Public engagement is always a topic that circulates through blogs and twitter, which makes sense since those using social media have a scientific face to the public. There are many who blog with the intention of bringing science to a general audience, and do it quite well. That's never really been my intention here, but I do support efforts to educate the public on what it is we do. After all, public money is being used to fund our labs and people with little scientific background are making decisions that critically affect our ability to do our jobs.
That being said, I have also never been at peace with self-promotion. I realize there are times when it is necessary, but I have an inherent distaste for such things. I think the reason scientists are not all that active with the media stems from this, in combination with a concern about how the final story will portray their work.
I've recently had opportunities to discuss one of our projects with both print and radio media. My initial reaction was to beg off, but it felt hypocritical to do so. I did both interviews and the article was fine and my best sick-kermit-the-frog impression radio spot was mercifully brief in the final cut. But I came away from the radio interview, in particular, realizing how terribly unprepared I was to make a strong public message out of the work we are doing. I probably should have read up a bit in the hour I had between interview request and getting the phone call, but the radio host did a good job of summarizing our conversation and then providing my commentary for a brief sound bite. Lucky this time.
But one thing that struck me was what the project that was the focus of this minor media attention. Of the several projects we have on-going in the lab, this one is the most straight-forward and has the least "up-side". When it was funded, the granting agency stripped out the most innovative part in favor of addressing their goals. Fair enough, but the only reason the media latched on to it is because there is a local connection to the work. It wasn't the science, it wasn't a publication in a high-profile journal, it was simply proximity.
In a way, that's a bit depressing. In another, it's understandable. But we talk about making science accessible and all I've managed to do here is poorly explain our lab's most white toast science. Clearly I need to be more proactive in getting the word out about the unique and interesting work we are doing. It may be time to ignore my dislike for self-promotion in the name of communication.