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Scientists Leave the Ivory Tower

Science publication: researchers overcome their reservations regarding the mass media

A well-nursed prejudice in scholarly communication is that researchers avoid journalists and are disappointed with the coverage when they do have contact with the media.

A current study in the specialist journal "Science" shows the opposite to be true: more than half of the researchers questioned described their contact with journalists as predominantly good. Four out of ten found coverage in the public-sector beneficial to their career. The idea of the "ivory tower of science" can therefore no longer be upheld.

"The second prejudice we need to dispense with is that German researchers tend to find dealing with journalists more difficult and are less motivated to report on their research in the public sphere than their colleagues in the USA", said head of the study Prof. Hans Peter Peters from Forschungszentrum Jülich, a member of the Helmholtz Association.

The number of interactions with the media was similarly high in all of the countries investigated. More than two thirds of the researchers had contact with the media over a period of three years. Their experience in all of the countries was also positive. "The main reason for the similarity in this pattern can be seen in the social need for a public legitimation of science."

The fact that media presence and management positions clearly go hand-in-hand also backs up this point. "Being a leading researcher now requires a readiness to liaise with the mass media", explained Peters. This can be construed from the clear correlation between the number of contacts with the media and those holding management positions. "In other words, it is not left up to the discretion of each scientist as to whether they want to forge links with the media", explained Peters. "In certain positions and situations, it is expected of them. Subjective attitudes only play a secondary role."

The study which has now been published is the first comprehensive international survey of scientists in the world on this topic. It was conducted by Forschungszentrum Jülich and partners in France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the USA. The sample consisted of around 1,350 biomedical researchers from the five largest science nations who produced at least two pertinent publications in their field between 2002 and 2004. For reasons of comparability, all of those interviewed were selected from two clearly defined fields of research - epidemiology and stem-cell research.

Along with the scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich, well-known researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University College London, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Kansai University Osaka also took part in this study. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research financed the study within the framework of the funding initiative "Knowledge for decision-making processes - Research on the relationship between science, politics and society" (07 SPR 30).

Science Vol. 321, p. 204, 11 July 2008
DOI: 10.1126/science.1157780
Background: The entire study
Prof. Dr. Hans Peter Peters, tel. +49 2461 61-3562, email:
Press contact:
Kosta Schinarakis, tel. +49 2461 61-4771, email:
Forschungszentrum Jülich...
...pursues cutting-edge interdisciplinary research on solving the grand challenges facing society in the fields of health, energy & environment, and information technologies. In combination with the two key competencies - physics and supercomputing - work at Jülich focuses on both long-term, fundamental and multidisciplinary contributions to science and technology as well as on specific technological applications. With a staff of about 4,400, Jülich - a member of the Helmholtz Association - is one of the largest research centres in Europe.

Peter Schäfer | Forschungszentrum Jülich
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