Use of a University Blog for Science Communication and Government Evaluations

Use of a University Blog for Science Communication and Government Evaluations

I am aware that I as a University employee, one cannot advertise for a product, or support a political party or candidate during work hours, or using University resources.  However, as an academic reporter that covers very important matters of science and government, I don’t think that there is a problem of defending science, especially since I am also a scientist.  As a reporter, I try to stick to the facts, and can’t be criticized for that.

Actually, I haven’t been an employed faculty member for 17 years.  I don’t use a University email for this work.  I estimate that the memory of a University computer that my blog uses is worth about 2 cents.  So my informed opinions on this site can be called my 2 cents worth.  I do go to many seminars and public talks on energy and environment at UC Irvine.  I also go to ones at the UCI Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and at times arrange them and give some. 

Even when I cover political elections, it is for elaborating and informing the public of the math of the elections, as any political science professor would be allowed or expected to do.

While some criticize professors speaking out about science issues, there are at least six strong motivations to do so.  

First of all, its the right thing to do.  The academic system and government have funded the education of the faculty, and their research, over decades.  We all owe the public to give our expert opinions, even if there is no direct reimbursement to a professor for the use of his or her time or writing to do so.

Second, the University requires as one of the duties of professors to engage with the public and government in useful ways.  This Public Service is also one of the areas, besides Teaching and Research, on which professors are evaluated for promotion.

Third, the Congress also feels strongly that government funded research has to have some usefulness to Americans.  This must be explained in research proposals, and actually carried out for performance evaluations.  Actually, my first day in a college science class, I was told that part of research is to communicate it.

Fourth, general science association magazines and science societies have recently been promoting scientists to get engaged in the support and use of science.  This has been necessary with a federal government which is trying to minimize science in all areas and aspects.

Fifth, with the government suppression of science and scientists, since I am free of career pressures, and have no government support, or any students to be responsible for, I feel a responsibility to speak out, as other scientists may not feel free to.

Sixth, we all have the right and duty to evaluate and help to improve the performance of our government.  That is even in the Constitution, giving the right of investigation and evaluation to the Congress, which funds federal research, and government reports.

As far as any question as to whether the University “supports” or “endorses” anything that I write, I haven’t been able to think of any way that the University supports or endorses anything that anybody writes or publishes.  Everybody’s work stands on its own to be judged by their peers for publication, and even then, is not endorsed by the publications or the reviewers.  Only continued scientific testing, reasoning, and verification can confirm anything.

My real question, is whether I also have the right to Jest, or not to Jest, as a form for communicating about the unusual conditions of government and anti-science that we find ourselves in.  My carefully thought out answer is Yes.  Humor, sarcasm, satire, metaphors, and analogies are standard ways of communicating, just as boring factual essays are.  

If need be, I can always invoke Academic Freedom for my 2 cents worth.


About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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