Why do scientists fear media interviews but do it anyway?

One of the goals of our TPM Energy Transition Lab is to promote open science. Open science is the movement to make scientific research and its dissemination more transparent and accessible to all levels of society. Our lab is part of this movement because we feel obliged to share our insights with taxpayers that indirectly fund our research. We perform open science in numerous ways. We write blogs (as I am doing right now), give presentations, masterclasses and guest lectures, and even make vlogs. Furthermore, we offer media interviews in different forms: TV or radio shows, newspaper and magazine articles, and podcasts. And let me share with you some news: giving media interviews is outside the comfort zone of many scientists!

Dutch journalist Winfried Baijens interviews Gerdien de Vries at the opening of the 24/7 Energy Lab at the Green Valley (TU Delft) 14.01.2022.

Why are many scientists not very fond of media interviews? Because it comes with a couple of fears. It is often said that scientists need to be five-legged sheep. We need to be excellent researchers, writers, teachers, collaborators, and networkers, but we also need to be good at public speaking. In general, we have learnt to deal with the fear of speaking for a large audience. We practice with that a lot, and it becomes easier when you master your research topic over time.

Speaking to journalists is somewhat different. Other anxieties rear their ugly head. The worries scientists feel when being interviewed are numerous. We feel out of control, are afraid nuances get lost in translation, get imposter syndrome, and fear that others find us narcissists that love self-promotion. Finally, we are scared to become memes on the Internet because we are having a piece of spinach between our teeth, tripping over our own feet, or saying something stupid by accident…. Well, those are my anxieties. There might be many more!

These fears are valid. Integrity and reliability are fundamental to scientists, and we want to safeguard that. But does that imply that our fears should hold us back? I do not think so. I have been giving – and still give – interviews regularly despite my anxieties. I find open science necessary and have the mission to inform the world that psychology is essential for a successful and fair energy transition. Even when fears become reality, I plan to continue.

Actually, I have had bad experiences. I got nasty remarks on the Internet, my credibility (and earrings) were questioned, nuances got lost, and I am sure some scholars find me vain and overexposed. But those bad experiences do not outweigh the benefits of societal visibility. The public promotion of my scientific field, the Energy Transition Lab, our research, and my university are paying off. Being visible has both scientific and societal impact, leading to better research, technologies, and policies that help achieve a fair and successful energy transition. And when journalists do not quote me well, or I think nuances are lost? I share a blog or vlog on social media to give additional background information.

Having said this, I realize that it helps to have a supportive communication team. Our university takes much effort into media training, and communication officers guide and coach scientists that gain public visibility. Furthermore, these officers take measures if we feel attacked after media appearances. This strategy is entirely in line with our university’s value of open science!

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