2 June 2014
Where are the broader impacts?
Posted by Jessica Ball
After my post from last week about sharing the broader impacts of geoscience research, I was really encouraged by all the retweeting and favoriting I saw on Twitter. However, retweeting does not a submission make. In fact, I’ve only received one real submission in the comments or the Tumblr blog, and that one needs some work to refocus it before I can post it.
One submission, folks. That’s pretty sad.
So what gives? Where is everyone? Is there something that’s making you hesitate to talk about the specific impacts of your work? Is there a way I can make this easier? Because the science policy world can really, really use your help, and it will only take a few minutes of your time. Seriously, you can cut and paste from a broader impacts statement in a grant application if that’s the easiest thing. Or you can get some great practice writing about your research in everyday terms, which is what a lot of us are already doing online. (I’m looking at you, geobloggers. I know everyone’s busy, but the funding situation for basic research is getting more and more precarious, and every little bit of support helps.)
Please tell me if there’s something I can do to help make this process less painful, and please take a couple of minutes to give the science policy crowd a hand here. I’ve even posted an example for you to follow based on my own work (and linking to one of the publications that resulted from it). It will only take a few minutes of your time, and it will provide us with invaluable ammunition to use on Capitol Hill when we’re fighting to keep basic research budgets from being reduced year after year.
Broader impacts are so often BS that most people are ashamed to admit they even consider that section. Most of the time, the honest answer is that the broader impact won’t be known for a decade.
I suppose we could go with “what COULD your broader impacts be”. Because in the policy world, we really do have to talk about impacts right alongside advocating for basic research and science for the sake of advancing science. Having examples to hold up in front of policymakers is important, even if we have to say that we won’t know for sure about them for years. For example, I don’t know when my field work is going to make it into a hazard map, but I know that’s how it can be used.
Honestly, not only do I not have interest in the “broader impacts”, I don’t even care for the “so what” part of writing papers and grant applications. As far as I am concerned “this is cool” and “here are the facts about what I did (or want to do)” is more than enough, I am not interested in coming up with a story about how or why it is relevant to anyone’s life.
If you can find funding sources that allow you the leeway to do research with less emphasis those kinds of justifications, I guess kind of approach would work. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury that most of us who depend on federal support have. I would be interested to hear how you came to develop your mindset – were broader impacts not emphasized in the context of your geoscience training?
I agree Jessica. I think that’s a bit of a short-sighted and selfish attitude. It’s all very fine to think this way, and trust me, I am often guilty of that because I love doing science for the sake of curiosity and discovery and not for Joe down the street, but the fact of the matter is that the government will first and foremost fund what is in the public’s best interest, because they are there for the public (supposedly anyway). If you have no interest in the impacts of your work on society, fine, but as Jessica pointed out, those that depend on government funding don’t have a choice. And regardless, I find that Geoscience is a very people-oriented science in that a lot of what we do directly impacts the land and places people live and exist, whether through hazard identification, education, etc., so the broader impacts of geological research are not that hard to identify I think.
Considering the competive aspect of grant proposals and soft funding, some might feel like you are asking them to show you their “best pitch.”
Unfortunately, without a clear security, safety, health, or economic benefit, scientist are going to have an extremely difficult time getting funded.
More scientists should run for office
That’s an interesting take on it. I would hope that people who presumably already have grant awards freely available for viewing on the NSF website, for example, wouldn’t be so wary of saying something very general about the benefits of their research. Maybe I’m just coming from a field where I’m not afraid of getting ‘scooped’ on something that I’m working on, but I don’t find it hard to talk in general terms about what I’m doing without giving away the contents of my next grant application.
Science works best when communications are open. Too bad, that’s not always how it works. Notice how 2 of those “scientists” who wrote comments to your post apparently feel a need to use an obscure handle, like secret agents, rather than their real names.
I had a one semester research assistantship that was funded by a grant in Spring, 2002. I don’t know the specifics of the grant because my professor is retired and I don’t want to bother him, but the broader impacts of the research is I developed my skills and since then I have spent countless hours on unfunded research that I post for the public to access. The people who access the data are from communities local to the databases and the national and international communities through the AGU and NASA blogs and web searches. There is as yet no financial reward to me for this work, but it serves as public education. Public employees with good salaries use my data for free so it is their duty to approve the finances for public spatial research in return.