Can scientists fill the void in science journalism? A new study posted on bioRxiv asked this exact question, and found that in terms of article engagement, scientists and journalists engage audiences at roughly equivalent rates. The researchers, led by PhD student Yael Baren-Ben David from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, looked at views, clicks, comments and time spent on the page as metrics of engagement, and compared equivalent articles written by scientists and professional journalists. For the two major Israeli online news sites that they studied, the audiences literally and figuratively “liked” articles equivalently no matter who wrote them.
As the number of professional science journalists has declined, scientists have fulfilled the important task of communicating science to the public. As a scientist writing for Massive, it’s reassuring to me to see data confirming that scientists can write in a way that engages the general public, and that the public responds positively.
The study authors note that while scientists can inform and share science news, they are not independent outsiders and have other limitations on their time and knowledge. Increasing the number of scientists writing articles may accelerate the decline of science journalists, and increase reliance on unpaid, outside sources. Despite these caveats, scientists can still play an important role in science communication. It only benefits society to hear their unique points of view.