Most universities and companies have a media department to take care of science communication-related matters. However, the skill set required is often quite different. This means it is often better carried out by someone with experience, actively working in the science communication arena.
For this reason, some scientists recruit the help of a science communication consultant or specialist to help them with their dissemination and outreach efforts. There is a lot of merit in approaching these types of organizations. For one thing, they have time and know-how that can be invested into communicating your science well.
They have already laid a solid foundation in science communication, often with the social media presence and professional contacts needed to increase the impact of your outreach. Some also have the publishing infrastructure to get your work into print, audio, and video expeditiously, which you can then use personally as a dissemination tool at community events, workshops or conferences. And most importantly, they will have access to an experienced set of writers, editors, designers and marketing specialists who know the ropes of science communication. These teams with varied skills can transform your science into something palatable and engaging for a broad audience.
From a professional point of view, many groups are actively being encouraged by their university or funding agency to engage and showcase their work beyond their own niche communities. Particularly when it comes to research funded by the taxpayer. If you think about it, the taxpayer has already funded the research, and is then expected to pay again to subscribe and read a journal article they are unlikely to understand. That’s really quite unfair. So, it’s vital to transform the work carried out by scientists into something enjoyable, understandable and impactful that everyone can understand.
But isn’t employing someone else classed as ‘vanity publishing’? I hear you ask.
Whilst some may refer to science communication consultants and publishers as ‘vanity publishers’, it isn’t quite the case. A vanity publisher is a publishing company to which authors pay money to have their books published. As such, vanity publishing is often associated with profiteering and bullying tactics. But not all vanity publishers are the devil. And in any case, it’s really quite a stretch to suggest science communication specialists are vanity publishers in the first place.
Here are some of the key differences:
While scientists do pay for dissemination by science communication specialists, they are also having someone transform their work into a form appropriate for the public. So it is more than the dissemination of a scientist’s own original, creative work or their research papers.
Most science communication consultancy companies are standalone publishers with no foundation support or institutional funding, so they strive to keep the work they publish completely free and open for anyone to read. As such decision-making is not driven by profits.
Many science communication consultancy firms and their publications are free from advertising. Hence, again, they are focused on the science's non financial gain.
Good science communication consultants will be in constant contact with the scientists to achieve the desired result. They don’t just take your papers and never speak to you again. They want your feedback, they are working FOR and WITH you.
Remember that science communication specialists set out to achieve very different goals and the work they do should not be compared to traditional publishing. It’s more about the ‘outreach’ or broader communication element of science publishing. They want to speak in a new, easy-to-understand language to help researchers communicate their work to the broader scientific community and beyond. They do this with the dual aims of establishing future research collaborations and funding, as well as developing direct stakeholder participation. Moreover, they tend not to focus on specific scientific data, methodologies and results, but rather the goals, objectives and implications of the research. Science communication should be viewed as a complement to traditional publishing that will not only help bring attention to the original paper but help bridge the gap between science and society.
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