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Science Marketing

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Science is competitive, more so than ever before. Within the present economic climate there is an intense competition for government funding and a shrinking academic job market. These conditions have created the need for scientists to increase their profile and impact not only within but beyond the scientific community

One option for tackling these challenges is through a more professional approach to communication of research activities and results: science marketing. The concept is introduced in the April 2012  issue of Nature Materials (There is an introductory editorial, an interview with March Kuchner, the author of Marketing for Scientists and a commentary on online tools).

What is Marketing?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as

The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitbaly. (CIM, 2012)

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines mark as

…the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large (AMA, 2007)

Without going into an explicit breakdown of the definitions and the meanings, it will suffice to say that the conceptualisation of marketing has changed over the years from a transactional concept embodied by pricing, promotion and distribution to the relationship concepts such as the importance of customer trust, risk and commitment.

What’s the point of ‘science marketing’?

Scientists  have to acknowledge that it is no longer sufficient just to do good research. The scientific community must be

…acknowledging that scientists need to deliver and communicate their results to a variety of different stakeholders, such as their collegagues, funding agencies, politicians, the media and the public. (Nature Materials, 2012, p. 259)

Marketing places an emphasis on the need for scientists to learn how to communicate their research more effectively (Thankfully the majority of scientists haven’t learned to do this, otherwise I would be out of a PhD project).

Science marketing with on-line tools

In this commentary from the aforementioned April issue of Nature Materials, Martin Fenner, highlights the possibilities offered by online tools for the purposes of marketing and communication of science (often the easiest and potentially the only way).  He breaks it down into the following categories (My comments are provided below the points):

  • Communicating with Colleagues

Communication with colleagues occurs through a variety of means: email, conferences, publications, in person, over the telephone, etc. On-line tools provide another medium for this.

  • Setting up a researcher profile

This is probably one of the easiest tasks to complete. However, after the initial completion it may probably succumb to what a lot of university profile pages suffer from, staying incomplete.

  • Reaching out to the general public

One of the ways to tackle this new challenge is through utilisation of  social media.  As Mr. Fenner points out, “scientists have to learn to generalize their research findings and not get lost in the details that are often the focus of a discussion with peers” (pp. 262-263). I wouldn’t completely agree with this point. I think it is more of a case of being able to translate your research findings for the various audiences. In general, scientists are aware of the fact that various publics (include the lay publics) are not averse to complexity. They want to know more and are open to knowing the certainties and the uncertainties. Thus, it is a matter of scientists being able to communicate effectively.

  • Marketing with Care

Coordinate your activities with your institution. More often than not that will require interaction with the communications office of the university. They act as the gatekeepers of the research from the outside world, in particular from the media. It is here where it becomes apparent that not all research is created equal. Therefore, not all research will be allotted the time by the communications office; stories that will ensure maximum exposure will usually get priority and thus your research may be deemed not worthy for transmission through the communications office. This is where social media tools such as Twitter and blogs become indispensable. They still allow you to get your research to a variety of publics. But again careful decisions must be made about what to communicate and what to leave out while maintaining agreement with your institution.


AMA (2007). ‘Definition of Marketing,’ In About AMA, available at, accessed 11 April 2012.
CIM (2012). ‘Marketing,’ In Glossary, available at, accessed 11 April 2012.
Fenner, M. “One-click Science Marketing,” Nature Materials 11( 4): 261–263. doi:10.1038/nmat3283
Nature Materials (2012), ‘The Scientific Marketplace,’ Nature Materials 11(4): 259. doi:10.1038/nmat3300
Nature Materials (Martin, K.) (2012), ‘The m Word.” Nature Materials 11(4): 264–265. doi:10.1038/nmat3276
Peter, J.P., Olson, J.C., ‘Is Science Marketing?’ Journal of Marketing 47(4): 111–125. (Found here)
Other Literature of Note
 Stremersch, S., Van Dyck, W. (2009). ‘Marketing of the Life Sciences: A New Framework and Research Agenda for a Nascent Field,’ Journal of Marketing 73, 4-30. doi: 10.1509/jmkg.73.4.4

Red Meat, Death and Research Communication

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On Monday 12 March 2012, researchers from the Harvard Medical School released a study in which linked the consumption of red meat to an increased chance of early death. The study, entitled ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality‘ was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It was also accompanied by an editorial entitled ‘Holy Cow! What’s Good for you is Good for Our Planet‘.

The researchers tracked 37698 men for 22 years and 83698 women for 28 years. All the participants were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer when tracking commenced. The diets of the participants were evaluated through questionnaires every four years. The subjects who consumed a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 percent higher risk of dying than those who did not consume red meat with the same frequency.

The study has garnered a considerable amount of attention. At the time of initial writing (around 21:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012), there were 211 stories related articles that can be accessed on Google News. Another check around 23:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012, showed that there were 231 related stories. Here are some examples of the headlines from some of the media outlets across:

United Kingdom

BBC news – ‘Red meat increases death, cancer and heart risk, says study

The Guardian – ‘Eating red meat raises ‘substantially’ risk of cancer or heart disease death

The Independent – ‘Red meat increases risk of early death, says study

The Telegraph – ‘Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths

Daily Mail – ‘Eating red meat regularly ‘dramatically increases the risk of death from heart disease’ ‘

The Sun – ‘Read meat ‘kills’ Risk of death for regular eaters’goes up 13%’

United States of America

The LA Times – ‘All red meat is bad for you, new study says

ABC News – ‘Red Meat Tied to Increased Mortality Risk

MSNBC – ‘Daily serving of red meat raises risk of cancer, heart disease

CBS News – ‘Study: Red meat raises risk of dying, risk higher with processed meats

