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May 3, 2012 / axl1228

Are Social Media Next Thing to Worship?

Smart is the new sexy, but sorry, hot girls and handsome boys are on Facebook, while you are in the lab.

According to one survey done in the US, almost 100% of lab managers admit to never having used Flickr, and over 80% hadn’t signed up for a Facebook account. By April, 2012, there had been 901 million active users on Facebook[1]. That means, those scientists who had never been to Facebook, wasted a potential audience which could be a country with 3rd population in the world, just following India and China. Considering that Facebook is blocked in mainland China, they almost missed 1/3 of people in the world.

Why scientists should adopt social media. Is it that necessary? My answer is Yes! Based on a research in the US, only 28% of our population can pass a basic science literacy test with questions like “Does the Earth revolve around the sun?” or “Did modern humans live alongside dinosaurs?” Such results are unbelievable because we all know that we are living in a modern world. Most of us are educated and all the knowledge and technologies can be accessed everywhere. We can learn faster, easier, and in full-scale, but nothing will be changed until the information reaches us.

But what happens when scientists start to use the social media? In the article “How deep social network ‘roots’ help scientists communicate their research“, three scientists shared their stories about using social media to promote themselves and their projects. Here are some of their positive opinions:

  • Social media help to find and be found by researchers in the same field.
  • Social media are timeliness and able to connect far-flung researchers.
  • Public are easier to be engaged.
  • Social media can bring some positive side effects, such as funding.
  • Having a well-cultivated and engaged circle of social media friends and followers can help expand the impact of your work

However, social network has its downfalls too. They are shortening our attention span. According to a study over the course of the last ten years, the average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes. What does that mean to scientists is that if a scientific discovery is so hard, or put in a hard language that people cannot get the point in 5 minutes, it will be ignored.

Besides that, diminished privacy could cause plagiarism, and spreading of misinformation could also do negative impact in science communication.

So what do you think? When everybody is putting their faith in Facebook, Twitter, Google +, do you think that a scientist has to be one of them?

12 Comments

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  1. chimk / May 4 2012 2:07 am

    Social networks are very important to every professional including scientists these days, where almost everything is done online. I believe social media like fb, twitter and the others, have proved to increase public awareness on different scientific issues. This is providing an easy way of getting different views on a topic within seconds instead of going through big write-ups by different people on the same topic. For instance on facebook or twitter people can share new discoveries in science, upcoming events in a specific field etc.

    I would like to agree with the other side of these social networks, of affecting attention. this is where the tricks of effective communications on these media have a great role, be assured its either you lose your target audience or keep them in the first statements otherwise if the first lines don’t make sense then no need to waist time fo what is following.

    Good work

  2. baileymoser / May 4 2012 2:55 am

    You make such an interesting point about social media being the cause of decreased attention span over the last ten years, that’s astonishing! I suppose that affects the role of science writers in the community–they have to be more succinct than ever to condense meaningful science down to five minutes.

    What do you mean by: “Most of us are educated and all the knowledge and technologies can be accessed everywhere.” Are you addressing the audience of this blog or the global population at large? Does 28% refer to the US population or the global population? While you make a case that communicating scientific discoveries through Facebook and other social media engines will improve the science literacy of people with access to the internet, I would argue that improving the literacy of 72% of the global population will take much more. In fact, 72% of the global population is likely either uneducated or without access to Facebook.

    Also, I don’t feel like the title and image used in your post accurately reflect the content. I also think there is a fundamental difference between having faith and worship. I personally think I can have faith in science without worshiping it.

  3. kflint93 / May 4 2012 7:41 am

    Baileymoser – that’s a really interesting comment to finish with – I have a couple of friends at Uni who, if asked what religion they are, will respond with ‘I’m a scientist’.

    Personally, I’m a little skeptical as to any social media being able to thoroughly communicate accurate science. Perhaps this stems from my personal experiences online. For me, sites such as Facebook and Flickr are primarily for social communication, entertainment and personal expression. Whilst apparently the attention span has shortened to 5 minutes, I would imagine that people would have a much less tolerance for science communication online, perhaps glancing at it momentarily before disregarding it.

    The only science I think I’ve come across on Facebook are humorous pictures or quotes… But who’s to know how accurate they are? Especially since, with such a short time span to get the message across, they can hardly include references or any details on the research.

