How scientists can avoid being an anachronism when it comes to communication

Scientists want to stay up to speed on all the latest technological developments whether it is new equipment or new methods. To not stay up to speed on these techno innovations would be a huge mistake as a scientist.

For example, imagine a stem cell biologist today who was clueless about cellular reprogramming?

So why then do so many scientists cling to outdated technology when it comes to communication?

Why do they refuse to be an advocate outside their lab even in the slightest sense of the word?

Knoepfler Nature Medicine

In so doing they risk making themselves deeply out of touch, an anachronism if you will, and strongly reducing their impact and legacy.

On Friday I had a piece published in Nature Medicine where I made the case that scientists today and in the future need to be advocates too and make use of new advances in science communication technology.

The scientist-advocate of today and the future is not so much a hybrid as rather a scientist who wisely engages with the world around them using all available tools including going outside the confines of their own lab and scientific meetings. This may take some going out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth it.

In today’s interconnected world, the scientist who chooses not to advocate and not use social media is automatically behind the curve. You might as well be using a typewriter instead of a computer.

The scientist-advocate benefits the larger world around them through educational outreach, but they also benefit science and even themselves. Why themselves? I believe that scientists who interact with the wider community including patients, other scholars, and many others will be exposed to a collective breath of fresh air in the form of a diversity of opinions and perspectives. I certainly feel that way myself via working on advocacy as part of my professional career the last 3 years. I’ve learned a lot that way.

A couple years ago I did a piece talking about my blog for Nature in which I said “blog or be blogged”, but more than a year down the road from there I’d say it is more like “engage or become an anachronism”.

One need look no further than some of the information around and about my new¬†Nature Medicine piece webpage to see how things have changed. Near the top of the webpage for my article is a little button “Article metrics” that is a relatively new feature in the last few years on many science articles in various journals. If you click it you see a new page with an evaluation of the article’s impact and importance based in part on social media metrics (see screen shot at the top of this blog piece).

On the left of this metrics page is a tool for citations, which of course my article as yet does not have since it is only a few days old. On the right are social media metrics including 128 Tweets, 6 Facebook pages, and 2 blog posts just 5 days after publications. My Altmetric score for the piece is 112 making it in the top 99th percentile out of 10,000 articles of similar ages in all journals and ranked #2 out of 60 similar Nature Medicine articles. Wow. That’s pretty cool.

One take home message from these data is that the article’s topic resonated with people. But the¬†larger point is that how one’s article performs in social media matters today in a big way. This Altmetric scoring is there right along side citations scoring. The world of science communication and impact have changed. Citations are still incredibly important, but there is more to the story today in terms of impact.

Why are advocacy and modern science communication so intimately linked together?

Because a scientist-advocate understands that communicating via papers and at scientific meetings is, while hugely important, not enough any more. Things like Tweets, Facebook postings, blogs, and such are now permanently part of how scientists communicate, learn, advocate, and will be evaluated. By using social media, scientists broaden their impact and reach a much more diverse audience. In essence, they become an advocate in this way via a form of educational outreach.

This trend is only going to continue as the scientific world and the world at large become ever more digital and interconnected. Sticking with 20th century modes of scientific communication is a way to be left behind.

3 thoughts on “How scientists can avoid being an anachronism when it comes to communication

  1. Pingback: Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog – How scientists can avoid being an anachronism when it comes to communication | Stu's Stem Cell Blog

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  3. You do a great job Paul. It’s excellent to get stuff straight from the horses mouth — without being parsed (mucked up) by journo’s. But it’s probably better to focus on making open access publishing the standard rather than have every scientist trying to run a blog. Personally, I love PubMed… it gives you a leg up on just about any well-posed question.

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