There has been a discussion going on about how scientists should be rewarded for their efforts to communicate their research, and whether they should be rewarded at all. Biologist Michael Kasumovic, both an active researcher and an active communicator, recently advocated that scientists should not be rewarded professionally for spending their free time on social media, blogs, and unpaid articles.
I believe he was trying to draw a distinction between external motivation for doing work (pay cheque, looks good on resume, leads to promotion) and intrinsic motivation (feels good to contribute, is emotionally satisfying, feels like the right thing to do):
One takes the knowledge they’ve gained and disseminates it to the general public. It can make you can feel pretty darned good when you see that people are reading and commenting on something you’ve taken the time to think about and explain.
As Kasumovic points out, not everyone is good at communication and writing for the general public. I think what he’s trying to get at is that if you’re a brilliant researcher but not-so-good storyteller, your job satisfaction will suffer when you are forced to do something you’re simply not equipped to do – outreach and communication to the public.
I think. I got a bit confused by what his final point really was, so perhaps you can enlighten me.
Pay the writers
Meanwhile, Knigel Holmes over at Nodes of Science took this idea one step further, asking whether science communicators should get paid for their work:
Kasumovic might take a bold stance, but what do you all think? Should we pay those engaging the public in science? If we should, how would we go about it as to not undermine the creative forces that compel these social artists? How have we dealt with these issues for artists, musicians, and other creative workers?
Now, hold your horses right there. A scientist doing outreach in their own time is quite a different kettle of fish to what full-time science communicators do. For them, the very job is to communicate. They are not always researchers themselves but, unlike research scientists who may or may not know how to write for the public, science communicators are skilled at doing exactly that.
What are we going to say next – that science journalists should do their work for free too? I think not. http://t.co/OrwH14EzlT
— Dr. Paige Jarreau (@FromTheLabBench) May 18, 2015
If we go back to the question about creative professions being paid, then the truth is that even professional writers and artists don’t get paid enough. Some do – the best, most successful, most famous, most lucky ones do – but when you go into a bookstore, you would be surprised to find how many of the published authors with names on shiny book covers also have a day job, or at least something non-creative to pay the bills. And it’s the same with musicians, of course. Creativity doesn’t pay as much as you might think, and, while we’re on the subject, neither does journalism. The answer to the question ‘how we dealt with these issues in the past is “we didn’t.”
So, going back to where I started before this rant, should science communication efforts be rewarded? I think that all work should be rewarded. That’s what #paythewriters is all about. But can scientists feel like they are rewarded intrinsically rather than extrinsically? I really don’t know. What do you think?