From Crap‐Communication to “Good Science PR” – how Guidelines can help

Elisabeth Hoffmann - Germany

Dr. Elisabeth Hoffmann is Head of Corporate Communication and Press Relations at Technische Universität Braunschweig (since 1996).

Education and work experience:
‐ 1995 to 1996 trainee at the German Universities Magazine „Deutsche Universitäts‐Zeitung (DUZ)“, Raabe publishing company for information on science
‐ 1994 to 1995 trainee at IPR&O Public Relations Agency
‐ 1990 to 1994 Research Assistant, Institute of Comparative Literature, University of Bonn, doctoral thesis on “Germany in Thomas Pynchon’s novels”
‐ 1987 and 1989 study visits in Massachusetts, USA.
‐ 1984 to 1990 MA in Comparative Literature, German Studies and Communication Science, University of Bonn
‐ since 2013 initiator and organizer of the Siggen Circle on the future of science communication’
‐ 2008 ‐2014 head of German Universities Public Relations and Communication Officers Association (Bundesverband Hochschulkommunikation)

Session introduction

Whether in science PR, journalism or in science itself ‐ time pressure and increased competition may favour a problematic handling of information. The guidelines on good science PR are intended to help ensure the quality and sustainability of our work. But beware: the use of the guidelines can change your work, your attitude and your standing …

Session in‐depth

Hype, exaggerations or the wrong interpretation of study results are not uncommon in science communication. Whether in science PR, journalism or in science itself ‐ time pressure and increased competition sometimes favour a problematic handling of information. Yet it is particularly the reliability and independence of this information that is essential for public trust in science.

Our framework conditions have changed, not only due to developments within science. On account of dwindling resources, journalism is becoming less able to critically assess the reliability of information – at least in Germany. At the same time, science PR has more opportunities to reach citizens directly on the internet, through social media or through events and exhibitions. This increases expectations regarding the comprehensibility and quality of the information and services provided.

Our responsibility in communicating science has therefore become exceptionally high. In Germany, the Siggen Circle, Wissenschaft im Dialog and Bundesverband Hochschulkommunikation have therefore developed the guidelines on good science PR. They are intended to help ensure the quality of our work.

This involves a sustainable communication that, among other things, does not exaggerate, makes the methodological limits of research results transparent and avoids unnecessary measures.

But beware: the use of the guidelines can change your work, your attitude and your standing! Guidelines require an exchange with scientists that is no longer characterized by a service mentality alone. In order to prevent later misunderstandings and justified criticism, we must first ask critical questions: about the factual basis, relevance and scope of research results, about the methodology and its limitations, about the funding, cooperation partners and possible conflicts of interest.

What does it actually mean in everyday life to talk to scientists about the limits and disadvantages of their research results? How do we honestly deal with the fact that findings have been obtained with the help of animal experiments? And can we implement guidelines when management and scientists see communication as a competitive tool whose aim is to look as good as possible and hide weaknesses?

The session aims to present and discuss our guidelines. Are they internationally transferable? What are the obstacles and difficulties on the way to sustainable communication? What does it mean to apply them to concrete scenarios?

Using concise examples, we want to explore the opportunities and limits of guideline‐oriented science communication. Participants are welcome to bring along their own examples.

The guidelines can be found on the website: https://www.wissenschaft‐imdialog.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Ueber_uns/Gut_Siggen/Dokumente/Guidelines_for_good_science_PR_final.pdf