Monday, November 11, 2013

Marc Kuchner about his book "Marketing for Scientists"

[My recent post about the marketing of science and scientists lead to a longer discussion on facebook. I offered Marc Kuchner, author of the mentioned book "Marketing for Scientists" a place to present his point of view here. My questions are marked with B, his replies with M.]

B: Who is your book aimed at and why should they read it?

M: Most of my readers are postdocs and graduate students, but Marketing for Scientists is for anyone with a scientific bent who is interested in learning the techniques of modern marketing.

B: You are marketing marketing for scientists as a service to others. I like that and have to say this was the main reason I read your book. Can you expand?

M: I think scientists need better tools to compete today in the marketplace of ideas. Only one out of ten American adults can correctly describe what a "molecule" is. But everybody knows who Sarah Palin is. The climate change deniers understand marketing perfectly well.

B: The point of tenure is to free researchers from the need to serve others and allow them to follow their interests without being influenced by peer pressure, public pressure or financial pressure. I think this is essential for unbiased judgement and that marketing, regardless of whether you call it a service to others, negatively affects scientific objectivity and renders the process of knowledge discovery inefficient. Your advice is good advice for the individual but bad advice for the community. What do you have to say in your defense?

Our community already uses marketing. Every proposal you submit, every scientific paper you write, and every presentation you give is a piece of marketing. But sometimes we scientists aren’t clear with ourselves that we are in fact marketing our work. We call it “networking” or “communication” or “grantsmanship” or what have you, hiding the true nature of our efforts. So first I like to peel back the taboos, take off the white gloves and take an honest look at the marketing we scientists already do.

Then I want every scientist to learn how to do it better—to learn how to use the latest and greatest marketing techniques. If you picture our community as competing only with each other for a fixed slice of the pie then of course you could get the impression that there’s nothing to be gained by improving our marketing savvy. But the science pie is not fixed. In America, it’s shrinking! We scientists need to update our marketing skills to widen the impact of science as a whole. That’s good for the whole community.

B: I am afraid that marketing and advertising will erode the public's trust in science and scientists and that this is already happening. Do you not share my concerns?

Indeed, nobody likes billboards and commercials. But the practice of marketing has changed since the era of Mad Men. I try to teach scientists how modern marketing means co-creating with the customer, being receptive to feedback, and being open and honest. Those are values that scientists have always had, values that build trust in today’s new companies (think Google, Apple, TOMS shoes). These values can help rebuild the public’s trust in science.

B: Are you available for seminars and how can people reach you?

Thanks, Sabine! For more information about the Marketing for Scientists book and the Marketing for Scientists workshops, go to or email me at


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A 60 - 80 wt-% water hydrogel cannot have the mechanicals of silicone rubber nor the refractive index of Plexiglas (gel contact lens). The competing academic had three years' industrial funding. His Theory of Experiment thick sheaf of response surfaces was Officially bright with portent. Know things, the Polymer Handbook, one Uncle Al experiment, then Invulneron.

    How is the scientist who has not yet done it to be sold? Sales commissions from marketing flashy mediocrity offer a culture of bombastic failure, an Obama future. Mr. Kuchner trumpets the middle way and the eightfold path, the irresistible buoyancy of excrement. 21st century success is being the conduit not the filling.

  3. There is honest and effective communication of ideas.

    And then there is hype, which may be quite effective, but is usually less than honest, i.e., not telling the whole balanced story and ignoring negative evidence.

    Because the term "marketing" comes from the profit-driven world, it has a shady connotation.

    Is there a better term for what is desired in the scientific world?

    Has the distinction between these two worlds been blurred of late?

  4. It's easy to become successful in tough times - just research something useful for people, not just for the rest of scientists.

    For example, the quantum gravitists could research the scalar waves and antigravity drives, which would fit their qualification scope comfortably.

  5. Thank you, Zephir, for your valuable advice and for being such a great example to all of us.


    Zephiroid borborygmus solving a complex problem. Watch the second orbit that plots the net path. This is an uncomfortable metaphor for 10^500 acceptable vacua, SUSY/MSSM superpartners, and dark matter.

  7. I can't believe this guy uses climate change as an example of weak marketing savvy, as opposed to that of the climate change "deniers." If you want a really good example of scientists marketing their "product" with maximum efficiency and effectiveness you can look no further than the tactics of the "global warming" crowd.

    What was that huge blockbuster movie of Al Gore solemnly lecturing us about how we have to DO SOMETHING and DO IT NOW if not a perfect example of marketing at its most ambitious and sophisticated? Carl Sagan's "Billions and Billions" pales before the apocalyptic visions invoked on the wide screen by gory Al.

    Al's marketing was so effective that it led almost immediately to 1. the advent of mandated ethanol production on such a huge scale it created a very serious food shortage and 2. the revival of the nuclear power industry, now being "marketed" as the surefire cure for carbon overload.

    And what slogan coming out of the world of advertizing has been more widely quoted than that immortal phrase: "The Science." As though climate science took precedence over simple common sense and critical thinking.

  8. 'If all researchers had Marc Kuchner's "sell yourself" attitude, we'd end up with a community full of good advertisers, not full of good scientists.'

    Kuchner never tells us to lie, or exaggerate the facts. He only tells us how to better communicate our results, not how to make them look better than they are. A paper, no matter how good results it contains, may be presented in a very poor form, and the great ideas may be hidden because we don't know to emphasize them. We want our papers to be read, our talks to be attended, etc.

    People are subjective, and they will never admit that their preference toward a product is influenced that much by advertisement. People don't like to admit that advertising has such a power on them.
    Especially scientists. We hate when we are told that the way scientific results are evaluated is subjective, and that marketing is important in science too.
    We would like to be treated correctly, and we hope that the guys up-there in the top of the academia read thoroughly our papers, no matter how poorly are written, and compare them by using objective criteria with the others, and then give us the fair grants. But we all know this is not the case. Nobody is omniscient, nobody has the time to read everything in their field, hence it is impossible to make the ideal assessments of the research of our peers. For each application to an academic job or a grant, you are required to present 3-4 letters of recommendation from more senior colleagues. Does anyone believe that it doesn't matter who they are, and from what institutions? The winners are those better at marketing. We may hate this, but this is the sad truth. A web page is ranked by Google according to its page rank, which is a way to measure how much it is referred by other pages. There are similar page ranks in science, and they are used now to decide the quality of the papers, although they were initially developed for the use of librarians. Does anyone believe that the impact factors grow just because other scientists read all the papers equidistantly and decide what to cite? Everybody knows that we read most of the time based on recommendations, the name of the author, of the journal, etc. Very rarely we adventure "outside" to read a paper by someone we never heard of. Especially if it is not on arXiv. Branding is everywhere: the institute, the adviser, the team, the grant, the journal, the archive, the citations etc. Among the marketing tools we use: talks, interviews, public outreach, blogs etc.

    In addition of helping us communicate better, Kuchner's book makes us be more aware that Darwinism is present in science, that some use the most dirty tricks to win the game of science. Like those mentioned by Bee:

    'In quantum gravity phenomenology, you will frequently see claims that something has been derived when in fact it wasn't derived, or that something is a result, when in fact it is an ad-hoc assumption.'

    But we don't like to be told that maybe we are winning the game of science because we are good at marketing. So we reject the very idea, and try to separate ourselves from it. Especially we hate that we may be using marketing and we don't know. But we can't avoid it, because marketing is everywhere.


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