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How does SMC find a voice for experts?

FAQ researchers

Frequently Asked Questions – Wissenschaftler

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 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.

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.

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