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How does SMC find a voice for experts?

FAQ researchers

Frequently Asked Questions – Wissenschaftler

Political journalists report on the US President wanting to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, tabloid journalists report on an actor who has her breasts amputated for fear of cancer, economic journalists on the pharmaceutical industry, sports reporters on doping, local journalists on a suspected case of Ebola at the job centre, science reporters on the latest coup in CRISPR-Cas systems.

Science crops up in all areas of life and also on all journalism desks.

This is why the Science Media Center Germany does not only target science reporters but journalists in other editorial departments as well – and what’s more, in all media: print, radio, television, online, multimedia and news agency. 

Our SMC editors will contact you when journalists are researching an event in your special field, either because research results have been published that are likely to hit the news or because something has just happened that is linked to science.

Usually we will ask you for a written assessment of the topic. Don’t worry, we are not expecting you to write a lengthy report or a scientific peer review. We will just need a short, concise, scientifically-sound statement describing, for example, the relevance of the research results for society as a whole or commenting on the quality of the methods used. We will then pool the statements we receive from you and other experts and forward the dossier to the journalists registered with us. This means, on the one hand, that your statements will neither be edited nor censored. And, on the other, that your statements will provide authoritative assessments whilst journalists are still researching the issue.

Very rarely, we will invite you to a press briefing, a press conference run by SMC, with experts, for journalists, designed to inform SMC journalists about an important science-related topic that is likely to dominate the news in the near future or which could be misunderstood in public debate.

Via SMC, you can introduce experts with genuine knowledge to a raft of media and help to reduce would-be experts’ access to public exposure. You will also promote more authoritative reporting on science. Moreover, via SMC you can reach registered journalists who do not work on classic science desks but on local or political desks, for example, which means that more assessments by qualified scientists find their way into the media.

How and where can I find quick and reliable scientific expertise? Where do I search for experts who are not only qualified, but also willing and able to deliver statements at short notice? When debates get emotional, who can be relied on to come up with factual arguments and hard facts?

This is the challenge journalists like you face when the media have to decide how to rank scientific content in the context of current affairs, when breaking science news causes a public stir, or dramatic science-related events have to be evaluated immediately. Our portfolio seeks to enrich and enhance reporting on sensitive and complex topics.

It is almost impossible to break a path through the jungle of science’s publications, information sources, thematic areas and terminology. This is where the Science Media Center Germany acts as a competent guide.

We launch into action when socially-relevant public issues emerge and when we can assume that the expertise we collect and distribute will provide added value for journalists and be used on a broad scale.

Don’t worry, we will not be contacting you every day. And if you do not hear from us for a long time, this certainly does not mean that we are no longer interested in your expertise. During our first year in operation, for example, roughly a dozen experts provided three statements whilst many others were not even asked for a single one. Not every topic constantly hits the headlines. So when your topic is on the agenda, we should be grateful if you would factor in a certain time budget for potential requests from SMC – even though we are only too aware how precious your time is.

When SMC contacts you it will be because a topic is of major current public relevance – and because you and your expertise enjoy such an outstanding reputation – which is why we ask you to respond at short notice. This is the only way we can join forces to provide journalists who are registered with us with the relevant specialist knowledge and scientific assessments sufficiently early. We therefore ask for your permission to contact you at any time when the case arises – and if it is a major event that cannot wait, this could be out of normal office hours. “Media tsunamis” of this type are pretty rare, but are usually unexpected.

We consider very carefully exactly which themes are appropriate for a topical press conference. And we welcome any information we receive from research institutions alerting us to forthcoming publications or topics that are likely to attract a lot of media interest. These could be ground-breaking research results or events with high news value and a link to science. Do contact us if you have a story in mind that could be of interest to SMC and its registered journalists. Please bear in mind that the criteria for selecting topics for press briefings are different from those for other SMC products: these topics have a broader focus than a specific specialist publication or an event; they are socially relevant; and they could lie at the interface between science and politics; especially as we are only able to organise a limited number of press briefings.

