Science and Social Media – Part 1

I recently made a joint presentation on the benefits of social media use by scientists at our Earth Surface Dynamics research group away day. The audience consisted of everyone from first year phd researchers all the way through to three professors and it would fair to say there were a broad mix of converts and skeptics from the outset. My colleague Trev Bond talked about the benefits of blogging, while I framed the topic and discussed the uses of Twitter. By popular request (well one person) I’m going to summarise the presentation in a couple of blog posts, firstly the question of why scientists should consider social media and the second dealing with Twitter specifically.

I remain to be convinced about the nomenclature “Academic Spring”, but there is no doubt there is an increasing interest in the way science is funded and reported. One area in which I believe the scientific community will have to adapt is to let the public see inside the Black Box of Science; from a layman’s point of view money is poured (or trickled!) into this box and at some point in the future scientific papers emerge. There are many reservations about opening up the process of research such as having ideas stolen and losing the originality of findings by “publishing” them on social media. However I believe with sensible use, social media can be a valuable tool in engaging people with the process of scientific research as well as for communicating findings.

It is not inconceivable for such engagement in one form or another being a prerequisite for funding in the future, indeed NERC already say on their website;

“Two-way interaction is essential to ensure that NERC’s science is useful and used in [the government & public]  sector. We need to engage policy makers and other public sector bodies in our research from the outset, to ensure its relevance. You need to be able to access and understand our scientific outputs”.

If we accept the premise that in the future scientists will need to demonstrate engagement in their research, the question becomes not why should we use social media now, but why not get ahead of the curve before we are forced to find ways of engaging? Indeed it stands to reason if engagement becomes linked in some way to funding success those researchers who have a track record will be much better placed than those who have been forced into it kicking and screaming.

More generally interactions with stakeholders can be valuable for both parties and Stuart Lane from Lausanne (formerly Durham) has previously advocated stakeholder engagement in flood risk research projects from the outset. In doing so stakeholders feel more in touch with the research and potentially valuable community knowledge can be tapped by the researchers. The idea of engagement is not a new one, we simply have more potential tools to achieve it.

In the next post I will go into some specific examples for potential uses of Twitter for academics.



  1. […] Yesterday I gave a brief overview of the role social media may be able to play to improve science engagement. The final part of the presentation Trev Bond and I gave was the case for using Twitter to achieve this. Thanks to Fiona Murphy (@DrFionaLM) for suggesting we blog the talk (due to the ironically rubbish powerpoint slides)! […]

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