June 1  A front-page story in today’s NYT by Noam Scheiber contains an astonishing bit about Science Magazine:

“One of the things the American Association for the Advancement of Science”— the journal’s publisher — “is big on is wanting to communicate science, to keep the public interested,” Monica Bradford, the executive editor, said. For example, the association has a team of about 40 people who work to drive traffic to articles in its publications through the social media.

Forty seems like a lot of people driving traffic to your publications. 

The subtext of the story is privatization, the great trend of our time. The less the government supports scientific research, the more control private foundations have over its direction. Scheiber writes:

Most hiring committees and tenure review boards in the social sciences continue to give more weight to publications or the potential to publish in top technical journals above other factors when making decisions that affect the careers of young academics.

But popular media attention increasingly works in a candidate’s favor as well. For tenure decisions, “I’ve gotten letters,” Dr. Heckman said, “that ask me to assess the impact and visibility of a person’s work.”

Often the effect is indirect but no less pronounced. Many scholars said, for example, that a growing number of colleagues relied on nonprofit foundations to finance their research and that foundation administrators tended to be most excited when the work found its way into the news media.

“The grant-giver looks at this and says, ‘O.K., let’s fund this guy or this woman because we’re not just going to generate results that are read by 10 people,’ ” said Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “It’s actually going to be talked about.”