Harvard Magazine – ‘Don’t Pass the Bacon

New York Daily News – ‘Red meat boosts risk of dying young: study; Just one portion of processed meat boosts death risk by 20%

Fox News – ‘Red meat linked to premature death, research finds


CBC – ‘Red meat eaten daily raises early death risk

Globe and Mail – ‘Red meat increases risk of death from cancer

Toronto Star – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death: Harvard study

Montreal Gazette – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death


The Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young

Victor Harbor Times – ‘Love affair with flesh hits a snag as study links red meat to risk of death


Time – ‘Just How Unhealthy Is That Steak? The Deadly Dangers of Eating Red Meat

Reuters – ‘More support for passing on the red meat

CNN International – ‘Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan

Science Daily – ‘Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Total, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality

Some Notes

Media outlets exist within a context that is structured by the competition for public’s attention. Being constantly bombarded by a variety of stimuli, public attention can be fleeting and therefore is extremely valuable. Consequently, in order to capture the attention, media outlets must refer to very striking differences (differences from the ‘norm’). A response will only be garnered by a strong stimuli (Neidhardt, 1993).

As Neidhardt (1993), points out, the aforegoing scenario leads to implementation of particular strategies:

1) “…existing Material can become loaded linguistically by ‘the use of intense language’.” (p.343)

2) “…the selection of the material is guided by a preference for strongly deviating cases.” (p.343)

Case in point, the aforementioned study.


Neidhardt, F. (1993). ‘The Public as a Communication System’ Public Understand. Sci. 2, 339-350. doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/2/4/004

Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality’ Arch Intern Med.   doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287

Say ‘Yes’ to Dance and ‘No’ to Powerpoint

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There is a great annual competition, ‘Dance Your PhD’. It is a competition run by Science Magazine with the aim of recognizing the best dance interpretation of scientific doctoral work. You can catch up on last year’s winners in physics, biology, chemistry and social sciences here.

The ‘Dance Your PhD’ Contest is run by scientist and writer, John Bohannon. In this TED talk, John makes a proposal: Use dancers instead of powerpoint.

The complex relationship between scientific and social worlds has created an emphasis on scientists to engage with the non-academic world and communicate their research in an effective manner (This is increasingly becoming the case across the sciences and the social sciences alike).

In many cases, scientists are talking the talk about more effective communication to non-academic audiences.

The challenge that still remains is to walk the walk. Perhaps dancing the walk is the way to go for some scientists?

Communicating History – Amsterdam DNA

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On the ‘About the Blog’ page of this blog, I made a pledge to steer away from a constant bias of being a former scientist and being someone who studies communication of scientific research in my posts. In keeping with this pledge, I’d like to begin with history. I love history, which is why I was so excited when I came across this post from Open Culture (who mention The Atlantic story).

At the moment, there is a brilliant exhibition going on at the Amsterdam Museum, named Amsterdam DNA. The exhibition is designed to capture the rich history of Amsterdam. The museum teamed up with the Dutch creative agency PlusOne to produce a series of videos for the exhibition. Here is the trailer for the exhibition:

The exhibition provides a 45 minute multimedia experience through the rich history of Amsterdam. The agency produced 7 films for the exhibition. Below you can see a clip from the second film called Revolt Against King and Church, which takes you back to 16th century Amsterdam.

You can read the interview with the director of PlusOne, Martijn Hogenkamp, about the creative development of the project here.

Lessons for Research Communication

Video is a powerful medium with the ability to reach a variety of audiences. More researchers across all fields should to consider doing videos to communicate their research to non-academic audiences. Having said that, not everyone has the technical know-how or the budgets the size of Amsterdam Museum. This is where collaboration comes in handy. There are plenty of graphics designers, illustrators and animators out there with various skill levels. And with tools like Twitter, they are a lot easier to find than one may think. So why not try? (Yes; I am aware of time constraints, job commitments, life, etc.) It is still possible to achieve great results. Check out this health promotion video that went viral here.

Structure of Great Talks

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I thought it to be appropriate to begin blogging on the topic of ‘research communication’ by writing on the topic of ‘giving talks’.

One of the tasks placed upon those of us in academia is to give talks. There is no way of avoiding it. Correction, there is always a way to avoid it but that will reflect negatively on the corresponding career prospects. Talks occur in various contexts: at conferences, workshops, seminars, group meetings, etc.

Academics must give talks. Fact. So instead of pondering of how to get out of giving a talk, you have to ask yourself about how you can give a great talk.

In a recent TED talk, Nancy Duarte (@NancyDuarte) of Duarte Design, proposes the structure of great talks.

Nancy Duarte examines the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch speech. By analysing the two speeches, Mrs. Duarte suggests that all great presentations have a common structure (see below) while emphasizing the need for effective storytelling to facilitate a response to the call to action.

Without going into a discussion about the actual presentation of the talk, there are several points that can be taken on board for the purposes of research communication.

Lessons for Research Communication

1) Effective communication can be achieved through story telling

Everyone loves a good story. I can still remember all my favourite stories as told by my grandmother. They captivated my attention and transported me into another world. Researchers should strive to capture the audience and transport them into the world of their research. For example, historians can transport us into the world of the past; while scientists can transport us into a world of mystery and discovery.


2) The shape of the talk should switch between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’.

In the case of scientists, when presenting to non-academic audiences, this means switching between the ‘science’ and the ‘social implications’ (the bigger picture, if you will). The necessity for the back and forth movement is dependent on the various encounters with resistance. When presenting scientific research there is a balance required between the science and the bigger picture. Putting in too much science creates the risk of alienating the less knowledgeable audience. Leaving out too much `science` creates the risk of alienating the more knowledgeable audience. It`s a balancing act.

Overall, it`s hard to imagine a universal formula for a perfect talk. Its an ideal to strive for.

How do you achieve your perfect talk?