  4. tahliajade / May 4 2012 4:11 pm

    I agree with you! Scientists should embrace social networking. More so than anyone. Their purpose is to discover the potential of an object, law or equation, etc…how can they possibly push something like Facebook aside??

    I found this website http://www.howmanyarethere.org/how-many-facebook-users-are-there-2012/ which lists some statistics about Facebook. It says that by the end of 2012, it is estimated that there will be approximately 900 million users. Currently, 50% of these users check Facebook everyday and that people spend 740 billion minutes per month on Facebook. With statistics like this, how can anyone who relies on research funding and therefore, public interest, possibly ignore the potential for using social networking to their scientific advantage? I can’t remember at the moment where I read it (it was in a magazine of some kind…Scientific American maybe??) but apparently it is more common to check into Facebook than to the combined numbers of a few major US news sites. If this is the case, what hope could a scientist have to gain funding or spread the importance of their research to people who simply don’t go to such sites?

    I know everyone is probably sick to death of hearing about it…but think of the Kony video. I know that there is massive backlash about the true situation over there, but the essential message was that the people behind the video simply wanted the general public to be aware of what has been happening in Uganda because the government only takes notice of anything if enough members of the general public are concerned. While I may not agree with all of what else he was saying in that video…that point is true. And by posting that video to Facebook, it “went viral” and hit press and television media within days.

    Facebook and other social networking sites are a very powerful medium to connect to the general public and seeing as science is such an unpopular subject to everyday people, shouldn’t scientists attempt to bridge the gap? If you’re trying to inform, educate and gain support from the general public but the public won’t come to you, you need to go to the public.

  5. mmaideni / May 5 2012 1:24 pm

    I am in agreement with your post on the use of the social networking in science communication. It is indeed the most cheap, easier and convenient media to reach out to a diverse public domain with an important piece of work. Social media should really be a conduit to reach the most enthusiastic and motivated people to get to know what your accomplishment has been in your field. This takes the attitude of generosity on the side of the scientist to move away from the most common means of disbursing information and soliciting public scrutiny of a precious piece of work done behind the scenes. Donors to the research work get the magnetic influence to jump in the research working also hoping to get hooked to the network in the public domain in these sites. Unlike getting to read the full compendium of the research work the public get it in finely sifted particles of the language that is simple to understand without obscuring the outcome. With all these benefits to social networking, remains a better way to communicate science as long as those involved stick to the consideration that ‘you don’t just write what you would not want your mother to hear’.

    However, there are issues that need attention for the social media to be more effective as applauded. Think about the time required to post a piece of research work done that is targeting the general public that frequent these sites. In the process of finding followers the scientist really does not know how much longer it will take and may end up not prioritising social media as the platform to reach out to the public. There could be delays in getting the feedback if any.

  6. stinaboroe / May 6 2012 1:10 pm

    Better 5 minutes that non-existing 12. Safe to say a lot of people use Facebook as their major connection platform to the virtual world and often won’t go much further in seeking information about things, not vital but of interest. Here, depending on your ‘likes’ you can be fed regular info about everything from the Monk’s protest in Burma, some weird photographer in Poland, the Animal Welfare status in Norway to when the next cool bar is opening up in Perth. Facebook is the future (or at least it is now), if you embrace it it is a powerful tool to inform the broad public about your doings. So come on Science, get on it! You are after all supposed to be the one to inform us about what we are doing, how that works and where we are going.

  7. gracerussell1 / May 9 2012 7:35 am

    Social media networks are used are a regular basis by a wide range of audiences, why not embrace the culture?
    The points you raised about the disadvantages of communicating science through social media are valid, and i would agree with them. I guess finding your audience and choosing your topic carefully, then conveying it in a way that is easily accessible and not misconstrued is vital.

    Interesting point raised by Bailey and again by Kflint93 about science being a religion. But do we all need to fit into a group under the umbrella of “religion”, can’t science be its own, single standing subject/belief/topic?