  • Rapid Reaction:
    Expert statements with facts and arguments.
    When science is involved in current affairs.
    As a source of reliable quotations, as raw material for reporting, as orientation for further research.
  • Research in Context:
    Expert statements with assessments from different points of view – technical, methodological, ethical, legal, social.
    When the results of scientific research are published that will make headline news.
    As a source of reliable quotations, as raw material for reporting, as orientation for further research.
    Potentially during the press embargo.
  • Fact Sheet:
    Concise facts, meaningful summaries, more detailed information, link lists.
    When complex topics demand in-depth knowledge or when broad, recurring issues require a general overview.
    As a research aid, background information, compilations of facts and crib sheets – for now and later.
  • Press Briefing:
    Public press conferences or private off-the-record conversations. Run by SMC, with scientists, for journalists. Face-to-face with livestream and call-in options.
    When certain themes such as scientific sensations or an issue with scientific content or political relevance are under scrutiny.
    As exclusive access to experts and for your own questions. 

Additional offers will follow. 

If we contact you about a scientific item our editors will ask whether you see any potential conflicts of interest with regard to patents, third-party funding from industry or similar issues. As far as the SMC team is concerned, a potential conflict of interest does not automatically mean that your specialist knowledge is not welcome. We practise a culture of openness and do not want to hide things everyone should know about.

Not as a rule, because we focus on the specialist knowledge of top researchers who are able to deliver expert statements on research articles or current events from the research point of view. If we are already working on a topic, however, and you think you have an assessment on a special area that could be of interest to SMC, or know a particular non-scientific member of staff with relevant knowledge, do get in touch with us. In individual cases and under certain circumstances it could be useful to add an inciteful voice to the expert statements and disseminate them to journalists.

The information SMC distributes can be used by radio and tv journalists just like any other research material: You will receive background information and detailed knowledge, cues as to which aspects of a topic are relevant and where you can continue your own research. And you will discover which experts have already commented on a certain topic and might therefore be prepared to give you an interview.

SMC delivers its portfolio on several different levels: 

Journalists who are accredited with SMC receive the products by e-mail at the earliest opportunity. Journalists who are granted embargo access and are in agreement with our embargo policy will also be sent the relevant SMC dossier before an embargo has been lifted. 

In some cases, there are several versions with additions: Initially, we distribute assessments by a few experts. When other commentaries are received, we progressively deliver additional statements and information.

Journalists who have not (yet) registered with SMC (and anyone else who is interested) can read the dossier on the SMC website at a later stage and inform themselves about topic-related expert assessments. The Our Offers area serves as a repository. You are welcome to make use of the RSS feed or follow smc_germany on Twitter where we announce new material as soon as it goes online.

Specialist scientific articles that have not yet been published are usually subject to a press embargo imposed by the journal. Consequently, any assessments provided by experts at SMC’s request are also subject to the embargo. This means that no reporting on the specialist article or the expert statements collated by SMC may be used before the embargo has been lifted. Only full-time journalists who are registered with SMC and who have agreed in writing that they have understood and will observe the embargo policies of both the scientific community and SMC will receive embargoed material from SMC. If journalists or editorial offices break an embargo this can mean that they will no longer receive any advance press information: potentially, an editorial desk, a medium or the SMC itself could be excluded from embargoed information which, in its turn, would be to the detriment of many colleagues and science reporting itself. Thus we require all registered journalists who wish to receive embargoed material to agree in writing to respect embargoes.

SMC’s products are offered free of charge. Registering with SMC is also free – it merely costs a few minutes of your time.

By the way: our experts do not pay and are not paid to be included on the SMC database or for delivering their expertise. 

SMC is a non-profit organisation financed with the help of seed funding from the Klaus Tschira Foundation. Currently, a circle of additional sponsors in science, business and society is being built up to finance SMC long term.

SMC is not a (classic) news agency. Instead of finished articles, we deliver quotations and assessments by scientists and other experts to supplement your research and enhance your reports. SMC’s entire portfolio is free of charge and will be sent to your editorial office by e-mail, not via a ticker.

SMC’s expert database is composed of specialists from various fields of medicine and the life sciences, environment and climate, energy and technology. They are supplemented by humanities, social science and cultural studies scholars who address SMC topics in their research. We are particularly interested in topics that are not only relevant to the science community but to the public and society as well – that is, public issues.

The experts on our database are mostly researchers, but also other eminent experts, that is, people who originally conducted research themselves but now work for specialist authorities or who have acquired serious expertise in a special field over a long period of time. 

When approached by SMC, all the experts on our database agreed to help make scientific expertise more transparent for journalists as well as readers, listeners and viewers. 

Very important: These experts do not pay and are not paid to be included on the database. They have something to say and they are interested in journalism. They are courageous scientists who believe just as firmly as we do at SMC in the basic right to scientific freedom.

