Public communication from research institutes: is it science communication or public relations?

Rebecca B. Carver

There is growing competition among publicly funded scientific institutes and universities to attract staff, students, funding and research partners. As a result, there has been increased emphasis on science communication activities in research institutes over the past decade. But are institutes communicating science simply for the sake of improving the institute’s image? In this set of commentaries we explore the relationship between science communication and public relations (PR) activities, in an attempt to clarify what research institutes are actually doing. The overall opinion of the authors is that science communication activities are almost always a form of PR. The press release is still the most popular science communication and PR tool. There is however disagreement over the usefulness of the press release and whether or not gaining public attention is actually good for science.



Invited Comments

Press releases — the new trend in science communication

Charlotte Autzen

Research institutions: neither doing science communication nor promoting ‘public’ relations

Michel Claessens

The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy

Frank Marcinkowski, Matthias Kohring

Public relations as science communication

Matt Shipman


Public relations as science communication

Matt Shipman

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.


Research institutions: neither doing science communication nor promoting ‘public’ relations

Michel Claessens

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.


On the roles of scientists, press officers and journalists

Emma Weitkamp

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.