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Scientists ARE using social media

Last updated on June 3, 2017

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Parallel Session II: Making science public: data-sharing, dissemination and public engagement with science


Ben Goldacre, Open blog

Cameron Neylon, Bad Science blog & Oxford University

Maxine Clarke, Nature

Chair: Felix Reed-Tsochas, Oxford University

Journals and peer-reviewed publications are still the most widely used channels through which research is disseminated within the scientific community and to a broader audience. However, social media are increasingly challenging the supremacy of editors, reviewers and science communicators. Blogging about science has become a new way of engaging ‘the public’ directly with researchers whilst researchers are increasingly using blogs within their own academic communities for peer-review purposes. Panellists will give their perspective on how social media have changed the nature of the scientific debate among scientists, and how they have impacted on engagement with the public understanding of science.

1. (Observation last night.) Two of the panelists list their blog as well as their academic affiliation. But are they academics too? Or borrowed for the occasion?

2. Missed opening remarks as struggled with weak internet connections here.

3. Now Cameron Neylon. Scientist – using social media as his lab notebook. No peer review. Ppl could steal data. But could [crowd-source] review. Then discovered other scientists using social media to “do science”. Maxine Clarke of Nature said few scientists use social media but it is a rapidly growing community.

Exp – publicize details – ask people to take mmts.

Describing typical 7 year cycle of a research project.

Who funded the prizes (journal subs) for students. Completed project in 6 mo with invited paper and publication. Much more efficient.


FRT: How much has interaction changed?

Ben Goldacre. Journos often get issues wrong and dumb down issues. Does journo science news inform people with science degrees who work in a variety of roles? Blogs can be niche (mindhacks on neuroscience and psychology). Imagine 2000 science blogs with 500 readers each talking to 1m people.

Royal Society Prizes for science books recently – 20K in prizes an more in admin – books selling 3000 copies only. Science Minister [google the spat] – committees have no new media experience.

Blogs encourage us to be clearer and sounder about what we write. Link culture. Journos don’t want you to know they’ve copied and pasted from a press release. Cited an example of not checking primary sources. We link to primary sources.

FTR: [Will blogs kill science journalism?]

BG: Old science journalism is dumbed down for us. We need a patchwork with better stuff for people who are informed.

FTR: Danger of sloppy journalism. But issue of quality and trust.

BG: Journos say internet is undistributed mush. Need to learn to use internet. Easy to tell when something is [rubbish]. Lots of dodgy stuff everywhere. Want more and let the street [filter].

Maxine Clarke: As editor, don’t equate blog in that way. But likes blogs and interaction. Nerdish quality – correct – find niche. Look for Open Lab.

BG: Disintermediation – 70% of science words on BBC Radio 4 are spoken by scientists themselves. Shepherded and coached to be clear – but speaking. Look at Radio 4 for examples.

Cameron Neylon. Abandon term public – don’t distinguish between public and scientists. Engage people with the scientists. Let people contribute to science – even be authors.

BG: Interdisciplinary communication. Semi-professional communication promotes . . . Need a place between newspapers and journals.

FTR: Will social media allow us to differentiate public?

Cameron Neylon: Arrogant and lazy toward non-scientists. Need not to be [snobbish]. Get support for funding.”public


Dussledorf: What keeps scientists from using Web2.0?

BG: Younger people use Web2.0? Get RAE to reward unmediated engagement with “public”. And pay or allow people to split jobs.

Maxine Clarke: Generational issues for journals like Nature. Friendfeed heated discussions about science.

Camero Neylon: Only just starting to explore social media for public and for science (see Friendfeed). New things are high risk strategies and they keep high risk behaviour for science. Won’t be taken seriously if you are out on a limb. People who are using Web2.0 are trying to get a tenured position. Some senior ppl involved. But 10 years in – more cautious.

BG. Use blogs as [scribble-pad] in lost cost threshold.


❓ Time to read academic reports. Likes Nature for summary. Few Twitters using service. How are inst. like Nature making money out of it.

Maxine Clarke. Highlights from Nature very popular. Making money isn’t a serious concern for making money online – still experimental. Lack of time – Nature Network – some blogs to work out problems but also just about lab life. Social not about scientific work itself. Scientists are cerebral – therefore enjoy blogs.

OII: Fighting against moral panics? Rapidity of moral panics in journo. How does peer review play into process? Blogging about something published is out of step with production of work – time gap huge.

Cameron Neylon: 6.5bn spent on science. 80% of cost is peer review – count peer review ideas by 95%. Small proportion of important ideas – use traditional methods. Straight out of instrument and blogged if need for instrument.

Ben Goldcre. Peer review is best of bad lot. What is a scientific publication. Document of record. Methods and results to be published. Different types of publications. Need to recognise two types.

Maxine Clarke. Peer review increases quality. 95% of biological papers are rejected and some passed on to other journals. Cited a journal that publishes online with peer reports – need tagging system.

FTR – audience separating production and differentiation. [lost question]

Maxine Clarke. More journals publishing peer reviews and opening up articles for comment. People tagged by subject. People don’t comment. Scientists conservative – assessed by publications. Power issues inhibit comment.

FTR- can social media change scientific debates.

Maxine Clarke. Widgets in newspapers to follow conversations – find hard to follow. Nature also makes txt accessible in “accessble” format. Conversation too fragmented.

Cameron Neylon. Publicatation is too high risk to be the place to innovate. . . online material not indexed by medline. Conversations in different part of research cycle.

BG: Structural issues. Draw strands together about topic – can it be open. Wiki-professionals – micro-credits for helping on something.

Maxine Clarke: Micro-attribution is growing topic. Av no authors is 6. Some consortia iare 100 or so.

Can contributions be attributed to you – technical issue.

FTR: open source modes of science. Triggers of open source science.

CN: Science is the great open source endeavour. What can we do that is useful? If cannot be replicated and cannot check details, not science.

Bill Dutton: Peer review publications – wrong place to look. Other phases of research process – lot going on. Less collaboration less at publication, high status, older people.

Maxine Clarke. [Internet playing up]

Question: Radio 4. Book only sold 3000 copies. Wonderful to have well written science blogs. Few ppl capable to of writing good science blogs. Problem is not quality but problem of selling stuff to consumers.

Ben Goldacre. That’s why good

Lost a bit here – Said Business School’s internet connection is scribbled.

Published in Science & Technology


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