Public communication from research institutions often functions as both science communication and public relations. And while these are distinct functions, public relations efforts often serve as science communication tools. This is because successful science communication and public relations efforts for research institutions both rely on finding shared language and disseminating findings in context.
Frank Marcinkowski, Matthias Kohring
We argue that the institutionalized push communication of academic institutions has become the dominant form of public science communication and has tended to force other forms and functions of science communication into the background. Given the new schemes of public funding, public communication of science now primarily serves the purpose of enabling academic institutions to promote themselves in a competition that has been forced upon them by the political domain. What academics working under these conditions say about themselves and their work (and what they do not) will depend crucially on the strategic communication goals and concepts of the organizations to which they belong. We surmise that the inherent logic of this form of science communication represents a potential threat to the autonomy of scientific research.
In this commentary I explain why research institutions are neither doing science communication nor developing ‘public’ relations in the proper sense. Their activities are rather a mix of different things, serving various purposes and targets. However, dealing with PCST, their main responsibilities [should] include: promoting genuine communication and dialogue, being open and accessible to the public, providing high quality scientific information, ensuring good internal communication and educating their scientific staff.
This issue of the Journal of Science Communication raises a number of questions about the ways that new scientific research emerges from research institutions and in particular the role played by scientists, press officers and journalists in this process. This is not to suggest that the public don’t play an equally important role, and several articles in this issue raise questions about public engagement, but to explore the dynamics at play in one specific arena: that of news production. In this editorial I explore the increasing reliance of science journalists on public relations sources and consider what questions this raises for science communication.