Wouldn’t it be grand to have your own creative, digital space? An opportunity to showcase your latest scientific findings, without peer-review rejection? While the answer is usually Yes!, scientists and researchers are reluctant to use the wide range of online tools to discuss their science. Places of social media platforms like blogs, personalized websites, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn or group chats. Social media in science is uncommon. But, why?
There are a few reasons…
First, scientists are trained to be cautious individuals. What we know and understand today isn’t total. Tomorrow brings new knowledge due to uncontrollable circumstances. While this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is a significant issue.
Second, social media is opinionated, biased, and emotional. On the other hand, science is factual, bounded, and stoic.
Third, possibly the most important one, there remains a fear of repercussion. Basically, if you find yourself discussing with people outside of your circle, you’re inviting unnecessary criticism. Thankfully, as more audiences flock to the internet, we can see an enrichment of knowledge. Regardless, open access and open science are strong scientific movements which do not appear to be letting up any time too soon. And those willing to pave the way for others to explore their science will have an advantage over the older population who are unwilling.
“The real question is not why social media in science isn’t used, rather, why should scientists bother using social media?”
Short answer: Researchers have better control over the success of their projects. Take for example the GM Nation Debate or Climate Change Debate. For both of these situations, politicians and media shaped the public’s opinion. Scientists were left out of the equation. Science is a societal construct set up to serve the public.
If you will allow the following metaphor…
Think of this from a business perspective. As a business owner I want to provide a service for my client. I want to know the needs of my client, and for my client to tell me if solving their problems. If my client decides they aren’t happy with my product they will shop elsewhere. I don’t want to lose my client, so I’m not going to outsource communication needs to a third-party source which deals in politics. Also, I’m not going to have unspecialised politicians translate my science. I need someone who knows how to talk science.
When you present your information publicly or when you control the precise language of it, you are saying, I have nothing to hide. You open yourself to criticism, but you find yourself strengthened by incorporating new concepts into the research.
You may be asking at this point: So, what can be done?
Scientists need to learn to communicate their science to a new audience through a different medium. Learning to speak not just peer-review, but also public-review. Get online, immerse into communication studies, take a course to teach yourself, or speak directly to your audience of choice.
Remember wherever the people are, the media and politicians will follow. Academic institutions and independent research needs funding. The most highly funded proposals are the ones which show the best-fit solution for a societal issue. The ones with a high degree of favour in the public eye.
Universities once were approached by media personnel, media now approach news shared on the web. If your science is lacking visibility, you will lack in funding opportunities. The public have made themselves a strong force by aggregating in these digital spaces.
Enter the digital sphere, channel your inner Habermas, speak openly.
Social media tools available and how they work:
LinkedIn is for business proposals, Twitter is media-focused, and Facebook is for imagery conversations. Mailchimp offers niche focused audience metrics, it tells you how interested the public is in your immediate conversations. WhatsApp offers in real-time conversations through group chatting. Reddit is so niche-specific, many of your enthusiastic hobbyists can bring you collaborative concepts and publications. Reddit is great at finding a key demographic for spreading knowledge.
Why should people take a course in social media communications?
One of the better reasons for taking a course using social media in science is you can learn what the individual tools do and how to best use them. Do you know, Facebook users are looking at videos? Furthermore, the best time to submit a video for increased visibility on Facebook is at 6 am? That specific knowledge is hidden from view. When you take a course of study, you can learn these technicalities.
By guest blogger Melissa Hoover
This text was revised in 2018. The blog was first published in 2016.