• Dirk

As a scientist

As a scientist, you are publishing your work in scientific journals for a scientific community. It is usually a tedious process, as such an article needs to be concise, precise, the analyses well done and the interpretations of the results novel and robust. To get to a submittable version of your work, it takes many months to years of work in the field, in the lab and in front of the computer.

To assure the quality and novelty of such articles, there is a quality control process in place called peer-review. In a first step an editor is evaluating if the article is of interest and falling in the scope of the journal he/she is working for. Then, the manuscript is send out to other colleagues, knowledgeable in the field. They then have between 3 weeks and 2 months to evaluate the manuscript, make suggestions of improvement and make a recommendation. The recommendations can be reject (not of interest), major revision (some problems in analysis or writing), minor revisions (usually some typos or sentences to be corrected), and accept (YEAH!).

It is a long process, taking several months from submission to a journal to final decision. In addition, while you are writing such articles as a scientific story with one major message per article, they remain usually quite dry and inaccessible for non-academics. Therefore, few non-scientists really can or feel for reading them. Often, as scientists we also do not know, how many people actually have read the article and we only get to know how many other articles cited it. This is kind of the currency with which you are judged as a scientist, having produced a useful piece of science. But is that the only way to reach out? As it is such a long and tedious process it is important that scientists also engage in writing articles for the general public, scientifically sound, but understandable and accessible.

Well, those regularly visiting my blog know that besides the blog, I also produced some videos and organized webinars. However, I also have started to reach out to the general public by writing articles on aspects of my work for The Conversation. My first one was on hunting common species, which was read by 1565 people, then my article on “Mountains – a fragile source of life” found the interest of 11568 readers, which I thought quite an amazing number. For the international mountain day I produced a piece on how climate change transforms mountains (2210 for the English version), where the French version showed a very steep (whopping) increase: Nearly 24.000 readers in the first 24hrs.

A scientific article will hardly reach such a performance.

Reaching out to the general public is important, not only because science most of the time is paid by the public taxes, but also because people need to know what is happening out there. What is happening in the environment, with biodiversity and why this is important for everyone of us. The situation is too complex to rely on politicians and decision makers alone to decide for us. And for that, we all need access to reliable information from the scientists who actually did the scientific work.

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