Old, conventional methods out: Scientists discover the power of Twitter

Scientists are ditching old methods of promoting their work, instead using new and entertaining way to create buzz. Twitter, alongside Facebook, is the new platform for keeping the public informed about science and the issues circulating the industry. Salam Hasanein reports.

SCIENTISTS are forever adopting new methods to create interest around their industry and their work. Encouraging young people to consider a career in science is also crucial.

Students have for years been disinterested in science leaving many industry professionals using Facebook and Twitter to educate and promote the benefits of obtaining a career in science. During VCE, just 32 percent of students choose science subjects, with many shifting their focus to other career paths.

According to ABC’s Bernadette Hobbs, more public awareness about science is needed to get more people interested in the field.

“There is a big push for public understanding of science,” says Bernadette.

“You will often get organizations running public forums for this reason.

In 2012, the program for International Student Assessment showed Australia ranked low in science. Results showed Australia was 10th and 16th in science, revealing a slip in student’s performance since 2009 compared to countries around the world. The poor result forced scientists to use Twitter in an artistic context to create interest amongst the students, with the aim of getting students involved in scientific events.

Gen Y are the largest consumers of this form of social networking. Statistics reveal 14-17 year-olds spend 87 percent chatting to friends, 82 percent listening to music and 79 percent for school-related research. We now live in a society where most prefer this form of networking. The days of promoting through websites and conferences are proving to be inefficient in this new era of technology. After all websites are old fashioned (well for Gen Y). Social media is entertaining, easily accessible on any device and not to mention free, why would anyone detest this communication tool?
Industry professionals are also using social media to promote their work. There is a growing trend around scientists to use Twitter to advertise their research papers.

Researchers at the University of Montreal investigated 1.4 million articles published on PubMed and the Web of Science databases. The study looked at the amount of times peer reviewed articles appeared on Twitter and found that during the three-year study, there was an increase in the amount of articles cited on the network with figures reaching 20.4 percent in 2012.The research concluded in part, that just as social media has become part of our daily consumption for news, this new platform offers new opportunities for science communicators to gain publicity for their work.

As scientists embark on the journey of writing their journal articles, these two questions often come to mind. How can I demonstrate that my journal article has influenced and gained publicity by the public? How do I know if my journal article is receiving attention by the public? Long before Twitter existed, scientists had to follow the traditional method of advertising their articles. Websites were the avenue many scientists used to publish their work. Though, the emergence of advanced communication processes coming into the limelight in recent years have permitted scientist’s to reach their audiences in a different setting. The old method is the ancient method.

A tracking systems for articles advertised on Twitter has emerged on the scenes, Altmetrics. So what is Altmetrics?

Altmetrics is a simple tool that measures the amount of times a research article gets cited, tweeted, downloaded and viewed. If a research article gets favoured or bookmarked, through Altmetrics, scientists can see this and other discussions surrounding their work.  So why wouldn’t scientist’s use this tool in combination with Twitter?
Alexis Madrigal from the Atlantic revealed that articles, which received numerous re-tweets, had a higher percentage of getting cited than those that received fewer tweets. As scientists are aware, it often takes months to years for a scientific publication to cite research findings by other scientists. With the average tweet about journal articles occurring within the first two days of being posted, researchers can now indicate which journal is most valuable.

Twitter has other advantages for its use. Having previously worked in the science industry and experiencing it first hand, scientists are more often than not considered as boring, humourless individuals who spend the majority of their time studying. Though not entirely untrue about the studying part (doesn’t mean they are boring) twitter can publicise their personality and promote their interests.

Lets consider long-time media personality (and now politician) Derryn Hinch (currently with 44, 054 followers) who uses Twitter as a tool to promote his website the “Human Headline” and to express his emotions towards sex offenders. Now I know many would be thinking, Derryn Hinch was a well know media personality well before Twitter ever existed (which I undoubtedly agree), though we cannot hide the fact that Twitter has aided in advertising many of his campaigns, like getting convicted sex offenders on the national public register list. If Derryn can do it. So can scientists.
Whether using Twitter for fame, fun, or as an educational tool we can all agree that Twitter has the capacity to reach large audiences and change people’s perceptions about topics frequently overlooked even if they are considered boring or insignificant to our lives.

Scientists have long feared there jobs will decline as a result of cuts to government funding. Despite this, the industry has continued to expand throughout the years with positions in science communication on a rise.
According to Bernadette Hobbs many positions are available in different areas.

“There has been an increase in positions for science communicators. If you wanted to write about science then university departments and research organisations are places that are hiring, “ said Bernadette.

Scientists have divided opinions about social media and at times reluctant to have news about their organisation published on these sites with many fearing the company’s image may be damaged if it is handled inappropriately or if organisational guidelines are breached. Though one would imagine that organisations would treat information they supply on Twitter with the same integrity they would on their website. Regardless of the platform used to communicate to an audience, any person representing an organisation should comply with copyright and legal guidelines (well we hope they do).

The exciting world of social media (when used correctly) opens many doors for discussions between scientists worldwide. Many scientists are realising Twitter can create interactions between the journalists, science communicators, teachers and students.

Employing social media as a communication tool enables scientists to promote their discoveries more rapidly and offers an opportunity for scientists to collaborate with one another.

With the distribution and amplification of information by a click of a button, organisations have endless flexibility to chase their target publics and introduce them to the great discoveries currently at hand and if the audience is enthusiastic about science, discussions are likely to result.

More information

Waite, C. (Dec01, 2011) Sociality Online: An Exploration Study into the Online Habits of Young Australians. Journal Article, Vol 30, Issue 4, p.17-24, 8p. 1 Chart. ISSN: 10382569 Accession Number: 69597851






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