About the significance of sharing scientific results with a broader range of audience

Sebastien, CEO and co-founder of PosterLab, is pleased to share with you today the insights of Nina McGuinness and Nils Hoppe about publishing scientific results. Currently very important in their eyes: to share scientific results more with a broader public. But how? Read more yourself. Thank you Nina and Nils.

Could you please introduce yourself?

We are partners in consentris GmbH, a young university spin-off specialising in the area of ethics, regulatory, and compliance advice to clients in the life sciences. Our portfolio also places a specific focus on the public communication of science, stakeholder engagement and, ultimately, patient empowerment.

Nils: I am a lawyer by training and hold the professorship in ethics and law of the life sciences at the University of Hannover, where I currently also have the role of dean of research. I am also a consultant in the life sciences team of Hill Dickinson LLP in London, and regularly advise European Union bodies and institutions on ethical issues. I have been assisting large-scale biomedical and life sciences research clusters, as well as tiny life sciences startups, on getting their ethical and legal frameworks, including appropriate stakeholder integration, in place for well over ten years.

Nina: My background is in the humanities with a B.A. from University College Dublin in Language and History and a Masters in European Studies from the University of Hannover. I’ve been working in the area of research administration and management in German higher education for over ten years in various roles spanning multiple academic disciplines. A particular interest of mine has always been the communication and transfer of knowledge across borders and thresholds, be these disciplinary, cultural, geographical or sectoral. 

What do you think about the way academic research is disseminated towards non-academic audiences? From your point of view, what’s the impact of academic research on our society? Could it be improved? Do you see gaps?

There has been a seismic shift in recent years in the manner and format in which academic research is communicated. Within academia, there is growing recognition of the importance and benefits of communicating to a broader range of audiences (perhaps aided by recent nudging from funders). Public awareness of science and research is higher than ever and access to research findings has become significantly democratised. Science journalism and reporting has been emancipated from the realm of side-interest stories, propelled by social media platforms, with greater visibility for researchers and institutions. Citizen science initiatives seek to involve the public as partners in the research process.

However, this opening up also harbours risks and pitfalls that academic research is not always well equipped to deal with. The COVID pandemic and ensuing infodemic is a case in point. At no point in time in the past has the wider public so fervently followed research findings as they emerge and develop. However, the spread of misinformation has been equally unparalleled in its scope and reach. And therein lies the rub. It is not enough to simply make results and findings widely available in non-academic formats and settings. This needs to be accompanied by a broader understanding of how the research process works and the inherent uncertainty of scientific endeavour. Transparent and responsible cooperation between academic knowledge creators and content generators is required, together with the active engagement and on-boarding of the wider public. That is, in our view, the main challenge we are currently facing.

Based on your experiences, and with the current younger researcher in mind, what would you wish you knew about research collaboration and dissemination of research findings?

Research collaboration and the later dissemination of results require considerable time and effort. They are not just automatic by-products of the process or optional extras, but should rather be viewed as aspects integral to the “business” of science with similar investments needed in terms of resources and training. The good news is that these skill sets are increasingly recognised as key aspects in the training portfolio for researchers, e.g. the Vitae Researcher Development Framework in the UK or the EURAXESS research profile descriptors. Take the time to develop and hone these skills – it’s worth the effort in terms of greater visibility and broader perspectives beyond your discipline.

What’s your definition of scientific communication?

Successful scientific communication is about refining highly complex processes and knowledge into a format that is helpful, dependable and informative for a particular audience: be that a lay person, a policy-maker, or colleagues from other disciplines. It is an essential element in the Science-Society-Technology Cycle if the knowledge economy is to work to the benefit of all.