At this point we’ve probably gotten about as many responses as we’re going to get to our poll on self-promotion in science. Thanks to everyone who took the poll! Here are the results, with some commentary.
First, as a commenter noted, the poll defined self-promotion as a bad thing. That was purely for the sake of keeping the poll simple. It just seemed complicated to try to ask which activities are self-promotion, and which activities are good or bad things. Also, I wanted to focus on whether people approved or disapproved of these activities as self promotion, as opposed to for some other reason. For instance, some people disapprove of submitting to Science, Nature, and PNAS for reasons that have nothing to do with self-promotion on the part of authors (e.g., some people disapprove of publishing in non-open access journals). But the commenters who didn’t like the framing of the poll have a point. Heck, I personally think that some activities are good things despite their self-promotional effects, or even because of them. For instance, as another commenter noted, having a high profile can be an effective means to the end of getting policy makers and the general public to take note of important scientific information. As I said in the original post, the poll was merely intended as a conversation starter. I think and hope it served that purpose, but admit that a better-framed poll might have served the same purpose more effectively.
Ok, on to the poll results…
First thing that jumped out at me was the level of disagreement. There wasn’t unanimous agreement about any of the activities I listed. And for the large majority, there were at least a few people who thought it was fine and not self-promotion, and at least a few people who disapproved of it as self-promotion. And I don’t think that’s an artifact of the way the post was framed, although it could be in part. But there was much more disagreement about some activities than others.
- Publishing in Nature, Science, or PNAS rather than a discipline-specific journal: A large majority (88% as of this writing) think this is fine and not self-promotion, with a large majority of the remainder merely having reservations.
- Blogging, but not about your own work: 95% think this is fine and not self-promotion, with the remainder merely having some reservations. Probably not surprising, given that this was a poll of blog readers. 🙂 But I suspect that even if you polled more widely, you wouldn’t find too many people who think that merely having a blog constitutes self-promotion.
- Blogging about your own work: As you’d expect, fewer people are ok with this than are ok with blogging about other things: 63% approve of this as not self-promotional, with 34% having reservations and 4% disapproving of it as self-promotion. Personally, I have reservations. That’s why I don’t blog about my own work, unless I’m using my own work as an example to illustrate a larger point or something. I wouldn’t feel like I was “adding any value” if I blogged about my own work. That would feel to me like “pure” self promotion, without any other purpose. Anybody who might want to read my papers already has their own ways of filtering the literature and doesn’t need me to point them towards my papers. And if anybody just wants to read a summary of one of my papers, well, that’s what the abstract is there for (and anyone who lacks the technical expertise to understand my abstracts probably isn’t going to want to read even a summary of one of my papers). But I hasten to add that I don’t have any problem with other people blogging about their own work. Different strokes for different folks and all that. Plus, if unlike me you’re blogging as a form of outreach to non-scientists, or to influence policy makers, you’re definitely going to want to write non-technical summaries of your work. That adds a lot of value for your audience. It also raises your profile, which is useful because that encourages your audience to take notice of the important scientific points you’re making.
- Tweeting, but not about your own work: Not surprisingly, the vast majority of you (87%) don’t see tweeting as self-promotional in and of itself, and the remainder merely have reservations. And I’d be surprised if a broader poll of non-blog readers gave dramatically different results on this. Although it’s interesting that apparently there are a few of you who are ok with blogging as not at all self-promotional, but who have reservations about tweeting. Which puzzles me; I’d be curious to hear comments on this.
- Tweeting about your own work: As with blogging, about 63% of you are fine with tweeting about your own work, with 34% having reservations and 4% disapproving of this as self-promotion.
- Sending a pdf of your work to other people in your field: I expected this one to be controversial, and it was: 63% approve as not self-promotion, 24% had reservations, 13% disapprove as self-promotion. Personally, I’m not comfortable doing this, for the same reason I’m not comfortable blogging about my own work (only more so, because emailing someone seems more intrusive to me than putting up a blog post). I’d be curious to hear any anecdotes or data on how common this practice is. I think people have only sent me pdfs of their work like two or three times in my whole life.
- Doing interviews for popular media: I’m actually kind of surprised this wasn’t more controversial, since there’s a stereotype that lots of academic scientists disapprove of anyone who has a public profile. But 81% of respondents didn’t see doing interviews for popular media as self-promotion. Which I think makes sense. After all, people who want to interview you usually come to you, not the other way around, so it’s “promotional” but not really self-promotion. The vast majority of the remainder merely had reservations.
- Allowing your employer to send out press releases about your work: Almost exactly the same responses as for doing interviews with popular media.