In your specialist networks you may hear that highly-relevant scientific events are imminent or that surprising research outcomes are not finding the appropriate public echo. If this is the case, we would like to hear from you. We can only prepare for forthcoming publications or events in science that are of relevance to society if you tell us about them in advance.

We are also grateful for ideas for future press briefings.  

And if you happen to have a suggestion that you do not want to be associated with your name or institution, we also have an open ear for that – and always treat your information in strict confidence.

The SMC team decides completely independently whether suggestions for further media attention should be followed up. We are neither a press office nor lobbyists for our own or institutional interests, and distance ourselves from individuals who merely wish to promote themselves. Our only goal is to strengthen the great asset of public awareness by employing informed arguments supplied by scientists. 

We search for competent specialists who are prepared to communicate and who are both able and willing to allow their expertise to flow into reporting in the German-speaking media. Via SMC, these experts can contribute their special knowledge on topics of public interest just at the very moment when journalists need it.

For us, it is very important that the experts on our database fulfil certain criteria – ranging from expert knowledge to being prepared to respond to SMC’s requests at short notice. We should be very grateful if you could spark scientists’ enthusiasm for SMC. You can, for example, send us an e-mail recommending a researcher you have encountered in a certain field. We will then contact this expert to check whether they conduct research on the topics that are important to us, and whether they fit the profile. If it emerges that the expert could be an asset to SMC and reporting, we will include them on the database. When journalists are looking for specialist knowledge and expertise in one of the relevant fields we will then contact the expert once again. 

Please bear in mind that SMC does not strive for a fully-comprehensive database and is not the press office for the research community.

When you are searching for an appropriate expert, the first one who comes along is not necessarily the best one. In order to avoid compromise, we take the time to systematically build a unique database. The scientists and experts included are hand-picked by SMC editors. 

When it comes to selecting experts we do not have a strict checklist. After all, the criteria that have to be applied to assess expertise in an area of medical research may differ from those required for an energy-related discipline. 

Our basic criteria are as follows:

  • Researchers and specialists have expertise in current topics that preoccupy us. We concentrate on those who have produced relevant research results, have acquired a reputation in their specialist discipline and are perhaps also active on committees or in learned societies as well as being prepared to respond under pressure.
  • Most of our experts speak German, either as their native language or as a foreign language. The language of science across the globe is, of course, English, but SMC’s portfolio targets German-language media. We thus offer our products in German – to avoid translation errors in the editorial offices and to ensure that journalists who are perhaps unfamiliar with specialist terminology in a foreign language can use our products quickly and easily. 
  • Our experts have no relevant conflicts of interest.
  • Our experts usually have some media experience and declare that they are prepared to assist SMC with their special knowledge. 
  • Our experts are not promoting themselves but subscribe to our mission of helping to provide the public with the evidence-based arguments of scientists.
  • Our experts know that SMC is neither a press office nor a lobbying organisation for the researchers own interests or those of their institution.

Telephone number, e-mail address, preferably also a mobile number: these are the best ways of reaching you. For this reason, we should also be grateful if you would keep us updated on any changes to your contact details. An assistant’s number or your private e-mail address may save precious time in particularly urgent cases. The SMC team will only use your contact details in exceptional media situations and will only forward it to journalists with your explicit agreement in every individual case.

We do our best to provide you with information when we make contact with one of your scientists. And we also encourage experts on our database to inform you about their work for SMC in your capacity as a representative of science communication. It is not, however, a pre-condition for being included on our database.

The experts on our database are regularly asked about potential conflicts of interest, for example patents or relevant third-party funding from industry. SMC conducts random checks on conflicting interests. This happens the first time the expert is included on the database and every single time s/he is asked for a statement or information. SMC itself does spot checks to see whether interests collide.

By the way, as far as SMC is concerned, a potential conflict of interest does not necessarily mean that an expert’s specialist knowledge is not welcome; we do, however, practise a culture of openness and would not want to hide what everyone ought to know. That is why we provide information on potential conflicts of interest in every individual case.

We will protect your data in accordance with current technology and the data protection regulations obtaining in Germany. This is very important to us. Our expert database is stored in our own well-secured server in Germany so that unauthorised individuals do not have access to confidential data. All the information covered by data protection legislation is only known to the SMC team who are contractually obliged to observe confidentiality. Furthermore, we will never pass on your personal contact details, such as mobile numbers, to any representatives of the media without asking your permission in advance. When journalists submit requests, the SMC team first of all checks whether you have agreed to respond to contact requests.

