Opinion

Communication practice and responsible behaviour in scientific research

Researchers are today facing a paradigm shift in scientific communication. This requires them to move from a “deficit” model (the public is ignorant and needs to be given the good news) to a “participatory” model, in which all stakeholders are involved. Scientists need to wake up again to the fact that science is communication. “Science exists only because researchers write and talk […]. Like any form of knowledge, scientific understanding is inseparable from the spoken or written word. There is no dividing line between scientific production and communication. Communication is an integral part of the scientific process.” Researchers will need to sharpen up their communication practices, both within their ranks and with non-specialist audiences. Scientific discourse has become accustomed to an “off-the-peg” writing style, stringing together pre-digested commonplaces and an ersatz for real argument, debate and controversy. I would go even further and argue that such speaking and communication practices in general – and in particular what Anglo-Saxons refer to as hedging, that is the ability not to take direct personal responsibility for what one says – open the way to reprehensible practices like fraud and plagiarism, which threaten the scientific enterprise itself. We are indeed confronted with what Franzen et al. describe as institutionally induced deviant behaviour.

Until now, the scientific community has concerned itself little with the problem, preferring to protect science’s social and communication systems by branding any case of fraud as an isolated and individual act. Today, however, there is growing interest in “responsible scientific behaviour” that seeks to promote good practice in every area of scientific activity. This will hopefully bring about a change in scientific practices. But entire generations of young researchers are paying the price, as today’s research environment makes it very difficult to acquire and develop the very competences – a critical mind, the ability to formulate and handle abstract concepts, to defend their ideas and to link them in to society – that are expected of them.

Marie-Claude Roland Research Linguistics and Practice, INRA Paris roland@paris.inra.fr
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