Making Science Count: Evaluating research impact

The Truth Is Out There, so we put it in a suitcase and brought it home. From the water samples and lake sediment cores we brought back from our expedition to Lake Baikal we are building a picture of how the lake has changed over the last 100 and 1000 years. But what will happen to our results when we publish them? How likely are we to influence the work of others, whether scientists, policy-makers, or conservationists concerned with Lake Baikal? What opportunities and constraints are there for the wider dissemination of our work, and how will it be received by different people?

We’re taking the opportunity of our project to find out more about the how the process of science works, and to learn what more we could do to bring greater attention to our findings, rather than leave the impact of our work to habit, chance, and the Internet. To do this, we’re teaming up with social scientist, Stephan Price, who is going to carry out a survey of people interested in Lake Baikal and paleolimnology. We’d like to know were we fit in communities of scientists and others who take an interest in the lake and this type of research, and what the shape and character of these communities are. How are they linked up? Who is seen as important? What type of interactions do people have, and what views do people hold on our research, science and the environment?

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To answer these questions, the results of the survey will be used to build a network map of the  connections we make with other people through our research, and of the connections of those connections, and so on. One thing that might limit the impact of our research, for example, could be if we are only part of a cosy community of paleolimnological scientists, with no connections beyond the clique. Publishing our work in journals, and on a blog like this can help us to get the message ‘out there’, but personal links can really help to explain the methods and the findings to people and places where it matters. If we are part of a cluster of like-minded scientists, just one weak link outside that clique could make a big difference.

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