize excursions and give lectures a little more rarely. The least popular communication channel is using social networks for distributing scientific information.

The main impetus for popularizing science is thought to be the process of «attracting talented young people into science» (81 %). The second position is taken by the answer: «improving the image of a scientist and science» (79 %) to be far behind followed by the «inner wish to tell somebody what you are working at» and «attracting additional funding» (45—46 %).

Almost all the respondents have faced with the misrepresentation of scientific information in  mass media. One of the main reasons of it is thought to be (by a half of the respondents) a wish of journalists to put a gloss on the information or journalist mistakes (one third). The remaining respondents believe that it is fault of scientists that they are unable to describe their work in a popular manner.
Moreover, a third of the respondents consider scientific communication to be harmful for science. Answering this open question, the scientists have formulated the sources of this danger. Among the main reasons mentioned are the following: misrepresentation of information, creating false expectations from the power of science, waste of time and resources for the communication instead of scientific activity, and a possibility of revelation of secret information.

The next open question reveals the attitude of the scientists towards including popularizing science into the government assignment of academic institutes and centers. Only a third of the respondents support this idea. As negative arguments the scientists have mentioned the danger of the formal approach towards popularizing, i.e. inefficiency of it, the increase of bureaucratic load and the number of reports,  lack of means to fulfill the main scientific assignments. It is important to note that the scientists who consider popularizing science to be one of the scientific duties agree with the point concerning the government assignment.

Most of the respondents are ready to popularize science a couple of times per year (40 %) or to devote only several hours per month to this (38 %) . Only 14 % of the respondents can devote to scientific communication some hours a week or some small amount of time every day. The readiness of the scientists to devote a part of their time to scientific communication is also closely connected with the idea that popularizing science must be included into the duties of scientists.

The question concerning the influence of the distribution of fees on the willingness to popularize science. Almost a half have chosen the variant «anyway, this is not my main activity, thus fees are not of importance». For 43 % of the respondents fees will be a pleasant bonus which will influence their mood and they will be able to devote more time to popularization.  13 % of the scientists are ready to actively popularize science in the case of the financial support. The authors of the survey have not found any common feature in the answers of those who are ready to do this work in the case of the financial support. None of the available for the analysis criteria (age, position, number of publications, field of science, attitude to scientific communication) is applicable in this case.

At the end of the survey the scientists have chosen the preferable form of scientific communication. The traditional approaches dominate: preparing scientific-popular texts (27 %) and lectures (26 %). Much fewer scientists are ready to communicate with journalists (about 13 %), not to say about blogs and pages in social networks (slightly more than 6 %). The answer to this question strongly depends on the age. Young people below 35 prefer organizing excursions, writing scientific-popular texts, giving lectures and writing in social media. The only thing they do not wish is to communicate with journalists. With age the willingness for excursions and internet communication decreases but the importance of communicating with journalists increases.  For the scientists above 65 scientific popular lectures are of the greatest importance.

It seems encouraging that only 12 % of the respondents are not interested in gaining additional skills in the field of scientific communication. Most of those interested in the personal development in this sphere note that they would like to improve their skills of writing scientific-popular texts (43 %), designing and developing infographics (34 %), preparing presentations (29 %), scientific photography (28 %). The last position in the list of the skills is occupied by SMM – communication and spreading information  in social media (about 15 %).

Work “in situ”.

The authors of the survey ask the scientists to estimate their impressions from the collaboration with the Group of Scientific communication using a five-grade scale. The negative estimate has been given by approximately 7% of the respondents.  All of them have never contacted the scientific communicators of the Center. It can be assumed that these scientists have a negative attitude to public activity in general. Those who have had contacts with the Center put a mark “four and plus”, all the other - only a “three”
Not all scientists agree with the idea that the activity of the Group of Scientific communication contributes to the increased recognition of the Krasnoyarsk Science Center. Mainly, the people who have not communicated with the Center have no answer to this question. The people who have had the experience of communicating with the Center agree with this statement. These are the expected results.  However, among those who disagree there are some people who have collaborated with this group. Although their number is not great, they do not seem to be satisfied with the work of the new department.

Also, the authors of the survey have asked the scientists to choose the most important directions in the activity of the Scientific Center in the field of external communication. Most frequently, the answers contain the option «preparing scientific news for mass media». A smaller number of the respondents, approximately, a half, consider «organizing off-site scientific-popular events » and «the presence of scientists-experts in mass media» to be important. Only a third of the respondents think such activities as the «regular renewal of the site » and «participation in social media» to be worth mentioning.

In the answer to this question there appear predictable age differences. For the young scientists below  35 social networks are comparable with other activities in their importance.  The scientists above 45 do not assign great significance to this activity but they consider attracting scientists for the work of experts in mass media to be very significant.
“Dry residue”
In total, 157 people have participated in the survey, which is a good coverage for the Center employing slightly more than 600 researchers.  The averaged portrait of a respondent looks in the following way. It is a research associate with the Candidate degree in the field of natural sciences at the age of 30—40. For him, the most popular source of scientific-popular information is the periodical «Science in Siberia». He or she (the number of men and women among the respondents is almost equal) has about 30 publications in the database Web of Science and the Hirsch index equal to 5. However, one tenth of the respondents have more than 80 publications in WoS and the Hirsch index   higher than 15.

If to consider the most frequent or typical answers, the averaged opinion is the following. Our scientist is not sure whether popularization must be included into the professional duties of a scientist. He sometimes uses mass media and social nets as a source of scientific information. The most popular format of scientific communication includes contacts with journalists. He is involved in popularization in order to attract talented young people. He is faced with the misrepresentation of scientific information in mass media and blames the press offices. He is not convinced that popularizing science must be a part of the government assignment because he is afraid of formalism and bureaucracy. Occasionally, he is ready to devote his time to popularizing science. However, fees are not considered to be necessary. The preferable form of communication is scientific-popular texts and lectures. It is writing texts and infographics which he would like to learn.

P.S. We express gratitude to a senior research associate of the laboratory of comparative social research of the Higher School of Economics, Candidate of Sociological Sciences, Anna Nemirovskaya for the help in the development of the survey.