Scientists urged to go public

Posted By TEU on Apr 16, 2015 |


Science academics need to actively share their work with local communities says TEU national president Sandra Grey.

Speaking to the New Zealand Association of Scientists’ Annual Conference last week Grey said that academic scientists have a responsibility to the public to share and promote their scholarly work.

Grey says scholars’ ability to engage in public debates may not have actually been eroded, but the perception that scholars are unable to fulfil this responsibility is equally important.

“If scientists and all other scholars believe there is less room – constrained space – in which to carry out their public obligations such as acting as critic and conscience, then this will affect behaviour.   So it is important to look at how perceptions shaping this ‘brave new world’ – or should I say ‘risk averse, silenced world’ – have come about.”

A survey commissioned by TEU in 2013 showed that around 40 percent of academic staff who responded thought their ability to act as critic and conscience, as well as their academic freedom had worsened.  And in a survey run by the New Zealand Association of Scientists last year around 40 percent of surveyed scientists said they had been prevented from making a public comment on a controversial issue by management policy, or because of fear of losing research funding.

One respondent noted they had been advised on occasion “that it would be preferable not to draw attention to some of my research that is counter to government policy.”[1]

This ‘silencing’ stands in contradiction to many conventions and codes of scientific and scholarly communities such as the Royal Science of New Zealand Code of Conduct[2]

In an environment where international journal articles are the ‘outputs’ which count most, Grey says scientists need to be aware of self-censorship.

“Scientists and scholars can’t wait for someone else to fix the problems in the system. We need to reconfigure what ‘counts’ as academic work. In a funding system dominated by counting peer reviewed publications and student completions, any public sphere activity will continue to take a backseat to the more easily measured outputs”, says Grey.

Footnotes

  1. http://www.scientists.org.nz/news/2014/08/national-science-challenges-survey-results
  2. http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/organisation/about/code/#1-5-fundamental-principles
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