Friday, September 10, 2010

Getting the News Out About Important and Interesting Research

Getting the news out about important and interesting research is essential to the dissemination of knowledge, to the furthering of discoveries, as well as to the education of the public and policy-makers.

Typically, a researcher, upon completion of a study, which results in a paper, may first circulate the paper (now often done via email or via postings on various websites such as ssrn and arxiv) to obtain feedback, will give seminars on the paper, and will speak about the results at conferences.

In academia, one still needs to publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal. Lately, though, there has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere about whether one should just have the wisdom of crowds be used for reviewing rather than anonymous journal reviewers. Interestingly, the blogosphere discussions about various"proofs" were, subsequently, covered by the news media. You can read in Science News the latest on this issue (regarding P doesn't equal NP), which has quotes from my colleague in Computer Science at UMass Amherst, Dr. Neil Immerman.

Once a paper passes the reviewing process (which can be time-consuming in the case of certain journals) and is published, how does one get the news out further?

Some journals and professional societies send out press releases about their publications that they identify as meriting and having a greater audience appeal (Science, Nature, PNAS, are prime examples of such journals).

Some schools, colleges, and universities are also outstanding at disseminating news about their faculty's and students' research findings and publications. (You can probably easily name some of these institutions who have the advantage of effective news offices, PR machines, and great media contact networks.) The same holds for such organizations as NBER who broadcast their studies (which may not be in peer-reviewed journals yet) and also have excellent media connections.

What if a researcher does not have many/any of the above "advantages?"

Yesterday, Dr. Sheldon Jacobson of UIUC brought to my attention a followup on the seminar, An Analysis of Pediatric Vaccine Stockpiling and Pricing Issues, that he gave in our UMass Amherst Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science last Spring, which was sponsored, in part, by the INFORMS Speakers Bureau, and which we greatly enjoyed and appreciated. My blog post on his visit to the Isenberg School (with photos) can be accessed here.

NSF, which funded his research on the stockpiling of children's vaccines, issued a press release on his co-authored paper on the subject, which was published online in the journal, JIMO, November 2010. The NSF press release is very well-written and can be read here.

Clearly, funding agencies (especially those supported by tax dollars) have a vested interest and, I should say, duty, in getting the news out about the research that they fund and it is important that they do so. This provides a researcher, who has funding, another option.

In conclusion, enjoy doing your research, and I hope that, once it is published, it gets the dissemination that it deserves. Then again, in the final roundup and tally, it is the citations to your work that matter, the new ideas that it generates, and how it is ultimately used and applied, from those in your own discipline and beyond.