Transferring scientific knowledge to non-academic audiences is an essential aspect of the open science agenda, which calls for scholars to pursue a popularization of their research. Accordingly, purposefully introducing scientific insights to the public at large is almost univocally deemed commendable. Indeed, in today’s models of research evaluation, the objects and activities considered are being extended beyond peer-reviewed journal articles to include non-scholarly popular communication. Although altmetrics offer one instrumental way to count some interactions with lay audiences, their reliance on social media makes them susceptible to manipulation, and mostly reflect circulation among niche audiences. In comparison, attention from non-scholarly media like newspapers and magazines seems a more relevant pathway to effectuate societal impact, due to its recognition in qualitative assessment tools and its broad, societal reach. Based on a case study of social scientists’ attention by newspapers and magazines in Flanders (northern Dutch-speaking region of Belgium) in 2019, this paper highlights that frequent participation in the public debate is reserved for high-status researchers only. Results show highly skewed media appearance patterns in both career position and gender, as eight male professors accounted for almost half of all 2019 media attention for social scientists. Because media attention is highly subject-dependent moreover, certain disciplines and fields offer easier pathways to popularization in media than others. Both the open science agenda and research assessment models value presence of researchers in popular media, adding written press attention to existing evaluation assessments however would disproportionately disadvantage early career researchers and exacerbate existing inequalities in academia.
The authors are grateful for Eline Eerdekens, who helped strengthen this paper. Also, the authors would like to thank the reviewers of the International Society for Informetrics and Scientometrics for their valuable feedback. This paper is a substantially extended version of the ISSI2021 18thInternational Conference on Scientometrics & Informetrics conference paper (Vanlee et al., 2021).
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- science communication
- societal impact
- science popularization
- content analysis
- research evaluation
- open science