Narratives of Science Outreach in Elite Contexts of Academic Science

David R. Johnson, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Anne E. Lincoln

Using data from interviews with 133 physicists and biologists working at elite research universities in the United States, we analyze narratives of outreach. We identify discipline-specific barriers to outreach and gender-specific rationales for commitment. Physicists view outreach as outside of the scientific role and a possible threat to reputation. Biologists assign greater value to outreach, but their perceptions of the public inhibit commitment. Finally, women are more likely than men to participate in outreach, a commitment that often results in peer-based informal sanctions. The study reveals how the cultural properties of disciplines, including the status of women, shape the meaning and experience of science outreach.

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