Before the advent of the internet, scientific advances were reported through either journals or, in the case of major research, in tabloid newspapers. But today, in the age of the internet and social media, even the smallest of scientific advances can be shared, ‘Liked’ on Facebook or tweeted about. But does this mean that social media has a role to play in the scientific process?
The role in the scientific process can be viewed in a positive light. Prior to social media, much of the research undertaken by scientists would have been largely inaccessible to the general population. However, in this modern era, where a large proportion of the population use Facebook and Twitter, this research can be more easily accessed. So in this case, the role of social media in the scientific process is good not only for the general population, but for the researchers also, as it allows their work to reach a much wider audience than would have otherwise been possible.
On the flip side of this, social media’s role in the scientific process could be viewed negatively. The impact on scientific research as outlined above could provide issues if such science was disproved later on. One interesting case of this was in a paper which stated a research team were able to see Hydrogen bonds within molecular structures. As this was a large step forward in this area of research, the paper gained a large number of Facebook ‘likes’ and tweet, making the research gain popularity until it was eventually picked up by large media outlets, who reported the information. This would first appear to be good news for the scientific process, as more people are being made aware of the research making both the general population and the scientific community excited.
It is important to note that this research has been since disproved relatively recently, but this has not been so widely publicised or picked up by social media. So the role of social media in the scientific process also has negative connotations, as people amongst the general population may not necessarily understand the research which is being put forward, which in turn puts strain on the belief system within science.
So the question of whether or not social media has a role to play in the scientific process is a clear yes, as it is able to heavily influence which types of research get picked up by the mainstream media. However, the effect that this in turn has on the scientific process can either be positive or negative due to the influence of Facebook ‘likes’ and Tweets; and it’s this question which will need to be answered in the near future.