A couple of weeks ago I was reproached on Facebook for overenthuiastic tweeting and my apparent affinity for hashtagging. Here’s a sampling of their criticisms:
“what’s with all these GD pound signs?”
In their defense, I hadn’t quite figured out how to selective tweet and so was probably spamming their feed, which coincidentally looks a lot like a Twitter feed. Regardless, I felt rebuked by my peers and I have to admit, it stung a little bit.
Full disclosure: I hated the very thought of “tweeting” at first. I was under the impression that tweets were basically glorified “Away Messages”–remember those?– or a medium for people to spit out attention-grabbing, sometimes clever, sometimes funny one-liners. And in reality, a lot of Twitter IS just that. However, coinciding with the launch of my blog, I decided to join Twitter under the strong advice of a very capable, scientific blogger (@Katie_PhD) as a means to advertise and network. I don’t regret following her input and here are the reasons why I think Twitter can help science:
Twitter has been my stock ticker of science news, constantly updating with stories and commentary. I haven’t felt this up-to-date on popular science, policy and outreach in years…maybe ever. I’d go as far to say that in many ways Twitter (and also blogging) has rekindled this disenchanted, graduate student’s interest in all things science, which had long gone dormant. And yes, the news cycle is fast, but I don’t fear missing anything since most of the days science stories is retweeted.
My Wishlist: what’s trending amongst my followers/followees rather than globally.
Information is disseminated and can be accessed quickly, which can be used to promote your research or exploited as a tool to mobilize people into action–think the Arab Spring, in which both Twitter and Facebook were instrumental. Of more relevance to this blog, it was used to rally opposition against the Research Works Act (#RWA). Furthermore, rapid movement of knowledge is inline with a trend toward more “open science.”
Unlike other social media, Twitter is decidedly public in nature. You have access to people outside of your normal circles or networks since strangers can follow your tweets. Think about it, when was the last time you friended a stranger on Facebook. Never. It doesn’t happen because it’s weird. Twitter allows you to interact with strangers without it feeling, for the most part, creepy. I am, therefore, able to get my blog out to a larger audience faster. And for those concerned about privacy, the simple interface means that profiles are very limited. The only thing that’s public, really, is what you tweet.
For many comedians, the Twitter format is a godsend. It allows their personalities to shine through in 140 characters or less (read: one-liners). And it’s an art, which I think @michaelianblack absolutely kills. Now, I know this is hard to believe, but lo and behold, there are funny scientists. And witty ones. And interesting ones. And some of them are on Twitter. What’s great about Twitter is that it lends itself to the re-branding and re-headlining of science news (and all news really) through wit, sarcasm, insight and commentary. This is all value-added, and can make the difference between whether someone reads an article or not. Random example from my feed:
This was a quote from an article written by Ed Yong (@edyong209) about male spiders that detach their penis* after sex to avoid getting eaten by the female (Spiders dodge cannibalism through remote copulation, the article appears in Nature, thus the more straightforward headline).
Another random example:
Ultimately, Twitter can help make science more accessible to the public. One of my goals in starting this blog was to increase science accessibility to the public and bridge the divide between the public and science. I think an effective way of doing this is through humor and personality. And in a larger context, the issue of personality is important because where before scientists have been pigeonholed into the role of the dull and charmless nerd, there is now pushback. For evidence, check out these projects: This is What a Scientist Looks Like and I am Science.
I hope this stops the #hate.
Twitter for Scientists (Reason #3, in particular)