”Communicate or sink into oblivion” – applies also to researchers

”Communicate or sink into oblivion” – applies also to researchers

Nearly two million scientific articles are published annually in the world. Almost half of them are estimated to have less than five readers: the research and the editors of the text. Maria Ruuska of Kaskas Media lists in her blog four reasons why it pays for researchers to learn to communicate about their research topic.

Reorganization of communication has started and offers huge opportunities for researchers

In the future, a significantly more diverse group of people will disseminate information to the world than presently. The role of researchers and experts in communication will strengthen as the monopoly of journals, TV and radio crumbles.

During the reign of traditional media, editorial offices served as gatekeepers of information. Editors decided what was published, i.e. the subjects of public discussion – establishment of one’s own media company required a lot of start-up capital.

Today things are different. Establishment of an own media outlet, such as a blog, takes only a few clicks and the patience to build an audience for it. The media revolution offers a splendid opportunity for researchers. They can circumvent the traditional media and more easily expound their own expertise in a period of social media and simple publication.

The Conversation, an online publication of Australian origin, publishes writings of researchers on their specialties which have been edited to journalistic standards. The media service already covers 19,700 researchers from more than one thousand institutions. The articles of The Conversation, founded four years ago, reach about ten million people monthly under Creative Commons republication licenses.

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We cannot afford to have the solutions to the world’s toughest problems buried in PDFs that nobody reads.

Finland invests more than six billion euros annually in R&D. To get the best possible result from the joint investment, each actor engaged in related work must assume responsibility for making the results serve the common good. It is appalling to think that solutions to the knottiest global problems are available in PDF reports funded by the state where nobody can find them. Then we are talking about mesearch, not research.

The fear is not unfounded. The World Bank took a good look at itself last summer and discovered that a third of its reports placed on the Internet were never downloaded, and 87 percent had never been quoted.

British researcher Melissa Terras became frustrated a couple of years ago after noticing that her article published in 2009 had been downloaded only twice in two years. Terras decided to run a test: she wrote a post for her blog about each article she had published and shared the texts on Twitter. Downloads started to increase drastically. By now, the article has been downloaded thousands of times.

Nonsense thrives when experts are silent

The weakening of the position of traditional media as a gatekeeper also means that anyone can get exposure on the Internet. The more stunted the flow of researched information from research institutes to the general public, the more room is left for hunches and pure nonsense. As the number of those fighting for attention increases, researchers must be stronger communicators in order to be able to resist the purveyors of nonsense.

Many a researcher is afraid of taking part in public discussion because it cannot be controlled. One can, however, practice for it in traditional and social media. Journalists are clever people, and it pays to bring up one’s fears about being misunderstood openly with them. They try to present a story as well and truthfully as possible. Therefore, a respectful attitude towards them often evokes a similar response.

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Non-technical writing provides new angles to a subject

It is much easier to communicate about your research topic if you know how it links to society. How does the research benefit society at large and who in society especially should know about the subject matter. A good way of clarifying one’s position in the world is to write non-technical articles on one’s own research topic from different viewpoints.

Popularization often benefits research. Viewing one’s topic from a new angle gives insights. Readers uninitiated in the subject area may also provide fresh perspectives. Thus, it is worthwhile discussing the research a lot with as many people as possible from the outset. Communication can only be learned by communicating.

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