The “Carl Sagan effect”

Javier Benítez writes:

I am not in academia, but I have learned a lot about science from what’s available to the public. But I also didn’t know that public outreach is looked down upon by academia. See the Carl Sagan Effect.

Susana Martinez-Conde writes:

One scientist, who agreed to participate on the condition of anonymity—an indicator of his perceived vulnerability to the Sagan Effect—left his research institute as a junior faculty member because he felt that the institute’s director—who had chided him about communicating with the press—was blocking his advancement to associate professor after there had been extensive media coverage of his work. The same researcher, who has published in the highest-impact journals, said that he has been unable to get a grant after further recent media coverage and a giving a related lecture at a TED conference. He has declined an invitation to give a second TED talk in light of the criticism, and will not do further media interviews at present. The worst for me was the grants. Since this paper [covered extensively in major international media], all my grants got rejected with terrible comments. It was suddenly completely changed. I had 25 grants rejected since the paper in [name of top tier journal].

Has Contemporary Academia Outgrown the Carl Sagan Effect? Journal of Neuroscience 17 February 2016, 36 (7) 2077-2082; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0086-16.2016

I know there are bad TED talks out there and some of it may even be pseudoscience, but how can there be an informed public about science when outreach is discouraged?

“Pseudoscience is embraced, it might be argued, in exact proportion as real science is misunderstood – except that the language breaks down here. If you’ve never heard of science (to say nothing of how it works), you can hardly be aware you’re embracing pseudoscience.” Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1996)

My reply:

I agree that one of the duties of academic research is service, and part of this can be discharged by communication to general audiences. On the plus side, if you can communicate to the general public, then you’re reaching more people who can uncover flaws in your ideas. So one of the benefits of public exposure is that you can get some valuable critiques from the outside.

Regarding the quote at the end: 25 grant applications seems like a lot. Who applies for 25 different grants??

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