An exercise in outreach – explaining a mouse penis to the TSA

Be honest – how many of you clicked onto this post just because of the title? (There’s a whole post in that just in itself – how articles with ‘popular’ or eyecatching headlines get more impressions from social media and therefore higher altmetric scores…but that’s a topic for another day.)

This article from The Atlantic, That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis is an entertaining read just to see the sheer variety of weird and wonderful things that scientists carry on to planes in the name of research. Ancient bones? Check. Bat detecting equipment? Check. Live frogs? Check. But it also raises an interesting point around scientific outreach.

“Field Mouse” by Tim Watts is licensed under CC BY 2.0Increasingly scientists (in fact, all researchers) are being encouraged or required to distribute and explain their research to the wider public, as opposed to the purely academic circles it frequently stays in (the rise in alternative metrics to measure impressions from social media and other ‘non-traditional’ sources helps give a sense of how successful this distribution is.) This includes measuring the impact of research – something that was highlighted in the last REF as impact case studies were required, and will be expected again for the next REF.

This article raises a question for researchers – can you explain your research to a TSA official? Not only to a person who is unlikely to have a background in science, but who also might consider you a threat? If the examples in the article are anything to go by, the public finds science fascinating and wants to know about scientists’ research – and think of the impact that could have for the future.

Check out the article at the link above.

Airport image: “security screening at denver airport” by danjo paluska is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mouse image: “Field Mouse” by Tim Watts is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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