The Public Scientist

I can humbly say “I knew Andrew Dessler before….” 🙂

I stumbled across him a few years back when he co-authored a paper with Ken Minschwaner, an atmospheric physics guy here in New Mexico, so the roots of our conversation predate my obsession with climate change.

Now Andrew’s made the big time (“I define success as being interviewed by The Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy, Eric Berger,” Andrews said on his blog.). In the Berger interview, Andrews makes an important point about the lack of incentive for scientists to play a public role:

why don’t more scientists engage the public in a broader way? There are a lot of risks when scientists do that. There’s a risk that their work will be misinterpreted. There’s a risk that they feel they will be negatively perceived by their colleagues. There’s no real reward in the academic system for being someone who goes out and talks to the general public. I think that’s a real problem with the tenure-university system, we don’t get rewarded for outreach. You get rewarded for publications and grants. So, you know there are these downsides, and there’s not a lot of upsides.

This is unfortunate. I acknowledge a bias here. I need scientists willing to do what Dessler does, or I’ve got nothing to write in the newspaper. But I also think it’s important that scientists communicate with the public about what they’re doing.