Why do birds tweet?
strong coverage in social media likely to be cited more in the future,
social media is also the tool that allows us to communicate directly
with the general public. In a time of fiscal crisis, when austerity
diminishes national research budgets we, researchers should be able to
show that our work has value. People should have an opportunity to
discuss our research and judge it from a moral, ethical, political or
any other point of view. And we should be able to defend them.
The majority of researchers do not use social media in their work,
yet some of their colleagues are very active in persuading them to
change their mind. So I think it is important to answer the question
whether social media is good for academic workers or is it a waste of
time, that could be spend on research or teaching? The fact is that
participating in on-line discussions and reading all the posts that
appear in your feed and can be very time consuming, and no one should
think that he or she will build solid on-line presence with no work.
One of the most striking examples, of the view of some academics on
social media and blogging involvement, was the negative grant review
that claimed that “Eisen (…) may
not have the bandwidth to coordinate this on such a large project
alone, especially given his high time commitment to his blog”. To be
honest I am also impressed by the fact that Jonathan Eisen is able to
be so active on the Internet and coordinate the work of his laboratory
at the same time, although I know that some people simply spend less
time sleeping and resting. Anyway, if we assume that tweeting or
blogging needs work, is it worth it once in a while?
In my opinion there are 5 main advantages of social media involvement.
1) It may foster your career development
Research has shown that the correlation between social media coverage
(represented by altmetrics scores, which includes the main social media
platforms and blogs) and citations is relatively low, although the main
reason for this low correlation is the fact that fewer papers attract
social media attention than those that get cited. Being both cited and
attracting social media attention is the privilege of a relatively small
number of papers, but there are still plenty of papers that achieve
some citations but have no social media coverage.
On the other hand, articles that have strong coverage in social media
are likely to be more cited in the future. A big number of tweets or
posts about an article brings it to more viewers and results
consequently in more downloads. There is a long distance between
readership and citation. Some articles that are well known might rarely
be cited, depending on the topic (e.g. it is usually easier to get
citations when describing new methods than presenting new outputs, see
the post “What we can learn from recent citation rankings”),
although it is quite certain that heavily tweeted articles increase an
author’s recognizability and increase the probability of being cited.
(Need further reading? Try here:1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5)
Having your own social media profile, increases the possibility that
other people will post or tweet about you and your research. It also
gives you an opportunity to influence and maintain the current
discussion about your works.
Good social media usage may also increase your ability to make new
academic connections, but remember that it will not replace physical
involvement in the scientific community.
Conceptual model of the relationship between social attention, article view and citation
Image source: Xianwen Wang, Chen Liu, Zhichao Fang, Wenli Mao, From Attention to Citation, What and How Does Altmetrics Work? ArXiv:1409.4269 [cs.DL]
2) Discussion lies at the heart of academia
Social media abolishes the limits of time and space, making
discussions boundless. This is really what science is about. I am pretty
sure that immediate international feedback may make you a better
researcher, although do not be disappointed when it does not come. A lot
of researchers in your field fight for international attention. But
regardless thanks to Internet you can easily discuss your work with a
colleague in a different location to yours. This might be useful.
3) We, the researchers, depend on public funding and we should be able
to convince the general public that academic research is valuable and
I hold a PhD in sociology, and to be honest when I analyse the public
debate from the 60s and 70s, I think that something bad has happened to
our society. Research outputs in the fields of the humanities and
social science used to be a regular part of the everyday debate about
politics, social problems, culture and ethical issues that we were
facing 40 or more years ago. And in my opinion, they are not any more.
Now information from these fields is only breaking into the mainstream
if it can be reduced to short, simple news, which does not contradict
dominant opinions. 20 years ago we could blame the journalists and media
producers for this fact, but we cannot do this today. Social media is
the tool that allows us to communicate directly with the general public,
politicians, opinion leaders, journalists and anyone who is interested
in our work. In a time of fiscal crisis, when austerity diminishes
national research budgets we, the social researchers should be able to
show the general public that our work has value. Otherwise our
disciplines will plunge into dangerous stagnation, and will probably
disappear in the future. It is for this reason, that since our work has
value, that it will also be bad for society to lose it. Thus we have an
obligation toward ourselves and towards the general public to prevent
this loss, and now we have the tools to do so. (This point was made earlier by Carly Strasser).
4) Society has the right to be informed about our research and to discuss it openly
“Every scientist should also be a popularizer and should be trained
to be so. Because people need to know where we are, and need to make
decisions.” – told me Sergio Canavero, who is researching head transplants.
This is right. People should have an opportunity to discuss our
research and to judge it from moral, ethical, political or any other
point of view. And we should be able to defend them. Whether we like it
or not, we are part of a broader, collective entity and all the time we
use public funding (even when we have a private scholarship, we often
build on the work of other researchers which are publicly funded).
5) We should be able to attract high school students to our work to find followers
This is also important to me. And social media might be very useful here.
Of course there is a big difference between using social media to
communicate with peer scientists (which is important to develop your
research and career) and popularization. But in the case of social media
this difference is as small as possible and lies in language only.
Believe me that journalists, popularizers and passionates use social
media to follow the works of professional scientists, even if they
themselves do not try to be understandable.
Why do birds tweet? | Open Science