Back to front page

Message from the Chair of the Board

Message from the Director General

Enhancing the role of forests in mitigating and adapting to climate change

Building momentum on the road to Copenhagen

REDD: an idea whose time has come

Forests for adaptation and adaptation for forests

Industry challenges conservationists to raise the bar

Improving livelihoods through smallholder and community forestry

Harvesting forests to reduce poverty

Making the most of Burkina Faso’s gum harvest

Sweetening the deal for Zambia’s honey industry

Shifting the balance of power

Managing trade-offs between conservation and development at the landscape scale

Co-management for co-benefits

Charting a course for collaboration

Tracking change to find a balance

Managing the impacts of globalised trade and investment of forests and forest communities

Research delivers return on investment

Tracking the proceeds of crime

Sustainably managing tropical production forests

Sustaining Cameroon’s forests

Logging for biodiversity

Reforming the bushmeat trade

Sharing Knowledge with policy makers and practitioners

Publish or perish?

Found in translation


Publish or perish?

Most of the people who decide how to use forests have little or no access to scientific research that could help them make better decisions. This has serious consequences both for forest-dwelling people and for conservation. Research by Patricia Shanley and Citlalli Lopez explored why so many scientists are bad at sharing their knowledge, and what could be done to improve communication with policy makers and local communities.


Out of the loop: why research rarely reaches policy makers and the public describes the findings of a survey of more than 300 scientists from 29 countries. Forty-three per cent said other scientists were the most important audience for their research, with just 15.2 per cent saying that policy makers were their most important audience. A mere 7.4 per cent considered women and marginalised people to be their most important audiences. Only 0.5 per cent considered private sector organisations, such as timber companies, as their most important audience.


Fifty-four per cent of scientists surveyed considered research papers to be the most important factor in their performance assessment, yet only 11.4 per cent considered peer-reviewed journals, where they published their papers, as effective tools for promoting conservation and development.


‘About 30 years ago, health workers realised that basic knowledge which could reduce disease and preventable deaths wasn’t getting through to the people who needed it.’


Patricia Shanley
CIFOR scientist












  1. Patricia Shanley talks to landowner Mangueira about the value of forest fruits and medicinal plants in the Brazilian Amazon. For the past 12 years, Shanley has asked Mangueira to keep track of the benefits he has derived from his forest, from fruits to medicines. While others have sold their forests to the logging companies, Mangueira leaves his unlogged.
    Photo by Joel Sartore



‘Part of the problem stems from the fact that many scientists are reluctant to form partnerships with non academics and plain language communicators, as they see this as posing a risk to their academic careers,’ says Shanley. ‘What matters to them, and their institutions, is getting articles into peer-reviewed journals, which often reach a tiny audience.’


Even scientists who are keen to share their knowledge face serious obstacles. Many have little knowledge or expertise about how to disseminate their findings, and in any case they often lack the funds to do so. As a result, an enormous amount of scientific knowledge fails to reach organisations and individuals who could use it to manage the environment better and improve their own lives.


The contrast with the health sector is striking.


‘About 30 years ago, health workers realised that basic knowledge which could reduce disease and preventable deaths wasn’t getting through to the people who needed it,’ says Shanley. ‘Since then, the health sector has done a lot of research on knowledge transfer. Conservation biologists, on the other hand, haven’t figured out how to do this properly yet.’ It is time they did.


Shanley and Lopez acknowledge the importance of the peer-review system, which guarantees rigour in science.


‘But this shouldn’t preclude packaging research findings in a way that reaches policy makers, forest communities and others who could benefit from them,’ says Shanley. She believes CIFOR has made some good progress in recent years, and many of its scientists have begun to use manuals, maps, posters, videos and other materials to get their message across to a wider audience.


Shanley and Lopez propose a number of measures to promote better transfer of knowledge. Research institutions could restructure their incentive systems to encourage scientists to disseminate their research findings more widely. Scientists and students could design their projects to support the co-production of knowledge to meet the needs of end users. Donors could require projects to include the sharing of research results in an accessible format at research sites, and dissemination to reach civil society and policy makers.


But it won’t be easy.


‘Many scientists recognise this dilemma of publish or perish,’ says Shanley. ‘But given the disincentives, few are likely to buck the system and devote the energy and time needed to sharing their research findings in a way which has real impact beyond the scientific community.’