Public proof

April 1, 2010

"Engage the selfish gene" (18 March), which discussed how public engagement can boost research careers, referred to "the lack of quantitative data on the topic".

In fact, there have been two nationally representative surveys that explored academic researchers' attitudes to, and experiences of, public engagement, albeit limited to scientists and engineers.

The first was conducted by Mori for the Wellcome Trust in 2000; in 2005, we carried out the second for a consortium of research funders led by the Royal Society.

The latter provided much of the evidence for the establishment of the Beacons for Public Engagement programme. It included the following points that endorse the case studies mentioned in the article.

Far more respondents disagreed that "there are no personal benefits for me in engaging with the non-specialist public" (57 per cent) than agreed (21 per cent); and far more disagreed that "scientists who communicate a lot are not well regarded by other scientists" (54 per cent) than agreed (20 per cent).

Interestingly, while more researchers agreed (38 per cent) that "public engagement could help my career" than disagreed (24 per cent), a significant proportion (38 per cent) were undecided. This highlights the important role that Research Councils UK's booklet, What's in it for Me? The Benefits of Public Engagement for Researchers, can play in showing the positives of public communication.

Mark Dyball and Suzanne King, Directors, People Science and Policy.

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