Social Media for Science | A surefire success or just another online slush pile?

Source: Nevit Dilmen

Some people absolutely love coffee and just can’t seem to get enough of it; while others, if ‘forced’ to meet at a Coffee House, would likely order anything but coffee. Interestingly, social media shares a similar parallel in its consumption by advocates and dissidents alike.

What I find intriguing, is that at least in the case of coffee, more often than not, most people venture a sip of it before they decide whether to continue further. But for social media, I wonder why there are countless people who wouldn’t go anywhere near it even if they’ve never tried it. Why the die-hard reluctance?

Well, it’s hard to pin point any one reason as the overriding repel factor. But it’s quite likely that there’s an issue of credibility somewhere in the haystack of reasons. Perhaps, adding a social media component like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs would detract from the serious nature of an organisation.

For naysayers, social media doesn’t offer any particular advantage as ‘it’s not about the medium but about the message.’ And yet others, social media apparently has huge privacy and security issues, invites a lot of spam including advertising, and annoys with constant notifications.

All things considered, there’s probably some truth of in all of the minuses that come with using social media. That said, social media, if well managed, can be an incredibly powerful platform to build up and engage with an online community. Better, it has the potential to transform something as traditionally ‘exclusive’ and ‘aloof’ as science into something accessible and even interesting for the lay person!

Here’s a brief look at how social media and blogs in particular are making positive imprints on the way science is being consumed:

1.       Enabling people to respond to the breaking news environment

There’s a considerable lag in the time it takes researchers to research something, report it and get it published and printed. Blogging allows one to instantly bridge the time lag between what a researcher or scientist knows and what the readers know.

2.        Connecting to people via a dynamic exchange highway

Instead of just having science journalists write about a paper and relay the findings to the public, through social media, we now have a two-way exchange whereby science journalists interact with scientists and other critiques that may have something to say about the paper. This allows for really rich and rapid vetting and conversation about the paper.

3.       Offering greater coverage

Through blogs, scientists and science journalists are able to get their story out to the public in a meaningful way, in a far more detailed way that one might get in the average 5-600 word newspaper report. This freedom from space limitations allows scientists to air their complete viewpoints when responding to a clear, detailed and compelling blog post.

4.       Lifting the persona of reclusive scientists

For the longest time, people have the perception of science teeming with people who are very analytical and boring. Social media has been slowly but surely changing that by offering scientists a way to put themselves out there and allowing them a route to have a public discussion in what they are interested in. This way, people are able to see what scientists are like in ‘real’ life and can get excited about their work.

5.       Levelling out the gender bias

The sphere of influence of women scientists is arguably smaller than that of men. But blogging seems to ‘level out’ this gender bias by allowing users to take on various pseudonyms when they write up various blog posts. This allows female scientists to be read by what they have to say and not what they look like.

6.       Offering a fun writing laboratory for mass consumption  

A blog isn’t something you have to write in a specific way and in a specific format. You can use it to do almost anything in science writing. There are science blogs written for people at all reading levels—from kindergarten to post-doctorate.

To say that ‘social media helps the careers of every scientist’ would be a romantic delusion. Truth be told, a number of them get nothing but a sliver of pleasure out of blogging, which has no bearing on their careers or the nature of their work.

What we can be sure though, is that more and more people have come into the blogging scene, dissecting and explaining research to a lay audience. There has been an explosion in the size and arguably in the quality and prominence of science blogs.

‘Blogs’ no longer are perceived to be a dirty word (for some people anyway!) and over time science bloggers are slowly but surely establishing themselves as experts in the field, as trusted sources of information. Naturally, their differentiation lies not only in their various fields of expertise but also in their writing styles and proficiencies.

While the future of social media’s hold on science is uncertain, it seems like blogging will continue to suffer detractors who will do all they can to resist its charms, not that advocates will mind one bit as they continue populating the blogosphere at every given opportunity.

Well, that’s it from me. Have a good one whatever you’re into—coffee or otherwise!

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