Scientists' reasons for engagement with the media

Matt Shipman comments on why scientists choose to talk to journalists: “Seniority, Self-Confidence Predict Whether Scientists Will Work With Media”. He refers extensively to the findings of a 2009 paper by my University of Wisconsin colleagues in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Sharon Dunwoody, Dominique Brossard and Anthony Dudo Dunwoody:2009, which showed that a large majority of scientists in their survey participated in some form of engagement with journalists.

Here’s Shipman on the question of rewards:

Do scientists talk to reporters because they think theyll get something out of it? Yes, but probably not in the way you think.
The researchers found that scientists did interact with media for intrinsic rewards. That means scientists talked to reporters for the rewards they gave themselves personal feelings of being valued, of having made a difference, as the papers authors put it.
Researchers did not interact with media out of any expectation of receiving extrinsic rewards such as prestige or the possibility of a promotion at work. But the thought of extrinsic negative rewards (i.e., punishments) didnt play a role either. Scientists didnt avoid talking to reporters due to concerns that theyd be seen as self-aggrandizing or unserious about their work. The authors of the 2009 study note that this is a bit puzzling, as the culture of science seems to believe strongly that those types of [extrinsic] rewards positive or negative are an influential part of the picture.

The level of engagement actually described in the study is fairly minor; with only 29 percent of respondents describing contacts with reporters more than five times in a three-year period. I think the overall picture is very healthy; scientists are talking to people about their work intermittently, including reporters. I would guess that in biological anthropology we do more of this kind of engagement than the average found in this study (for stem-cell scientists). We do much more teaching as well, and I view public engagement as an extension of classroom teaching for many anthropologists.