Participants in one of AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange projects. Scientists were invited to help with an environmental study of ponds at a site in Berlin, Maryland, that the town council plans to redevelop for recreation. There used to be a chicken processing plant on the site so there were concerns about potential contamination. Credit: Thriving Earth Exchange

There is a growing need for scientists to communicate, engage, and work directly with the public. Science is increasingly relevant to society and insights from science need to be incorporated into decisions and policies at all levels from the local to the international. In addition, changes in the press and the workings of journalism, as well as the growing importance of social media, have also placed more responsibility for communication on researchers and their institutions.

In the Earth sciences especially, data are regularly used in real-time decisions, as well as future planning from the local to global level around efficient energy, water, and land use, hazard mitigation, food production and transportation, and much more. We need to secure and improve these connections between science and society.

Effective engagement takes time, effort, training, and work

Effective engagement is collaborative, not one way, and takes time, effort, training, and work. It includes efforts to increase the transparency, availability, and integrity of scientific data. The importance of this engagement means that we need to recognize its value in scientific careers and reward it.

First authorship on papers and grants remains the path for career advancement and peer recognition in science. These incentives have led to metric-based assessments of journals, scientists, and universities, which are often reported and used well beyond their intended use. In some cases, they have led to decisions and practices that corrupt scholarship and integrity. In contrast, engaging with the public was discouraged, discounted, or even criticized. Broader public service has also not been fully recognized.

But science and scholarship have changed. Studies are more complex and are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary with larger teams and collaborations. Large contributions are made in the generating data and developing software, new instruments, and methods, yet these are often not equally recognized. Understanding the Earth as a dynamic system requires well described long-term data sets and new ways of analyzing and merging them.

A recent report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine on Open Science by Design highlights these changes in science and scholarship and their importance. One of its major recommendations is the need for broader recognition of contributions around open data and software across the sciences.

Expanding and improving the reward process is a large and complex challenge

Expanding and improving the reward process is a large and complex challenge. AGU is taking several steps to encourage a broader discussion and awareness of these issues and the need to recognize and reward the more diverse needs for recognition of scientists in the 21st century.

Indeed, AGU’s Centennial provides an opportunity to reflect on, highlight, and communicate the ways that science, including basic research, has served society, and vice versa. Further, the Fall Meeting this year will include several public lectures and broader engagement with policy makers worldwide. But we can do more.

To further this dialog and effort, AGU is also:

  • Giving awards to recognize engagement, including the Ambassador Award, established four years ago, which includes in its criteria outstanding contributions related to societal impact. So far, 15 scientists have received the Ambassador Award, and another three were recently announced. Other societies have similar awards, but more can be done in expanding recognition for the important efforts in societies and academies.
  • Becoming a signatory of the Declaration of Open Research Assessment (DORA). This emphasizes moving away from metric-based approaches to assessment. In publications, this means de-emphasizing the Journal Impact Factor, long used as an indicator of journal prestige but actually a poor predictor of the value of any particular paper published in that journal or of the merits of any particular author. As recommended by the Declaration, AGU will continue to provide a wide variety of data regarding its journals.
  • Leading an effort, with broad engagement from other societies, publishers, and repositories, to develop FAIR data practices across the Earth, space, and environmental sciences. A key part of this effort is improving citation support of data and software by repositories and then linking and tracking these citations, something that is poorly done currently but for which there are a number of emerging efforts across the scholarly community.
  • Following recent recommendations to allow authors, if they so wish, to specify different contributions to the paper using the CRediT taxonomy. These will be now published with the paper and included as metadata. AGU also requires first authors of papers and abstracts, and for preprint on the Earth and Space Science Open Archive (ESSOAr) to have an ORCID identifier and strongly encourages this across all other authors. These will help provide robust links and connections among data, software, papers, and citations.
  • Expanding efforts to engage scientists and communities. The Thriving Earth Exchange connects researchers with community leaders to advance local aspirations such as improving water quality or mitigating the effects of climate change. So far, 75 projects have been completed and these have had large benefit, including financial savings, on communities. Many other scientists have been engaged in similar efforts, mostly on the side of their day job. It’s time we shine the light on the scale and magnitude of these efforts, tell these stories, and recognize their value.

We must take seriously the responsibility of the scientific enterprise to contribute to society

Today we must increasingly value and recognize important contributions other than first authorship and take seriously the responsibility of the scientific enterprise to contribute to society, especially when scientists receive public funds, as most do. We encourage other societies, institutions, and agencies to expand recognition and join a larger discussion around these issues.

—Brooks Hanson (email:, Executive Vice President for Science, AGU; Raj Pandya, Director, Thriving Earth Exchange, AGU; Shelley Stall, Director, Data Programs, AGU; Lisa Tauxe, Chair of AGU Publications Committee and University of California, San Diego


Hanson, B.,Pandya, R.,Stall, S., and Tauxe, L. (2018), Expanding recognition for contributions of science to society, Eos, 99, Published on 24 September 2018.

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