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Research needs to become more alluring

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Science and academic research still isn’t communicated and disseminated to audiences beyond academia as much or as well as it might be.

Sure, there’s the research that Nature and The Lancet are so good at getting in front of the producers at Radio 4’s Today programme that then catches the attention of other broadcasters or journalists, and so makes its way by-and-by into the great public domain. But that’s often the crowd-pleasing, sexy stuff, like space, planets, changing eating habits and, erm, disease.

But what about the kind of research that’s not quite so ‘radio friendly’? Where does that get to when it comes to the news agenda?

The social sciences and humanities have a big challenge to tackle here because, though so much of the research that it publishes is of course interesting, it’s often not quite eye-catching or earth-shattering enough to persuade journalists, producers and editors to run with a story.

Publishing journals is an unwieldy business, as we all know. Their publishers and publishing execs generally have to focus on the big corporate picture, and thereby work to such strategic measures as driving usage, attracting high profile authors, building rankings, attending conferences and, ultimately, making sales.

That strategic side of things is a full-time job. In fact, it can be more than a full-time job for all involved. And because those at the journal coal face are largely working on a macro level, it often means that those little nuggets of great research with potentially exciting stories behind them go unfound; and, if you can’t find ‘em, you can’t share ‘em.

It’s probably not sustainable to put a marketing or PR person on every single journal (and, you know, there are some topics that will never not be boring to journalists and the general public, if you get my drift) but maybe it’s time that publishers became a little more innovative when it comes to unearthing the great content hidden deep in their journals, or awaiting publication.

During my time with a certain publisher, a few of us often discussed the idea of the business employing someone whose entire job would have been to unearth (using the term broadly) stimulating research. Great in theory – and potentially even in practice, could the right person and formula or process be found – but I guess trawling through all that content (more than 300 journals’ worth) might very quickly have had the Shining effect, and driven the person to do bloody murder unto their colleagues after becoming overwhelmed with all those words and awful diagrams. Might have worked, though, and I still think there’s some mileage in it.

Another issue, and we’re really getting to the nub of it now, is that the scholarly community (and I’m not just going to blame publishers here, because authors and institutions are as much to blame) is largely rubbish at storytelling.

Yes, academia is great at rigour and delivering research that makes an important impact on unseen processes that make a difference in practice, but lacks imagination and penetration when it comes to telling people in the wider world what inspired the research and why it should matter to them. And, until the social sciences and the humanities (though the latter has bodice-ripping period dramas and blood thirst quenching documentaries about violent despots and their indulgences to rely on) find better and more creative ways of telling research stories, they will continually fail to reach the public consciousness.

Although we’re far from being the saviours of scholarly communications here at The International Bunch, we reckon we’ve got some ideas that you might like to hear that could help solve these issues – so please feel free to get in touch to learn more -

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