  8. selinamj / May 11 2012 9:00 am

    Social media permeates every aspect of our life, I don’t think that is an exaggeration, especially with our generation. We all spend hours and hours everyday on Facebook (well at least I do).
    This obviously presents an amazing opportunity to get information about new discoveries out fast. However this has its advantages and disadvantages:
    Advantage- If your research is interesting enough or has significant implications for the general public it has the potential to go viral and thousands of people of people will be talking about it in hours/days.
    Disadvantage- If it does go viral you better hope that your research is sound as it is next to impossible to retract that sort of information once the public has run with it. Social media as a way of communicating science also means that the research needs to be in a very VERY condensed form (140 characters for twitter) and in that you have to be able to grab people’s attention, communicate your main message and encourage them to click a link to get further information. This means scientific research runs the risk of becoming very sensationalised.

  9. thiarayoanita69 / May 11 2012 2:39 pm

    I agree to a certain point about your post there axl1228.. Social media can be used as a tool for scientists to make their research accessible. This would also help scientists to find people that share similar interest as them. This may add to their own benefit (e.g. they could elaborate more on their research ideas and expand their own knowledge through discussion). But how do they know that their research ideas will not be plagiarized?

    That said, I do not think that with more scientists on social netowrking sites, it would guarantee to improve science literacy worldwide. As kflint93 has mentioned previously, I too find networking site (i.e. facebook), as a social communication medium. For me personally, it is more of a activity to do during my leisure time. I would skim through my newsfeed, and read few articles that provoke my interest the most. My point here is that although networking sites help to make scientific information accessible, but the readers always have the choice not to access the information. So scientists must acquire the skill to make their information as interesting as possible. But as far as I know, this would be hard since networking site such as Facebook and twitter, only have limited feature.

    Regarding the short attention span, I think it has more to do with social networking sites being distracting. It would prevent us from doing what we are supposed to be doing. I remember back in high school, many of my friends would deactivate their facebook account during exam period. The majority of them said they would be too immersed in browsing through quotation pages and their friends’ photos.

    I thus think that social networking site is appropriate if scientist wish to share their ideas and thoughts with people that have the same interest as them. However, I do not think it would be an effective tool in educating people, especially those who have little interest in science.

    • axl1228 / May 13 2012 10:07 am

      Thanks for all the critical thinking above.
      I cannot deny that Facebook is the NOW, but I really keep reserved opinion on it’s future. Think about these, why did Facebook change the post style into timeline? why did Facebook start to allow you to group your friends while you can still subscribe/unsubscribe them? why did Dave Morin leave Facebook to build up Path (which is a social network where you can only follow 50 friends in max)? why Tumblr and FFFFound are still popular while so many people are already on Twitter, why do we still need Flipboard and Instapaper when we can access to any information on social network?
      I think every movement of social network could be a representation of media culture, and this culture is the next thing, the thing that can help us to communicate. We are not necessarily more efficient with social networking. We have already built and found our social pattern on the internet, but not ethnical, family-related, friends-depended, private, and otypic ourselves. We only know how many people our scientific information can reach, but do they like it? do they need it? do they study it? do they understand it? How much information do they get, before moving their eye to the ads bar of Game of Throne on the right side?
      I don’t know if we are “amusing ourselves to death” as Neil Postman said, but are you sure that FB and twitter are reliable as they look like?

  10. lachlanpetersen / May 31 2012 8:45 am

    The title was really grabbing, but I do agree with the others that the terms “religion” and “worship” are not relevant. But hey, you only find that out after you read the article.

    Your introduction sentence is wildly evocative, and I think it was a little inappropriate.

    When you say “they almost missed 1/3 of people in the world.”, I think you mean almost 1/7, considering there is 900 million facebook users and 7 billion people in the world.

    I agree that social media is a great way to reach people, but I don’t think that the 5 minute attention span point is really an issue. The Kony2012 video was over 30 minutes long, and that still went viral. I think if scientists are really going to engage with people, they need to make their work interesting enough to be worthy reading. And it’s not like they aren’t on board already! The academic journal, “Science” has its own page with over 86,000 likes.

    But yes, Social Media is fully integrated into modern life and if you want to reach the masses you need to go to them and entertain them.

  11. tobiasgrey / Jun 8 2012 12:53 pm

    I agree with you, social media is a great way to communicate science. Many science writers/scientists/science organizations now have twitter, facebook and G+ sites. CERN even have a cool podcast, downloadable from iTunes. These are all great ways to keep up with the latest science, and reading some myth debunking.
    Unfortunately, I agree with the others – ‘religion’ and ‘worship’ have no place in science. =)

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