Marja van der Putten, director KNAW Science Funds
At the end of 2019, a fundamental change occurred in the world of science. Scientific organizations committed themselves to new forms of recognition and appreciation for researchers. Thanks to these developments – finally! – science communication may receive the attention it deserves.
In my long career in science communication, I have approached many scientists, asking them to involve young and old in their research practices. Not only by presenting them research results, but mainly by showing them how science works and to give ‘science’ a face. And scientists almost never let me down. They showed up: for public lectures, radio and TV programs, guest lectures; for theatrical performances, websites and science competitions; at festivals, in museums or in their own institute, open to the public during the Weekend of Science. Always because they recognized the importance of bringing others along in their search for answers, whether it was about medieval manuscripts, marine ecology, group behavior or quantum mechanics. And they did this mostly in their spare time!
The interest and appreciation of the public for their efforts is continually high. In that respect science communication is rewarding work and, to be fair, interaction with the public offers scientists a lot in return: they receive surprising questions and they get an idea which issues are at stake in society. Audiences even generate research ideas or help with data collection and other forms of public participation in citizen science projects.
The pilot fund Science Communication by Scientists: Rewarded!, executed by the KNAW, was commissioned by the (now outgoing) Minister of Education, Culture and Science. This proves she no longer wants science communication to be ‘something scientists have to do on the side, preferably in their spare time’. This year, 91 research groups across the country have received an award of € 10,000 in appreciation of their structural efforts in science communication and in encouragement of more activities to come. The impulse underscores that science communication should be seen and assessed as a full-fledged part of an academic career. Of course, this does not mean that every scientist should be skilled in science communication; team science leaves room for everyone’s talents to come to fruition.
For information and inspiration purposes, the Rewarded! projects are now highlighted on Samenweten.nl/en/projects-of-rewarded. In this way we hope to take a new step forward in sharing knowledge and networks of science communication, pillars of the recently initiated enrichment program of Rewarded!, also funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In this program, a series of workshops has been developed on new developments in science communication. There is still much to be gained when it comes to having open conversations on disinformation and fake news. The basis of that conversation is a shared understanding of the scientific method. In that regard, I have a firm belief (I know, very unscientifically!) in the university Science Hubs that work with researchers on the science literacy of primary school students and their teachers.
The pilot fund Rewarded! has – like the proverbial tip of the iceberg – rendered visible how much energy is spent within Dutch universities and research institutes on science communication and public engagement. The countless scientists who are committed to these practices are definitely entitled to ‘recognition and appreciation’, expressed in time, resources, and the affirmation that science communication counts in the grand scheme. In October 2022 we hope to present an advisory report as a guide on science communication to knowledge institutions..