The third installment of #IsisVsTomasson went down last night, and.... it was a wide ranging discussion. There were some extremely lucid statements, some cancer and a proposal for a new reality show: GuerrillaPimpPI. If you don't have time for anything else, skip to 1:15:00 when the latter discussion takes place.
But there was a lot of circling around the idea of communication, both to the public and to granting agencies. I'm on the record as thinking the ability to "sell" one's work to any audience is critical. Who your target is depends on how the message is packaged, but the ability to make a convincing case for why your work is The Best Thing Eva! is a really important skill.
Additionally, NSF has a Broader Impacts requirement, which has taken on increasing importance in the last few years. Although outreach, specifically, isn't required, it's one of the BI options most people engage in. Despite the perception and popular Ivory Tower myth that scientists and holed up in labs and can't speak to the public, many of the people in my field are engaging the public regularly. Hell, I've spent several weeks myself with over a total of 100 local teachers, working with them to increase their capacity to educate students of my state.
But anyone who has managed to get funding in the current climate should know how critical communication is. It's what we're forced to do and if you can't pull it off things don't go so well. I've mentioned before that part of what I really enjoy is the story telling aspect of grant writing. You're building a case and talking about what is possible, which is very different than describing what was done, in the case of manuscript writing. But as we have discussed at length, review panels are not just people in your field. In many ways, you are writing a general document meant to excite, especially at the NSF preproposal stage. Engaging your audience is the difference between getting invited and not.
So, in many ways I think we sometimes make a false dichotomy between scientists and communication. The science comes first and foremost, but if you don't get it funded, published and discussed at meetings, you might as well set your lab books on fire now.