News: AAAS 2013 Annual Meeting News
Scientists Called to Take up Social Media
Scientists urged their peers to blog, tweet, and tumbl about their research, in a “Communicating Science” seminar at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Why use social media?
The Internet has surpassed newspapers as a secondary source of news for the general public in the U.S. For those under 30, the Internet is their primary source for national or international news. Scientific information in particular is accessed by most Americans online rather than via television, print or radio.
All three speakers in a session titled “Engaging with Social media” cited these statistics, stressing that if scientists are not utilizing social media, they’re not communicating to the majority of the U.S. population. Christie Wilcox, a PhD student at the University of Hawaii studying venomous fish, noted that only 28 percent of Americans can answer basic science questions.
The audience laughed over the idea that most of the population may not know the Earth revolves around the Sun, but Christie said, “that might be funny if science wasn’t intertwined with the political atmosphere we’re dealing with now.”
Scicurious asking the audience if they are regular users of the Internet.
(Credit: AAAS Staff)
Over 680,000 status updates are shared on Facebook every minute, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second, and 4,000 tweets per second are sent on Twitter, according to Christie. “You can reach thousands of people with a single tweet, but you may only talk to a handful of people in person during one day,” she said.
Scientists have fallen behind the curve on using social media. Only about 60% of professors have social media accounts, according to Christie. A survey of lab managers revealed that over half had no social media accounts. Without social media outreach, scientists limit how many people they communicate with, Christie said.
“If we’re trying to communicate science or trying to do science outreach, but we’re not on social media, you might as well be the proverbial tree in the forest. Sure, we’re making a lot of noise, but no one is listening,” Christie said.
How can scientists use social media?
When a scientist writes a book about their research, the people who pick it up at a bookstore are already interested in science. These people are important, but they make up a small percentage of the population. “It’s important to reach the people who aren’t already interested in science. They need to know where their tax money is going for that we have the Internet,” said another panelist, who blogs under the name “Scicurious.”
In 2008, Scicurious stumbled into blogging during her third-year of graduate school. She wanted to branch out and try something outside the lab, and the pseudonym Scicurious was born. So began her journey of sharing scientific information through her blog and creating a charismatic online persona for herself.
If an article goes viral online and reaches people through Twitter or Facebook networks, it may reach people who would not have otherwise seen it, Scicurious explained.
Social media help make science a relatable experience for the general public and give scientists a human personality outside the lab, the panelists said. On Twitter, for example, the trending hashtag “#overlyhonestmethods” was used by scientists to share comedic snapshots of their research methods.
Dominique Brossard promoting caution when using social media.
(Credit: AAAS Staff)
Many scientists may not have enough time to create content for a blog. Fortunately, other platforms such as Facebook offer efficient ways to share scientific information. According to Scicurious, with 67 percent of Internet users on Facebook, scientists are likely to reach a network of people they would not otherwise communicate with.
A word of caution
The session closed with words of caution about using social media to communicate scientific information to the public. A study in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication has shown that the tone of blog comments can influence the perception of the reader.
“There was an interaction with how people felt about the article and whether the comments were rude or not,” said Dominique Brossard, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
The study found that when online comments about an article are rude or derogatory, the reader is more likely to come away with a negative view of the technology or research highlighted in the piece, even when the article was written in a balanced way. A set of rules or guidelines for blogs to shape how comments are made can mitigate this problem and could start to shape online etiquette, according to Brossard.
All rights reserved.
|Annual Meeting News|