Being an expert

Taking part in society's various debate fora requires that the researcher take on yet another roll, that of the dedicated expert. Informing on research is important because it gives people an insight into an activity they pay for, and gives society a basis for different types of decisions. It is thus of great importance that the researcher make clear which area he/she is an expert in as well as which limitations exist, differentiate between communicating his/her knowledge and formulating recommendations, be honest regarding the existence of scientific pluralism, and avoid making statements on areas in which there lie personal or professional connections or interests.

Demands placed on public work can be defined using various areas' regulations: Förvaltningslagen (the Administrative Procedure Act) regulates service obligations to citizens, the Higher Education Act states that colleges and universities are obliged to cooperate with the community and inform on their activities, whereas the Higher Education Ordinance addresses society's right to educational information.

Some common pitfalls

Some pitfalls for the researcher who speaks as an expert and/or in a popular scientific context are:

  • Simplification of content may lead to distortion of findings or results
  • His/her own contribution may be improperly emphasized
  • Others' commendable contributions may be played down
  • That the newsworthiness of some piece of information puts aside regular demands for prior peer-review.

Even if the researcher's own contribution is not to be exaggerated, many work-ethics (professional) codes contain appeals to actively work for one's own profession's standing in the scientific community and the public consciousness. Naturally, good judgment should be used. Besides professional loyalty, every researcher also has a loyalty toward science in general, as well as to the public. See Council of Europe's Resolution 1273 on Scientific Communication.

Some guidelines that address the scientist's public roll from various perspectives are the informal EU Guidelines for scientists on communicating with the media. In general, the focus has shifted from improving the public's understanding of science to a multi-directional dialogue involving various stakeholders and the general public, see UNESCO's Science in society and science for society från UNESCO.

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