Last week my colleague Pascal Lapointe (Agence Science-Presse) and I had a post up on the Science Borealis blog suggesting that the federal government’s review of federal science funding should consider funding for science communication.
Last month, Swedish communications consultant Olle Bergman suggested that 3% of research funds be used for external science communication. Consider how much science communication work could be done with 3% (compared to the current 0.1%) of a Canadian research budget. As with the NSF model, funds could be provided as a component of a research grant, with the stipulation that researchers outline their outreach plans in their proposals and budget appropriately for them.
Funds could also continue to be distributed via PromoScience, but to a broader range of users and with a larger budget. This money could be used to hire a Canadian science journalist (or several freelancers for small media outlets), to create a museum exhibit, to support digital initiatives, and much more.
With both approaches, funds could be provided over a longer term (e.g., five years, similar to an NSERC Discovery Grant), which would solve the problems of continuity and legacy programs. For example, while one person on a 6-month science communication contract can do some good work, investing in several people to do full-time science communication over a period of several years would allow these communicators not only to build their own expertise, but to train others in science communication, and contribute to building a Canadian science culture.
There was some interesting discussion on Twitter as to whether or not it would be useful to include funding for science communication as a portion of, for example, NSERC Discovery Grants. One of our Twitter followers suggested that scientists should communicate their results anyway, and that targeted funding for science communication was unnecessary.
I still think that targeted funding – and concrete plans for communicating your science – would be a good thing for Canadian science and science communication, as it will contribute to building a stronger science culture in Canada. This opens the door to thinking about science and outreach in terms of not just individual scientists or research groups writing blogs or giving public lectures, but perhaps scientists partnering with journalists or artists to bring their work to a public that might not otherwise hear about it, or working with museums and science centres to ensure that their exhibits are scientifically correct.
As we note in our article:
The more a society talks about science, the more visibility is afforded to those who do science.
And that can only be a good thing for Canadian science and scientists.