Friday, July 17, 2009

Public outreach ...

... so there is a huge hubbub occurring amongst quite a number of science blogs across the internets lately. As part of their focus on the state of science in the United States of America, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the bloggers on The Intersection, speak to the issue of better outreach to the public by the scientific community. The question is, what form should that outreach take?

Obviously this is not an either/or type of question ... there are any number of things that can be done, and some of them should obviously be done in concert with others. As a government scientist, I am always being asked to present my ideas in a manner which would be accessible to a non-scientist. They're called "interpretative summaries". Over at DrugMonkey, neurolover mentioned that PLoS Biology has a similar concept which is called "author summary", and is defined thusly:
Distinct from the scientific abstract, the author summary is included in the article to make findings accessible to an audience of both scientists and non-scientists. Ideally aimed to a level of understanding of an undergraduate student, the significance of the work should be presented simply, objectively, and without exaggeration.
I see no reason why NIH could not make this a mandatory component of scientifically published manuscripts. Then, these "author summaries" are made available on PubMed, Scopus, Google Scholar and the like. So when people look for scientific information and are led to PubMed, instead of an abstract filled with technical jargon, they get an easy to read summary.

Granted, it is not a "cure all" for the problems we have, but it is a supremely simple thing to implement and IMO, every little bit helps.

2 comments:

Epicanis ( http://www.bigroom.org/wordpress ) said...

I've personally vowed that when I become a famous published scientist, I will strive to write a brief "So What Who Cares?" essay explaining why the contents of my paper should matter to anyone but myself and a handful of other people in whatever specialty the paper touches on...

Thomas Joseph said...

I think that's a good idea. If you ever find yourself in government research, you'll be doing just that.