Orginal Author: Daryl E. Chubin

(Print/Download Article)

Nearly 30 years ago, Eugene Garfield, the altmetrician of science who invented citation analysis (or bibliometrics, the foreunner of journal impact factors and h-factors) asked, Is there room in science for self-promotion? Of certain innocuous varieties that are merely extensions of unconventional individuals, I surely hope so. Members of the scientific community can exhibit tolerance toward such colleagues.” 

Fast-forward to the age of social media. What is considered self-promotional today, as opposed to acceptable practices that advance one’s career? When does tolerancebecome the indulgence of narcissism? Has self-promotion become the norm? 

A 2014 survey of ecologists (dubbed a conversation starter) asked respondents to rate self-promotional activitiesas fine,” “I have some reservations,or I disapprove.While disagreement was common, the following approached consensus as not self-promotional: 

Publishing in Nature, Science, or PNAS rather than a discipline-specific journal

Blogging, but not about your own work

Tweeting, but not about your own work

Doing interviews for popular media

Allowing your employer to send out press releases about your work

Commenting on blogs, where the comments do not primarily comprise references to your own work

Among the more controversial practices were these: 

Inviting big names in your field to your talk or poster at a conference

As a reviewer, suggesting that authors cite your papers

As an author, citing your own paper when other citations might be equally or more appropriate

Tweeting about your own work to people who dont follow you on Twitter

Nominating yourself for awards

Asking others to nominate you for awards

To one whose career unfolded mainly in the 20th century, it seems clear that social networking has altered the norms of propriety. A cohort of mine recently hoped, humility shaped me.Yet what we find morally questionableis now considered savvyand the new normal. 

One social media guru notes that Self-promotion has a bad reputation because it is so often associated with marketing, advertising, and social timelines that do nothing but pitch, pitch, pitch regardless of how it makes their audience feel. . . Self-promotion can be a good thing if your content is outstandingly useful and always adds value.

Finally, we hear a lot these days about value-added content.This is what justifies much of scientistsbehaviorhow the work pushes back the frontiers of knowledge. In the days of Robert Merton, the words priorityand originalitywould be invoked. Today, the value is something to attract funding and become monetized. Still, can scientists be graceful in self-promoting? If not, psychologists have found, Humblebragcan backfire.

[W]e tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones,which can be exacerbated when sharing information at a distance.

Make of all this what you wish. I end this tract with a decisive declaration: I abhor self-promotion. As a traditionalist in career matters, I find it contrary to the foundational ethic of contributions to community without consciously self-serving and -aggrandizing ones individual feats. That sounds old-fashioned and probably detrimental to glorifying ones achievements. But our deeds should speak louder than our words. They should stand without the nudge of personality, personal web pages, or ballyhooed impact factors.

Let others, perhaps our own students and peers near and far, tweet about the content we offer. We should modestly propose, while others hail or dispose.