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 intuitively Yes! scientists and researchers are reluctant to use the wide array of digital promotional tools to discuss their science. (Those promotional tools are social media platforms, i.e., blogs, personalized websites, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn, group chats, etc.) But, why?
There are a few reasons… First, if we examine the literature, you’re bound to unearth the deep underpinnings of science, Science Philosophy. Scientists are trained to be cautious individuals. What we know and understand today isn’t the know-all-tell-all, because tomorrow brings new knowledge due to uncontrollable variables such as time and space… While this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is a significant issue.
Second, social media is opinionated; it is biased; it is emotional. Science is factual, bounded, and stoic. It is the real that we understand today and can only be contested based on proof and evidence; repeatability.
And, third—probably the most important one—there remains a fear of repercussion or retribution from our fellow researchers or institutions. Almost to say, if you find yourself openly discussing with people outside of your peer-reviewed circles you’re inviting unnecessary criticism and unintelligence. Thankfully, as more and more audiences flock to the internet, we begin to see an enrichment of knowledge. (Regardless, researchers should come to accept the inevitable, 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 be the initial invitees welcoming audiences to explore their science will have an advantage over older dinosaurs unwilling to budge on principles.)
“The real question is not why scientists aren’t using social media, 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 public opinion. The scientists were left out of the equation. Science is a societal construct set up to serve the public. To service 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 I want my client to tell me if I am providing answers to solve 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, ergo, I’m not going to outsource communication needs to a third-party source which deals in politics. I’m not going to have unspecialised politicians translate my science. I need someone who knows how to talk science. That’s it.
When you present your information publicly, when you control the precise language of it, you are saying, I have nothing to hide and I know what I’m talking about. You open yourself to criticism, but you find yourself strengthened by incorporating new and possibly interdisciplinary 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 new medium. Learn to speak not just peer-review, but also, public-review. Get online. Delve into communication studies. Take a course specifically designed to teach yourself, to speak directly to your audience of choice.
Remember, wherever the people are, the media and politicians will and do follow. Academic institutions and independent research bodies need 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 favourability in the public eye.
Where once universities 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 whitepapers or business proposals, Twitter is media-focused, Facebook is for video and digital 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 interdisciplinary concepts and publications. Reddit is amazing at finding a key demographic for knowledge dissemination and creation.
Why should people take a course in social media communications?
- One of the better reasons for taking a course in social media communications as a scientist is that you can learn what the individual tools do and you can learn how to best use them. Do you know, Facebook users are looking at videos? Furthermore, do you know, the best time to submit a video for increased visibility on Facebook, specifically, is at 6 am? That specific knowledge is weirdly hidden from view. When you take a course of study, you can learn these technical nuances.
By guest blogger Melissa Hoover