- Inviting big names in your field to your talk or poster at a conference: Another one that I thought would be controversial. Indeed, this was one of the most controversial practices on the list: 47% approving as not self-promotional, 35% with reservations, 18% disapproving as self promotional. Personally, I do occasionally invite people to my talks, and more often to my students’ talks. But I do so only when I (or my students) really want to pick someone’s brain or really want feedback from someone whom I think would be a really good source of feedback. I don’t do this just for the sake of increasing attendance at my talk or helping my students meet random famous people or whatever (“networking” for the sake of networking doesn’t do anything for your career). But motivations are slippery and hard to pin down, even to ourselves, never mind to others.
- As a reviewer, suggesting that authors cite your papers: The first practice on the list that respondents mostly disapprove of: 41% disapprove as self-promotional and 52% have reservations; only 7% think it’s fine. Personally, as for other items, I think motivations are key here. I have occasionally suggested that authors cite my work, but only when I thought that it was a serious oversight for them not to do so (i.e. the same reason I’d suggest that the authors cite someone else’s work).
- As an author, citing your own paper when other citations might be equally or more appropriate: Another practice respondents mostly disapprove of: 55% have reservations and 35% disapprove as self-promotional. Personally, I have reservations. I don’t like irrelevant self-citations. But on the other hand, it’s rarely possible or desirable to cite every relevant reference, so you have to pick and choose somehow.
- Commenting on blogs, where the comments do not primarily comprise references to your own work: As you’d expect, people are mostly ok with this: 88% think it’s fine and not self-promotion, with the vast bulk of the remainder merely having reservations. And it may reassure the very small number of you who see this as self-promotion to know that it’s a very ineffective form of self-promotion, because many blog readers don’t read the comments. 🙂
- Commenting on blogs, where the comment primarily comprises references and links to your own work: One of the most controversial practices, which kind of surprises me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. 38% see this as fine, 46% have reservations, 16% disapprove of it as self-promotion. I sometimes do this myself. Basically, if I find myself wanting to comment, but the comment is something I’ve already said elsewhere, I’ll often just link to what I’ve said previously. It just seems faster than typing it out again. And I don’t see why I should refrain from commenting at all just because I happen to have said something relevant previously. Although I would never comment on someone else’s blog just to say “hey, come check out my blog too!” or anything like that.
- Tweeting about your own work to people who don’t follow you on Twitter: I expected people to be pretty negative about this, and they were. Only 17% approve, with 39% having reservations and 44% disapproving of it as self-promotion. This is somewhat like emailing a stranger a pdf they didn’t ask for. But I’d be curious to hear from, say, science journalists what they think of this practice. For what it’s worth, I think this practice is rare, but I wouldn’t really know as I’m not on Twitter (Aside: very occasionally, somebody will tweet something to @DynamicEcology asking us to blog about it or retweet it. I just ignore such requests. Our Twitter account is mostly just a robot we use to announce new posts.)
Nominating yourself for awards: This one and the next one were especially interesting to me because they were the only ones on which my own views are in a small minority. Only 18% of people (including me) think this is fine; 25% have reservations and 57% disapprove of this as self-promotion. I can certainly see why this would seem like self-promotion of the worst sort. On the other hand, I know from personal experience that awards committees often are short on nominations from any source and so would love it if people would nominate themselves (e.g., the ESA Buell and Braun awards often are surprisingly short on nominees). Far from being overwhelmed with frivolous nominations, they’re desperate for candidates–any candidates–to consider and so are more than happy for people to put forward their own names. Plus, I guess I don’t really see much difference between nominating yourself for an award and applying for a competitive grant or submitting a paper to a selective journal. In all those cases, you think your work might meet some high standard (e.g. it’s in the top X% of the pool of candidates), and so you ask others to judge whether it actually does. In other words, while I’d ordinarily hesitate to do something that serves no purpose other than to promote my own work, the existence of an award means that somebody’s saying “Hey, we want to honor and promote somebody’s work!” So given that other people have decided that they want to honor and promote somebody, that somebody might as well be you! Well, as long as you’re remotely competitive–I think it would be silly to waste an award committee’s time by applying for an award for which you’re obviously uncompetitive. On the other hand, people probably underestimate their chances at least as often as they overestimate their chances. Having said that, I’ve never actually nominated myself for an award, or asked anyone to nominate me.
- Asking others to nominate you for awards: People are only slightly more ok with this than they are with the previous one: 23% think it’s fine and not self-promotional, 44% have reservations, 33% disapprove.
As I say, don’t take these numbers as gospel. And it’s certainly not as if anything that most people approve of is thereby ok, or that anything most people disapprove of is thereby not ok. The numbers are just to give you some rough sense of people’s views, as a starting point for discussion.