Sharing Psychology Research with the Public
By Dave Nussbaum
As challenging as it may be to publish research in leading psychology journals it’s something that researchers signed up for and know how to do, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Sharing their findings with their academic colleagues via peer reviewed publications is what they signed up for. When it comes to sharing their findings with a popular audience, many academics find themselves out of their comfort zone and, despite good intentions, find it difficult to navigate publication in the popular media effectively. On Friday at SPSP, two journalists – Emily Esfahani Smith of The Atlantic Monthly (and author of The Power of Meaning) and Drake Baer of NY Magazine’s Science of US – this year’s SPSP Book Prize winner, Traci Mann, and I shared some thoughts and advice.
Drake Baer explained how important it is to communicate using concrete, accessible language – rather than “the infant responded positively to the stimulus,” consider going with “the baby smiled.” He also warned researchers to guard against the curse of knowledge that comes from having been immersed in a subject and to try to take the audience’s perspective. Emily Esfahani Smith encouraged the science community as a whole to be more open to the enterprise of sharing research with the public as an important part of the practice of science, rather than something to be disdainful of. She also suggested that one question journalists would love to have you answer is why you were drawn to your research question, because that adds an interesting personal element to a story beyond the research itself.
Traci Mann, who wrote Secrets from the Eating Lab, told aspiring authors a bit about her experience, including that while writing the book proposal took a lot of work, that writing the book itself was a lot easier than she expected – she wrote a chapter a month during a year-long sabbatical and found it to be a very manageable pace. She also said that, for her, writing a book happened because there was something that she really wanted to say, rather than because she wanted to write a book and went looking for something to write about.
In my talk I made the case for writing for the public, emphasizing that the exercise often brings clarity to your thoughts in a way that academic writing doesn’t. I also argued that it’s not only an opportunity to share your research with the public and contribute to public discourse, but also that it’s a way to expose other psychologists to your research, since it’s a lot easier for them to read your 800-word op-ed than your 5000 word article, and therefore a lot more likely to happen. I also shared some tips on writing and pitching and offered my help doing it, as well as the opportunity to write for the SPSP blog, Character & Context – email me to take me up on the offer.