We should also like to inform the press office in your organisation that you are active on SMC’s expert database – because we regularly cooperate with press offices and science communicators. If you prefer us not to do so, please inform us as soon as possible.

There is one more important point we should like to make: if you work for an organisation which could receive enquiries under the German Freedom of Information Act, your correspondence with SMC could be scanned and accessed. The Science Media Center Germany, on the other hand, is not subject to the German Freedom of Information Act. SMC is thus not obliged to disclose any correspondence with you.

If a science-related announcement with high news value becomes known, SMC will immediately contact the experts registered with it and request a statement within hours. But we cannot guarantee that our request will reach every scientist with expertise in the field. So if you know an expert you think could provide authoritative information, comment on the current state of research or make useful suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are grateful for well-informed recommendations and follow them up as quickly as possible.

Special preparation is not necessary. What we value is your expertise and, ideally, your quick response. A number of qualified providers offer training in dealing with the media and talking to journalists. One competent, experienced provider, which is also familiar with SMC’s objectives and working practices, is the Nationales Institut für Wissenschaftskommunikation (National Institute for Science Communication, NaWik) in Karlsruhe. The press office at your institution will also be able to advise you on which media training course to choose.

Of course. We specialise in controversial areas and want to furnish journalists with expertise when complex, contentious or ambivalent scientific topics are on the news agenda. What is particularly helpful are early pointers to publications which you think might generate particular attention in the media. If you are confronted with breaking news, want to suggest an opinion piece on a topic, or draw journalists’ attention to a particular, sensitive research topic, you are most welcome to contact us – irrespective of whether the objective is background information, advice or strategically relevant details. If you wish, we will treat all your information confidentially.

The majority of science communicators are happy for us – just like other science journalists – to contact scientists directly. The researchers who work with us all agree to us contacting them directly and proactively. SMC prefers this immediate approach because it is usually quicker. Please bear in mind that sometimes every minute counts and fast access to expert researchers can be crucial if journalists are to report accurately. We do realise, however, that science communicators want to know which researchers are currently in contact with the media. That is why we are happy to copy you into our request for a statement from an expert at your institution, on request.

Both the expert database and the database of journalists registered with SMC are used exclusively for our own purposes. Furthermore, we guarantee data protection in the declaration of consent that is signed by both the experts when they are included on our database and the journalists when they register with us. We do not disclose any contact details without the permission of the individual concerned. 

We do not forward press releases from press offices to journalists. Nor do we undertake any press or public outreach work for research institutions or other organisations. Our editorial office thinks and acts in supra-institutional terms. We campaign for science to be valued and used by society. And we want to give voice to scientists’ expertise at the precise moment it is likely to help elucidate issues of public interest. Our place is, however, in journalism, not the research landscape.

We do our best to state affiliations accurately and are aware how important it is to your institution to communicate the experts’ names and their institutions. In practice, however, excellent researchers are now often involved in various organisational structures. Increasingly, research is being conducted in the form of projects in which the individual institution is just one of many. We ask all the experts on our database which affiliation they want to use when delivering their assessments. One or two entries are useful and doable; if more are given, the journalists registered with us would have to decide which entry they wanted to use because there would not be enough space or airtime for all affiliations.

If you, as a science communicator, would like to change an expert’s affiliation, please tell us which alternative institutional affiliation is preferred. We will then request the researcher’s permission or a compromise suggestion. Or you might want to discuss the matter with the member of staff in advance and inform us subsequently.

There are plenty of opportunities for scientists to attend traditional media training sessions at universities, research institutions and with private providers.

Unfortunately not. This kind of agency work is not part of SMC’s remit. We make the same offers to all registered journalists and editorial offices, and we also select our experts on the basis of their specialist knowledge.

SMC Germany is a relatively small editorial office which cannot cover the entire range of science journalism topics. Apart from which, we are neither omniscient nor experts at explaining the world. So we shall not always be able to provide information on every single topic or deal with every single item of news.

We launch into action when socially-relevant public issues emerge and when we can assume that the expertise we collect and distribute will provide added value for journalists and actually be used. We want our portfolio to help enrich and enhance reporting, especially on sensitive issues.

Are you a full-time journalist? 

Do you work for German-language media in Germany, Austria or Switzerland?

Would you regularly like to make use of scientific expertise as part of your research?

Would you like to receive the Science Media Center Germany’s expert statements and fact sheets in German?

If so, please complete this online accreditation form.

If you have any other questions that have not been answered on this website, please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.